If you plan to leave the country for three, six, nine or more months, then you should do some serious planning to make sure that your extended absence goes as smoothly as possible. It takes time to plan properly, but the efforts will give you peace of mind and may be rewarded. You have to consider your financial assets, your health, and, as unpleasant as it might be, you have to consider what might happen if you are seriously injured or die while traveling. Do you have a will? Are all of your bills being taken care of? There are many things to consider!
Here are some things to keep in mind before setting off for a period of extended travel:
Getting ready to leave means tying up loose financial ends
ahead of time so there’s as little as possible on the home front to occupy your mind. You want the maximum energy to apply to traveling, not worrying about what you left behind. It starts with counting your gold pieces.
You may or may not have a complex financial portfolio. Either way, stick to basics. Boil down all you money into four categories, called Now, Depart, Later, and Won’t Touch. Condense your Now money (the money you’ll be living on from now until you leave) and your Depart money (what you’ll take for the initial part of your trip) into one checking account and one savings account.
Designate a family member, friend, or financial adviser to manage your Later money while you’re gone. That is, the money you’re keeping in reserve at home to draw on later. Place this third category of money (Later) into a short-term vehicle, such as a short-term, automatically renewing CD, money market fund, or low-risk mutual fund. These will pay interest or income but remain liquid so you can get at them from some exotic, far-flung locale.
As for your Won’t Touch money – the long term investments you won’t raid while you’re traveling unless you suddenly decide to buy some splendiferous antique – let them stay put in various longer term CDs, stocks, and/or mutual funds. Assuming these monies are more aggressively invested and will be more drastically affected by the whims of the marketplace while you’re away, diversify. Consult an investment advisor for advice, then arrange to have the funds re-invested upon maturity in your absence, or managed, if you decide not to manage them yourself. This depends on how long you’ll be gone, of course, and whether you or someone else will be making your financial moves. If you’re something of a gambler, and want to expose the speculative portion of your Won’t Touch money to higher risk while you’re gone, do it. But be prepared to not be able to react to market changes as quickly as you’d like.
If you plan to control your assets personally while you’re are away, you’ll be making long distance calls, writing notes, or faxing details, and will need confirmation of your decisions. This will interrupt your travels if there’s a hassle or a communications problem, and will jar you out of your travel dream. One way to get around this – other than designating someone – is to assign an international bank or brokerage firm to manage your funds. That way you can stop in and say hi and check on investments whenever you pass through a major city.
Power Of Attorney
You’ll need to have a power of attorney (POA) form drawn up that allows a friend or relative to make financial decisions in your absence. Specifically, this means the person keeping an eye on your Later and Won’t Touch funds. This also allows them to pay your bills from your bank account. They also can pay your credit card bills and the bills that the traveler’s check company sends for checks purchased while on the road.
Getting this POA form taken care of is easy. For computer-literate types, it’s all available on software, or you can get the blank forms at a stationery store. Call an attorney if you know one to review it, or consult a Legal Aid office. The form should be notarized. The power of attorney arrangement lets that
person make decisions for you when you can’t be reached, or if you’re swinging in a hammock in Zanzibar and don’t want to be reached.
It also ensures that no one else can touch your assets without your approval.
Access To Assets
If you don’t know of anyone offhand to manage your funds, you can go to a brokerage firm and they’ll arrange wiring funds to you when needed. At the least, a banker or brokerage firm person can advise you on what to do. You can get good advice simply by phoning the major firms, as well as getting information on international offices and telephone numbers. Try Charles Schwab, Fidelity, Prudential Bache, Merrill Lynch, or others. You should get some answers tailored to your portfolio size and investment strategy.
Generally, make it easy. If you’ll be spending up to a year away, put your funds in fairly sleepy, stable places, and let someone keep an eye on them. You can call them regularly for status reports. If you have a lot of money, let an outfit look after it and tell them you want to get a certain percentage return while you’re gone – like eight to ten percent – and let them perform.
If you leave for longer than a year, your whole financial picture needs to be examined. You’ll need to talk to a certified financial planner, a tax accountant, and an attorney, all of whom can advise you on investing and major estate planning.
Driver’s Licenses and Auto Insurance
An International Driver’s License allows you to drive anywhere on the globe. Some countries ask for it, others don’t. You can get an application from any AAA office.
