What’s Special About the United States?

You must know the TV show “The Newsroom”? The news production parody from Aaron Sorkin (same guy behind the shows West Wing & Sports Night).

First minutes of the pilot episode have news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) ranting on about what makes the United States the greatest country in the world (spoiler: “it’s not, but it can be”). If you haven’t seen it, google his rant later.

Will McAvoy

Before you balk, no – I am NOT supporting Trump (a.k.a. Mr. “Make America Great Again”). No, not in a million years. Nor am I supporting Hillary Clinton. No, not in a million years.

Sure, America could be great again. But I hold no hope, in either candidate.

Hold your breath for 4 years? No, better still, go away for 4 years.

Whatever happens this November, America in 2020 might just be a place to return to. (Or it might not.)

But no doubt, now is a great time to become an expat yourself.

— Which begs the question, what are you still doing there? Start on your plan, today.

gonein1year-overview

I’m Calling It: Bernie vs Trump. But, Seriously?

Four years ago, I wrote about Romney vs. Obama, and international poll results for the 2012 candidates. Basically, The Whole World, save one country, overwhelmingly chose Obama. (Revisit the old post to see who chose Romney)

Fast forward four years and we’re at another election. It’s still early, long before the primaries are all done. Plus, I don’t inject myself with the media hype 24×7 (a mental health choice). But from what I gather, there are still a few viable candidates on either side.

That said, if Americans’ frustration is the deciding factor, then the final fight is between the only two anti-establishment candidates:

Bernie vs Trump

So, yeah, I’m calling the final fight. Good bye, good ‘ol girl, Hillary. Good bye, long list of Republican has-beens and never-will-bes. The final fight is between the Vermont Socialist and the Center of His Universe.

Contest: putting my money where my mouth is

If you think I’m wrong, throw in your pick for the final fight (comment below).

If it turns out you pick the correct two (and I’m wrong), then I’ll gift you a full year’s subscription to “Gone in One Year” — free.

Get your popcorn – the bet’s on! This gets decided when both conventions decide their pick.

Foreign Born Americans Can Become President

From high school civics class, I remember a US presidential candidate…:

  1. Must be 35 years or older
  2. Must be a natural-born US citizen (not a “naturalized” American)
  3. Must have lived in the US for 14 years
Checklist
Checklist

Okay, I lied. Above is true, but below is how I actually remember it: Continue reading Foreign Born Americans Can Become President

Thirteen Years of National Emergency

Heard the News?

Just in case you missed the news, US President Obama quietly extended the country’s status of national emergency. I’m guessing you missed that bit of news. Though, you probably didn’t miss the fact the year is now 2014.

I know what you’re thinking… it’s 2014, and the terrorist attack which killed nearly 3000 people on September 11, 2001 happened in 2001. That’s like …13 years ago. Yup, 13 years. Yup, the US, the most (insert here: powerful/wealthy/nuclear-tipped/war faring/inch-measuring) country in the world, still running scared in a state of national “Oh GAWD, the sky is falling!” emergency.

It's a trap!

Thirteen Years. Seriously?

Do you know what you were doing during the attack? For millions of Americans, it’s the annual conversation-starter question, if ever there was one.

Continue reading Thirteen Years of National Emergency

Canada’s a Magnet for People Unlocking Cell Phones

Did you catch the news that since last Saturday, it’s now illegal to unlock your phone? You probably did.

But did you hear how big the penalties are? For first-time offenders, we’re talking half a million dollars and up to 5 years of jail time! Yeah, that’s a serious f***-ing penalty for a new law.

UPDATE: This post was originally written in 2013. As of early 2015, the act of unlocking a phone in the US is now legal again, with one condition. If the phone company agrees your contract term (typically 2 years) is satisfied, then they must agree to unlock your phone if you request it. (Thanks Joel!)

If you’re a techno-phobe, left wondering what “unlocking” even means, here’s the skinny: A “locked” phone can only be used with one service provider, like AT&T. When unlocked, you can use the same expensive phone with Sprint, Verizon, etc. The common argument is “But I paid big money for that phone…why couldn’t I use it with any provider I want?” The industry answer is typically “You only thought it was your phone…ours and (you) will always be ours.

What does this mean for Expats like yourself?

When I travel, I take my phone with me. In fact, I’ll be taking my new iPhone 5 with me to Prague when I go in 2 weeks. I did some serious research before buying my iPhone 5. Even got Expat Yourself community members in on the discussion.

When I travel, I take my phone’s SIM card out and replace it with a local SIM. That gives me a local phone number and data plan for temporary use. But when a phone is “locked” – that’s not an option.

