Top 5 Expat Dilemmas
1. Should I stay or should I go?
The first dilemma all aspiring expats face is whether to move abroad at all. It’s easier not to of course, and from the comfort of our home country the risks can seem to outweigh the benefits. In practice though, the benefits will almost certainly provide overwhelming justification in the long run.
From experiencing another culture, to making new friends, to the unusual and unexpected experiences that enable us to grow as people, to possibly learning another language, living abroad is an experience that will not just shape us but stay with us for the rest of our lives.
2. Keeping up with friends and family back home
One of the biggest dilemmas expats experience is the fear of missing significant moments in our loved ones’ lives. Births, weddings and birthdays are all major milestones in life, and naturally we want to be there. There’s also the fear of losing our place in people’s hearts a little, through being ‘out of sight, out of mind’, as the saying goes. In truth though, for most people the opposite is the case: ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ is a more appropriate expression for our loved ones’ attitudes towards us when we move abroad. Furthermore, today’s technology makes staying close easier than ever before, with Facebook and Instagram leading the way for sharing our daily lives, WhatsApp and again Facebook for instant messaging, and Skype and Facetime for video calls.
3. Should I bother to form new relationships?
For many people, moving abroad is a temporary arrangement, perhaps while studying, or for a fixed-term work contract. As such it’s easy to wonder whether it’s really worth the effort of making new friends, who we’ll inevitably have to say goodbye to at some point and rarely if ever see again. The short and simple answer to this dilemma is yes, it’s definitely worthwhile. Friendship is about times shares, not the long term, and all true friendships benefit both sides. Furthermore, as mentioned above it’s easier now to keep in touch than ever before. Never forget, the ability of others, particularly from different cultures, to illuminate us in unforeseen ways is arguably infinite.
4. Should I embrace a foreign culture?
This can be a tough one. At the root of this dilemma is a an irrational fear that another culture will change us for the worse or take something away from us somehow. Seeing the world the way others do and embracing other ways of doing things actually only helps us to grow though, so rather than losing something we actually gain something.
5. Should I file a US federal tax return?
“Personal technology is transforming the way families stay in touch, particularly if the older generation is comfortable using social media.”
The US taxes based on citizenship, rather than residence, so expats are still liable to file and possibly pay US taxes even on their foreign-earned income. There are thankfully some mechanisms that exempt foreign-earned income from US tax (such as the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, and the Foreign Tax Credit), however you still have to file to claim them. There are also extra filing requirements that affect many Americans living abroad, such as the Foreign Bank Account Report. Many expats assume that the IRS isn’t aware of their foreign-earned income though; sadly this isn’t true as the IRS has access to bank account information from the majority of foreign banks (thanks to FATCA), and tax information from the majority of foreign governments that it can cross reference against US tax returns filed by Americans living abroad – or the absence of them. There is an amnesty program for people who are behind with their filing called the Streamlined Procedure, but it’s important to understand and fulfil your US filing obligations, seeking help from an expat tax specialist if necessary.