Work Abroad but earn in USD

Monday, May 30, 2005

(Almost) Made an Offer Today

After viewing apartments on Friday, I decided I'd start out and make an offer on one of them, after just one day of viewing. There were several good ones and I wanted to see if I could get a good deal. I e-mailed my realtor on Saturday night and asked her to make an offer on one of the apartments. I offered about 8% less than they were asking.

The Seller Accepted the Offer

The confusion started when my realtor e-mailed me back on Sunday telling me that the seller had accepted the offer. I assumed this meant they were going to sell me the property for what I offered. Apparently not. When a realtor tells you that they "accept" the offer, it only means they're willing to start negotiating. It doesn't mean they've actually accepted the offer.

Making the Offer

With this knowledge, I now realized that if I wanted to get the deal done, I'd have to move a few thousand away from what I wanted to pay. I decided to continue with the process and make the offer formally. I went to my realtor's office and we started the paperwork. To make a formal offer, you have to put $1000 USD by either cash or check on hold with your realtor.

As we were finishing up the process, we got a last minute call from the other realtor (who knew we were doing the paperwork at this moment). It seems her clients wouldn't start the negotiation at my price. They had just refused the offer I made at the last minute, likely a ploy to try and get me to up my price by a few thousand before the negotiations started.

No Deal

Sorry, no deal. I told my realtor to forget it. Let's keep looking. She kept apologizing to me for the behavior of the other party, but I assured her it was no problem at all. I'm going through this entire process with my head and I refuse to "fall in love" with any particular property. I'll keep searching until I find a good place at the right price.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

Buying With Your Head, Not Your Heart

There were some great comments today about why buying in Palermo or some other neighborhood might be a better option than Recoleta. In fact, I saw an apartment today that was in Palermo and I actually liked the neighborhood there a lot better than Recoleta -- it was quieter, just a couple blocks from some of the great parks on Libertador, and much more private that any of the apartments in Recoleta.

However, I'm buying with my head, not my heart. With an apartment in Recoleta that's suitable for rentals, I open myself up to a lot more options. Should I could leave Argentina for 6 months to go traveling or decide I only want to live here part of the year, I can be assured that the apartment will be generating income for me when I'm abroad.

Even though I plan on staying in Argentina for the next couple years, I have no idea where I'll end up after that. I'm a person who likes to have the flexibility to move around at a moment's notice without being tied down. An apartment in Recoleta gives me a chance to have a good (not great) place to live when I'm here, but it also lets me leave at a moment's notice and allow the apartment to start generating significant income.

Should I want to take a 2 month vacation in Europe, I just lock-up my personal belongings in a specific closet and then open up the apartment for rental use. I saw the same thing done when I rented a condo in Hawaii for a few weeks. The couple that owned it furnished it with very nice things that they shared with guest visitors when they weren't using their condo. They had a specific closet that was locked that guests couldn't get into that had their various personal belongings, but otherwise the condo was easily available for rental use.

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Beginning The Apartment Search

Now that I've settled in and been here about two weeks, I'm starting the process of looking for an apartment to buy. Since I wasn't able to get the kind of loan I wanted, I'll be looking for a place that's a little smaller than I normally would have purchased.

Since I may only live in Buenos Aires for a few years, I wanted to make sure that the purchase I make is also a good move financially. This means that when I'm done with the apartment, I want to be able to rent it out or sell it at a profit.

Yesterday, I met with Michael Koh of ApartmentsBA, one of the biggest apartment rental companies here in Buenos Aires. He gave me some great advice about where to buy a place, to ensure that it makes money as a rental and also has a chance for some capital appreciation. It comes down to one word -- Recoleta. According to Mike, 85% of all tourists request an apartment in the Recoleta area. So, if you want to be able to rent out the apartment, you pretty much have to buy it in the Recoleta area.

So, today I start my search for an apartment here in Recoleta. I'll keep everyone updated with how it goes.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Argentine Wines

What a crazy week its been. I've been so busy this last week there hasn't been any time to write blog entries. Well, on Saturday last week, I was invited to dinner by the mother of one of my employees. In addition to preparing a fantastic meal and indulging my pathetic attempts to speak in Spanish, she gave me a list of Argentine wines to try. I thought I'd share the list here for anyone looking to try some Argentine wines once they get here:

List of Argentine Wines

  • Castel Shandon
  • Don Valentin Lacrado
  • Luigi Bosca
  • Carrascal
  • Font de Cave
  • San Telmo

At dinner we were served the Don Valentin Lacrado and I enjoyed it. I haven't tried anything from the rest of the list yet, but perhaps someone else can add their suggestions (Argentine wines only please).

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Made it to Buenos Aires

Well, I made it! After probably the worst flight of my life (there was a crying and screaming baby the whole way, I got no sleep) I actually made it to Buenos Aires.

