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The Work During the Wait

May 15, 2016
count_down_lights

Photo Credit: Kathleen Zarubin

Here’s what we’ve been up to over the last few weeks while waiting to go on our house-hunting trip (HHT).

Opening U.S. Bank Accounts

We must open a bank account in the U.S. bank account while on our HHT so that we can pay any security deposits or other charges involved in renting a home. We deal with HSBC for our personal banking needs. This bank is excellent because they have an International Banking Centre so we can open a bank account in the United States before we leave the U.K. Three years ago we opened our U.K. bank accounts before we left Canada. There is a lot of paperwork involved. The account opening form was 30 pages long. We also had to provide copies of government issued ID and proof of address in the U.K. (e.g. utility bill or bank statement with full name and address).

Hiring a Realtor

We are entitled to hire a realtor to assist us in finding a rental home. This is great because local realtors are familiar with neighbourhoods and schools. So far the realtor has found us a few nice properties to look at. We’ve even used FaceTime to have a virtual tour of two houses!

Appointments

We’ve also had a few appointments here at home. We booked a “pre-march out” meeting with the housing manager. He visited our SFA and took a look around to see if there was any work that needed to be completed before we moved out. We were also informed that the house has to be cleaned before we leave.

Our next step was to book cleaners to come after our furniture has been packed, loaded and taken away. For many moves within Canada, we’ve been able to clean our own house after leaving because we were able to pack our cleaning supplies in the vehicle. We can’t do that this time.

Cancellations

Another important item on the “to-do list” is cancelling services in the U.K. Some utility companies and memberships require at least two months notice prior to moving. We expect to be leaving around 15 July so we’ve been cancelled our gym memberships for 30 June. We’ve also returned all of our library books, library cards and asked to be removed from the library user database.

Once we’ve completed our HHT and secured a new house, our actual move will be booked and we will know which day will be our official “last day” in our current house. Only then can we arrange to cancel our utilities.

We’ve also been paying close attention to the mail we receive. We record the people and businesses to whom we have to send address changes.

Uncluttering

We’re spending a lot of time uncluttering – removing items we have decided we are not taking with us. Right now, most of those items are clothes. Any clothes that are in good condition but do not fit or will not be appropriate for the climate in Texas, are going to charity. Once we find a new home, we’ll have a better idea of what larger items (furniture, etc.) we should and should not take.

Regular Life

During this busy time of preparing to move, regular everyday life continues. My husband had to travel on two separate occasions for a period of three weeks. I’m continuing to work and our daughter is in school studying for her GCSE exams. Also, we hosted two exchange students from France through the school French program.

Next week’s plan: House Hunting Trip!

The Move Within a Move

April 20, 2016
rideau canal

View Along Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Canada

Earlier this month I went back to Canada for a week. The main purpose of my visit was to assist with a move – and not my own!

My parents are downsizing later this year. They had quite a bit of furniture to get rid of. Fortunately, our son was moving from university residence to an apartment and was in need of furniture. I flew into Kingston, packed up a moving van and drove to Ottawa where my son lives.

I spent a few days with my son cleaning and setting up his new apartment. It was nice to visit his university and meet a few of his friends. I’m also glad I got to see where he will be living for the next few years while attending university.

Some people have asked if our son is returning to England to move to Texas with us. In truth, he needs job experience. If he returned to England, he would be here less than 8 weeks. That’s hardly enough time to find a job and then who would hire him for 8 weeks? Then, there’s the move to the United States in the middle of the summer. He would have to live there about 3 weeks before he could get a social security number and be eligible to work and by that time he would have to go back to school. If he did manage to get a job in both the UK and the U.S., he would end up paying income tax in three countries!

No. Job experience and, as he likes to put it, “adulting” is better for him at this time even though we’ll miss him very much.

While I was in Canada, I took advantage of the time to do some banking and manage some investments.

There are several types of investments that the United States Internal Revenue Service will have their eye on if a Canadian takes up residence and starts working in the U.S. I am not an expert on what those investments are, but I do trust my investment advisor. So, while I was in Canada, I visited my financial institutions and adjusted my investments so they would be compatible with our residency in the United States. The process involved reading a lot of paperwork and signing my name frequently.

Now that I’m back in the UK, I’ve got to refocus on our move to the U.S.

Buy, Rent, Opt-In, Opt-Out

April 6, 2016

question markHere are answers to more questions about our move from England to Texas.

Are you allowed to buy a home when you are posted outside of Canada?

Yes we could buy a home. However, when posted outside Canada there is no entitlement to reimbursement of costs related to the purchase or sale of a home. Real estate and legal services are expensive. Legalities and taxes are complicated and for a posting of 3 years we feel it just isn’t worth our while to deal with the hassle of buying and selling.

