Death, Taxes and Moving Abroad (in 5 not-so-easy steps)

Well, look at you! It’s finally happened: you’ve just clicked “purchase” and have your airline tickets in hand (or inbox).

Maybe it was a whirlwind three months, or a trying three years. And maybe all the fear and trembling, hopes and dreams you’ve stored up in that time found its ways inching towards your index finger as you ever so cautiously (and ecstatically) clicked your new future into existence. You’re ready to go all Bilbo and shout from the Shire roads, “I’m going on an adventure!”

But things are about to get dicey.

I mean, yes. The waiting and prayers and fundraising and training was definitely a kick in the pants in a “Jesus, Take the Wheel” sort of a way. In those months and years, He held you in His hands and you looked for Him around every corner, in every conversation and every monthly report. He can and has and will come through in His own sweet time and in His own sovereign way – this is what you so blessedly, heartily, mercifully learned (and will continue to learn. Don’t worry: all that time was just a warm-up for the marathon of ministry!).

But now, today, after the purchase and before your big date with a plane in the sky, you must become Master (ahem, Mistress) Administrator of the International Move, and we’re not just talking about a change of address form.

You will learn about international finance and VAT charges, customs requirements and kilo conversions. You will be closing accounts and opening new ones simultaneously, you will be pondering the fate of your children’s (prayerfully unlikely) parentless future, and you will do all this while your own mother sits ever closer on the couch, unwillingly to let a moment go by where you’re not touching, talking, bonding before you leave.

(What?… just me then?… I love you, Mom).

So, friend, here are a few not-so-easy – but necessary – things to do about before handing your passport and your future over to the flight crew.

1) Wills.

Who in their 20s and 30s wants to think about Last Will and Testaments, especially those of us without an asset to our name (who needs ‘em, amiright?!)? It’s one thing to quote Jim Elliot by heart (“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”), but it’s just as important to get the practical aspects of life and death down in legal form before flying over a big blue ocean.

  • Ask colleagues and friends for references for a will or probate attorney. I heartily recommend doing this in person as opposed to downloading a will online.
  • Make a date with your spouse to talk and pray over who should raise your kids if you can’t. Think about things like lifestyle, extended family proximity and ages, and ask them for permission before adding them to your will.
  • Discuss – and get down on paper – a Power of Attorney (a trusted advocate in your passport country while you’re away), Living Will and Medical Directive (who will make your end-of-life decisions if you are unable to).

2) Life Insurance.

In addition to wills, update – or get – life insurance for you and your spouse. You won’t need an attorney for his, but you will want to ask for recommendations. Consider:

  • how long you’ll live overseas. Perhaps term life insurance is a better investment (10-20 years of coverage).
  • if you want to be buried in your passport country or abroad. Life insurance will help cover transfer of remains and burial.
  • if your children will be covered under your own life insurance.

3) Taxes. 

Planning taxes before you leave will significantly decrease tax stress after you arrive (when money and language and cultural understanding suddenly becomes scarce). If you’re working for a well-established organization overseas, they’ll be mindful of the tax implications and will already have a plan for what money goes where and when. But if you’re paid via your passport country, or if you’ll be technically working as “self-employed,” investigate the tax requirements of your new country of residence.

  • Speaking of which, find out what terms like residence and domiciled mean.
  • Ask your org for recommendations for an accountant who specializes in foreign earned income (or better yet, encourage them to put one on retainer).
  • And don’t freak too much about it. US citizens who live and work abroad automatically get an extra two months to file income tax. And chances are, you’ll get a good dose of it back!

4) Banks.

Before we moved overseas, we made my mother Power of Attorney (see Wills above), added her to our bank account and changed our address to her address. Since our salary comes from the US, we keep our US bank account and receive online statements, while my mother receives hard copies and is able to deposit, write checks or withdraw funds on our behalf.

So, as soon as you have a move date:

  • Let your current bank know you’ll be moving abroad and taking your debit cards with you. Actually, this is a good idea for all international travel to avoid any red flags or unnecessary account freezing.
  • Add a Power of Attorney to your bank account.
  • Set up direct withdraws/deposits for any bills or investments.
  • Make copies of your bank statements, pay stubs and any holdings for your future bank in country, ensuring that you’re a legit person worth their business.

5) The Life & Death Folder.

