Obamacare & International Health

I was, as a single person, not all that enthused about Obamacare until I realized that I qualified for free care. Not having had any health insurance for the last 10+ years of my life due to cost, learning that gave it a bit more luster. Now that I’m married, though, I no longer qualify for subsidies and the cost of insurance has gone up 4000%. Bummer. And of course, if I don’t purchase, penalties ensue. Fortunately, Stuart and I have decided to settle where he is now, in France. This will exempt us from having to enroll in Obamacare. Good thing, too, because if we both had to, we’d be talking around $8000 a year. Ridiculous! That money is better spent, in my opinion, on maintaining our good health through whole, healthy foods and alternative care, like bodywork and acupuncture, for well-being. That’s my two cents, but of course, each must come to his or her own conclusions.

Thing is, I’m not in France yet, and we’re not sure when things will be in place for that to happen. So, it seems I will be required to purchase health insurance or face the penalty consequences. Ironically, the penalty is based on AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) of household income. I don’t know anything about anything about any of this, but it sounds to me like the IRS is expecting me to report my nonresident alien spouse’s income to determine my penalty. Excuse me? He has absolutely no obligation to the US government to report his foreign income. He isn’t American! How can they justify penalizing me based on his income??? It’s messed up!

Aside from the tangle of US taxes and Obamacare, one of the things we are currently trying to figure out is whether Stuart can enroll me as his spouse on his insurance in France. We’re waiting for quotes from the insurer. If I need to hold a Cart de Sejour before being allowed to enroll, in other words, be permanently in France, then I will need some kind of international medical insurance in the interim. Fortunately, international insurance plans don’t cost $4000 a year like Obamacare!

I’ve been looking at Cigna Global and HTH among others. Anyone out there have experience with international health plans, good or bad?

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Money and Moving Overseas

Today, Stuart and I have finally sat down over Skype to face the reality of our financial life. I’m feeling extraordinarily depressed over the whole thing. Love across borders isn’t cheap. In fact, it is just about out of our means. Part of the problem is that I am saddled with a house for which I paid $150,000 which is now worth significantly less. Having lived here only 6 years, I don’t have a substantial enough equity to make anything on it. I’ll be very lucky if I come out even. Plus I’m not making much money right now while in transition; my little savings won’t last much longer. On top of that, we’re looking at expensive moving and immigration costs. There’s plane tickets, shipping fees, mail forwarding service, paperwork processing fees, accountants fees, and on and on and on…

Brake!

Is looking at the big picture in the way I always have done really necessary? Helpful even? Because all I feel is drained by it all. Is this an outdated habit that repeatedly confirms to me concepts of limit and impossibility? By letting myself see this current “reality” in detail, am I discounting the miracles the universe has in store for us? Shouldn’t I be putting my attention on creating a buyer at my asking price? Shouldn’t I be focusing on creating future income streams? Where’s the love in figures? Where’s the joy? Love , joy, gratitude…these are the creative and manifestive energies of the universe. How do I pull my head out of the butt it’s always been in and give it some fresh air???

Helpful Quick Bits: To File Jointly or Not?

Ah, the joys of a new international marriage and figuring out what to do about our taxes. It’s complicated! Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • As a nonresident alien, Stuart does not have to report any income to the IRS. That’s good.
  • Because Stuart and I were married this year, I’ll have to file “married filing separately”, and that means higher taxes. In fact, I’ll lose what would have been a very nice refund. That’s bad.
  • However, we have the option to elect to have Stuart treated as a resident alien for tax purposes and file jointly. That’s good.
  • But if we do that, Stuart will be taxed on his worldwide income until such time as we rescind “the choice” as it is called. And that choice can only be made once in a lifetime. Now might now be the time. That’s bad.
  • That’s because, right now, we’ve decided to settle in France, meaning there’s really no reason to drag Stuart into the US tax system. That’s good.
  • But apparently, I’ll still need to file US Income Tax as well as the infamous FBAR on all bank accounts, even those I share with Stuart. That sucks.
  • And once I establish myself and my microentreprise in France, I’ll have to file taxes in France and the US. That really sucks.
  • Fortunately, there are things like tax treaties, foreign earned income credit, and foreign tax credit. That’s good.
  • And thank God there are financial planners and accountants who specialize in the confusing, complicated web of expat taxation. That’s even better!

(Well…I am TRYING to end on a positive note.)

Helpful Quick Bits: International Mail Forwarding

“Welcome those big, sticky, complicated problems. In them are your most powerful opportunities.”
Ralph Marston

Moving overseas is a very powerful opportunity! It’s full of complicated logistics, one of these being mail. A change of address can be complicated enough when it is in one’s own nation. While the post office makes it simple to fill out a change of address form, one must follow up by notifying all the businesses, governments, professionals, family and friends of one’s new address. It can take time, and it is easy to forget some of the people who ought to be notified.

The challenge in moving overseas is that the post office only forwards in the US. Enter the independent enterprise of international mail forwarding, the expat’s friend.