Rental fees are very expensive in some cities! How will you be able to afford something decent?

The intent of the Foreign Service Instructions is to ensure that a member can acquire suitable accommodation at the post for the family that is generally comparable to (but does not necessarily equal to the size and nature of) the accommodation the member would have obtained in Canada.

On arrival at the new location, members automatically set to Opt-In* to the Rent and Utility Share. This means a pre-determined amount of money is withdrawn from the member’s pay on a monthly basis to pay for rent. The Rent and Utility Share is calculated based on pay level and family size and equivalent housing costs the family would pay in Ottawa. The amounts are recalculated annually.

Each area to which a member could be posted has a designated Rent Ceiling. The Rent Ceiling is based on the member’s pay level, family size and local area. It is recalculated every year. The member cannot rent a home with a monthly rent greater than the rent ceiling. Certain exceptions can be made but it needs approval from several different departments.

In exchange for the withdrawal of the Rent and Utility Share, a Rent Allowance to cover the rent (up to the Rent Ceiling amount) will be automatically deposited into the member’s bank account and the member is then responsible to pay the rent directly to the landlord. Utilities are paid directly by the member to the utility companies but many are repaid to the member as a Utility Allowance.

For example:

  • A member is renting a house in England for £2000/month.
  • Rent and Utility Share is $1500 is withheld from monthly pay (approximately £805)
  • Rent Allowance of £2000 is deposited to member’s bank account for the member to pay to the landlord directly.
  • In effect, the member only pays £805 for rent, the military pays the balance of £1195.

Items that would be covered if you “opted in” include rent, water and gas charges, cost of fuel for heating, including cost of fire wood/coal if is the primary source of heat, charge of fuel for cooking, electricity, furniture and appliance purchase or rental (conditions apply).

What if you found a rental house and it cost less than your rent share?

If this is the case (as it is with us here in England) the member can “Opt-Out” of the program. In doing so, he/she is responsible for paying his/her own rent and utilities for the duration of the posting. Members cannot opt-in and opt-out whenever they want. It is important to factor in the exchange rate when determining if the rent and utilities are less expensive than the rent share. The Canadian dollar lost 25% of its value compared to the British Pound during the time that we lived here. Fortunately, we are still paying less than the rent share.

There are also other benefits to remaining “opted-in” including:

  • Furniture and appliance rental fees
  • Costs of buying specific furniture and appliances
  • Expenses to settle disputes between member and local landlord
  • Local moving expenses if member is required change permanent leased accommodation for reasons that are beyond the member’s control

What if you need to pay for rent in advance?

If we are required to pay rent in advance of move in order to hold accommodation we can be reimbursed up to one month’s rent and on approval from the Gaining Support Unit (prior to signing the lease) an additional two months.

It sounds really complicated!

There are a LOT of restrictions on what we are entitled to rent. We are only entitled to rent a home with a certain number of bedrooms and square footage both of which depend on our family size. The rent ceiling is in fixed for our entire posting. That means if our rent is increased beyond the rent ceiling, we are responsible for paying the extra amount. If we rent a house that has a pool, we would not receive reimbursements for the portion of the utilities used by the pool.

It is very important to consult with the clerks and staff at the Gaining Support Unit and clearly understand what the entitlements are before you sign a lease because you might not be able to break a lease and you’d be stuck with expenses you could not afford!

*Note: This is a simplified summary of the opt-in/opt-out program. Please see the Foreign Service Instructions for in-depth, accurate details.

First Meeting with Relocation Advisor

March 27, 2016

This week we had our first meeting with our Relocation Advisor. This meeting is important because we learn all of the benefits to which we are entitled for this move. The moving process is also explained and we learn what we are permitted and not permitted to do.

Here is what happens.

Posting Message is Received

As soon as the posting message is received, we register with the relocation team. They open a profile for us on their secure website. When we log in, we can see the step-by-step process of a typical move. It is very easy to navigate their website.

