A stateside representative is essential when you first move abroad.
You’ve left the US and are happily ensconced in your new country, but most expats still need a point of contact—a stateside rep—to handle stateside paperwork and any emergencies that may come up. Think about having a personal representative—a friend, relative, or paid party—in place before you make the move abroad.
Here are five areas where having a US based point of contact can help you out:
#1: Mail and Packages
I have a friend who generously allows me to use her home address to receive my mail. She has become my de facto stateside rep. While I have opted for paperless contact from financial institutions and government offices, I still receive the occasional piece of mail. She has standing orders to shred/toss obvious junk mail. When something comes in that looks important, she sends me a picture via WhatsApp asking if I need it sooner rather than later or if it’s okay to toss. With the exception of the occasional new credit card, most of my physical mail can wait. Most times, just having the image of it is enough for me to take care of it.
Receiving packages through the mail in Portugal is an exercise in frustration. Regular mail envelopes fare somewhat better, but the only way to be sure you’re going to receive something from the States is to use a service like FedEx or DHL. DHL is the cheaper option (by far) but even that runs about $75. My friend saves up important paperwork in a file and when something urgent comes in, it all gets sent over in a DHL International envelope.
#2: Banking and Finances
I maintain several bank accounts in the US for my personal and business expenses, as well as an account here in Portugal. While almost all of my business income is handled via Paypal, there is still the occasional stray check that comes in that needs to be deposited or a client who is not comfortable paying online. Your personal representative can deposit any checks for you when they come in. No one cares about the signature on the back when it is being deposited.
All of my accounts are paperless: I get any transaction notifications as well as monthly statements via online banking. Some people have a representative who pays their bills, maintains and monitors accounts, but frankly, you can do all that online. Once or twice a year, I get an updated credit or debit card issued and that goes to my friend who then forwards it (via DHL) to me.
#3: Legal and Government Matters
It’s not fair to ask a friend to handle any legal or government matters beyond letting you know about them. If you have ongoing legal (or tax) issues, you probably already have a professional who handles that. But from time to time, a notice comes in that your stateside rep can take care of, things like IRS or Social Security notifications, jury duty summons, or, if you still have one, a driver’s license renewal notice. Most of the time, it’s just a short form to fill out and mail back in. If it’s something more involved, you may need to handle it yourself or have a professional take care of it. My friend lets me know about any tax notices I receive; I do not ask her to do my taxes.
Living abroad as a US citizen means you need to keep your passport up to date. You can renew your passport at the US Embassy in your new country and it generally takes less time than it does in the States. When I had to renew my passport, I took pictures of my old passport to keep in my phone. Then I made a color copy of it and had the paper copy certified/notarized by a Portuguese agent before sending my passport off to Lisbon. It’s the belt and suspenders approach.
Something I should have done before I left was execute a limited power of attorney so my friend could sign various routine forms and documents for me. For example, I received a form from Medicare telling me I was automatically enrolled in Parts A and B and they would deduct the Part B costs (about $165) from my Social Security payment starting the month I turned 65. As I will not use Part A or Part B, there’s no reason for me to pay for it. But you have to opt OUT of Part B which involves signing and sending back a paper form—it can’t be done online. (I know…) Sending in that form, by the way, is something you want to do sooner, rather than later, because you need to follow up with Social Security and Medicare and make sure they received it and made the proper changes. (And FYI: There could be extra fees for opting out if I return to the US.) I quickly sent my friend written permission to sign via email; she signed and returned the form. I figured if necessary, I could send an original (and legally executed) Power of Attorney to her via DHL.
#4: Business Matters
If you own a business in the US or have clients or customers there as I do, your contact person can help you manage business affairs, such as handling invoices, arranging shipments, and communicating with customers or vendors. My business is all online but my friend is AWESOME about mailing out thank you and congratulatory notes for me. I try not to take too much advantage of her good nature.
You can easily send gifts and thank you cards to clients from online sources. While they are not as personal as a handwritten note, most business people are used to typed correspondence. Send Out Cards is a baseline service. There are better services available like Simply Noted, that cost a bit more but send out handwritten cards. They can also include gift cards and even your business card.
If you’re doing that much business, you should probably engage the services of a virtual assistant. They can handle correspondence, send and track invoices, arrange to send and receive shipments, as well as communicate with your clients and vendors. If you use a VA that you trust in the state where your business is incorporated, you may be able to use the VA’s address for correspondence. I would be a little leery of that unless you personally know the person or have been working with them for a reasonable period of time.
#5: Personal Emergencies
You hope it never happens, but in the event of a personal emergency, such as a family member’s illness or death, your contact person can serve as your liaison with doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who may need to be involved. While they are not able to handle private information without specific permissions, they can forward messages to you and help handle any appointments or arrangements that need to be made. If you have a friend or relative who is elderly or unwell, your US contact (or some other friend or relative) can give you a “boots on the ground” assessment of their well-being. It may be as simple as sending money and asking them to take that person to lunch or drop off a meal. If you have a house, car, storage facility, or anything of that nature, your stateside rep can check on them on a regular basis.
Don’t Take Advantage of Your Stateside Rep
While many people are initially happy to do these things for you, it may start wearing thin, especially if they are doing more than handling the occasional piece of mail. You might want to send them gift certificates or other forms of appreciation or even set up a more formal payment arrangement. Feel them out from time to time to make sure you haven’t become more work than expected. (For the record, I am well aware that I am more work in general.) You might want to spread out the responsibilities and have more than one point of contact. For example, you may have someone who handles your mail and/or business affairs and another for family and friends.
Even though you have transplanted yourself overseas, there are almost always some stateside entanglements that need to be handled. Having someone you can trust as your personal representative in the States, whether they are simply receiving your mail or handling all your US affairs, will save you from having important matters, business and personal, fall through the cracks as well as give you peace of mind.