The worst thing about being a full time traveller
Bad words, I’ve warned you. This is one of those “angry posts”.
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.
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?
Related: Where to live in Spain as retiring expats? Choosing our base…
Related: Our Best and Worst “Slow Travel” Bases over 5 years of Full-time Travel
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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Long time lurker, first time poster. My wife and I sold our home January 2020, and have been slow travelers in the US ever since. In a week we’re leaving the US (first stop Torrevieja), seldom to return.
Anyway, after reading the rants from you and Anita, I came to recommend escapees.com They were set up to support a different set of slow travelers (RV’ers), but we have found their services very useful.
First, they give you a legal (non PO box) to use as your home address. Second they will forward your mail to you where and when you want (including overseas). Third, they will scan your envelopes (like the US Post Office will sometimes do) and let you see the pictures, and, if you tell them, they will open and scan the contents (or to throw that one away)
Now, each of those things costs, but so far we have not found it to be an unreasonable amount (YMMV). And if you use the scanning you can make sure you’re not paying to forward you things you don’t need.
And let me just reinforce Anita’s rant about US healthcare–employer-sponsered healthcare is too expensive, and Medicare is barely adequate (and the US keeps trying to crapify it with Medicare Plus), but they both beat the alternatives for cost/quality. We have a Cigna Global plan that is supposed to cover us pretty much everywhere (except the US) for the 1st year, and then we’ll see how it goes.
After Torrevieja, we’re headed for Skopje, Sofia, and then Barcelona for a Christmas gathering. I am looking forward to read past and future posts here and on mappingspain.com
I always like lurkers.
That’s a great tip. Never heard of escapees.com. This post is a few years old so I’m sure this and (and maybe a few other sites) have come up. It’s a real need for people with our lifestyle.
Enjoy your trip and hopefully a lifetime of full-time travel! Please comment and let me know your thoughts on places like Sofia and Skopje…
How much I loved this rant! You have no idea! I don’t share many of the above problems as I’m from Europe, don’t have a property and so on. But the lack of a permanent address or telephone number is a nightmare. I am bigger and try working online. Freelance companies require to prove of address which I did have for years. Even when I stayed in one country for longer I only paid rent, never paid bills and only get a pay as you go phone. When I once said to someone that I haven’t paid any bills for years they looked at me like I’m an alien lol I had to use my sister’s phone number in order to be able to use Paypal. Oh and – your IP doesn’t match your billing address lol I’m laughing now but this can get very frustrating, especially now when more and more people work remotely and call themselves digital nomads. Thank you for this rant platform!
Thank you Pati.
These are things I wish I knew (and had prepared for) prior to leaving Canada. It’s been such a headache on so many occasions. So I understand everything you’ve said in your comment and completely agree.
Agness of Fit Travelling
This is an important aspect of traveling! I am a long-term traveler from Poland, but I haven’t had any of these issues, yet!
Tanja (the Red phone box travels)
that’s a lot of money to pay for taxes whilst you’re not living anymore in Canada
I hope more Blog post like this on this blog. Keep it great.
Sounds like lots of hoops to jump through…I guess I am about to find out what it will be like for me soon. I am taking voluntary early retirement in October. Although have not yet decided how many months per year I will be away from the UK. The health care system here is good ( I know and work for the NHS) as a UK resident I guess my rights will continue. Although if I am away for over 6 months things could get a little tricky. As for Council Tax, you pay more if your house is empty for long spells of time…go figure. I think insurance is also higher if the house is empty for long. Lots to learn about what will work best for us…will keep you posted:) Thanks to both you and Anita for some insight into what it is like for you 🙂
It’s all complicated isn’t it Gilda? And sometimes you wonder if different government departments ‘talk’ to each other. I know in Canada they don’t for the most part, but Employment Insurance does o-ordinate with passport control (my know this from my one stint on unemployment insurance when I was zinged when I went overseas on holiday..)
Thanks for the comment Gilda.
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.
No healthcare issues being away from home that long Barry? You’re still able to maintain it in the UK despite travelling full time?
Oh no! If my comment got deleted.. 🙁 . Too long to write again..NNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!
Sorry Kemkem. Usually I’ll get a blank comment if something doesn’t go through but haven’t seen anything…
Hah! Thanks for making me thing about things l only have to think about when tax time comes. It is very frustrating. For a quick minute, we had talked about moving back to L.A once we decided to leave Houston and travel. It became very clear, very quickly that not working was impossible because out insurance premiums would have been unaffordable. If we ever moved back, we have decided to just take the hit as far as capital gains because l refuse to move back to Houston and live for 2 years in our rental house just to claim the tax benefit. It makes me almost glad the house is there, not in L.A as the houses appreciate very little. Having a permanent address is a pain, having to file taxes an even bigger one. We pay hundreds to the accountant to file zero income :-). To open a bank account in Malta was worse than getting a mortgage with my U.S nationality. Here, the bank account is in his name only, the headache was too much. I have an online one that circumvents the bullshit. The list goes on, but it’s part of the fun of traveling outside your comfort zone. The way my mind works, I actually enjoy it because it keeps my brain sharp as l try to anticipate and solve the next problem :-).
Again, sorry this comment somehow ended up in spam.
