The absolute worst thing about being a full time traveller (it’s got nothing to do with travel)


Bad words, I’ve warned you. This is one of those “angry posts” (ooohh, those angry posts – the ones that make my mom cringe).

Someone asked me once about the worst thing about travelling, no doubt thinking I’d say something like “I miss my family/my friends/my dog” or “I wish I could have my bed”. No.

The absolute worst thing about being a full time traveller isn’t actually anything having to do with traveling. If it was only that easy. It’s all the stupid bureaucracy back home and what they make you go through when you just want to live your own life.

I’ll get to my rant soon. But FIRST – I reached out to my blogger friend Anita. She’s American and it turns it she has even more to complain about than I do. And since the majority of the readers of this blog are from the US I thought I’d start off this post with her.

 


The absolute worst thing about being a full time traveller – the US perspective
– written by Anita Oliver from Noparticularplacetogo.

Six years ago I decided that I wanted the life my husband had: early retirement. We’d worked hard over the years and, lucky for us, weren’t hit too hard by the great recession. We had savings, our home was well on the way to being paid for and we’d had a recent epiphany that life was short. The lifestyle that I was working for (house, cars, stuff) was no longer important to us.

Rant 1 Exorbitant Healthcare Costs. We quickly found out that the US isn’t set up for middle-class people who want to retire early. The biggest problem that we ran into right away was how to pay for our health insurance. My employer picked up half the cost of an excellent health care plan but I was still paying $800/month for the two of us. We solved that problem by deciding to leave the country and “going naked.” (That’s what people from the US say when you don’t have health insurance.) We took a year to sell everything, leased out the house and became nomadic expats in 2012, slow-traveling through countries where healthcare was affordable.

Rant 2 Capital Gains Taxes. About three months into our new life we knew that we’d never live in Texas again and probably not in the US either. Making the decision to sell our home wasn’t difficult but the whole ‘when to sell’ decision was taken out of our hands. Rather than waiting for the best time to sell our house, we were forced to sell between years two and three of our travels in order to avoid paying hefty capital gains taxes on a place that was no longer our primary residence. (Not that we had any residence at that point!)

Rant 3 Transparency. We consider ourselves to be fairly honest. However, having a US street address is important for so many reasons we’d never considered. In fact, it seems that you need an address to prove your very existence. And so, we use my sister’s address. Simple things like keeping our money in a US bank, having domestic and international credit and debit cards, keeping our US driver’s licenses current, paying income taxes, remaining active voters, etc., all need a US street address. We’re not quite comfortable with the deceit but …

Rant 4 Speaking of honesty and transparency: Be careful to whom you mention that you reside outside the US. Banking and investing places seem to equate opting to live abroad with offshore wealth, tax havens and money laundering. If you want to avoid needless hassles and make your life a little easier, you might opt for, “We’re living out of the country for a while …” not, “Hell no, I’m never coming back!”

Rant 5 Taxes. Aren’t taxes always worth a good rant? Yes. We’re still paying them, on time and every year. We have an accountant who keeps us up to date on changes. All to stay law-abiding US citizens with piss-poor representation and absolutely no benefits.

Rant 6 Banking. It was fairly straightforward to open a bank account in Portugal where we live now unlike a lot of other countries that are refusing to open accounts for US citizens because of onerous reporting requirements and paperwork. However, we had to present our social security cards to open our accounts (who carries those when traveling? Or anytime?) and we’re careful to avoid keeping more than $10,000 in our account to avoid complicated paperwork. (Try paying for a car using your debit card!)

Rant 7 Healthcare. And we’re back at where we started. My husband now qualifies for Medicare and we pay $110 each month for that luxury. However, Medicare is only good in the US and the insurance is not something you can cancel and pickup at a whim when you’re in between countries. So, he has “cheap” insurance (by US standards anyway) and I have none for the occasional visit back in the US. Our solution, should I ever get sick during a visit, will be to hurry up and get the hell on a plane and anywhere else before we’re bankrupted.

