Saturday, 23 July 2011

What's it like to be American abroad?

 an answer to the question what is it like being an american abroad
This is a great post by expat blogger Nicky Bryce-Sharron. She's from Ohio and now lives in Brighton. Awesomeville is a great blog and if you don't read it already add it to your blog roll! I had to share, because it captures the experience of being an expat so well. I can totally identify with her writing. 

Washing up liquid or dish soap?

If you really miss the nice metal teeth, watch this video and you can see them tearing off a piece of foil! Heaven :)

The other day I was on the American Expats in London Facebook page and saw a question asking if it was possible to buy Dawn dish soap (washing up liquid). I thought it was an interesting thing to want to buy over here, because in my opinion the dish soap you can get here is just as good. 

Further into the thread someone asked what was up with "What's up with the lousy 'zip' lock bags?" and then this of course led into a bit of back and forth about the superiority of Ziploc baggies and our tin foil (Renyolds Wrap) that comes in a box with nice sharp teeth so you can easily tear it. 

I was of coursed lured into the thread because I too stand behind the quality of American Ziploc baggies and whenever I go home I always buy a few boxes to bring back with me. 

Naturally the thread turned to helpful people mentioning you can get American things at Costco and then of course someone mentioned that they missed Girl Scout cookies.

I digress......

The point is after adding my comment about the baggies, I took a moment to reflect on the original post about wanting to know where you can buy Dawn dish soap. 

I thought to myself that of all the things to miss product wise a person feels that they need to have American dish soap? I also thought that it was pretty ridiculous and that they needed to toughen up and just get on with it. I thought this person isn't going to make it if they can't are so set in their ways about dish soap. I mean if Fairy liquid is good enough for the Queen, surely an expat can use it. 

There are of course things that I miss, food and product wise. Food especially. Things like Spaghettio's with meatballs (Hoops just aren't the same), Velveeta mac and cheese, frozen pizza, certain kinds of canned soup. I do agree that the foil here is rubbish. However, I've had to face facts and the make the best of it. 

After reading the thread I thought what an absolute waste of time to even be posting that question. Then 30 seconds later I felt that I had been a bit heartless and judgmental. Perhaps that dish soap had a special meaning to that person, or they just love washing dishes. I don't know and it doesn't matter. Although the fact that I felt so heartless and flippant about it signaled to me, that I was becoming more like a local and less like an expat. 

The point is this, all us expats go through adjusting to life in our new country in our own ways. 

The things I missed during my first two years here seem like a long time ago. You definitely get to the point where things just kind of click. You go to the grocery store and you don't wish you could buy certain America products. You'll find that one day you don't even notice everyone's accent and you find yourself getting the first round in. I'll bet there even comes a day when you don't even care what washing up liquid you use anymore....

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Can Brits work in America?

This is Matthew, he is English!

//My good American friend Taylor Baldry  sent my English husband this email. He was giving him some ideas for employment when we move to Minnesota.///

Dear Matthew,

I do miss a karaoke-ing-a-go-go. But it sounds like, from what I hear, that it won't be too long until we once again will be able to share a mic but this time in the Land of the Free.
Speaking of Cash, have you seen this video? It is a crowd-sourced animation where anyone can contribute a frame to the project: 
Also speaking of cash, here are some ideas for your new job in America:
1. Fake tour guide. This is something that I always wanted to do - give people tours based that are based on make-believe. There actually is a business in Chicago that does this.  
2. Hire an Englishmen. In China, a White man can make a fine living being rented out for parties, business openings and such as their presence supposedly adds a sense of sophistication, hipness and diversity. So in Minnesota, offer yourself up so people can hire you for various events to make them seem more witty or perhaps glum.
3. Start wind farms in the middle of one of Minnesota's many lakes. It's windy.
4. Become a street map seller. You know how in LA there are people that sell "Maps of the Stars" to tourists? Sure you do. Well team up with your wife, Rhea, to pinpoint interesting (or perhaps very uninteresting) places in Minneapolis. The maps could also be very personal - for example "this is where I threw-up on myself, this is where I found $5, this is where I was when my doctor called me to let me know that my gonorrhea results came back negative." etc.
5. Train conductor.
6. Become a butler. Check out this site on how to become, as the name suggests, a modern butler. They have some very educational videos on packing a suitcase.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Minnesota summer at the cabin

We haven't had much of a summer here in London, so I've been looking at lovely photos of other people's summers.There's nothing like going up north to the cabin during the summer in Minnesota. These photos, taken by Allison Vallant, really capture what it's like to go to the cabin. Allison and I went to MCAD together and she's a very talented lady. She majored in photography surprise surprise :) Her blog and Flickr site are gorgeous. Make sure to take a look. You will love it.
Add c

Summer in Minneapolis

I love Sharyn Morrow's photography and I will readily admit to living vicariously through her pictures. I was missing the summer in Minneapolis today, especially as it's cold, gray and rainy here in London. I found these pictures on her Flickr and thought they did a good job of summing up summer in Minnesota. Sharyn's blog Weapons of Massdistraction is one of my favourites, it's a good read!
Sharyn Marrow Photography

Summer in England

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Expat Taxes

There are only two certainties in life...death and taxes. 

It's that time in my expat journey to write my post about paying taxes. I've put it off for as long as I could, but there's no escaping it. If you ever want to go back to the States you need to be current with your taxes. Despite what I've read about people hoping to forget all about taxes when they come to live in England it's just not true. You will have to file taxes.

In addition to filling back taxes from 2007 I also had a misfiling from 2004 which finally caught up with me and I ended up having to pay a not so small sum of money to the IRS. Turns out that I can refile and get a refund, so that was something that I needed to do as well.