Luckily for most of the world’s travellers, this “locked” business really only happens with American cellular phone providers. (Yes, for example in Britain, everyone’s phone can freely be switched over from provider to provider.)

So, before an American travels abroad, he must first pay a small fee ($20-$50) to unlock the phone.

Oh, but not anymore. Now, that fee is gone, and replaced with jail-time.

Isn’t There a Hero In The House (or continent)?

But Wait! — There’s Canada to the rescue! In Canada, there’s much public discussion around a draft bill. The draft was initiated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. They made the draft public (imagine that!) and invited any and all feedback (and imagine that!!). Crazily enough, the public like it. Why? Because some of it is exactly opposite of what the US recently passed. Whether causal or coincidence, it looks like Canadian smartphone owners may soon be all the envy of American smartphone users.

Now, am I saying you should move to Canada to enjoy more features on your newest iPhone, Android, or smartphone? Of course not. That’s like suggesting you move from Provo, Utah to Las Vegas, Nevada to access electric fuelling station for your electric car. There are far better reasons to move to Las Vegas…and there are far better reasons to move to Canada.

Canadian Freedom

The US Election is 1 Week Away. Place Your Bets.

For my US readers….and us American citizens living abroad

A few months ago, I thought about asking which candidate you hope gets in, who you’re voting for.  Or, if you’re like a lot of people, which candidate you’re voting against.

But the real question I should ask is…

What If You’re Wrong?

Here’s a post I found on Facebook (not me):

Whoever wins, I'm leaving.

This guy isn’t making a political statement, but it made me think.  There are a few people out there who so despise the “other guy” that they’re willing to leave the country if he wins.

How about you?  How strongly do you feel against the other candidate?

My Offer To You: I Get You Working Abroad

If you’re ready to leave the US, and you have strong feelings about the election turnout next week, then I got an offer for you.

If I select you, I will get you working abroad.  I will personally consult you on every step of the way, from the day you win, to the day you set foot on foreign land.

Now, a lot of people say they want to get work outside the US.  Maybe they haven’t enough money, or have to finish school, or they’re just too unsure about too many things. That’s where I help.  I’m here to help you go.  You got questions, I got answers.

How to Win?

  1. Make a comment below.  Tell me the candidate you want to win.
  2. Are you ready to leave the country?  If he doesn’t win, tell me you want to travel.
  3. After your comment, share it with friends.  Click the Facebook button or make a tweet.

Make your decision and be proud of it.  Stand by it publicly and I Promise You, it Will happen!

How I Select the Winner

The day after the election, I will randomly select one of the eligible comments below.  What’s “eligible”?  For all the commenters who wanted the losing candidate, then I assume they are still willing to go.

I’ll contact the winner, and we immediately work together to make it happen.

Good Luck — Write Your Comment Below!

Romney Big in Pakistan. All Else = Obama.

In just 2 weeks, all this election bullshit will be over.  For god’s sake, I’m so sick of hearing about it, I would rather sleep through the next weeks.

What I can’t stand the most, is how “close” these candidates have been throughout the whole process.  Unfortunately, those in charge (whoever they are) will forever only offer you 2 choices.  So, it’s truly a decision to choose the lesser of 2 evils.

But, really, why so close?  Ever wonder what people actually see in Romney?  Do people simply follow their favourite party, no matter what?

Ever wonder…what does the rest of the world think?  What about the entire world (for any non-travelers, I mean all those countries outside the USA’s borders)?  If the rest of the world voted, Romney could kiss any dream of being elected bye-bye.

what if the world voted

Notice just ONE COUNTRY LIKES ROMNEY (ever so slight more) over Obama: Pakistan.

Pakistan… why?

I’m not sure why Pakistan.  If anyone out there can explain it to me, I’d love to hear why.

 

 

Why Are People Leaving the US, Part 4

Reason 4: Patriotism

I hear you…”Wait, Jeff, patriotism?  Seriously?  How can you call someone wanting to leave…a patriot?

To answer, I remind you that around 250 years ago, when families were so frustrated by their country’s tyranny (England), whose ancestors had fled, they chose to struggle in a new country (United States)?  They desired a free life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Today, we call those people our founding fathers, our country’s first and original patriots.  (Happy 4th of July today, in fact!)

Yes, I do consider someone who believes strongly in personal freedoms as a patriot.

It’s Not Your Fault if You’re Blindly Patriotic

Don’t take it personally, but if you believe the United States is strong or “going well,” that’s not patriotism.  Blind belief in the government does not make one a patriot.  It never has.  A patriot thinks for his or herself.  A patriot questions authority.  Patriotism is not blind faith in a government.