Our expat life has been all about minimizing what we have and simplifying where we can. Seems that our country of birth could be a little easier on us too and make the hoops to jump through just a little closer to the ground!

 

 


The absolute worst thing about being a full time traveller – the Canadian perspective
– written by me, BBQboy.

3 years ago, after 20+ years of working in Quebec (Canada), paying a shitload of taxes every year (Quebec has the highest tax rates in North America) we decided we wanted to leave our 9-5 lives to travel.

It’s not that we didn’t enjoy our lives or didn’t love Montreal, Quebec or Canada. We were getting older and we just wanted to see more of the world before we died.

When we left to travel, we continued paying Canadian taxes. No issues with that, we’re Canadian, we’ll pay our taxes just like we suffer through 6 months of winter. But paying a shitload of taxes doesn’t mean we get any of the benefits that come with been Canadian.

[Note: after getting Anita’s contribution I noticed that we overlap on the same issues. What differs are the different systems and rules in either country].

Rant 1. Health Care. 2 years into our travels we were no longer eligible for Canadian Health care. We’ve used up our “exception year” (I wrote about Canadian health care/insurance in detail here). Ask any Canadian why we lose our health care after 6 months out of the country and they’ll just shrug. Nobody seems to know. So we ended up getting expat insurance which, at 50 years of age, costs us about $3,000/year Canadian between the 2 of us. Basically we’re double paying because as Canadians our taxes are supposed to cover our health care coverage. That sucks.

Rant 2 Capital Gains Taxes. So we’re into our 3rd year of travelling, loving it, we don’t want to come back to Canada.

After renting out our Montreal condo for the last 3 years our tenants decide they want to move, they want to start a family in the suburbs.  After weighing our options (rent? sell?) we decide that we would face reality – we love our lives travelling and have no plans to return to live in Canada.

So we put our condo on the market. It takes 2 months to sell but we’re happy when we find a buyer. Great!

Until the government bureaucrats get involved. “You’re a non-resident. This complicates your file. You will need to obtain an accountant in order to obtain for the provincial and federal governments a certificate of disposition. Furthermore, we must put a hold on the sale price in our in trust account until we have received confirmation of these certificates and the payment of the required taxes”.

Exact words with bolds and underlines cut and pasted.

Lucky for us we have an excellent tax accountant who took care of this. It helped that a few years ago he made us fill out a form stipulating that our condo was never intended as an investment property and that it is still our primary residence and exempt from capital taxes.

Note: Just because you have an overseas address that does not mean you are not a resident of Canada. As long as you stay a fiscal resident (ie. pay your taxes) you are still deemed a resident (although, as I say, without some of the most important benefits).

What would we do without an army of tax accountants and lawyers dealing with this bureaucratic shit?

Rant 3 Home Insurance on the rented property. When renting out our Montreal condo we had to get “renter’s insurance”. I specified to the company that we needed the insurance because we wanted to travel and rent out the property while doing so. Easy enough. But when year 2 came TD Insurance kept calling me, asking me when we would be coming back to Canada. Our renter’s insurance depended on it they said. By year 3 they said they could no longer cover us because we were out of the country too long. WTF? It ended up being another factor in the decision to sell.

Why would I get renter’s insurance if I came back to Canada? I’m renting out the condo because I don’t live there…

Rant 4. Needing a fixed address. We found out that you need a fixed address for everything: banking, investments, anything to do with government…Everything. In the first 3 years I used my condo address. Now I’m using my son’s address. You’d think in this day and age, with more and more people working remotely, that businesses and governments would keep up with the times. They haven’t. In fact, if you don’t have a fixed address or telephone number you realize pretty quickly that you are a rare species (I’ve had people look at me, wondering if maybe I was a vagrant…). It took full-time travel to bring home to us how totally non-existent you are as a person if you don’t have a permanent address and fixed telephone number.

Note: I should have used my son’s address as my address when selling the condo (Rant 2). Would have saved me and my accountant a lot of hassle.

