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Phuket Business: How expats can simplify their finances

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: Moving to another country to work or retire, like Thailand, can be a daunting undertaking that will inevitably make managing your finances more complicated and time consuming. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you simplify your finances so you can quickly start enjoying your new life as an expat:

Consolidate your financial accounts:

If you have banking and other financial accounts with multiple institutions, consider consolidating them with a couple of institutions who you know will provide the best service possible with the least amount of headaches while you live abroad. That means if you are an expat from California and you don’t want to stay awake until midnight to wait for your bank to open, you might want to use a financial institution with a bigger national footprint or a call center that opens early and stays open late.

And remember, the best financial service for an expat living abroad may not necessarily come from the financial institution offering the lowest price for its services.

Online statements and bill pay:

Most financial institutions, including banks in Thailand, will offer online statements and online bill pay – often at no extra cost. Just be sure to clarify how long your financial statements will be stored online as you may need to download older ones to avoid being charged a fee should you suddenly need them (for a tax audit).

Have joint accounts:
At the very least, the names of both you and your spouse should be on any cash accounts – especially any account containing emergency funds. In addition, both you and your spouse should know the user names, passwords and answers to any security questions in order to access to online financial accounts or to use ATM cards.

Give power of attorney to someone you trust:

In the event that you are incapacitated, your spouse should have power of attorney over you. Likewise and in the event that you and your spouse are both incapacitated, it might be a good idea to have someone in your home country who you trust (such a close relative) with a limited power of attorney as well.

Get VOIP:
Even if you don’t call your home country regularly, you will want to have some kind of VOIP service like Skype or Vonage as spending an hour on hold to deal with a banking headache can be costly.

American or Canadian expats might want to consider a MagicJack – a VOIP device that plugs into a computer’s USB port and offers unlimited calling to US or Canadian phone numbers. Just as importantly, the device comes with a US or Canadian phone number and your choice of area codes where you can be reached should someone at a financial institution you deal with need to call you directly.

Use multicurrency personal finance software:
The latest versions of personal finance software like Quicken will have a multicurrency function that allows you to keep track of accounts and living expenses in multiple currencies – an absolute necessity if you are an expat who needs to maintain a strict budget.

Scan and safely store your important documents:

Make sure you have electronic copies of all of your important documents – including important receipts, medical records, tax returns and any legal and financial documents. If you don’t own a scanner, then a digital camera can be used with the files stored on a cloud computing service or on an external hard drive or memory stick that is in turn stored some place secure. Make sure you backup all your data on a daily basis to prevent data loss. Recently one of my clients in Phuket lost all his data on two notebooks due to a theft. Yes, he had the data backed up to an external drive but that was stolen too. I personally use Mozy.com to back up data and store in the cloud. Data is backed up automatically and can be retrieved any time.

Find local experts:
Even if you plan to continue using your existing investment and tax advisors from back home, it would be a good idea to augment them with experts based in the country you will be residing in. After all, local experts may be able to provide advice on matters important to expats, plus it’s always easier doing business face to face with any type of investment or tax advisor.

Don Freeman is president of Freeman Capital Management, a Registered Investment Advisor with the US Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), based in Phuket, Thailand.

He has over 15 years experience and provides personal financial planning and wealth management to expatriates. Specializing in UK and US pension transfers. Call 089-970-5795 or email: freemancapital@gmail.com.

 

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