I started thinking about filing my back taxes almost a year ago and started asking around if anyone knew of someone who can handles American taxes. A lovely guy that I know here recommended someone, but I didn't have a very good experience with him. Basically the person who was recommended was just so slow at getting back to me. I just gave up on it, thinking that I could maybe figure it out on my own. Now that was almost a year ago, so you can see how far I got. 

Since I am thinking of returning to Minnesota at some point and applying for Matthew's green card, that means I have to get these taxes sorted. I spent a bit of time researching it online and came to the conclusion that I am not be the best person to file my own taxes. I might be good at lots of things, but I came to the realization that I was more than happy to let a professional take care of it. 

So that meant finding someone to do it. I went to the UK Yankee website, which is my favourite site for everything expat, and had a look at the Tax threadHaven't filed Since moving to the UK! Help! 

This tread struck a cord with me and I saw that they mentioned Greenback Expat Tax Service. I went to the website, liked the look of it so I sent them an email and they got back to the next day.

Getting my taxes sorted was really easy. I got an email instructing me that I had been given a File Share where I could upload files and that I needed to fill out a tax questionaire. I filled out the form and uploaded all my tax information. 

I had the IRS send me everything I needed, which made things easy. I uploaded all my documents on a Sunday and I got an email back on Monday afternoon informing me that my taxes were ready! I couldn't believe it. 

I had one issue with my 2010 tax return relating to some investments and David was super helpful. I needed to get some more information from my financial advisor and he was able to amend it the very next day. 

I've been very impressed with how quickly they came back to me. I would recommend Greenback Expat Tax Service. It was just so easy to upload the information they needed and get the returns done. I just felt that I didn't want to mess around with my taxes and risk not filing them correctly. 

Their pricing is pretty straightforward you pay $329 for the first return and each additional year is $279. You can pay the bill online, either by credit card or PayPal.

All I can say is don't be afraid of filing your taxes, just do it. Working with David was so easy and he's a lovely guy and I am very happy with the service I received from Greenback.

I got this email from David about the process works:

We get a lot of questions from new customers about 'how the process works' so below is a brief outline of what you can expect. If you have any questions, please drop me an email anytime and I will do my best to answer them. I understand that you have multiple years of returns to file. If you just fill in one questionnaire and then copy it for each year, you will only need to change any information that changes from one year to the next. If you have any correspondence from the IRS regarding your 2004 return, please upload that as well.

How the process works:

1- You will receive shortly (or have just received) a user name and password to access our sharefile system. This system will allow us to securely share your tax documents as well as your draft and final tax returns. This system utilizes the same 128bit encryption that banks use, so it is very secure. 

2- When you log in, you will notice that I have uploaded a questionnaire which you can use to share your tax details, as well as a checklist which itemizes which documents you will need to upload to your secure folder.

3- Once you have uploaded these documents, I will start reviewing them, and will likely come back to you with some questions and clarifications to make sure that I fully understand your specific situation and can help you take advantage of as many deductions as possible.

4- Once I have all the info I need from you, I will prepare your draft return and upload it to your secure folder. At that point, you will also receive an invoice from us. Payment is not due until you are happy with your draft return.

5- Once you have reviewed your tax return and paid the invoice, we will then upload the final return to you, with directions for mailing it in or in many cases we can efile it for you.

I hope that is clear, however if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

I look forward to working with you. My goal is to make this US tax year your most hassle-free one yet!


David L. Hillary, Jr., CPA, CITP, MBA

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Thinking about time

I think a lot about time these days. 

I think about.....

How much longer will I be living in London?

How long will we live in the States?

How long will it take to get my UK passport once I've applied?

I think about not having enough hours in the day. About how long my journey to work takes. How fast the weeks seems to go by and how the weekends go by even faster.

I think about if I have time to really meet that friend for a coffee on a Saturday afternoon, or if I should be spending my time doing other things. 

I think about how long it would take to do a masters degree.  I think about how long it will take for me to advance my career.

I spend time thinking about writing posts on this blog and then feeling bad that I can't find the time.

I think about how I now need to plan what I need to do. If I need to go shopping and it's all the way across town do I really want to make the journey to get there, is it worth the time?

I feel like time is moving at a speed that I've never experienced before. It seems to slip away before I've done so many of things I want to. All of sudden it's 10 p.m. and I still have a full to do list.

I don't know if it's because I am getting older. All I know is that I am more aware of time than ever before and that I feel the need to plan and make sure that I do everything that I want to do in this life.

My friend Becky and I have had talks about this recently. She reckons it's something that starts to happen to you when you turn 30. That you realise that life isn't forever in a way that seems much different from when you're in your 20's.

 I think that it's partly because of living here in London that I've had the chance to reflect on my life in way that I wasn't able to back in Minneapolis. I sometimes feel like I've been plucked out of one life and dropped into another. I feel more or less the same, yet things feel that tiny bit different. 

The main reason that I've been thinking so much about time is that I am coming up to 3 years here in the UK and after October 11th I can apply for my UK passport. 

Which means that we've thinking about when we'll go and live in Minnesota. When I married Matthew we made a deal that at some point (after I got my UK passport) that we'd live for at least a year in Minneapolis. Just so Matthew could see what life is like where I grew up and for us to spend some time with my friends and family. 

I'd really like Matthew to experience what it's like to be Minnesota, because being Minnesotan is pretty brilliant and I'd like him to have the chance to live in another country. I want to show him everything about a place that I love. I think Matthew would make a great Minnesotan.

At the moment nothing is set in stone when anything is going to happen. The only thing weighing on my shoulders is if we're going to start a family at some point where is that going to be? Do I want to raise a family in London? Would we live in MN or somewhere else in England? So many things to think about and consider. So many things to think about.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven" 
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