 

Summary

We don’t mind paying Canadian taxes, Canada is still ‘our’ country. We have Canadian passports, Canadian driver’s license, Canadian bank accounts and investments, Canadian credit cards. I have Canadian family living in Canada. And I pay Canadian taxes. But why is the government taking away our benefits (notably Healthcare) or trying to screw us over with Capital Taxes? And it’s not just us, I know older Canadian friends who are not entitled to the GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement) because they chose to live overseas (where they can get by with less money. Some can’t afford to come back to Canada). It just doesn’t make sense.

 I wish the Canadian and Provincial governments would have a more modern and open approach to how people live today. With more and more people working remotely from overseas it would be nice to see a little more flexibility in the system.

 

 

 

The above all made me think – maybe North American governments are behind the times when it comes to full-time travellers?

 

 

Where are you from? If you’re a full-time traveller, do you have any complicating factors that get you upset?

 

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Comments

  1. Ha! This made me laugh out loud! Taxes, insurance, permanent street addresses and a phone number are all things that make me cringe as a full-time traveler! Our lifestyle doesn’t compute with US laws and regulations….which may just be the reason we aren’t keen on visiting much, lol.
    Sarah (JetSetting Fools) recently posted…15 Brisbane activities for sunny daysMy Profile

  2. While not traveling full-time, I was just getting into the swing of being out 6 plus months a year from the UK. Then this year I got hit with all kinds of extra outgoings, mainly tax on where I live (and you guys across the pond think you have taxation – hah). That has put a severe limit on me getting away from this place, even for a breather – especially since I’m retired and don’t have very much in the first place. A rethink is pending.
    Ted recently posted…Stuttgart to UlmMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Why, why, why?? Why more taxes if you are 6 months and a day outside your country? I’d be curious about some of the rules in place in the UK Ted.
      By the way – Lissette and I both had good jobs in Quebec and paid 35-40% tax. Canada very much unlike the US…
      Frank (bbqboy) recently posted…The absolute worst thing about being a full time traveller (it’s got nothing to do with travel)My Profile

      • They call it council tax. Kind of like property tax and you pay even if you rent. Housing here is extremely expensive and you’re taxed on what the council think the property is worth. 15% increase for everyone, but me (a Manx/American – 400%)!

        They tried head tax some years back, even tourists got taxed. There was almost a revolution, country went ape.
        And people wonder why I don’t like England. Most of Canada was English, so that could be why taxes are so high there. Income tax here is also high. Hell, everything is expensive.

        • Frank (bbqboy) says:

          Council Tax – Sounds like our Canadian Real Estate tax except in Canada you only pay if you own a house (not if you rent).
          In Canada we are also blessed with a 15% sales tax on all good and services (on top of those high tax rates).
          I mention the high tax rate but I think most Canadians will agree that it’s mostly fair and equitable, based on levels of income. We have universal health care, so everyone gets taken care off and it keeps people (and crime) off the street…yes, we’re a bunch of socialists as our American friends like to call us. But rather that than the health care mess down there in my opinion…

  3. I’ve always had it in the back of my head that I would NOT be spending the latter half of my life in the US. But I’ve never really looked into what needed to be done to become an expat? I have a buddy who lives in BKK. He’s a dual US/Australian citizen with passports from both, born in the states and naturalized to Sydney for 20+ years before relocating to BKK for the last 10. I’ve never asked him what it took to become an expat in Thailand, but I do know he only keeps his Australian passport current? I never asked why, perhaps we now have a clue?

  4. Sorry, but I consider these “inconveniences” to be expected and part of the experience. Over the past 7 years, I have dealt with most of these issues in the 6 countries I’ve lived in as part of the process. Sure they’re a hassle, but so are visa and immigration procedures in other countries. The problems I didn’t have are related to real estate, which I didn’t own, and taxes, which I don’t pay because I’m on SS and don’t have enough income. The one real challenge I had was opening a bank account in Thailand, which required me to be in two places at once. I solved that by making my daughter my power of attorney. There is no cost to that. Also, I use her address as my U.S.address. Again, it’s all part of the process.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      The thing is that most people have paid their dues in their own country for some of the rights/privileges that come with being citizens. What if the government suddenly told you that you had to live in the US to receive SS ? It’s like GIS (Guaranteed Income Supplement) that I mention in Canada which people are not entitled to if they are live outside the country. Losing health care or suddenly being treated as a foreigner subject to Capital Taxes are things that the government are taking away from you just because you choose to live outside ‘your’ country. Visa and immigration procedures in other countries are expected because they’re other countries, but I’m talking about benefits your own country strips you off when you choose to live overseas. Much more than inconveniences.

