Going “expat” soon? Moving abroad? Or just going somewhere new.
A lot has changed since my last going abroad guide. The old info is still good, especially for credit cards and finances.
The new info concerns communication, cell phones and other fun things.
So here we go.
5. Get a smartphone. You’ve probably already got one. I recommend the iPhone, an iPhone 5 from Verizon if you can get your hands on one (and I’m working on it). You can now get ANY USA AT&T iPhone unlocked online for just $10, so ask family members for an old one, or Craigslist or Ebay. The iPhone 3GS is still a great phone, and so cheap they’re almost throw-away if it gets lost. The AT&T iPhones all take foreign SIM cards, and the Verizon iPhone 5 is unlocked for all SIMs, right out of the box. Amazing.
4. American? Get a Charles Schwab Investor Checking account. No ATM fees anywhere in the world, no foreign transaction fees. This card has saved me hundreds of dollars over the past 6 years. Deposit checks via iPhone app or with easy SASE envelopes they send you (and you can keep with your parents or whoever manages the random checks that might come your way, or mail the envelopes along with payments. I’ve even called Schwab and had them mail envelopes to different addresses so those people could pay me!). The ATM fee in Thailand now is $5, plus forex fees, plus cirrus fees. It isn’t much better elsewhere. With Schwab, you don’t need to worry if you need $30, just take it out, and the ATM rebate comes later.
3. Get a GoogleVoice (GV) number. Google calls it “One Number to Rule them All.” It might well be. This is now my number for all my accounts in the US. It rings, has voicemail for messages, you can send and receive SMS’s with anyone in the US just using the smartphone app. When you’re in the US, it pairs up with whatever phone you signup for (or borrow, or stay at). People can’t believe when I call them and they say, “wow you still have this number after all this time? How?” Google Voice, that’s how. It’s become more powerful than I could possibly imagine (see #7)
2. Install smartphone “chat” apps like Whatsapp, Viber, WeChat, and Line. Everyone is using these to chat, and you can talk to anyone in the world who has them. Send them photos. Send your location. Etc. These apps rely on your mobile phone number. What if you’re a globe-trotting traveler or bizperson? Switching SIM cards like changing time-zones? Use GoogleVoice. You’ll have it forever, so pair these services with your GV number and you’ll never have to switch. My first Whatsapp account used my May Bali number. I lost that SIM, switched cell phone companies, and all of a sudden, Whatsapp wanted to validate my number. But it was impossible – I didn’t have the number. With GV, I’ve got one number to rule them all!
1. Carry extra batteries. With all this tech, you need some spare batteries. Amazon has some great ones, check my Top-Ten gear list.