8111 Gatehouse Road
When you travel, also bring your driver’s license from home. This looks official to those who rent cars or scooters. As for your auto insurance, it may not apply overseas. Ask your agent or AAA if there is a special additional policy for overseas driving that’s required for your destinations, or at least available. This will help you avoid the surcharge that the scooter or car rental person sometimes asks for. Some credit cards provide auto insurance coverage as a benefit to using the card. Contact your credit card company for details.
Ask questions before you go. In faraway places the law is often ragged, and drivers can be detained until accident damages are paid. If you’re uncomfortable, have someone else drive, or take a bus or train, just to be sure there are no problems. Certain areas around the globe follow the rule of “s/he with the most money pays.” This could well be you, even if you’re not at fault.
Books and people abound with great information on the subject of maintaining good health overseas. Here’s a quick overview.
Generally, your genetic and bacterial make-up, patterns of living and eating, and overall physical and social environment are markedly different in the U.S. than elsewhere. Not necessarily better, just different. It’s the same for foreigners coming to our country.
If you take care, you’ll minimize
your risk of running into problems and ensure your continued well-being. The greatest risk you’re taking, and your greatest source of satisfaction, resides in the decision to break your pattern and take a foreign adventure. You’re over the biggest hurdle. If you can do that, all the preparation for leaving and the active taking of precautions while traveling is easy.
Begin with a full physical. Don’t forget to schedule it before you leave your job, so insurance will pay for it (assuming
your insurance covers physicals). The same goes for shots, medication, refills, and so on. If you’ve had a physical within the last six months, skip this step.
See your dentist in plenty of time to have any necessary work done. Now’s the time to have those extractions done that you’ve been avoiding.
Visit your eye doctor, foot doctor, gynecologist—all the medical types you normally see. Before leaving you’ll want to have the confidence of a clean bill of health, and, if you have a medical condition, the reassurance you still can travel.
You’ll need a series of vaccinations (shots), and possibly a series of pills (called a regimen or prophyllaxis) before you go. Shots are available through your personal doctor or your county public health office. Or, look for traveler’s clinics connected to hospitals, or in connection with university medical centers. They usually charge a fee for assessment, plus the cost of the vaccinations and pills. You also can call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta at (404) 639-2572. Their International Traveler’s Hotline offers updated information and recommendations on what types or shots, pills (like malaria), and general medical supplies to take.
As you get your shots or prescriptions record them on what traditionally has been called the yellow International Certificate of Vaccination. Your doctor should have blank ones, or call your county public wealth department for the proper form. Have it stamped or signed by the physician in charge. Some shots are good for ten years; others have a short viability or duration and you’ll have to get them (or a follow-up booster) en route, many months into your trip. Determine this in advance. Once you know where you’re heading, find out what shots you need. Ask about their period of effectiveness.
You may be getting some vaccinations on the road, or your travels might take you in a new direction you choose while en route, calling for special shots. In either case, look for a similar health authority in the country where you’re traveling, and be sure they use new, disposable needles. Insist that you see the syringe and needle packets unwrapped in front of you or bring your own.
We got cholera shots after beginning one trip because we knew we wouldn’t be in a cholera zone until later.
“Later” would have been after the three month period of effectiveness of the cholera vaccine, had we gotten it at home. We did get gamma globulin shots at home before our last trip, but because the effectiveness is short-term, got the recommended boosters while on the road.
Carry your shot certificate with the care you would your passport, traveler’s checks, and cash. Sometimes you’ll need to show this proof of vaccination to enter a country.
First Aid Kit
Put together a basic first aid kit, making sure to keep it light and small. If it can all fit into a ziplock sandwich bag, great. You’ll want an anti-bacterial first aid cream, a basic painkiller salve containing cortisone, upset stomach and diarrhea remedies, cold/flu tablets, some different sized bandaids in their own bag, lip sunscreen with zinc oxide, tweezers, and a cream to combat basic skin rashes or fungus (non-prescription compounds containing tolnaftate or chlortrimazole are best).
Bring aspirin for pain, ibuprofen for swelling or cramps, and ideally some codeine for serious pain. Take penicillin and/or sulfa drugs if you are prone to tonsil or bladder infections. A prescription antibiotic as a back-up is important for fighting stubborn infections, but take it only when other methods fail. Consider a small snakebite kit. See the appendix for a complete list of first aid items.