No worries, it’s not your fault.  It’s just a matter of timing.  Not so long ago, the US encouraged freedoms and liberty -even proudly founded herself upon them.  Today, however, we have the Patriot Act (wiki and critique) which goes way beyond discouraging liberty.

 

Benjamin Franklin, a Domestic Terrorist?

Before you start whistling the Star Spangled Banner, be careful.  The patriot of yesteryear is now a potential bad guy for the US government today.

In fact, if Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin were around and talking today, they would be jailed as domestic terrorists.

The Department of Homeland Security labels someone a domestic terrorist when they …:

  • make “expressions of libertarian philosophies.”
  • express “fears of Big Brother or big government.”
  • “declare Constitutional rights and civil liberties.”
  • exercise self-sufficiency (stockpiling food, ammo, hand tools, medical supplies)
  • homeschool (if you teach your kids outside the Dept of Education’s curriculum)
  • buy certain books (in fact, these two by name: One Second After and Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse

(source for these here)

Question: if I publish the above, should I fear any consequences?  Sure, I don’t picket in front of the white house, but here I am, suggesting you abandon the US for reasons above.  Does that alone make me a target?  Take the case of Susan Lindauer, a well-connected, productive and intelligent woman who voiced her concerns too loudly against the US govt.  Her world got spun around so fast it made me sick to my stomach.

Okay, So How Do I Protest As a “Patriot”?

1. Leave.

Leave now.  Cash out your chips like you’re leaving the casino.  Sell your home, your securities (funds, stocks, options) and cash out your pensions.  Take the money and run.  Run like the wind.

2. Reinvest.

Decide on a new place that more suits you and your patriotic needs.  When you (and your cash) land in a safer, freer, more stable country, then the patriotic thing to do is reinvest in that country, for yourself.  Purchase property and/or a business there.  A new life requires new equity and new income.

3. Protect Yourself (at tax time).

US citizens must file a tax return every year.  And that goes for US citizens living abroad, too.

Yes, when living abroad, working abroad, even if earning zero US income, you must still file a US tax return every year, plus a couple extra forms just for expats (more on those below).  Yeah, I think it’s bullshit, too.

BS or not, US citizens are required to report their worldwide income, regardless of residency. You know what?  To my knowledge, the United States is the only country that requires this of its citizens.  Write me if you believe otherwise and we’ll talk.

 

p.s. Two Extra Forms at Tax Time (for US citizen expats)

I’ve written about tax time before, but these 2 forms are too important to ignore: the 2555 and the FBAR.  Filing out those extra forms isn’t optional.

Yes, the Internal Revenue Service tries hard to persuade any US citizen against living abroad.  Well, as a patriot, you don’t care what the IRS is against.  Right Benjamin?

The 2555 is the “Foreign Earned Income” form, which basically says you can earn up to $92,000 tax free (for 2010).  (Remember: Even if you earn under $92,000, you must still fill out this form to say you did.  In short, you must file, even if you simply didn’t earn anything or owe anything – that’s the IRS for you.

The other extra tax form for expats is the FBAR (Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts).  You can thank the Department of Treasury (not IRS) for this one.

The FBAR requires you to list your foreign bank accounts (and report the highest balance you had over the year).  I have filled out the FBAR for many years and I’ll never stop, because I’ll always have foreign bank accounts.  Thankfully, the FBAR is actually relatively easy. The last good reason is, over the past few years, the Dept of Treasury has gone crazy in prosecuting non-complying expats.  (Remember the idea of hiding money in a Swiss bank account?  Not any more)

If you’ve never heard of the FBAR and you’re considering filing it, read this article here.

The tax filing deadline for US citizens living abroad is June 15th (postmarked as mailed out).  For the FBAR form, the deadline is June 30th (must be received by).

 

Anyway, I’ve been sitting on this post for a while and I’ve got to publish it.  I wish you all a Happy 4th of July, wherever you are.
If you’re in the US, celebrate your home’s independence.  If you’re outside the US, celebrate your own independence!

 

If you’re looking for other popular reasons people leave the US, read up on Frustration, Adventure and Seeking an Improved Life.

 

Why Are People Leaving The US, Part II

In case you missed it, this is Part 2 of a series of why people are leaving (as they run the f*** away from) the US.  Part I is here.

Reason 2: Adventure

When I say “adventure” you might picture backpackers. Or maybe the young, single crowd, no-responsibilities type.  No.  At least, that’s not how I label me and my wife.

