Tag Archives: Working Abroad

Thanksgiving and Housecleaning

Happy Thanksgiving, to those of you who eat turkey today.  Or tofurky.

Today I am grateful for my freedom.  Of course I’m grateful for freedom of speech and other basic freedoms, but what I really mean is I’m grateful that I have choices.

I spent my first decades feeling trapped because I was broke and had no financial cushion.  If I planned a little weekend road trip, then learned my car needed new brakes, the trip would have to be cancelled.  I didn’t have an extra $250 or whatever those choices cost back then.  I couldn’t get my brakes fixed and take a break.

Often, it wasn’t even a choice between a necessity and a “nice to have,” like a trip.  I had to choose between paying my electric bill or my student loan installment.  Or between buying a full tank of gas or five pounds of hamburger, which was cheaper per pound than buying one.  If I chose the gas, then ramen would have to do.

It was especially hard during the long years it took for me to pay off my credit card debt.  I had a chart on the wall on which I marked the amount I paid and the declining total.  I had to have something visual in front of me or I wouldn’t have been able to stick to it.  Things didn’t get any easier after the card was paid off, because now I had to buy things with real money, which was limited.  But what a feeling of freedom.

Somewhere around the time I turned 35, I finally paid off the student loan I’d taken out when I was 20.  That thing had been like an anvil I’d been carrying on my back.

Then, when I turned 40, I got my first job where I paid my bills and to my surprise, had a few hundred dollars left over.  Wow!  I’d like to say I socked it away in savings but I blew it all on clothes.

It’s been good ever since, with a few tight patches.  As I’ve written before, I’ve mostly lived below my means and this has given me a lot of freedom and choices.  And I’ve said it before but I am super grateful that I found a duplex where my rent, including internet, heat, and electric, totals $1,005.

I am aware and grateful that I was born in a time and place—and of a class and race—which made it possible for me to pull myself up by the bootstraps.

I’ve been working on “financial hygiene” projects to get ready for my UK sojourn this winter.  I’m not in the practice of recommending particular companies, but I just moved my checking and savings accounts to Capital One from my local community bank.  I never thought I would leave my local bank for a global mega bank, but I didn’t want to pay foreign transaction fees or ATM fees and I was only earning about .002% interest on my savings.  I don’t have a lot of money, so I strive to avoid fees and earn as much interest as possible.

It took me a year of procrastinating, but I switched from ATT to Total Wireless.  My bill will be $27 a month instead of $53.  I did the research and ordered a UK sim card, giffgaff, that’ll cost $13 a month.

I set up new and stronger passwords on my accounts and tested paying my rent using Zelle.  I faced opening my car’s owner’s manual to figure out what the indicator lights on my dashboard meant—I needed new brakes!

A friend gave me a Chromecast device when he upgraded to something else and I figured out how to set it up—he’s a computer scientist and he was impressed!  I will take it to the UK and use it there too.

I am going through 22 photo albums, scrap books, year books, and boxes of ephemera and mercilessly tossing out all the photos of landscapes that could be anywhere and ticket stubs for unremarkable performances.  I hope to consolidate down to five albums.

I hate all these chores, but grateful I have the first-world freedom to tackle them.

Getting In, Getting Around

Looking back on my three months of working remotely from Europe, Ethiopia, and the UK, I can say I would love to do it permanently.  From what I can tell, there is no legal reason I couldn’t live in the UK without a work visa as long as I was working for a US employer.

According to the UK immigration website, as a US citizen I automatically get a six-month visa when I enter the country as a tourist, without even applying.

Paying rent could be a challenge.  I’m certain it would be impossible to open a UK bank account.  I would have to find a landlord who was willing and able to have rent paid electronically, probably from PayPal.

What stops me from seriously considering this plan?  Well, every time I enter the UK I get grilled by border control.  This happens to my UK friends when they enter the US, too.  I got grilled by Danish border control when I entered Denmark, so it’s not uncommon.

When I came to the UK from Ethiopia, I walked from the plane through halls festooned with welcoming slogans, “Welcome to the UK!” “See the English Countryside!”  “Visit Historic Palaces!”  In other words, they want people to visit and spend money in the UK.

I waited in line for a border agent.  Again, there were banners above the agents’ booths proclaiming the beauty of the English countryside, historic sites, museums, etc.

I stepped up to the booth and after looking over my passport, the Sikh border agent barked at me, “Why are you coming here?”

“Tourism,” I replied.

He looked skeptical, especially when I said I would be staying for two and a half months.  Would I be working in the UK?  No, I replied.  And this was true to the spirit of the question, I believe.  I would be working remotely for an American employer, not for a UK entity.  I would not be stealing a job from a UK citizen, or being paid by a UK employer and transferring my paycheck to an American bank.  I wouldn’t be collecting any public benefits.

I was afraid that if I tried to explain any of the above I would be whisked into an interview room.  Just in case they did that anyway, I also had a letter of employment and documentation of all my US assets including my condo in an envelope in case they wanted proof that I had reasons to return to America.

He asked for the addresses where I would be staying, the names of my friends, and the places we were planning to visit.  He asked to see my return plane ticket, which I had printed out and ready.

Finally, reluctantly, he stamped my passport and without even speaking to me, waved the next passenger forward.

Maybe I was overly concerned about being turned away since I had been refused a visit with my son in prison, and then banned for six months.

So I got in okay this time.  But—what if I cooked up a plan to stay in the UK for six months—the length of a tourist visa—and got turned away at border control?  How much more suspicious would they be of six months than two and a half months?  The uncertainty just wouldn’t be worth it.  There’s no information about this on the UK immigration website, and I don’t want to raise a red flag by asking about my personal case.  I can just imagine them flagging my record somehow to ban me from entering.  All because I love their beautiful country and want to spend my American paycheck there.

And it is a beautiful country.  You may be thinking, “America is beautiful too!” and you would be right.  I’ve seen the Grand Canyon, Florida beaches, Monument Valley, Lake Superior, and Highway 1 in California.  There’s plenty of beauty in both countries and I intend to see as much of it as I can.

From the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Possum drove us through tiny, twisting roads to Portmellon, where we walked on the beach and had a half pint in a pub called The Rising Sun.