American Expats, the IRS, FATCA and Other F-words

Besides “IRS,” Americans can now add another item to their list of ominous acronyms: FATCA. Like most things related to income taxes, the FATCA issue has a lot of people in a dither. As if US tax law wasn’t already complicated enough, along comes FATCA to gum up the works even more, especially for US citizens living overseas and earning income from a non-US source.

All US citizens or resident aliens living abroad are obligated to pay income taxes to the US Treasury, even if they haven’t lived in the United States for years, have no intention of returning, and even if their income comes solely from foreign sources. The United States of America is the only modern, industrialized nation that taxes the worldwide income of its estimated six million citizens who live abroad, even if their income is generated in a foreign country and they never return to their homeland.[1] Continue reading

Auf Wiedersehen, tschüß, Bis dann!

So goes the life of an expat hockey-wife, I am once again preparing to move to a new land. This move is one like no other as it is taking my husband and me to the most foreign place we will have ever lived: Russia.

After six years in Germany and Switzerland, I really feel like I am leaving a home. Though I have lived in three different cities over that time, the constant German-speaking bubble that I have traveled within has provided me with a level of comfort, continuity, and confidence that I grew very fond of. Now I am again starting at square one. I will once again be the new kid on the block, the one who will need help with everything, who will be nervous and unsure, and at times frustrated and embarrassed. I will once again feel that gut-deep feeling of homesickness, but this time it will be for two homes; one I know I will be returning to as I have each summer, and another, my German-speaking bubble, which I may never return to again.

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International schools: going local or not

Of the many considerations and decisions we have to make as expats, ones regarding education for our kids can be amongst the most challenging. What’s available where we are has made the decision for us whenever we came to that juncture. While we were still living in San Diego, our oldest was going to attend a German immersion charter school in San Diego. San Diego doesn’t otherwise have a Deutsche Schule but amazingly has the Albert Einstein Academies, the aforementioned immersion charter school.

Since we moved back to Germany before our daughter matriculated, she’s had another year of Kindergarten for us to consider the path to set on. We currently live more than an hour away from the next large city, Stuttgart, which now has three international schools. My husband and I didn’t feel that for this stage of the game (grade school) there was any reason that anybody had to make the big sacrifice of commuting in order for her to attend an international school. There is also a relatively new (about eight years old) international school in a smaller city closer to us that we keep in mind as an option for the future, but we’ve been made wary by stories from other expat families with older kids. Basically, the quality of teaching as well as administrative organization is not the greatest, especially for the older and newer grades since in a lot of cases, the school is still figuring things out.

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For the Expat-Pet-People

It seems that I have blogged quite a bit about dogs, here at The German Way Expat Blog (There’s a Dog in the Pub and Moving with Max). The reason for this is because my evolution as an expat in German-speaking Europe has coincided with my evolution as a dog owner. This is no surprise of course, seeing as how Germany is about as dog friendly a country as you will ever find. But as I have learned, due to very comprehensive federal policies, and thus high cultural standards regarding pets, being a pet owner in German-speaking Europe comes with more responsibility than many North American (or other) expats may be used to. As with all other rules, regulations, and cultural norms, it’s important to make yourself aware of the “German way” (or Swiss or Austrian), if you plan to partake in the world of expat pet ownership.

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Expatriates and the cost of living in A, D, CH

Expatriates don’t always have a choice of where they’re assigned to work, but they definitely need to know the cost of living in their assignment location. If your salary is paid by a US company, for example, that salary might put you at a huge disadvantage if you are working and living in Tokyo, Japan, which happens to be the most expensive city in the world for expats. (The news for Germany is much better.)

Companies with employees assigned to overseas locations usually offer some sort of cost-of-living allowance to supplement the increased costs. So even if you are going to an overseas location by your own choice, without company support, you need to know how the cost of living there compares to your current or home location. But how do you get that information? One excellent source is the website, from which we derived the rankings discussed here.

It may surprise you to learn that, except for New York City, Honolulu, Anchorage, San Jose and San Francisco, most cities in the United States of America have a far lower cost of living than places in Asia, Europe, Africa, South America – and even Canada! My own hometown of Reno, Nevada ranks 455th out of 780. Most places in the southern states of the US rank much lower than that. Continue reading

Comparing Germany and France and…

There was a time when I thought certain practices and cultural quirks were uniquely German (or Austrian or Swiss), but as I traveled around Europe more and more, I realized that some “German” things are actually European things. The fear of a draft or breeze, for instance, or tense and aggressive driving, and other cultural traits that differ from those in North America.

And yet there are also some interesting differences among the people in the various European countries. I was just in France for about a week. (And mostly without internet access in a remote area, which explains why this blog is a day late.) My wife and I drove across much of Germany, but as soon as we crossed the German-Belgian border (which is barely marked, by the way) I noticed a difference in driving styles on the autobahn (or whatever the Belgians call it). Since, unlike in Germany, there is a speed limit on freeways (130 km/h, or 80 mph) in Belgium (and most European countries), you don’t have to worry about someone suddenly coming out of nowhere in the left lane, doing literally 100 mph (161 km/h) as they zoom past you like you were standing still. In Germany you really need to look twice before venturing into the fast lane! Continue reading

These are a few of my favorite things . . .

I have been back in Canada for a few months now, for the usual hockey off-season, and I can’t help but continually make comparisons between my two homes. When nearing the end of the season in Europe, I start fantasizing about things at home in Canada: all the foods I’m going to eat, activities I’m going to do, people I am going to see.

Once here however, and all the Canadian foods have been devoured, summer festivals have been attended, and family have been visited, I start doing the same romanticizing about all the things I miss overseas.  Read on to see what it is I adore and miss about Germany and Switzerland when home in North America, and those things I long for in Canada, when I am living the expat life in Europe. How many of the same would you include on your own list? Continue reading

Germans: We don’t need no stinkin’ apartment numbers

It never really dawned on me that the Germans don’t use apartment numbers – until I lived in a German apartment house. The only way the postal carrier (Postbote/Postbotin) can deliver mail to the correct apartment in even a large apartment complex is by the surname on the mailbox. In my case, not even my own last name, but that of the people I was subletting the apartment from. And my apartment complex in Berlin even had a Hinterhaus, another building facing a courtyard behind the front building, and all of them were five stories high. Yet the only numbers in sight were for the floors.

My first reaction to the lack of apartment numbers (Wohnungsnummern) was, “How ridiculous is that?” But then I remembered that the Japanese don’t even have street names in most of their cities (except in Kyoto and Sapporo). They use block section numbers in a confusing (to us Occidentals) address system that makes the Germans look like the height of logic and reason. The Japanese also write a postal address in the reverse order of most of the world: starting with the geographic location and ending with the name of the recipient. Continue reading