Staying Connected While You're Abroad
Just because you're moving abroad doesn't mean that you can't maintain connections back home. In fact, with the power of the Internet, most people might not even know that you've left! Today, I'm going to provide my enthusiastic recommendation for some service providers that no expat should be without.
The PayTrust service allows you to issue payments (both by check and ACH) to anyone inside the USA. Even when you expatriate, there will still be bills you have to pay inside the US -- credit cards, loans, taxes, life insurance your accountant, etc. If you're a small business owner, this is even more valuable. In addition to my personal bills, I pay about 20 business bills each month to various service providers in the US.
With PayTrust, I can log-in, see my account balance from my bank, and issue payments to anyone in the United States. How is this different than your online bill pay with your bank? PayTrust actually gives you a PO Box that you redirect all your bills to. Your bills are scanned in and displayed online for you to view. They keep an archive of all your bills as well, allow you to create reports and keep things organized. Your online bill pay will usually not allow you to make tax payments, but with PayTrust you can make tax payments no problem.
I've found this service to be a godsend, especially with all the traveling I do. Even though I will cut down on a lot of US bills after expatriating, there will still be plenty of people in the US that I owe money to. PayTrust will be the way I pay them. The cost is reasonable at $12.95 for personal accounts and $19.95 for business accounts.
Paperless PO Box
Similar to PayTrust, Paperless PO Box gives you a PO Box address in the US. They scan all your incoming mail and then send you a copy via e-mail. If you're going to be getting mail from the US that you don't need a physical copy of, this is a great service. I use it to receive my bank & brokerage statements, signed contracts from customers, and even letters from family and friends (I'm sure you all have that grandmother who still refuses to use e-mail).
I don't like the idea of having my financial papers and other things sent overseas, so this is a great service for me. The scanning of mail is all automatic by document feeders, so there's no person there reading your mail. If you ever do need an actual physical piece of mail sent there, Paperless PO Box can send it to you by FedEx. They keep your originals for 90 days and then destroy them if you don't request them to be sent back to you. They also keep a backup digital copy of your mail that you can retrieve by logging in -- just in case an e-mail doesn't go through.
The cost of the service is $29.95 per month. If you have online bill pay with your bank, you could forgo the PayTrust service, have all your bills sent to your Paperless PO Box and then pay the bills through your bank.
The UPS Store
I keep a mailbox at the local UPS Store, which allows me to receive packages and any other mail. I have mail sent here that I actually need a physical copy of -- packages, replacement credit cards, applications or contracts where I need to physically sign the original copy. You'll find that there are a large number of retailers and online stores that refuse to ship goods outside the country. If you still want to shop online and buy goods from the US, this is an excellent choice.
The UPS Store can receive all your important mail and packages, and then re-mail it to your address in Argentina.
While these other three services give you addresses within the United States, eFax will give you a fax number in the US. Faxes received at this number are automatically sent to you over e-mail. This is an extremely valuable service, allowing you to retrieve your faxes anywhere. Not only does the service free you from owning a fax machine, it also costs less than the monthly service fee you'd pay to have a fax line.
There's more, though! You can also send faxes using this service over e-mail. Just e-mail your document to a special e-mail address and eFax will transmit your document to any fax machine in the world. You'll get a confirmation e-mail letting you know whether it went through successfully or not, so you don't have to guess whether the recipient got your fax or not.
Vonage is a Voice Over IP (VOIP) phone service. It gives you a US telephone number that rings to a phone box they provide you with. Just plug any ordinary phone into the box and you get US dialtone anywhere in the world. Although not "officialy" supported outside the country, you can plug the box into any Internet connection -- including a DSL or cable modem in Argentina. It works. Give this US phone number to your family and friends back in the US and they'll be able to dial you up just like any other US number. You'll also be able to call US numbers without paying international rates as well, since your call is routed over the Internet and doesn't go through the phone network.
Vonage only works over broadband (DSL or cable) connections and it doesn't work well if you're browsing or downloading at the same time. So, if you get a phone call, make sure to stop using the Internet while you're on the call or the phone quality will be very poor.
E-mail is the ultimate communication tool for expatriates. No matter where you are in the world, you can get access to e-mail. Google Mail is recommended because its a simple web-based interface, no huge banner ads to suck up screen space or bandwidth, great spam protection, and is currently offering over 2 GB of storage space -- all free. Why's this so great? You can pop-in to an Internet Café anywhere in the world and have access to all your e-mail ever sent or received. Two gigabytes is a ton of space.
In addition, if you utilize these other services -- Paperless PO Box, eFax, etc, you'll have a lot of big attachments going to your e-mail. You need to know that you'll have enough space to store all this stuff. Without the need to actually throw stuff out, you'll have access to all your mail and faxes as well -- a great resource no matter where you happen to be in the world.
One thing that Buenos Aires is not short of is Internet Cafés. You'll find them everywhere. Every block. You'll never be far away from your e-mail in Buenos Aires.