You’ve added a lot of useful information here and have touched upon some of Anita’s comments. Capital tax – that hurts. And what is the point of that? You’re still tax paying citizens and your only crime is choosing to live somewhere else.
Yes, Lissette goes through the same thing with taxes every year. So we have a Canadian accountant as well as a US accountant. And we also went through banking hassles here, the only reason being that Lissette told them that she was a dual citizen.
I have stuff to complain about being Canadian but you guys have it even tougher!
Thanks for the comment Kemkem.
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.
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…
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! 🙂
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?
My guess is that even though you haven’t “cost” anything in terms of taking advantage of the Canadian health system, you also haven’t been spending your money in Canada so that isn’t very profitable to the government. Of course, it’s all speculation and, unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about it right now to change the laws. But from what I understand you’re both still paying Canadian taxes so in a case such as yours I think you should be eligible to continue receiving medical insurance. That’s really cool that you’re now on Croatian health insurance AND it’s good all over the EU – wow!!!!
Actually, we don’t really have a plan except that we know we want to travel and eventually find a place we like where we could start a small business which will, in turn, allow us to travel as much as we want. We haven’t traveled in over a year (#firstworldproblems) so right now we’re just itching to get away….lol…but don’t know where yet!
Spot on! I always love a good rant 🙂 We find ourselves ranting about this same topic quite often actually. These are all the reasons we now stay out of the US for 330 days of the year in order to qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion for taxes and healthcare. Our first few years of traveling, we were dealing with these same frustrations because we weren’t out of the States long enough and didn’t qualify. Then when we went home last year, bought a house, started paying health insurance and federal taxes, we realized how much money we could save by leaving again (being that we have the ability to work from our laptop) and staying out. We sold our house after a year, made a decent profit but were hit with a hefty capital gains tax. However, we figured that was better than another year of health insurance, home owners insurance, taxes, etc. This is one of our biggest frustrations because now we are limited on how often we can go home and see family. Anything over 35 days in the US will require us to pay federal taxes (we still have to pay self employment tax no matter what) and would be required to carry health insurance or face a penalty. So we stand to gain a lot by staying gone. Unfortunately, our family has a hard time understanding this and sometimes it does feel like we are picking money over family. Its always a dilemma.
Thanks so much for this very interesting comment Brittany! I’m sorry I’m only just getting to it, it went to spam along with 2 other comments on this post (no idea why).
So you’re in the opposite situation of most people: having to stay OUT of the country rather than in. I never heard of that, but then in most cases people who go overseas are retirees or they make their money in investments back home so they don’t have to worry about reporting foreign income.
Oh boy, all sounds complicated. I guess you’ve had to consult with tax accountants? (like we did).
Thanks for adding a new twist to this discussion.
HI Frank-always love your rants. We haven’t experienced some of the issues you raised yet like extra taxes-we’ve only been slow traveling for 14 months and are now back in the US to decide what our next move will be-go for the long stay visa and which European country would that be or do the 90 day dance in and out of the EU again,
There are mail services in the US that will give you a non Post Office address and receive your mail for you-we have a number of friends, mostly boat cruisers, who use this. We also have a Skype phone number in our area code for $52/year, with voice mail.
The health insurance issue is a whole nother deal. I think many Americans know we have a very f..ed system, and yes before reaching medicare age, especially age 55-65, it is very expensive with very high deductibles and before Obamacare if you had a pre-existing condition you could n’t get anyway. We found pay as you go for the few health issues we had while traveling in Europe was pretty minimal. One of our hang ups for the long stay visa is the requirement for $0 deductible world health insurance paid in full for a year and being “older” that is very expensive.
Thanks for all the comments too
Paula and Paul
I’m sorry, I found your comment in Spam along with a few others. I don’t know why that happened. So I’m sorry I’m only getting to it today.
– good to know about a non-PO address. Didn’t know that was possible. In our 1st year of travel we had a PO box in Canada but of course that wasn’t good for official things…just a place to collect mail while travelling. But the problem is that you need someone to forward it to you from the box or it just sits there…we had quite a pile after that first year (plus it was expensive) so we asked our tenants to take care of mail for us in exchange for keeping the rent stable. They did, so that solved that.
Ah, zero deductible expat insurance. I’ve never heard that could be an issue for a Visa so I appreciate you mentioning it (that’s in France?). We had expat insurance when we applied for our Visa in Croatia but they had no issues with it. But yes, Expat insurance with no deductible would mean very high premiums. And then what happens when you get to a certain age where you can’t get coverage? I know my mom has had some of those issues with insurance being now in her 70s….
Thanks Paula and I’m sorry about the issue with the comment.
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!
Thank you for your contribution Anita! I think it’s an interesting subject that doesn’t get talked about much.
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…
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…
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.
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.
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?
For sure Ron. When we opened up bank accounts here in Croatia it suddenly got very complicated when Lissette mentioned she was a dual Canadian/US citizen. A whole additional set of questions…just like Anita mentions.
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.
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…
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.
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…
Sarah (JetSetting Fools)
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.
Yes, just hope that the long arm of the law doesn’t come to visit YOU one day 🙂
I used to think when I was young how cool it would be to “live off the grid”. That used to be possible but no more. You’re always a click of a button away…