Financial Umbilical Cord
I met with a financial adviser even before many of my friends knew I was going to quit my job and move abroad. I had worked hard for five years after graduating from college to save and to be financially independent. I didn't want that to go out the door just because I was taking a risk and going on an overseas adventure, without a job waiting for me. My financial adviser knew my entire situation and helped me find a debit card with his institution that reimburses me for all ATM fees, no matter what. This has been truly wonderful, not only in Vietnam but for traveling throughout SE Asia. However, when I asked about my retirement rollover funds that hadn't showed up in my account yet, I found out that my institution can't advise people who are living overseas, regardless of citizenship. They wouldn’t even answer my inquiry. I contacted my former employer, and my mom received a check from them in short order. She had to handle the deposit for me. Thankfully I had put her on my accounts. In fact, my adviser had recommended it. Sneaky, huh?
I was able to find a credit card meant for travelers without foreign transaction fees, though I find it funny that I was required to use an American address in connection with the account. So I used my parents' address.
Then I discovered that I couldn't stop my mail altogether, so I forwarded my mail to my parents, too.
I submitted a poem to an online publication today and was asked to include a mailing address on the form. I can’t think why. Yet I still dutifully typed in my parents’ address. You see, the mail system in Vietnam isn’t the most reliable. The women at the front desk of our apartment recommended that the apartment phone number be listed beneath the address on all incoming mail, so the delivery guy could call them if he didn’t know where to deliver it. And even though this is a fully online publication that pays next to nothing (“token payment”), if my poem gets published and something is sent in the mail, maybe a free pen or a pin, I don’t want it to get lost.
I rent out my condo to cover my mortgage and the cost of my (cheap) rent here, as well as to continue to build equity. My mom collects the rent from my tenants and deposits it in my account monthly.
Financially, long-term expats seem to fall into some combination of the following three camps: 1) reliant on folks at home (me) 2) reliant on employers that are equipped for international financial dealings or 3) having more of a cash-based financial strategy. I don’t see myself moving into camp #2 anytime soon, and obviously #3 isn’t ideal for retirement saving or looking to move back to the States, particularly in a nation with a weak currency.
Despite my hard work over the last five years, and my attempts at preparedness, my financial independence has been stymied by living overseas. I'm lucky to have parents who are willing and able to take care of these things for me, but it sometimes feels like the financial equivalent of living in their basement.
Furthermore, many American-based organizations and institutions do what they can to get you to call a toll free number, having limited hours for live online chats and burying their email inquiry forms. Live chats functional only during business hours on the West Coast are the worst for my time zone—they essentially represent the hours during which I’m sleeping. Ironically, I found this customer service sinkhole when booking an international flight through a third party travel website. You’d think a company that I paid to get from one foreign country to another would have this one figured out.
Leaving the States for this long has helped me realize how navel-gazing Americans truly are, from media to business. The media spends so much time talking about what’s happening in America, or how international events affect US. And international customers simply aren’t considered in most customer service efforts.
I’ve toned down my American consumer mentality with Vietnamese retail and dining experiences. My experience would be ruined if I didn’t—I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes. But I’m nonetheless indignant when American organizations don’t cater to me while I’m living abroad. I’m a paying customer—and I’m still paying taxes, after all!
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I quit a job I enjoyed at Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and left my family, friends, and beloved dog to join my boyfriend in moving across the world, in search of adventure and new experiences. I arrived in August 2015.