Arranging a Long-Term Absence
Even if you plan to wait until your arrival in Eastern Europe to look for work, leaving home for an extended period requires more than just a passport and a plane ticket.
First off, try to tie up as many loose ends as possible. Student loans and credit card debts don’t disappear just because you do.
Forward your mail to a friend or relative until you have an address overseas, cancel or let your memberships and subscriptions run out, and either pay off your debts or set up an online bill payment system. You can also entrust your financial matters to a responsible friend or relative at home. It is possible to set up an account with another person’s name so they can sign checks as well. This would enable you to get cash advances and make credit card purchases, knowing they would be paid off promptly by whomever is managing your affairs.
Take either a Visa or Mastercard debit and/or credit card with you, but preferably have a credit card with you in case of emergencies. If you don’t have one, apply one for as soon as you know you are going to be traveling, so that the card arrives in the mail in time for your departure. Many larger department stores, restaurants and pubs in Prague accept Visa and Mastercard credit cards and sometimes American Express. Discover Card is not accepted outside of the United States! There is no system of using checkbooks, and usually you will be buying your groceries and paying rent and even collecting your salary in cold hard crowns. Therefore, it’s a good idea to open up a bank account with a Czech bank like CSOB that offers student accounts with minimal or no fees. ATMS are all over the city, including all major metro stations, but be sure to find out how much your bank at home charges for cash withdrawals from an ATM overseas. At this time, there are no major American banks that are linked with a bank in the Czech Republic, which would have made banking in Prague a lot cheaper for Americans.
Remember that credit card and finance companies are huge, bureaucratic operations that rely heavily on computers for their billing services.
If you have debts that cannot be paid in full prior to your departure, it is well worth calling or writing to your credit or finance companies and explaining to a live human being that you will be living overseas. Ask them to make note of your situation so that if any problems should arise, they will be able to contact you. Also you must let your bank and/or credit card company know of your new location so that your card and account are not put on a fraud alert every other day, thereby freezing your funds and possibly causing some major problems when you are out paying for dinner or trying to purchase tickets online. Keep any email correspondences that you have with your bank and card company, Keep copies of all written correspondence and take down the names of those you speak to on the telephone. If a problem does come up, you will have proof that you attempted to address the issue as a precaution against any misunderstandings or missed payments.
It is wise to take a list of your credit card and bank account numbers. If you should lose any credit cards, you will be able to cancel them immediately online or over the phone (probably the cheapest way to call home is through the Skype program, downloadable on skype.com). In the event that something goes awry with your arrangements at home, you will be able to take care of any necessary payments or inquiries from overseas.
As an American working abroad, you will be exempt from United States income taxes as long as you make less than US$70,000 annually. Remember, though, that you will still be required to file a tax return with the Internal Revenue Service. Even though you may not owe any money, not filing can result in huge hassles years down the line when you have long forgotten your failure to file. The burden will be yours to prove to the IRS that you were actually overseas at the time and that you didn’t make enough money to require any tax payment.