Monday, 2 February 2015

Resident Aliens

Waiting in line -- a New York tradition
A girl from work, who's based in New York, is over in London for a time and has been complaining about the woes of being an alien. She's not American, and has lived all over the world so I was therefore surprised to hear her take on landing in London.

She writes in an email: " I'd forgotten how bureaucratic everything is in Europe... so lots of queues and lots of appointments to get the basics took almost an entire week (and a fair amount of sweet-talking) just to open a bank account and get a new phone number!"

I had to laugh, because this was exactly our experience in America, and we spent the whole time complaining about how bureaucratic Americans were. 

It was impossible to do anything until one had a social security number -- which didn't arrive immediately, despite us registering with the social security office on our very first day in New York. So everything we needed to get set up -- renting a house, registering with utility companies, getting a bank account sorted -- was virtually impossible, despite the fact that we had visas and documentation saying that The Doctor was employed by a hospital there.

Buying a car was similarly nightmarish. We'd agreed to buy one off someone we knew who was leaving the US -- however, we weren't allowed to drive it without car insurance, and we couldn't get any car insurance until one of us had a New York driver's licence. We ended up renting the car off the friend for three months while we went through the process of registering for, and then taking, the NY driving test.

One of the most frustrating things was not being able to get an American credit card for over a year, because we had no credit history in the US. This was necessary, not because we buy things on credit, but because ordering things online in the US is virtually impossible without one. My British credit cards just didn't work, because they didn't have a zip code - and I had to get a friend to help with simple things like paying for children's swimming lessons online.

Given that credit checking companies are global, you'd think they could share some data (and it might even benefit them - after all, people with bad credit histories can start from scratch in a new country under the current system.

Coming back was similarly frustrating -- with four years away, we had lost all our car insurance history, and were forced to start again paying premiums for new drivers, despite having driven for twenty years.

As the world becomes more global, there must be a simpler way of making the transition process easier. Surely the time is ripe for someone to invent one, and tear through some of this unnecessary bureaucracy? 


Expat mum said...

If anything, it's getting more complicated in some areas. If I ever came back, being an American citizen as well as British, I would have to file US taxes and comply with all the IRS' other demands, which is apparently now so difficult that many US expats are renouncing their citizenship, and some foreign banks are refusing to deal with Americans abroad.

Muddling Along said...

I hadn't realised about the coming back issues - seems almost like a tax on being an expat and really not very fair

Was Living Down Under said...

It's true regarding the taxes. When you move from one country to another you really have to be aware of the tax laws. If you have too many "ties" with the country you left, you may still have to pay income tax - ties being things like - property, a driver's licence, health card, etc. I had friends who got dinged with taxes upon their return to Canada after years abroad because they weren't well informed.

And I completely agree with the sharing of information globally - it just seems a little ridiculous, in this day and age, not to be able to use a credit card online if you don't reside in the country from which you're buying stuff (or your credit card doesn't originate from that country).

Iota said...

We managed to take our credit card with us - can't think how! We just changed the address to our US address. It did make a lot of other things easier than they would have been.

I couldn't have a social security number until I got a green card (which took 3 years), and that often raised eyebrows, though never seemed to matter all that much.

I do remember those vortexes (vortices?) you get trapped in. Ours was: can't get a car till you get a licence, can't get a licence till you take a test, can't take a test till you have a car.

Iota said...

I also remember the mortgage company in the US being satisfied as to our financial reliability, on the basis of proof of having paid our gas bill in Scotland regularly, which seemed very random, somehow.

Unknown said...

I'm sorry to hear about you going through all that trouble just to get yourselves a car. I can see how that can be a bit of luxury we all deserve, which you have somehow been walled out of. Rented cars at bargain prices are such a relief sometimes, indeed. In any case, I'm sure you'll get out of that soon and that everything will fall into place. I wish you all the best!

Micheal Miller @ Butler Kia of Fishers