with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Home on the Range

Expectations

We used to think figuring out the right exposure for a photograph was the most complicated part of photography. Now, we know differently. Staying in touch while taking your camera on the road full time can be extremely challenging and exceptionally frustrating. It’s costly, and often complex. It’s not just a matter of finding a phone or mail service. There’s much more to put into the mental cooking kettle.

In order to fit into our modern society, you have to have a permanent address. Where you fix that address determines how much you want to pay in income taxes, property taxes, personal taxes, licence fees, insurance, vehicle registration fees, and numerous other costs. A few states charge about $20 for auto registration and licenses, no matter the size, while others charge hundreds of dollars for the same vehicle. Some states have income taxes, while others don’t. Some have high or low insurance rates. Whatever state you choose to establish an address in, you become liable to their rules and regulations, whether or not you actually reside there. You still have to pay to support that community.

graphic of money coming out of a walletIf you are giving up your home for the road, it’s important to understand the benefits and restrictions of each state in order to choose a permanent address that will be most beneficial to you. Trailer Life Books, Trailer Life magazine, Good Sam’s Club and Escapees feature books, articles and information regarding state residency issues to help you make your decision.

Some full time travelers pay their taxes in one state, register their automobile in another state and then their motor home or trailer in another and get mail in a fourth. In some states, it’s illegal to have more than one “residency”. Be very careful and research your decision very carefully.

Traveling all over the country, camera in hand, does not have to be expensive. But sometimes, staying in touch with the rest of the county can be. Maybe it would be smarter to stay at home…nah! Catch you on the road!

Leaving the Country Behind You

graphic of a revolving globeYou think finding a residence on the home range is difficult, try leaving your country behind you. Living and working as an “x-pat” outside of your citizenship country can be as easy or complicated as your local country bureaucrats can make it. In some countries, it is easy with easy-to-access government employees who speak your language and helpful, easy-to-do forms to fill out. In other countries, like in Israel, you are constantly up against ever changing rules based upon the current “expert” in front of you holding your life on the road in his or her hands, as well as frequent government strikes and changes in political control. Everytime we go through passport control, there seem to be new rules and regulations and whatever we have isn’t good enough, but it gets us through with delays and arguments.

If you are visiting the country, usually for less than three months, you have got it easy entering the country on a tourist visa. In most European countries and elsewhere in the world, the price of a tourist visa for a US citizen is non-existent or cheap. If you are a non-US citizen, or traveling to a place that isn’t very friendly to the US, it can take months and a lot of money to get a tourist or entry visa. Research this thoroughly before you go, and be aware that the rules might change between buying the ticket and arriving.

In places where the US is seen as a potential money source or not liked, you can pay more than a hundred dollars per person for a tourist or entry visa. Do not argue with the passport control officials upon entry. They have no responsiblity for making any changes and they can refuse you entry if you act in any way they don’t like. In smaller, less controlled countries, like some in Africa and Southern Asia, you can negociate, but only if you know what you are doing, as some of the border crossings are run by local outfits with some leeway. For more “civilized” countries, just know before you go to be sure you have the cash necessary as few will take credit cards. If you are staying longer, you may require a residency permit, which leads to bureaucracy. If you are working at all, you will require a work permit.

suitcase tags, photograph by Brent VanFossenIf you are a non-US citizen coming to the United States, it used to be easy but it isn’t any more. The US is currently developing and changing their foriegn entry rules and regulations. For some countries’ citizens, it can take three to six months to get a temporary entry visa to the US. Fingerprints, financial records, and other personal and private information may be required along with an investigation into personal histories. Many foriegners are finding this time-consuming intrusion into their lives to be more pain that it is worth to visit so they are avoiding travel to the US, which hurts the tourist travel industry. Some rules and regulations are smart and even wise, but the US tends to over-exagerate their precautions, insulting many in the process before they finally get the clue that they are out of control and then they change the rules and become more conservative. It just takes a long time for the process to normalize itself.

In many countries, the money you earn as a non-citizen is exempt from local taxes, but not all. Some countries demand income taxes that range from a small percentage of what citizens pay to even more than they pay. Luckily, the United States has many agreements with international countries to avoid double taxation. Usually, you will not have to pay taxes to the United States if the amount you pay to the local country meets or exceeds the amount you would normally pay to the US government, with a generous overseas tax exception thrown in. Unfortunately, the local country will usually not offer a reciprocal agreement and you will have to pay more to them than you might to the US. Contact a tax expert familiar with both countries’ tax system and who speaks your language fluently.

Living overseas also means embracing a new insurance policy for health, home, and otherwise. Contact an expert to find out what your choices are as a foreigner. Also, check long before going to that country with the US State Department for a list of vaccinations and health concerns. For instance, if Hepatitis A or B is prevalent, these require a series of shots over several months to complete the vaccination. All yourself time, if possible, to go be thoroughly innoculated before you leave the US.

As for driver’s licenses and other permits, if you are in the country for longer than three months or more, you are required to acquire a local driver’s license instead of just using your normal license with an international driver’s license. Check with the US Embassy page for that country for all of the requirements, permits, and visas you may need for your stay.

graphic of man standing alone on the roadLiving overseas is filled with adventure and wonders that you will remember for a lifetime, but it can also come with a great deal of stress and grief. The greatest advice we can give you about living overseas is to take each moment as an adventure, just another chapter in your life’s book. Even the most stressful moments spent standing in a long line to get a tax paper approved, only to be told you have to go to another office, and then other, and then another building next door, and then being sent to another building across town, and to another office, and other….six hours later still holding the same worn piece of paper and standing at the end of the same long line you began to only have them close the office before it’s your turn…it will be funny someday. Just not now. I promise you. Been there, done that.

 

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