This thing has seen us through three international moves and holds all our certificates, identifications and notarized letters. It gets us through point of entry, helps us secure visas and ensures we have everything we need should we have to renew or replace something. It includes:

  • Our marriage certificate
  • Birth certificates for everyone in the family
  • Proof of insurance
  • Proof of employment
  • Notarized letters from our organization
  • Reference from previous landlord
  • Social Security Cards
  • Copies of our passports and drivers’ licenses

Get all these things together and then MAKE COPIES to leave with your power of attorney back in your passport country. And it’s not a bad idea to include a card with your next of kin details, either. Keep the originals with you in your carry-on so you can show on demand at point of entry.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.” Matthew 25:14-15

I know these things aren’t easy and at times may feel very costly, but they will bring you peace of mind as the trajectory of your life takes a hard turn east. God has all the steps you take from here to eternity in the palm of His hand, including the very steep ones.

We are going on this adventure together, friends. And we can entrust even these things to Him.

Reading through this, even if you’re already on the field, what needs to be on your to-do list? And if you’re a new arrival (or a soon-to-be arrival) tell me what I might’ve missed or how you found this practical process?

9 Comments

  1. Karen Dawson August 1, 2016

    By filing for an “extension” U.S. citizens living abroad can actually get an additional 6 months to file income taxes. Federal can be signed digitally and filed by your Tax person. Some states require a “hard paper copy” to be signed and mailed in. Getting a great tax person (accountant is even better) is a must!

    1. Karen Huber August 1, 2016

      Yes! Thank you for mentioning that! We have a wonderful tax accountant who just so happens to be my best friend, is a stickler for details, and knows the insides and outs of international tax law. Her time and expertise is an invaluable ministry to us, taking off oodles of stress we just don’t have the emotional energy to deal with!

  2. Lisa August 1, 2016

    We are one year in, and I still feel like I left my handkercheif behind most days. 🙂

    Some questions: do life insurance policies care about where you live, if you are overseas? I am remembering our insurance agent seemed to think it might make a difference (probably, because like most people in our rural Midwest neighborhood, he didn’t know anybody who had moved overseas permanently). But I don’t think we ever followed up and figured that out. I hadn’t thought that our life insurance policy might include repatriation of remains so I will also need to ask about that. What I have found is that med evac and repatriation policies (when not part of a comprehensive health care plan) must begin before leaving the United States. At least, the two I’ve found. 🙂

    Does anybody have any thoughts about retaining U.S. health insurance while living oveIrseas? Our first year, we were on our agency’s group health plan – very comprehensive and expensive. But where we live, our residence visa allows for my husband and all of our kids to get the local national health insurance – basically, all medical care, free. We discovered that, because of the really high deductible (and the FREE national insurance), our group health plan really doesn’t make sense to keep. SO, we’ve dropped it and are just “going national.” But, that means that I don’t have health insurance at all and nobody is covered outside the EU. I may purchase national private insurance (not free, but cheap) and we’re looking at a medical share program in the United States. I’m just not sure how necessary it is – aspecially since we are all healthy – but we want to be covered in case of tragedy.

    1. Karen Huber August 1, 2016

      Hey Lisa! Thanks for the comment! I’m not sure about the first part of your question, but others on here may have some insight. In terms of health care, we live in the EU as well, but under our visas (as volunteer “ministers of religion” in Ireland) we do not qualify for any public benefits. So we have maintained our organisation’s healthcare (even though it IS SO expensive for a family of five). I think this also helps us if we need medical care while in the US on home assignment, and helps us maintain credible coverage if we change jobs down the line, as well as covering things like short and long-term disability and catastrophic injuries. I believe within our org, all full-time employees are required to use the organisation heatlh care plan.

    2. Phyllis August 1, 2016

      We are part of a Christian medical sharing plan, even though we don’t use it. It makes other people feel better. 🙂 We also get free or very cheap healthcare with our residency, and that’s what we really use. The sharing plan is a nice backup and cheaper than “real” American insurance.

      Life insurance… someone does want us to get it, but we couldn’t find anything at all that had coverage outside the US and didn’t cost more than double our entire income. Needless to say, we didn’t get go for anything that expensive.

      1. Karen Huber August 1, 2016

        Hi Phyllis! Did you check with your org to see if they had life insurance options or a group they work with? We purchased my term life insurance that way; my husband got his policy before we ever planned on moving overseas, so even though we now reside in europe, he’s still covered under his original policy. Mine was better to do through the org (may be similar to crisis and evac policies).

        1. Phyllis August 1, 2016

          We’re not with an org (on that side of the ocean).

  3. Sarah Gomez August 9, 2016

    i’d also to hear more on health insurance and life insurance, we would definitely need both coverages in US and Central America for a family of 4 including a 3 month old. We aren’t with an agency or organization so beyond googling and getting quotes looking for advice out there.

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