Repellent and Sunscreen
Additionally, you’ll want to carry insect repellent with the highest possible percentage of toluamide (popularly called Deet). Get sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of at least fifteen, if going to the tropics or high elevations. Carry water-repellent sunscreen or lotion if you’ll be doing activities like snorkeling, surfing, and swimming. Sun-sensitive travelers may be interested in special protective clothing.
One manufacturer of these products is:
3809 9th Ave S
Seattle, WA, 98108
Phone: (800) 882-7860
Personal Medical Needs
If you have a personal medical condition requiring regular medication, take a supply of it for the whole trip. Carry a day’s supply on your person, and the rest in your backpack or duffel bag. You should arrange with your doctor to have more sent by overnight air express if you need it. If so, make a call directly to your doctor before you
leave, and make sure they know you might call from abroad. Arrange to have them send the prescription to a U.S. embassy or consulate en route, marked “Urgent/Medical.”
Some legal prescription medications are illegal abroad, and vice versa, so ask your doctor or the embassies of the countries you’ll be visiting about regulations. Carry a letter from your doctor stating your condition and giving permission to carry the drugs, and you should have no problem.
Leave your medicines in the containers they came in, with the original labels. Since drug names and compositions vary by country, also ask your doctor or pharmacist to write down the generic name, for when you need a refill. Never mix pills into one container, for the obvious reason of risk of misconsumption. Also, a border official may confiscate them.
As you might at home, carry a brief warning in your wallet or money belt if you are allergic to anything, or if you have a medical condition (epilepsy, diabetes, and the like) whose onset might preclude your ability to explain it. If your condition could be fatal without quick care, get the warning translated into the language of the countries you’ll be in. A translation service, local college, embassy, or consulate can help you with this. Also, wear a medical alert bracelet engraved with your name, medical concern, and the full phone number of a person who can advise on your condition.
One source is:
2323 Colorado Avenue
Turlock, CA, 95382
Phone: (888) 633-4298
Further, whether you have a special medical situation or not, you should carry a brief summary of your medical history. This might include past surgery, past or ongoing illnesses, and your blood type. If your history includes a recurring or present infectious or communicable disease, or if you are HIV-positive or have AIDS, inquire before leaving about any entry restrictions for the country you’re visiting. Different countries have different rules.
Take a duplicate set of contact lenses or glasses, and the prescription, plus lens solution and cleaner. Better yet, take glasses alone so you eliminate the hassle of cleaning contact lenses. And make sure you have prescription sunglasses, plus a back-up pair of plastic snap-on, flip-down sunglasses that fit your regular glasses, just in case your prescription sunglasses break or disappear.
Locating Medical Help
Before you leave, you may wish to contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers. They supply names of English-speaking doctors in the areas of the countries you’ll be visiting, immunization requirements, and more. The number is (716) 754-4883. Information is free, but they appreciate donations. You need to get a membership card in order to obtain an overseas referral.
If you get seriously hurt or ill while traveling, call or have someone else call the U.S. embassy or consulate. They’ll help you locate the best medical help in your area. In some countries, medical care is free, and if not, they can see to it that money arrives from your family, friends or insurance carrier promptly to pay for medical costs. You also can call International SOS Assistance, (215) 942-8226. They offer twenty-four hour emergency assistance, referrals, and advice.
Any specific medical or health questions can be answered by your doctor, by medical books for travelers, and by the health section in travel guides for the specific areas you’ll be visiting.
Traveler’s Medical Insurance
You’ll need a medical insurance policy that goes anywhere in the world you do. Inquire of your current policy provider, or call around. Get an individual or couple policy or one that covers your kid(s), and be sure to pay the premiums in advance or as you go. If you are leaving an employer to travel, there should be a provision in your policy that extends your benefits for up to a certain time. This avoids the need to get re-qualified for a new policy. For example, one automatic extension called COBRA extends for eighteen months after you leave your job, allowing you to pay for what your employer previously covered. Be sure to read the fine print, as the U.S. health care industry is currently in transition.