  5. Ugh… all the fears I have of early retirement: health care being the most important. We have such a crappy healthcare system over here where the insurance companies make everything absolutely unaffordable. That’s why I’ve been focusing on getting into healthy habits and staying as healthy as possible as I look forward to getting outta here in several years…
    HUNG THAI recently posted…Fire and Ice, Northern Lights and everything you need for your first time to IcelandMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      The problem Hung Thai is ignorance. If Americans knew what a fucked up health care system they have and could compare it to the rest of the civilized world, they would (or should) be in the streets screaming blue murder. When I hear stories about Americans paying thousands of dollars a month for health care I just shake my head in disbelief. Yes, Insurance and pharma companies with politicians in their pockets…

  6. You’ve got some interesting viewpoints and a vigorous discussion started here, Frank. I’ll have to check back later in the week to see where it all goes. Thanks for letting me rant on your blog. Great idea!
    Anita recently posted…Konopiste Castle, The Heir to the Austro-Hungarian Throne and The Great WarMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thank you for your contribution Anita! I think it’s an interesting subject that doesn’t get talked about much.

  7. Lydia Nasso says:

    We’ll be leaving in a few months to travel/live/work somewhere else indefinitely and I’m dreading all the paperwork. I’m also Canadian and have sold my condo but I’m still living here so that wasn’t a problem (quite a relief actually!). I’ll be keeping my mom’s address as my own so that should help in minimizing the hassle. I’m guessing the government wants its citizens to stay in the country (because we’re all dollar bills to the government) which is why health insurance is topped at 6 months out of the country. But I agree, with all the lifestyle changes nowadays the government should take that into consideration and at least extend the time to one year (not counting the exemption year)! Good on you for taking the leap and finding nirvana elsewhere! 🙂

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Lydia. True, governments want tax-paying residents and not so much citizens…but tax-paying residents should also be entitled to health care no? And I’m not sure it actually saves them money: since we’ve travelled we’ve gotten our medical stuff (and dental) done in the Czech Republic so no Canadian doctor’s visits, prescription drugs, or government paid visits to the gyno or dermatologist. So I figure they’ve saved a lot of money not having us live in Canada.
      On the other hand, keeping our healthcare would make it cheaper for private travel insurance and would be a backup shoulr something really bad happen…
      Lucky for us we are currently on Croatian health insurance which is good all over the EU. So we’ve dumped our expat insurance for now…

      Any idea where your base will be Lydia?

  8. I can relate to almost every point you mentioned, Frank. Like most everyone we did our homework and mapped out our game plan as best we could, but sometimes you don’t even know the questions to ask. We’ll find out if we missed something as time passes. Our end game is a little different in that we hope to plant our feet in the best of both worlds, so we’ll find out how that works as well.

    Rant on!
    Patti recently posted…Five Days in Brussels ~My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Ca’t plan for everything Patti, somethings you realize when they happen. And lucky for us the governments always changing their rules, usually for the worse…

  9. Oh no! If my comment got deleted.. 🙁 . Too long to write again..NNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Sorry Kemkem. Usually I’ll get a blank comment if something doesn’t go through but haven’t seen anything…

  10. It sounds like I was lucky not being born in North America! I left the UK in 2008 but didn’t really have any major issues when I decided not to return. Just some loans to pay off from uni and remember I even got a refund from paying too much tax. The biggest problem is an address though, still use my parents address for UK stuff and I’ve also got a PO box on Australia.
    Barry recently posted…Eating from the Forest While Hiking near Chiang MaiMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      No healthcare issues being away from home that long Barry? You’re still able to maintain it in the UK despite travelling full time?

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