Sailed Through Customs

Luckily, I made it through customs with all my electronics and wasn't taxed a penny. In fact, I wasn't searched at all. They have a new system at customs now -- a red light/green light system. As you approach customs, they press a button which randomly either turns red or green. If you get the green, you walk right through without getting searched. If you get red, you go wait in line and they x-ray your bags. After that horrible flight, it seems I was owed some good karma and it was a green light for me. So, I made it through with all my stuff.

Getting Settled In

Since getting here, I've been focusing on a lot of the little things -- finding the nearest grocery store, dry cleaners, and restaurants to my apartment. Since I made sure to bring electronics that functioned on 220 power, I was pleased to find that they sold power strips here that took the USA, European, and Australia style plugs -- meaning I didn't have to buy a thousand little adapter plugs (phew, I hate clutter).

Sorry I don't have anything really exciting to report yet. I'm still in the process of getting settled and unpacked. I'll start my search for a new apartment to buy in a week or two and I'll make sure to cover that entire process for all of you looking to buy property.

Until next time... adios from Buenos Aires.

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Saturday, May 14, 2005

My Last Day

Saturday, May 14, 2005 was my last day in the United States. Its hard to describe what its like to wake up in the morning and realize that you're leaving your country, and you have no idea when or if you'll be back. Although I've wanted to expatriate for a long time, I became very serious about it just five months ago.

Today, I'm bringing just 5 suitcases with me to Buenos Aires. Its an amazing feeling to sell everything you own from a 2000 sq. ft. house and see that now, everything I own will fit into five suitcases. Wow! As I wait for my flight in the airport, writing this blog entry, I'm feeling excited, nervous, happy, sad, and hopeful -- all at the same time!

This blog has also hit a milestone as well. From here on out, I'll be focusing on life & business in Buenos Aires, rather than about preparations for an international move. I'll still be more than willing to help any expats still in their home country, though. Please continue to write-in and I'll be more than willing to answer your questions. But now that I'm "on the ground" in Buenos Aires, I'll be going into a lot more about life in the city and the challenges I, or any expat for that matter, will face.

I have a lot of things to accomplish now that I'm here -- learn the language, buy & furnish an apartment, expand my business, make new friends, and, last but not least, declare my loyalty to a fĂștbol club. I look forward to continuing this blog for as long as it has readers. And if you're ever in Buenos Aires, drop me a line sometime.

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Friday, May 13, 2005

Expat Banking

Today I wanted to provide a recommendation for Internet banking. Every expat ought to have an Internet bank in the USA (remember my article on not keeping money in Argentina banks) to use as their primary bank account. A reader today provided me with several recommendations which I will share here:

Internet banks are perfect for expats, since they let you maintain your account by mail, fax, and, of course, by Internet. They don't expect to you to come walking into the branch to fill out wire transfer paperwork, for example.

I'd like to add one more bank to this list -- USAA Federal Savings Bank. Now, as some of you may already be aware, USAA only provides insurance for military families. Their bank and investment products are therefore also geared towards military customers who are already buying USAA insurance. However, they do provide banking services to all US citizens and residents. FDIC insured banks cannot discriminate or exclude classes of people, so they are forced to provide banking services to anyone who asks.

I can say with certainty that USAA is the best bank I've ever used, and I've used a lot. Over the years, I've been a customer of Bank One, Wells Fargo, Compass Bank, CitiBank, NetBank, Bank of America, and various credit unions. I've moved around a lot, run/started several businesses, and needed plenty of bank accounts. USAA tops them all. I only wish they did business accounts, because I'd be using them for all my business banking needs as well.

What Makes USAA Bank So Great For Expats?

Sorry if this is sounding like a commercial, but when I find a service that truly deserves it, I'm happy to heap on the praise. Expats especially need to know about great services like these. Consider this -- USAA has an 80+ year history serving military families who move a lot and frequently live abroad. Its part of the company culture there.

Let's get down to specifics, though:

  • No ATM Fees - You won't ever get charged by USAA, no matter who's ATM you use.
  • ATM Rebates - They pay you back those pesky fees other ATMs charge.
  • Free ACH Bank Transfers - Easily transfer money in/out of any other US bank account (even if not with USAA). I use this feature to transfer money from my business account (which is with a different bank) to my USAA account, so I don't have to pay myself with a check. You can even set-up these transfers to recur so that you don't have to think about it.
  • Free Online Bill Pay - Issue checks to any business (even friends and family) back in the US for free. No need to mail checks from Argentina.
  • Easy Wire Transfers - Just make a call, give them the wire info, and they do your transfer. The cost is minimal $10 or so. If its for a large amount, they'll ask you to fax in the wire instructions. Most banks require you to be at the branch in-person to make wires, so this is a great feature for expats.
  • Cash-back Debit Card - Get 1% cash back each time you use your USAA Visa Debit Card
  • Prime Rate Credit Card - Interest Rate of just 5.75% for people with perfect credit. Even with less than perfect credit, USAA's credit card rates are much lower than almost everyone else.
  • Hold Times - I've never waited on hold more than a minute or two, even during peak hours.
  • Friendly and Helpful Customer Service - I've never had a complaint about USAA customer service. They were always polite, helpful, and willing to spend the time it takes to accomplish your request. And unlike some other banks I've used, **cough** CitiBank **cough**, they never send your call to an overseas Indian call center.* Sorry, but I just have a problem with some subcontractor who is not subject to US law having access to my financial information.
    * This is not a knock on Indians, just the practice of bank customer service outsourcing. On the contrary, I co-founded an software outsourcing consultancy based in Hyderabad, India. However, I can tell you from experience that companies only outsource functions they deem unimportant to their business, so that really tells you about a bank's commitment to their customers when they outsource customer service.

Well, that's about all I can think of right now. One very important note. Argentina is currently listed as a restricted country with USAA, meaning they cannot establish any new accounts if you list your address in Argentina. Try to open your account before you leave. After you open the account, you can change the address listed to Argentina, but you can't open a new account with an Argentina address. Best bet would be for you to use one of the many mail-forwarding services I covered in a previous post. For some reason US financial institutions get very nervous dealing with people who live outside the country, so it would be better to be on the safe side and just list your US forwarding address.

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Save Big On Argentina Airfare

With only two days until my Argentina departure, the hectic pace of things around here has finally subsided somewhat. With the bags packed and everything pretty much taken care of, there's finally time to continue the blog! For today, I'd like to go over how I saved quit a bit on my ticket.

Discounted Argentina Airfare

As someone who travels quite a bit, I can tell you a few things about airfare. First, pretty much all the big travel sites out there -- Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz -- are not going to save you much on airfare. You can do just as good by going to the airline's own website and booking the fare yourself.

Hotwire is one way to save 10-30% on airfare. There are downsides, though. You don't know what airline you're getting, the tickets can't be changed (not for any reason), and you get no frequent flyer miles. You can't even pick what time you fly out at. However, you can get deals here.

Priceline is a rip-off -- at least the "name your own price" reverse-auction system is. All this does is give you a chance to bid more than the minimum that airlines are willing to accept. Just use Hotwire.

A Diamond In The Rough?

For this trip, I found a little travel agency called Carbone Travel, which claims to be the largest travel agency specializing in Argentina tickets. On a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires, the price was about $600 USD on American Airlines. The direct price from American Airlines was $2500. In fact, no matter what itinerary you look up, chances are that Carbone is going to have it cheaper than any of those other travel sites out there.

As an American Elite Status traveler, I like to travel American to get the perks and earn my frequent flyer miles. Well, unlike Hotwire and these other discounters, Carbone takes your frequent flyer number and applies it to the flight. So, I still get my elite status and still earn my frequent flyer miles. Not bad! I urge everyone who wants to save a few hundred bucks to check them out.

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Sunday, May 08, 2005

My Last Days In The United States

My move date, May 14, is less than a week away. There seem to be a lot of little last minute things I've been taking care of lately. I just wanted to go over a few of the things I've done before my departure date to give those other expats out there a heads up.

Expat Auto Policy

I recently bought an international auto policy with USAA. For $5.00 per year, this policy covers me when I'm driving someone else's car or a rental car in the United States. However, it also has the benefit of providing continuous auto insurance coverage.

Having a lapse in your insurance coverage, for whatever reason, means that you get hammered on your rates when you buy a new policy. So, all those expats who may come back to the United States some day would do themselves a big favor by purchasing one of these expat policies. When you do return to the US, you'll be able to show continuous auto coverage and you'll get a good price on your policy.

Bank Wire Transfers

I made sure to sign a wire transfer agreement with my local bank, which allows me to call in to a phone system and initiate a wire transfer by phone. This is very important, since wire transfers are one of best ways to move your money abroad. Most banks want to see you show up to the branch in-person to make a wire transfer, so it is a good idea to find out what documents you must sign to be able to make these transfers by phone or fax.

Depending on your visa, you may also be required transfer money to an Argentina bank via wire transfer each month (I am legally required to do this). That's why its important to make sure you get things squared away with your bank before you leave. You don't want to hear them tell you, "You need to come into the branch to make a wire transfer," when you're 6000 miles away.

Getting Stuff To Read

English-language books are not easy to find in Buenos Aires. I recently bought about 6 months worth of books I'd like to read and shipped them down to Buenos Aires. Here's a hint, ask your post office for the "International Book Rate". You pay just $1.00 per pound shipped. It takes 6-8 weeks to arrive, but it means you pay $20 for shipping a big box of books rather than $100.