Preparation for First Meeting

Once our profile was created, a relocation advisor was assigned. The advisor sent an email with a date/time for the meeting and requested certain information including:

  • CAF Documents:
    • Copy of the posting message – This document shows the move has been approved by the military and shows the military unit to which you are moving. In the new location, your new residence must be within the defined geographical boundaries of the new job.
    • Pay Statement as provided by the military unit chief clerk – Many moving benefits are related to pay level as shown within the human resources system. This document shows the breakdown of salary, pension contributions, income tax withheld, etc. It is similar information to what would be provided on an annual T4 slip.
    • Verification of pay and dependents as provided by the military unit the chief clerk – The moving benefits only apply to the dependents listed on this form. Although our son who is at university in Canada is still considered a dependent (he is under 21 years old and a full-time student), he will not be moving with us so he is not listed on this particular form.
  • Banking Information:
    • A copy of a voided cheque or other official document from the bank verifying your account information so that deposits can be made directly to your Canadian bank account.
  • Vehicle Documents:
    • Registration forms for must be provided for all personal motorized vehicles (PMV), motorcycles, trailers, and RV’s that will be moved. We have no vehicles to transport on this move. This saves us some paperwork with regards to the move but we will have to sell our British car and buy a new one in the U.S.
  • If you own a home:
    • A copy of the Listing Agreement (the contract you signed with your Realtor)
    • A copy of a document confirming your ownership of the home at origin (such as Certificate of Title, Certification of Registered Owner or Transfer of Ownership-Deed of Purchase)
    • A copy of the existing Survey/Certificate of Location or Real Property Report (to confirm lot size)
    • The original Agreement of Purchase (only if you expect a loss on the sale of your current residence)
    • A copy of the accepted Agreement of Sale (only if you have already accepted an offer on your current residence)
  • If you rent a home:
    • A copy of the Rental Accommodation or Lease Agreement (only if there is a lease-breaking penalty)
    • A copy of your notice to vacate your current rental property

We are currently living in military owned housing in the U.K. (a rental property). There is no lease-breaking penalty so we only had to provide a notice to vacate our current rental property.

Due to the wonders of technology, the relocation website allows registered users to upload documents directly to their own private email box over a secure connection. This is much better than attaching a dozen documents to an unsecured email – and much easier than sending them by FAX as we did 10 years ago.

All of the above documents are needed to calculate the amount of funding/benefits entitlements for the move.

The First Meeting

Our relocation advisor was very nice. She explained all of the details involving our move.

There are three levels of benefits called “funding envelopes.” The amount of funds in these envelopes is based on the specific move (distance), the family size, and a few other factors.

CORE: These benefits are essential to a move (e.g. moving van, hotels and meals while HG&E are being transported). Members are not required to use these benefits but unused benefits cannot be exchanged or assigned a monetary value to pay for other benefits or expenses. If core benefits are not used, they are forfeited.

CUSTOMIZED: The funds in this envelope are used to enhance a move (e.g. shipment of pets, additional cleaning fees for new home). Members are not required to use the funds available for benefits but unused funds are forfeited.

PERSONALIZED: The funds in this envelope can be used for non-essential but attributable to a move (e.g. shipping RV). Members are not required to use the funds available for benefits and unused returned to the member.

It is important to note that some of the benefits paid from the customized and personalized are taxable and the payout of unused funds from the personalized envelope is taxable. We will be issued a T4 for our move at the end of the fiscal year. Additionally, we cannot claim benefits paid for by the military on our income taxes as moving expenses.

The Next Steps

We need to organize a house-hunting trip. The relocation team will book our travel so we must submit our travel dates and preferred flight timings.

We will need the services of a realtor/rental agent at our new location so we must get in touch with someone and arrange that as well.

We have to prepare to move out of our current residence.

Here’s a flowchart that was provided to us. The green items show what has been completed. The yellow items are in process. The items regarding sale/purchase of residence have been crossed out because they do not apply to us in this move.

relocation-flowchart_01

The Business of Moving to a New Country

March 19, 2016

travel-money-passportMoving to a new country may seem like it’s a life full of fun and adventure, but there is a lot of work to do, including getting administrative and financial matters in order. Here are a few things we’ve been doing this week to get ready for our move.

Passport

A passport is an official document issued by a government, certifying the holder’s identity and citizenship and entitling them to travel under its protection to and from foreign countries. Most Canadians are familiar with the blue passports with which they use to when they go on vacation abroad.

Because military members are government officials they are entitled to carry a green “Special Passport” for the time they are serving outside the country. Family members (spouse and children under 21 years of age) of Canadian Forces members are also entitled to carry a green passport. Some military positions abroad require Forces members to hold red “Diplomatic” passports.

For our posting to the England in 2013, we applied for and were issued green passports. Green passports are required for our move to the U.S. Fortunately we do not need to make any passport changes for our move to the U.S.

