As an American expatriate, it’s easy to lose touch with what’s happening stateside. But just because you’re a U.S. expat working abroad doesn’t mean you can forget about your obligations at home.
Excluding members of the military, almost 9 million Americans are expats. Spread across at least 160 countries, expats live abroad but retain their U.S. citizenship.
Whether you’re a long-time expat or still packing your bags, there are a few things you should know about living and working in a foreign country:
1. Take Care of Your Taxes
No matter where they live or work, American citizens are subject to U.S. income taxes. Even those whose tax burden is zero must still file tax forms with the IRS.
Paying taxes is enough of a pain for domestic workers. Many American expats need a financial professional’s help to stay compliant. Platforms like MyExpatTaxes make it possible to complete returns in as little as 30 minutes.
“The average time for expat tax firms to complete a return is 1-2 months,” explains MyExpatTaxes Founder Nathalie Goldstein, a U.S. expat living in Vienna. “Our turnaround time has helped us handle this year’s ten-fold growth while maintaining our quality standards.”
What does Goldstein attribute the glut to? Expats getting Covid-19 stimulus checks. “Stimulus checks count as income,” Goldstein reminds clients. “They need to be reported, even if you haven’t earned other income this year.”
2. Get Your Visa Early
The visa process can be extremely long, and Covid-19 restrictions have only made things worse. Goldstein suggests starting early: “As is true of taxes, getting your work visa ironed out early can save you a lot of last-minute headaches.”
Different countries have different visa requirements. Some require you to return to your home country periodically in order for it to remain valid. Others need an employer to verify your status in order for you to legally remain in your host country.
Getting verification letters and travel plans squared away takes time. Don’t wait until the last minute to reach out to your sponsor or to book a plane ticket.
3. Embrace the Local Culture
Working abroad does not need to be all work and no fun. Even though you might bleed red, white, and blue, you’ll benefit from embracing the local culture. Breaking down language and cultural barriers makes it a lot easier to fit in, get comfortable, and make the most of your time outside of the United States.
Getting acquainted with the local culture can also benefit your work. Look for ways to connect with supervisors and coworkers. Try some local cuisine with them, or ask them to help you learn key phrases in the native language.
What are you waiting for? Go scope out tourist sites, local restaurants, and historic locations in your new home. You can’t go wrong exploring where you live.
4. Keep Up to Date on U.S. Affairs
What happens in the U.S. inevitably affects Americans living abroad. A good example is the latest round of stimulus checks. Checks are due to be cut just weeks of the new stimulus deal broke.
“If Americans living abroad are up to date with their tax filings, they should receive the second stimulus check,” says Goldstein. “However, it’s not too late for those who are not.”
Expats who have not filed should follow the streamlined procedures for tax filing, Goldstein recommends. Otherwise, they may not be eligible. Eligibility requirements for the second round of checks mirrors those of the first round.
5. Monitor Local News, Too
Not only will you be affected by policy changes and other news from the U.S., but you have to keep an eye on what’s happening in your new country. Local and national governments might make changes that affect you directly as an expat.
This doesn’t have to be a lot of work. “You can read the foreign newspaper, you can watch foreign movies, you can Skype with your friends,” argues Nan Sussman, a psychology professor at the College of Staten Island who’s studied repatriation.
What should you look out for? Anything that could change your working status or affect your security. You might need to know, for example, about a local Covid-19 lockdown that prevents you from going to the office.
U.S. expats have their work cut out for them. Living in a foreign country might sound fun, but working in one can be a challenge. The good news is, there are plenty of companies and other expats eager to help.