It seems like such a glamorous thing, to pack up and travel with your laptop. What isn’t glamorous is when something inevitably goes wrong and you are caught unprepared.
Long story short, I very recently had money stolen from me. I went to withdraw money from an ATM in Laos, it didn’t give me the cash, but withdrew it from my account anyways.
I had to call my bank in Canada, get documents signed at my home branch to initiate an investigation, and have a call-back number for them. But, of course I’m not in Canada, nor will I be for a while. It took a few hours and a few phone calls from my room and everything my bank needed in Canada was set in motion. How did I do it? By preparing in advance.
Below are 5 of my best pieces of advice for those of you looking to be smart about making the life jump into working online while traveling.
First, have a lawyer help you appoint a Power of Attorney. This is someone (your lawyer or a trusted family member usually) who can open your mail and sign documents on your behalf. When I needed someone to go into my local bank branch to sign on my behalf to investigate the fraudulent transaction, my power of attorney could go do that.
Second, get a will. Yes. You can die while abroad. It happens. If you own shares, a company, a domain name, a bank account with some cash, a million Air Miles points on your card, etc. you will need to state who becomes the beneficiary of your financial worth when you’re gone.
These assets will be the things you physically own while you are traveling, primarily your:
All of these can be covered by travel insurance. Depending on your country, plans and coverage widely vary and it takes several days of research and consultations to choose the plan for you within your budget. If my laptop is stolen I can file a police report, buy a new one, and get reimbursed for the cost. If I eat a bad egg and get intestinal parasites and end up in a hospital for 4 days I’m covered… and alive!
Companies don’t just email. Get a number and a means of voice communication.
When leaving your country for an extended period, it’s also quite common to abandon your old phone number. It’s actually shocking how many situations I’ve been in where I get asked for a call-back number or a phone number to register for an online account. You also need to be able to make outgoing phone calls, not just for mom and dad, but especially if it’s to your bank or credit card to verify transactions.
Check out Google Voice, ask a family or friend to use their phone number and to message you if they receive a call or message, or put money on your Skype account to make phone calls. Worst case, go old-school and buy an international calling card and make a call or find an international telephone booth cafe in your town… they definitely still exist.
Are you self-employed? A sole proprietor? A corporation? Do you need to file taxes even if you aren’t in your country of origin? This all depends on where you are from, but in Canada, I file taxes even though I’m outside of the country.
This can take some time with a business advisor, or even your lawyer (see #1) to help you determine what to do and how to set it up so that you aren’t scrambling on Skype (see #3) on hold with an accountant at year-end.
How will you get paid? Is it to your bank account back home? A Paypal account? Square Invoices? Where does this money end up? Many freelancers I know opt for direct deposit into their home banks in their home country whenever possible. You can open a bank account in a foreign country depending on your bank and also the foreign country, but most (including myself) move around enough to have that not be worth the hassle. And that brings me to the last point…
What happens if you lose your debit or credit card? What are your international withdrawal fees, how many transfers between accounts are you limited to per month online, and how much does the account cost on a monthly basis?
Make an appointment with your bank, get an advisor, learn their processes, and understand your accounts. It’s also a good idea to register for a free back-up credit card in case your main card gets lost/stolen.
Preparing for theft and death and everything else isn’t glamorous or fun. It’s a lot of research and paperwork, but I guarantee you, you will be happy you did it if/when something goes wrong. If nothing happens while you’re away, that’s great! At least you still had peace of mind knowing you were prepared.
If you have done something different or have a story to share about preparing for the unknown, please leave it in the comments!
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