How about sleepwalkers?  That’s how I label us.  I and my wife are classic sleepwalkers through life.  Or at least we’re prone to be if we’re not careful about it.  And I believe if you’re reading this blog, you might be too.

Who’s a Life Sleepwalker?

Like I just said above, we are.  We all are.  Is it human nature?  We get more settled, more stuff, more routine.  Cruise control sets in and we sleepwalk through life.

A few weeks ago, a new friend, Vernon wrote in to me.  He asked about our reasons for travel.  I mentioned we once lived in Korea (mid 90’s) but then moved to the States.  He asked “Why did you leave the States after having spent time in Korea?”  I’m guessing Vernon half-expected we left because we were frustrated with the US.

Nope, not frustrated, except with ourselves.  We longed for adventure.  My then girlfriend and I came from Korea and decided to live together and find work in beautiful New Hampshire.  After a few years, we got married.  Then we got a house.  Then we had a baby.  Slowly, over about 10 years, we went from Korea to absolutely rooted.  We were lulled to sweet slumber.

Bored or Sleepwalking?

Are you bored or sleepwalking?  There’s a difference.

Bored is when you’re lacking stimulation.  You need a hobby or passion.  Note: careful not to confuse boredom with procrastination.  That’s self-inflicted resistance against what’s important and is only posing as boredom.  (When I blow 2 hours on Digg, I realize I’m procrastinating)

Sleepwalking is when you’re lacking uncertainty or adventure.  You need to take a step (or tw0) out of your comfort zone.
Sleepwalkers aren’t just in their comfort zone, they’re spinning around in there like a toy top.

When life seems like it’s moving “fast enough for us,” — then you might be sleepwalking.

When you feel busy, yet your to-do list is all urgent but not important — then you might be sleepwalking.

If in 5 years you won’t remember what you did today, last week or last year — you’re probably sleepwalking.

Trust me – the months/years will drop away like you wouldn’t believe.  Do something that spooks you awake.

 

Problems to Fix: Boredom and “Sleepwalking”

 

Bored?  Swallow the frog!

If only bored, fine, seek out a hobby.  Or tackle your to-do list with fervour. See “Swallow the frog

Sleepwalking?  Three Questions

If you suspect you’re sleepwalking, ask yourself these 3 questions:

1. Is my life “comfortable” but not giving me comfort or peace of mind?

  • If you answer ‘yes’ – you just might be sleepwalking

2. Do I find that the days (weeks, months) seem to be the same?

  • If so, you may be sleepwalking (or actually sleeping in a coma)

3. Do you have a vision of how life will be better in 5 years from now?

  • If not sleepwalking, life can be better when taking aim at something.

 

Like I said above, we had it all: the house, the careers, a solid network of great friends, and the infant (and even a cat).  We were so “set” we felt we were almost sleepwalking.  That thought made us miserable (okay, maybe that’s dramatic, but you get the idea).

How did we fix it? We spun the globe, picked 3 cities.  Three cities we hadn’t seen before but were curious about:  Auckland, Barcelona and Prague.  I sent out CVs to recruiters in each.  We sold the house, quit our jobs and put all our crap in storage.
In 3 months, we were living in Prague.

Would we do it again?  We did.  Fast forward 4 years.  We find ourselves owning another house (our flat in downtown Prague) and we popped another child.  (What can we say?  Our house-warming parties are super fertile!)

Then, come summer 2010  – we’re here in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Adventure is the primary reason my wife and I had left the U.S. for Prague in 2006, and we are NOT your stereotypical backpackers.  In short, adventure drives people of all ages, all kinds, and all sizes, to make what seems to others some rash decisions.  And when you’re sick of the status quo, you do whatever needs to be done.

 

Want to do a final test?  “Pinch yourself.”

That’s how we wake ourselves when sleeping, right?  Then “pinch yourself” awake from sleepwalking by stepping well outside your comfort zone.  Take a Leap of Faith and Scare Yourself Silly.

Some Ideas How to Pinch Yourself Awake:

  • At work, organize and present a topic completely unrelated to work. (think Toastmasters)
  • Try a new sport – take up running, skateboarding, swimming.  Less experience, the better
  • Get a major adrenaline rush – do a bungee jump, skydive, tell a Baptist to go to hell (testing if you’re still with me)
  • Contribute to the community – volunteer as a pollster, in a food kitchen, read books at a daycare
  • Take up an instrument – you’re not getting any younger….go ahead, dust off the guitar
  • Move abroad.  (oh, you knew I had to add this one, right?)

Hope this has been helpful.  If you have any comments or thoughts for me – leave a comment below.  I look forward to hearing from you.