10 (Financial) Thoughts on Emigrating

I just got stung by my own disorganisation. This happened in two ways.

The first way is that I forgot to pack clean underwear and clean socks for the week. I survived today using the trusty “inside-out” technique, but that isn’t entirely savoury these days, and isn’t going to get me through another two days. I will be off to the mall shortly to find some kind of bargain basement knicker supply.

The next way arrived while I sat in the mall car park waiting for a hail storm to pass. It came in the form of an email from the bank telling me that we had overdrawn on our account.

I said some expletive things, checked the account activity, and saw a recurring international payment to Amazon listed. I called Cowboy, certain that we were the victims of fraud and theft and other terrible things. As I expected, he had nothing to do with it. What dreadful person had poached my information and used it to buy an Amazon Prime subscription in another country, of all things?

Well… me, it turned out. I had attached my US debit card to my UK Amazon account some time ago, and hadn’t thought anything else of it, and my binge-watching of Nashville last summer had been supplied through an Amazon Prime subscription on my UK Amazon account. I hadn’t even imagined that it would renew by helping itself to my US dollars. Of course, the US bank slapped us with a fee or two for the privilege.

To Amazon’s credit, I could cancel my UK subscription service with just a click of a couple of links, and they will even be refunding the fee in full because I hadn’t used any of the services since paying. Thank you for not being bastards, Amazon, it is very much appreciated. The whole incident prompted me to make some thoughts about emigrating to the USA, and all the stupid stuff you don’t even think about in the throes of romance.

  1. Despite being a global company, amazon.co.uk and amazon.com are not the same thing. Purchase histories and Prime subscriptions do not carry over, even though your username does. Do not mix currencies across your accounts. Keep your UK money with your UK account, attached to UK cards.
  2. Similarly, understand that switching your Apple ID from the UK to the USA requires a whole rigmarole too, which I haven’t even managed to start understanding yet. It’s something I will have to go through soon – just know that it’s not as simple as clicking a couple of links and *poof* you live somewhere else now. I suppose that’s fraud prevention…
  3. Keep a UK bank account. I knew I would forget to cancel various things (like Amazon Prime) when I left the UK, so I kept my UK accounts open and funded for just that purpose. It’s also handy for when you want to send your family birthday cards from Moonpig, which, it turns out, has to bill you in GBP.
  4. Your perfectly good iPhone which you bought in the Apple shop in Westfield to stop yourself being financially raped by a phone contract will be compatible with maybe one network in the USA, and that network will have next to no coverage where you live, and even less in places where you don’t live, and will cost you a ridiculous amount of money. If you want good coverage and a decent phone, expect to pay upwards of $80 a month. Coming from my £6.80 contract back in Blighty to my $50+ plan here was a hideous shock to the system, and I’m now bracing myself for the next price jump to getting a contract that actually enables me to have service.
  5. You’ll have to buy a credit rating. For me, this involved setting up a credit builder loan with a local bank, who had a scheme on offer. They “lend” you a sum of money (it’s not a real loan, you don’t get access to any money, so it is zero risk to them), and then you make a monthly payment on the loan, which goes into a savings account in your name. They report your excellent payment record to the credit agencies, and you can build your credit rating without needing to be approved by a credit card company or anything. Also, at the end of the credit builder scheme, you get your money back out of your savings. You’ll have paid a bit of interest, but to me this is preferable than the other option which is generally recommended: buying a car on finance from one of the “we finance anybody” car dealerships. No thanks…
  6. That phone contract you finally summoned the cash to pay for? Well, you’re an immigrant, so they will be suspicious of you, exclude you from the good deal offers and say you are only eligible for the expensive two year contract. Also, you absolutely have to pay upfront for the handset, using a credit card. Oh, you don’t have a US credit card yet because you have no credit rating here? Well… Shit. Better stick with your patchy coverage month-to-month pre-pay plan.
  7. The big banks will charge you for almost everything. Just having an account open will cost you money, unless you do business in a certain way to tick all of their boxes (a certain number of transactions per month, and/or a minimum balance). You’ll have to buy cheque books, they are not supplied to you for free just for being a lovely customer (and you do need cheques, odd as it seems). They’ll cost more than you think they should. You will probably order them with your name and address on, which is the done thing, and then unexpectedly move house.
  8. You’ll suddenly understand why Vistaprint offers you return address labels all the time. You need them to stick on your cheques to cover up your old address so you don’t have to spend another $40 on new ones.
  9. A casual lunch on the go will rarely cost less than $10.
  10. The price of shampoo that doesn’t cause your scalp to become immediately slathered in grease or flake away into oblivion will have you genuinely considering joining the no-poo movement.

A post on no-poo will be appearing in the future.

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