There are several intermediary companies out there that will provide a person with a US address to which all her mail can be forwarded via US mail. They then ship that mail to the recipient overseas. Brilliant! The companies I’ve looked into have very cool features where you can see what’s in your mailbox online when it arrives; some will also open and scan your mail so you can read it right away. They even have discard services for junk mail. And, it seems, I can shop for my favorite US items, have them shipped by, say Amazon, to my mail forwarding service, who would then combine all my packages together and send them overseas, saving me extra postage costs (that is, assuming the company I was buying from even would have shipped internationally to begin with). So, I can still get all my favorite products I can’t live without in France! It will also be an awesome service to have until Stuart and I know where, exactly, we will be staying long-term because all I need do is change my forwarding address with one company!

Here’s another beautiful thing. Some of the companies I’ve looked at offer Florida addresses. Now, for those of you who remember my post about driving overseas and my need to establish residency in Florida, this is very good news.  All I need is a subscription to one of the services I’ve been investigating, and I can have any mail I want to receive through them sent to my new Florida address right away. So when it is time to get my Florida driver’s license, I’ll have the two pieces of “official” mail required to prove residency even before I arrive. (There are other requirements, should this pertain to you).

Smooth move!

Right now, though, I’m looking at MyUS.com in Sarasota, MyRVmail.com in Crestview, and St. Brendan’s Isle, all in Flordia, and learning a few things about what to look for. Do readers have experiences with either of these or other companies they would like to share?

The UK Visitor for Marriage Visa Decision & Process

When Stuart and I first decided to get m…owed, I mean married, we looked at all the options. At first, things looked very discouraging and overwhelming, but now that we’re on the other side of things, in hindsight, it wasn’t all that bad.

Of course, we thought about marriage in the US. From what I could tell, he would have needed a K1 Fiance Visa, a process that would have taken about 6 months. That amount of time did not appeal to either of us. Besides, I would have had to sponsor him financially, and that wasn’t happening. We looked into marriage by proxy, but that seemed to be available only to the military unless I wanted to fly to another state where it is legal. However, not every country recognizes marriages by proxy, so this wouldn’t have helped us anyway.

Next, we looked at France. In fact, for a few weeks, we thought this was our best option because I could just go on an application-free Schengen Visa. The problem with marrying in France came down to the paperwork. Everything, passports, birth certificates, divorce decrees, etc., would have to be translated in order to get married. Then everything French would have to be translated to English for use in the US and UK. The language barrier made this a poor choice.

Frustrated, we began to look at the UK. They offer something called a Visitor for Marriage Visa. It seemed like our best bet. With this Visa, I could enter the UK for the purpose of marriage for a period of up to 6 months, and the applications were only taking about 4-6 weeks. To top it off, Stuart’s cousin is the registrar of the town where we wanted to marry. She could marry us!

So, we started the application process. It was a bit of a nightmare as these things tend to be, taking over my office floor. The online application was easy enough. It was the supporting documentation that was more complicated. Continuing to just put one foot in front of the other, though, we obtained everything we needed:

  • passports (expired and current) and my passport photo
  • my biometrics document
  • our birth certificates
  • our divorce decrees
  • our bank statements
  • my proof of ties to home (in my case, work and mortgage)
  • my credit line proof
  • our tax returns and proof of business
  • letters of accommodation from each of the people we stayed with
  • marriage registration and license receipts
  • letter of support from Stuart
  • planned itinerary including intention to purchase health insurance
  • things to prove our relationship (Skype records and photos)
My visa application about halfway complete.
My visa application about halfway complete.

Some of these things were tricky. Our Skype transcripts were nearly 500 pages long, so I needed to abbreviate them down to something manageable. Many documents needed to be originals. There were also time constraints and many agencies and people with their own priorities and timelines involved. Since I had scheduled my biometrics appointment two weeks after my application online, I then had to have everything ready to be submitted by the deadline two weeks after that. There were some moments of hair-pulling as we waited for things or discovered new things we needed to include as the deadline drew closer. The whole time, I kept feeling very sorry for people who aren’t as logistically minded as myself, let alone non-English speakers, starting this process only to find they’ve missed a piece or a deadline.

Then I went about making copies (there had to be two of everything), indexed it all with a cover letter, and shipped, being sure to include the required return postage and packaging. I also scanned the whole thing, so I would have digital copies. I got a little nervous when UPS said they wouldn’t insure my passport, but what could I do? I had to trust and send it.

UK Immigration was great about communicating through emails throughout the whole nail-biting process. Within 6 weeks, we had approval! Just in time to buy a plane ticket in advance of our selected wedding date.

If it’s true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, the visa process certainly built up our muscles. Good thing, because as an international couple, there will be lots more paperwork ahead!

Learning French

For years, I’ve wanted to relearn the French language having studied it both when I was a in 5th grade and in high school for a couple of years. Now that Stuart and I have made our decision to settle in France, it is imperative.

