Did Santa put an engagement ring in your stocking this Christmas? Or maybe you celebrated 2016 with a kiss and a wedding date. If these marriage proposals will include a move overseas, between talk of champagne, flowers, and packing, don't forget the most important discussion: Money.
After 20 years as an international banker, world traveler, and expatriate, and also having been the better half of one or two global relationships, I have seen how lack of planning, not asking the right questions, and not having a pre-departure financial conversation can derail a global romance, cause regret, stress, and unexpected financial issues.
Here are eight financial tips to consider before moving abroad for love:
1. Living in a foreign country is not for everyone
Do you even want to live overseas? Have you ever lived in a foreign country? Is this country on your list of places to live? Is it someplace you would live on your own if you were not in a relationship? Have you spent any time with your partner in your future host country? If you can't answer any of these questions definitively, your finances are the least of your problems. As Benjamin Franklin said "An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest."
2. Create your own personal financial plan
Pre-Departure, develop a financial plan that outlines sources of income, expenses, and a Plan B Fund (as in Bye-Bye -- it didn't work out). If you are seeking employment, don't underestimate the time it might take for you to see your first paycheck (most foreign countries pay salary monthly, not bi-monthly or bi-weekly as is the norm in the U.S.).
3. Consider dipping in one financial toe at a time
Engagements can be broken, and living with someone in a foreign country can test any relationship. Making small financial moves may ease your fears before fully committing to a new life overseas.
In the short term, try romance long distance. If you are not married, maybe your fiancée's sponsoring company will pay for visas and airline tickets for visits.
Consider not giving up your home immediately, but instead renting it out and putting your household goods in storage.
4. Decide how you will manage your career
Can you afford to take time away from your career? Are you moving from a country that is economically stable to an economically fragile country? If you are permitted to work, is it a country where you will be able to easily find employment?
Investigate taking a leave of absence from your job until you have fully settled into your host country. Inquire if the leave is paid and offers job protection.
If you work for a global company, ask your boss if there are any global projects you can be attached to.
Perhaps your new host country is suitable for launching a new business venture, or consider engaging in an online business or gaining an advanced degree at a local University.
5. Make sure you have a financial agreement
Most countries recognize marriage as a sacred institution, offering the maximum benefits and protection for each party. This is why most of my friends tell me they would not accompany their partner to a foreign country without the benefit of marriage.
If you are not married, think about registering as a civil or domestic partnership before leaving home. This might offer you the best possible alternative for financial protection should problems arise overseas. Also, consider creating a cohabitation agreement that will clearly state the living and financial arrangements you've agreed to. For example, if you are not authorized to work or can't find employment, is your partner willing to support you financially, and to what extent? Will you have an allowance, or will your partner pay for all expenses in the home and host country, and for how long?, and what if you split up? Who will pay for your repatriation?
6. Have a clear understanding of your new financial environment
While your beloved is at work, guess who will have to take the lead in managing household finances. Understand how to conduct routine financial transactions like foreign exchange, moving money, and paying bills in your new host country. In developing countries, even the simplest transactions can require an in person visit and long wait times.
Note that some countries don't offer joint bank accounts. Married couples have to open separate bank accounts. Due to current U.S. regulations many U.S. citizens overseas are experiencing difficulties opening bank accounts, and their foreign partners are reluctant to enter into joint bank accounts because they don't want the U.S. government to have access to their financial details.
7. Keep an eye on your Identity and Credit
Protect personal information by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), and switching to a mail service that can scan and send mail to overseas locations.
Credit ratings do not travel overseas and foreign credit products don't appear on U.S. credit reports. Be mindful of damaging your credit rating while overseas, which could impact your ability to obtain credit on your return to the U.S.
8. Seek Professional Advice
U.S. citizens are subject to taxation on worldwide income. Recently, Congress passed the FAST Act, which gives the U.S. State Dept. the right to deny a passport or renewal of a passport, or revoke the passport of any taxpayer identified by the IRS as seriously delinquent. This makes a good case for obtaining tax advice before moving overseas. Also, don't forget about tax filing requirements and liability in your new host country.
Finally, seek advice from an immigration attorney to help you understand local immigration law, including visas, work permits and your rights as a foreigner. This information could prove valuable if you fall out of love with your partner, but fall madly in love with your host country and want to stay.