Whether or not you continue on an existing policy or purchase or renew an independent one, be sure it covers airlifting, too. Outside European or other First World locations with Western-level healthcare systems you’re often hundreds of miles from decent medical care. Be prepared. You never can be too careful with your health, particularly in remote locations.
Most health-maintenance organizations (HMOs) and Blue Cross/Blue Shield
offer insurance that covers foreign travel. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) does also, and can be reached at (888) 687-2277. One independent provider is Travel Guard International, at (800) 826-4919.
If you’re alert when you travel, there’s usually no more chance of something happening to you than at home. Looking globally, it’s clear that certain factors drive up the possibility of catching an illness or experiencing a crime. But in other places, certain factors drive the possibility down.
To provide for those at home you care for it’s important to set up a will before you leave. While this may or may not be the first time you’ve thought about it, it’s a sensible, necessary step to minimize what would be a trying time for friends or loved ones in the event something happened to you.
Generally, your money and possessions (your estate) will more easily and quickly go to those you designate in a readily accessible will or living trust. A will is simple to set up, while a living trust a bit more involved. Will-making guides and forms are available in software or paper form.
Alternatively, you can approach your state legal aid offices, state or county Bar Association, university student legal services offices, or the attorney section of the yellow pages. Laws vary by state; you may or may not need an attorney to prepare a legally binding document.
There are always two dates on the tax calendar to remember: the first, when you filed your annual IRS return (typically last April 15) and the second, the next time you will file ([typically this next April 15). If you leave and come back between filings, you should be okay. Hypothetically, if you file a return on April 15, leave on April 16 and come home 363 days
later, and earn no foreign pay, it should be easy. You made no income other than perhaps interest or some other non-wage income, there or here. You still have time to file under the deadline.
However, if you’ll be out of the country for any time – two weeks, two months, two years, two decades – and April 15 will pass by, the best thing to do is call the IRS first. Ask before you leave what the filing requirements are. If you can prove you will be gone they may grant an extension past April 15 if necessary. Confirm all phone correspondence. Get the name and location of the IRS representative you talk to, write it down, and follow those calls up with a letter confirming the contents of the conversation. Save a copy of the letter(s) for your files. Misinformation from the IRS is not allowable as a defense against missed deadlines.
Living and Working Overseas
As of this edition, if you’re living and working
overseas (not just traveling) you automatically receive a two-month filing extension. If you file a Request For Extension (form 4868) by April 15, or write a letter, the IRS can grant you a four-month extension. You can get a further two-month extension – thus totaling six months – if you then file an Additional Extension (form 2688), or write a letter. If you are simply traveling you can’t get an extension unless you’re able to prove a hardship condition. Whatever your situation, if
you’re unable to sign your return, a CPA, a family member, or someone with the power of attorney may sign for you.
Foreign Income Taxation
As a U.S. citizen, any income you earn outside the U.S. may be subject to taxation. Certain tax treaty provisions we have with foreign countries affect this, and the IRS can provide details by country.
It can help you to work for up to a year or more. As of this writing, if you
have relocated your home permanently to another country or at least for 330 days of any twelve-month period and are working, your tax home is considered outside the U.S. This may qualify you for the Foreign Earned Income Credit, which allows you to exclude up to $70,000 of earned income from U.S. tax. Interest or investment income is not shielded.
May the code be with you.
If you’re self-employed in the U.S. and you’ve been filing estimated taxes on a recurring basis, it should not surprise the IRS if you stop. You know you’ve left the U.S., and they’ll soon know too. Whether you left to work or travel or both, the April 15 filing of your taxable amount is your declaration as a citizen that you either owe tax or should receive a refund, and this “denominated declaration” will justify the stopped quarterlies.
Audits occur to both wage and salary earners as well as self-employed people, for all types of reasons. The IRS knows people are leaving from and returning to the U.S. every day. If you play by the rules, you won’t have to worry much about coming home to an audit. You can avoid taxation but you can’t evade it. And even one hundred percent honest mortals get audited.
Normally, you must always at least file a signed return as of midnight April 15, with a check for tax due unless you’re entitled to a refund. Any amount due and not included in your filing is charged interest.
Being a scofflaw, like filing late without explanation or without asking permission, or not filing at all, should be studiously avoided. They don’t shackle you anymore, but if you’re a big-income individual, well, debtor prisons are in operation as we speak.