As soon as I knew I’d be visiting France, I started using an online learning program called Memrise. They have several free French courses, some better than others, which I really enjoyed. For someone who just needs some familiarity with survival lingo, it’s a great place to start. What I like about Memrise is the science-based learning approach that utilizes memes or images you choose to make remembering a concept easier combined with sight, sound, and of course, repetition. I also like the daily reminders to practice. It isn’t that intuitive though; by that I mean that sometimes, even though I typed in an appropriate phrase, it would be regarded as incorrect because it wasn’t the phrase they expected…and I’d sometimes lose points for typing errors.

Stuart had a CD series of French lessons that I am now using created by Michael Thomas. I like the approach he takes focusing on the cognates and having two pupils who interact with him on the CD, making it more like attending an actual class. You are supposed to pause the CD each time he asks someone to say something en francais, but so far, I haven’t had to do that; I’ve been managing to answer before the students. I imagine it would be a bit of a pain if this were not the case, to be pausing the recording every few minutes or seconds. Still, it’s a good program that has one spitting out complicated strings of words in no time. But so far, my problem is that I have no means to apply what I’m learning…yet.

I also just started getting some French tutoring from my friend, MayaJoelle. She is of French origin and a wonderful French teacher and tour guide. I’m blessed to know her, for her approach is one that focuses not only on the cognates but also on the musicality of the language…something I do understand. She’s also giving me what no online or CD program can which is correction in pronunciation and actual interaction. Ironically, I sometimes wish I could press the pause button working with MayaJoelle! She’ll say things or ask me to say something sometimes that I just simply cannot get my head around…but that’s good because it is what I will no doubt experience in France…the panic and utter confusion of not being able to “find the right word”. MayaJoelle offered me the tip to label everything in my house with its French word. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that sooner. It’s a great idea, and I plan on getting to work on that in the next few days. She’s also recommended watching French movies and listening to French music which I’ll be doing with online resources.

I kind of see learning French now as my job. It is something I must do daily, like exercising and brushing my teeth. It requires a great deal of attention and focus. The more I pour myself into it here, the less intimidated I’ll be when I arrive in France.  N’est-ce pas?

The Overseas Driver’s License Conundrum

With my visitor for marriage visa, I decided to get an international driving license. It cost me about $15 from AAA and is basically a translation of my current driver’s license into many different languages. It’s a very cool thing that could come in very handy in a foreign land were I ever pulled over. Ironically, I never got to use it while I was visiting…mainly because Stuart has, like most of Europe, a manual transmission, and I don’t know how to drive one (which apparently to many Europeans means I don’t know how to drive). So Stuart did all the driving. Still, if and when I do return to France, I will be bringing my international license with me as it won’t expire for a whole year, and I can learn to drive a stick shift fairly quickly…so he tries to convince me (while I try to convince him an automatic is sooooo much easier so let’s get one)! But as my international license will expire next August…

…here’s what I’ve learned so far about driving overseas as it pertains to my situation:

About France. Everything I’ve read online has confirmed that the French driving test, which must be taken in order for a US citizen to get a French license (unless they have a license from a limited number of states who have an exchange agreement with France), is a very challenging, time-consuming, and euro-eating process–a “racket” if you will. The tests, of course, are in French…which I have yet to learn…and the passing rate is abysmal.

In the UK, things aren’t much different than in France. The plus is that the tests are conducted in English. Of course, in the UK, they do that funny little “other side of the road” thing, but I’m pretty sure I can hack it.

The rub is that if things proceed as we are now planning, I’ll be going to France to be with Stuart. That means, within one year, I will need to have my French driver’s license. But if we later decide in that first year to go to the UK to settle, I will also have to get my UK driver’s license within a year of landing there. You see, it seems I can’t exchange my current US license in France or the UK, nor can I exchange my future French license in the UK. That means two packages of driving lessons and really difficult driving tests in the next couple of years, and I can think of a very long list of things I’d rather be doing with my time and money…especially as someone who has been driving for 30 years without a single ticket!

So here comes my inspiration to relocate to Florida. Florida is one of the states that has an agreement with France. I can swap my FL license for a French one! There are at least two other reasons to relocate to Florida…the weather (since I’d be moving in winter) and the lack of income tax (which as a US citizen, I will still be required to file whether I owe taxes or not–oh, the joys of the expat).

Hmm…Jacksonville is only 6 hours away. I would just have to sell my house and close my business…which I’m doing anyway…pack all my stuff…which I’m doing anyway…but somehow keep out certain stuff I’d need in FL…drive to Florida, find a place to live…probably furnished…submit my change of address to everyone, open a bank account, register to vote, get my license, find a short-term job, hang for a while and…voila!

…then pack everything again, have all my things shipped overseas, have my mail handled by an international mail forwarding service, sell my car, get on the plane, arrive in France, and do a victory dance.

Is nothing ever a piece of cake??? Mmm…cake.