Visa

A visa is an endorsement on a passport indicating that the holder is allowed to enter, leave, or stay for a specified period of time in a country. There are many different types of visas. Some countries require you to have a visa just to visit for a few weeks (tourist visa). Other visas allow you to visit for several months as long as you do not work or earn income during your stay. Some visas allow you to work as a volunteer for room and board but not earn income. Student visas allow you to study at a recognized school. As far as I know, every country requires you to have a visa to work or earn income in that country. There are also different types of special visas for visiting foreign Forces and of course, there are diplomatic visas.

We had to apply for NATO visas to live in England for the length of our posting. We will also have to apply for NATO visas to live in the United States for the length of our posting. We cannot apply for our visa until we have a home address in the U.S. so the application process will start after our house-hunting trip.

Regardless of the type of passport and visa we have, we are considered guests in a foreign country. We MUST abide by all laws and regulations of all levels of government: municipal, state/province, and federal.

Financial History

Generally speaking, when you move to a new country your financial history (credit score) does not follow you. You may not be able to apply for a credit card. You may have to pay large (possibly refundable) deposits for utilities, cell phone and/or rent.

Most employers will provide a “letter of employment” that states the duration of your employment and your salary. It can be used to open a bank account and sign a lease or rental agreement. However, businesses are not necessarily required to accept the employment letter as proof of a positive credit score.

It is important that all adults (even older teenagers) have some type of bill (telephone, cable TV, etc.) in their own name to establish a positive credit score in the new country. Here in England, I have the utility bills in my name. My children each have their own bank account and a cell phone in their name.

If you have lived or worked in the “new” country previously, or visited the country long enough to open a bank account or pay monthly bills, you may already have a financial history. (Let’s hope it’s a good financial history!). There may be some reciprocal agreements between two countries or financial institutions that allows for financial score information to be exchanged. Each case must be looked at individually.

Banking

We must open bank accounts in each new country in which we are posted. We opened accounts here in England and we will open accounts in the United States. A U.S. dollar account at our Canadian bank is not sufficient for military families living in the U.S. The account must be at a U.S. bank.

Some Canadian banks and financial institutions have divisions in other countries. For example the Bank of Montreal operates as BMO Harris Bank in the United States. HSBC has an international banking centre and operates in many countries around the world.

It is important to pay attention to fees regarding international transfers. Many banks will charge for transferring money from one country to another in addition to paying fees on foreign exchange. Note that cheques drawn on Canadian bank accounts will probably not be accepted in foreign countries.

Income Tax

Income tax obligations to Canada are based on an individual’s residency status. You need to know what your residency status is so that you know if you are responsible for filing income tax in Canada. Generally speaking, government employees (including military) posted outside of Canada are considered factual or deemed residents. Canadian Armed Forces members have Canadian income tax deducted from their pay and must file an income tax return by 30 April every year.

This may not be the case for family members because residency status is determined for each individual (not couple or family). The individual’s whole situation and all the relevant facts must be considered. If you are moving out of the country, contact Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA) for advice on how to determine your residency status.

If you, as a spouse, decide to work outside Canada, it may affect your residency status. You will also have to file an income tax return in the country in which you are living/working AND in Canada, reporting your worldwide income. You may be able to claim a foreign tax credit if you paid foreign taxes on income you received from outside Canada and reported on your Canadian tax return. Canada has tax treaties with a number of countries (including the U.S.) so it is advisable to check the CCRA website.

Note that some countries consider certain Canadian held investments (TFSAs, RESPs) or Canadian property as a possible tax shelter and you may be required to report ownership and interest earned on these investments.

Since each individual situation is different, I strongly recommend consulting financial expert (not your cousin Donnie who “knows a guy”) such as a tax accountant with experience in cross-border/foreign residency and taxation.

Wills and Powers of Attorney

Generally wills and powers of attorney (POA) that are legally valid in Canada, will be valid in a foreign country should you die or become incapacitated. However, they may not cover any investments or properties you may own in a foreign country. Consult a legal professional (again, not your cousin Donnie who “knows a guy”) to help you determine if you need a basic will and POA drawn up to cover these matters.

Remember that the executor of your estate or whoever is named in your POA must obtain a valid passport (and possibly visa) and be able to travel to the country in which you need care/have died. In some cases your executor may have to be bonded (i.e. prove he/she does not have a criminal background including fraud and theft) before he/she can perform his/her duties.

Life Insurance

Some life insurance policies are automatically voided when you take up residence in a foreign country check your policy and speak to your insurance advisor (again, not your cousin Donnie who “knows a guy”). You may decide to cancel or amend your current policies.

There’s more administrative work where this came from. We’re just getting started!

Posting 2016

March 12, 2016
SanAntonioSkyline

Photo credit: Brandon Watts

We have received our posting message for 2016. We’re moving to San Antonio Texas! I’ve had a few people ask me questions so here are a few answers.