Shipping Your Clothes

If you have more clothes than will fit in your suitcases, you may want to ship some clothes ahead of you. Luckily, this is very easy to do. Since the seasons are reversed, you can ship all your winter stuff right now. I already packed up all my winter clothes and the only stuff I have left is my summer clothes that I'll wear this last week. All my winter clothing will be waiting for me there in Buenos Aires.

As an aside, I wonder whether the guy at customs who goes through my bags will get a laugh at all the summer clothes I've packed. He'll probably be thinking, "Stupid American... he has no idea that its winter here right now."

Sell, Sell, Sell!

If you've decided to sell most of your belongings, now is the time to really finish up. If you've been reading for a while, you'll know that I decided to sell all my belongings rather than ship them. Well, the 1-week mark is here and anything that hasn't sold now probably won't be sold at all.

  • I had a furniture consignment store come and pick-up all the furniture I wasn't able to sell on my own.
  • My old collections of books, DVDs, CDs, video games, etc that I wasn't able to sell just got boxed up and taken over to the local used bookstore.
  • Old clothes first went to the used clothing store and everything that wasn't purchased there then got sent to Goodwill.
    Note: Even if you'll be getting your expatriate tax exemption, you can still use donations to lower your taxes! The expat tax exemption only covers earned income, not things like bank interest, dividends from stock, profits from a business, etc. You can still use charitable donations to offset this.
  • Sold my old camera, digital camcorder, MP3 player, and other electronics and upgraded to the new models now. Once in Argentina, it'll be a lot more expensive to upgrade to new models of electronics.

Broke My Cell Phone Contracts

Both my girlfriend and myself have cell phones with those nasty 2-year contracts that have cancellation fees. However, there's a clause in the contract that says if you're moving out of the service area, you can break the contract. Well, Argentina is certainly out of the service area. I faxed over proof of our move to both cell phone companies and they let us out of the contracts without those nasty cancellation fees.

Said Goodbye To Friends And Family

I made sure to go visit all my friends and family nearby and say goodbye. I also invited everybody to come and visit me anytime in Buenos Aires. It was kind of an odd feeling, saying goodbye to people. I think that after saying goodbye, the realization finally hit my family that yes, this is for real, he really is moving abroad.


Monday, May 02, 2005

Note to Argentines: Stop Blaming "U.S. Nationals" For Calling Ourselves "Americans"

I got a comment today that I have to respond to, since the author is way off and has no idea what he's talking about. I experienced this quite offten when I was in Argentina -- people getting upset that Americans call themselves Americans. I just have to address this because hopefully our Argentina reader will read this and then pass it on.

Reader's Comment

I refuse to call you an American since America is first a continent and then it could be used as a country nick name. Therefore when I listen someone says "American", I say I am American too, since I was born in South America, a part the American Continent. Anyone who whishes to refute this should read the Set theory, in particular they should at the Subsets definition. Basic geography will also work. This is just another way the US people show that they are the only one living in the American continent or worst, in the world. No other citizen of any other country call themselves as the continent name and mean just their country...

Its About Language, Not Arrogance

The name of our country is "The United States of America". That's quite a mouthful. Simply put, you need a one-word way to refer to people from the United States. Many countries have this. We refer to people from Argentina as Argentines. People from Spain are Spanish. If you're from Mexico, you're Mexican. So, look at the name of our country -- The United States of America" and give me one word in English that can be used to describe us. The only one that works is "American."

In Spanish they have a word, estadounidence, that is used to describe U.S. nationals. When I'm in Argentina and someone asks me my nationality, I always say, "Soy estadounidence." In English, that's "I am American." So, when I'm speaking in Spanish, I will continue to use the proper Spanish word for Americans. However, when you're speaking in English, you should just accept that the English word for people from the United States is "American".

The Real Problem

In English, when you've been talking about someone and then they walk in the room and you want to let them know you've been talking about them, you say, "Speak of the devil..." However, in Argentina, the way you say this phrase is "Hablando de roma..." If you actually translated the phrase, "Habla del diablo," it would give you an incorrect meaning. The same goes with the word American.

The root of the problem is that your TV translators are doing a poor job of translating our speeches. When the President of the United States is on TV and says, "We are Americans," the proper translation should be, "Somos estadounidences." The reason is that in the context of the speech, he is referring to "Americans" as people from the U.S. not people from the American continent.

However, all your translators screw up and translate this literally as, "Somos americanos," meaning "We are people from the American continent." So, the result of this is that everyone in Argentina thinks that Americans have this attitude as if they are the only important people on the American continent, when in reality, this is just a language issue. There's no other way in English to describe Americans than by using the word "Americans."