In one week and two days, I will be in Germany, beginning my new life as an American expat. Even though I thought I’d be more likely to live in the UK, in Finland, Iceland, or even on one of the South Pacific Islands where my research birds are found, I would be lying if I told you that I am not excited to relocate to Germany. I always thought I’d end up living overseas as an expat, even when I was a child.
Despite my excitement about my impending move, I am also extremely stressed out.
I have spent the past couple days trying to find my CITES permit, which was mailed to me last Wednesday, according to my USFWS agent. According to my calculations (and to the post office), this piece of mail should have reached me by Saturday — at the latest. Voicemails and emails to my USFWS agent have gone unanswered (she is involved with a federal lawsuit, so she is busy, but she is supposed to stay in touch with those of us whom she has been working with). Finally, this evening, I called several offices in Washington DC, hoping to find someone who can help. So far, no one knows anything, so tomorrow, I get to start working on this again. I will start by calling the NYC USFWS officer to find out what I can do since I need to make an appointment with this person next week anyway, so s/he can look over my paperwork to make sure I’ve got everything, or am working on getting everything I need.
Just to feed my nightmares, I asked what happens if I don’t have all the paperwork completed perfectly when reaching Germany. I was told that I am not allowed to leave the customs area at all, which means I will not be able to see or speak to my spouse — whom I will not have not seen for more than three months. I will be dumped onto the first return flight available (cost: $3000+), my birds are dumped into the cargo hold of the same plane (cost: $230-$1000), and my extra pieces of luggage (collapsible cages for the birds) are also placed on the same plane (cost: $50-$200, depending upon the airlines’ weight and volume charges) and we all are flown back to NYC, where I deplane and .. have nowhere to live. This means that I get to book a room in a hotel (which hotel allows an unemployed scientist to stay for 6+ weeks with 5 parrots?). Because my permits are valid for only a few days to a few months (depending upon which one you are talking about), I then get to sort out the mountains of paperwork and I will get to do everything all over again.
I already have decided that if I am sent back to the USA, I will sob loudly on the plane during the entire return trip, just so everyone on the plane feels horrible and decides to petition the USFWS, USDA and the German CITES authorities to send me back to Germany.
But at least Tom the carpenter finished constructing the shipping crate for the birds and it will be delivered this week by FedEx. The crate cost $150 and the shipping costs $15. Even though I am hemorrhaging money all over the place now, I am excited to see it finally.
Ken, the moving company representative, called today too. Until we started speaking on the phone, I didn’t realize how lonely and stressed out I had felt these past two days, but after talking with him for a few minutes, I calmed down. We worked on my insurance forms and I opted to underinsure my possessions to avoid high insurance rates. Ken said they rarely lose people’s possessions, so this is not as risky as it sounds. Nevertheless, I have already resigned myself to the possibility that my avian veterinary books, which cost me roughly $200-$500 each, might become lost in transit, just because they will be difficult and expensive to replace.
Of course, all these phone calls mean I need to stop slacking off. I need to scrub all my birds’ cages, label each piece and disassemble the lories’ cages so they can be shipped as flat panels instead of as large and fragile empty boxes. I estimated that each lory cage requires one day to scrub and disassemble into flat panels and I have three of them, so as you can see, I am desperately behind schedule.
I also have been investigating American income taxes .. I learned that the USA is the only country in the world that taxes its citizens regardless of where they live — even if they live permanently overseas and have a dual citizenship (something I will likely pursue). American expats are taxed on their worldwide income, while resident aliens residing in the USA are only taxed on income earned in this country. (American expats are responsible for paying income taxes to the country where they reside, too, since they are using that country’s public and social services). I also learned that it is illegal to give up one’s American citizenship in order to avoid paying US income taxes. But how would the IRS know why a person gives up their American citizenship? And further, how is an individual’s citizenship decision any of the IRS’s business?
Anyway, since I am married to a British citizen and we are living in Germany, the tax laws are looking to be very messy — for example, am I liable for taxes on our joint income, even if he is the main breadwinner? Do I file a “Married, Filing Separately” tax form to protect his income from the IRS? How does his annual income affect the amount of tax I am liable for? I’ve read that W passed laws that tax American expats on social services provided by the (foreign) country where they live: is this law still in effect? And what about this year’s income taxes? I earned a minimal amount this year, but my spouse, a British citizen who was employed in Finland, obviously had a respectable income all year; am I responsible for paying taxes based on his 2009 income, or am I taxed at his income level? How do I prove I have health insurance so I am not forced to pay the American health insurance penalty?
I am keeping my American Credit Union account, but will have to open a bank account in Germany .. how are those accounts taxed? Will I be taxed on my spouse’s bank accounts, even though those are his and consist solely of his earnings from times before we married? Will I be forced to pay the “marriage penalty” on my spouse’s 2009 income as well as my own, even though we lived in separate residences in different countries until 20 November 2009? And since I am relocating to Germany, won’t I be liable for 2009 income taxes there too, even though I will have been residing there for only five-and-a-half weeks in 2009? How would the German officials know I am living there when a visit can last as long as 90 days (and my possessions will likely arrive in early January 2010)?
I also spent the evening reading about voting as an expat in Germany. Apparently, I am allowed to vote via absentee ballot in presidential and congressional elections, but cannot vote in any other elections or else I will be subject to NY State income taxes — yikes! I was disappointed to learn that I am not allowed to choose the state where I am registered: I am forced to vote as a resident of the last state I resided in, regardless of my connections to that state. To be honest, I far prefer to vote as a former resident of Seattle, because Washington State is one of the very very few that does not require registered voters to declare an official political party affiliation — seriously: my political views are no one’s business, and I find this requirement to be deeply offensive when registering to vote in NY elections. Considering how large NYC is, I wonder if my vote matters at all? Aren’t absentee ballots routinely ignored unless there is a close election?