They can’t just spring this on you. Did you just find out?

No. We received a screening message for the posting in January. We did all the medical check-ups and spoke with a social worker. Our son, who is at university in Canada, is considered a dependent until he is 21 years old. He will not be moving with us but he could move in with us at any time so he had to go through the screening process as well.

Additionally, my husband had to ensure all of his certifications and clearances were valid until the end of the posting (2019). This meant additional paperwork for him to complete the screening.

If you’ve known since January, why are you just announcing it now?

Many things can change in the span of a few months. First, you have to complete the screening successfully. There are many reasons why a military member’s screening message could flag “red” and the international posting would be cancelled. Sometimes, a military member will get a “green” screening for one location but end up being posted in another location because another member flagged “red.” It’s all really up in the air until the actual posting messages are sent out.

Why San Antonio?

My husband will be a liaison for joint training between the Canadian and American Armies for North American defence. U.S. Northern Command is at Fort Sam Houston. Fort Sam Houston is HUGE – almost a city itself!

Will you live in military housing?

No. There is a 48-month waiting list for military housing and our posting is only 3 years long. We will have to rent civilian housing.

When are you moving?

We don’t know exact dates yet. We will have to do a house-hunting trip (HHT) first to find a place to live. Once that is settled, we’ll be able to move. We expect to move sometime in July.

When is your HHT?

We don’t know exact dates yet. We have to register with the relocation team first and they will assist us in organizing the details. We expect our HHT to be sometime in May.

Will your high school aged daughter be able to go on the HHT?

Yes. Children under 18 years old can join their parents on an HHT. However our daughter has her GCSE exams and cannot miss school. Fortunately, her grandmother will be flying from Canada to stay with her while we are gone. They will be happy to spend some time together.

Will all your furniture move with you?

Yes – and no. In the UK the electrical power grid runs at 240V/50Hz. In North America it runs at 120V/60. This means we are not transporting any electrical items from the UK to the US. We will be transporting the rest of our belongings, called household goods and effects or HG&E.

Because we have to change countries, we must provide a complete inventory of our belongings, listed with fair market value, because they travel through customs both out of the UK and into the US.

How will you manage all of this?

We have access to a relocation team who assist us before, during and after the move. They will explain all of the benefits to which we are entitled. Working with the relocation team is important because expenses may not be reimbursed if they are incurred without the proper authorization.

I have so many more questions about how this works!

Don’t worry. I’ll provide regular updates on how the move is progressing.

What I Will Miss About England

February 28, 2016

rainbow ChurchdownWe’re posted in the summer of 2016. We don’t know where yet but we know we’re leaving England. Here is a list of things I will miss (in no particular order).

Great Neighbours – The neighbours on our street are really amazing. Everyone helps everyone else out. Everyone is really friendly. I think it helps that we have a private Facebook group for the residents of our street. It gives us the opportunity to get to know one another a little better.

Summerhouse Equestrian Centre – We started riding at this place shortly after we arrived in England. The instructors are top-notch. They make lessons enjoyable and we learn LOADS each lesson. Safety is also a main priority. It is a regional show venue as well as a riding school so there are opportunities to ride in a show ring, both dressage and jumping even if you’re not showing. They also have great cross-country courses.

Year-round Cycling – I don’t cycle as much as my husband but I do enjoy being able to ride my bike to work almost all year round. There have been a few days where it has been too windy or rainy to ride. There have been a few days with black ice that make the roads slippery and dangerous. But I figure commuting by bike 10 months of the year is pretty good.

Roundabouts – Most North Americans don’t understand roundabouts. They keep traffic flowing much more smoothly than intersections with traffic lights. If you don’t believe me, check out MythBusters. Also, roundabouts also have fuel-efficiency benefits because you often don’t have to completely stop the vehicle, losing momentum and making the engine work harder to re-accelerate. They’ve also been shown to be safer – including for pedestrians.

Give Way Signs – There are very few stop signs in England. Most of the signs are “Give Way” (yield) which is basically a rolling stop which everyone in Canada does anyway except a rolling stop in Ontario is a traffic violation.

My Job – I had the most fun job ever. Also, it was the longest period of time I have ever held the same job.

Inexpensive Mobile Phone Service – For £20 (about $40CDN) per month we had unlimited data, 300 voice minutes and 3000 texts. Also in partner countries, there were no roaming charges.

The Gym – We were members of a really great gym. It was really clean. The staff were amazingly talented and helpful. We enjoyed the gym, fitness classes, personal training, 25m pool, sauna, steam room, whirlpool spas and a cafe with healthy foods and snacks.

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