The Rubber Meets The Road On Real Life As An Expat
December 21, 2013 by admin
I’ve been living in Montevideo, Uruguay, on South America’s Atlantic Coast, for twenty-three days now and I’m happy, healthy and well on my way to a marvelous adventure. There’s so much potential for my life in the new year of 2014, working on becoming an Overseas American, commonly called an expat.
First, I’ll let you try on my brand-new moccasins and walk the first mile with me. From the airport, on Thanksgiving Day, I taxied to my reserved three-star Tres Cruces Hotel for five nights to lick the jet lag and then, begin my exploration of this capital city. My hotel was near the central bus terminal, where big, gorgeous buses depart for cities all over the country, as well as Argentina and Brazil, our closest neighbors. Uruguay is the size of Washington State, so everything is just a few hours away and tickets are reasonably-priced. However, nothing is cheap here. Costs are on a par with the United States. You can buy anything, though you’ll pay more for imported products, especially electronics. I learned about all this by strolling through an elaborate, Christmas-festooned, Mall above the bus station. It felt just like home…. brands, styles, prices and all. The big difference is that everything’s in Spanish. What did I expect? It’s South America!
But that’s okay! I’m determined to dredge up my high school Spanish and, eventually, take some language classes. Meanwhile, a lot of early-learning is coming back to me. So far, so good, with lots of smiles and funny gestures, wild stabs at vocabulary. A few people here do speak English or have a smattering to equal my poor Spanish. When I demonstrate that I’m quite happy to make a fool of myself , giving their language a try; then they will do that too. It’s the dignity thing. We usually laugh a lot and wind up exchanging names and shaking hands. Actually, quite fun. Otherwise, “Whatcha’ gonna’ do?”
Except for the language, Uruguayans are indistinguishable from Americans, though about ninety-percent of them are Caucasian. There’s a much greater racial mix in North America, than here. All early settlers here were Portuguese, Spanish, French, German or Italian. Hardly any British. A good bit of their present identity is tangled-up with their great-grandparents. I’ve met someone springing from the Basque region of France; another from German stock; an Italian pasta-maker’s descendant, and so on. What do they eat? Breads, pizza, pasta, sausages, beef, beef, beef, chicken and all meats….and a whole lot of Big Macs. I expected more fish and it is on menus, but pretty much neglected. Their local wine is good. There’s a massive item on the menu, called a Parrillada (Pa-ree-zha-da), with meat and fish and veggie on the barbeque. Yum!
My next ten days were spent in the historic district of Montevideo, Ciudad Vieja. I’ve already written about my happy time in The Hanging Gardens of Babylon Hostel, right on the pedestrian-only shopping avenue and an easy walk to the waterfront. By then, I was studying my expat manual: Escape to Uruguay, by David Hammond and the staff of International Living, bought at the November conference for $65 and worth every penny. How I’ve underlined!
You see, I decided to try actually living overseas, in my usual, wingdingarooney fashion, without much pre-planning.. Granted, for two years, I’ve paid close attention to International Living’s wise and plentiful advices. I’ve attended two IL training conferences, albeit, about making money while abroad and I’ve certainly stayed awhile in many lands and islands. “How hard can it be, for heaven’s sakes?”
It’s not exactly easy because it feels so scattered. I want more hand-holding than a manual!
What I’m doing about the official paperwork, right now, isn’t hard. What I’ll need to do in order to qualify for long-term residency, which has many advantages such as entre to their excellent healthcare system, is also, not HARD. Especially, when taken one item at a time, as presented in the manual. I’m even traveling with three important necessary documents on my person: birth, marriage and divorce certificates. Plus, I stopped in Florida for a police background check and fingerprints in Clearwater, where I used to live. But, I have learned already that it’s pretty frustrating and I haven’t even started yet.
Last week, still feeling innocently blasé about all this, I requested an appointment with an IL-recommended law firm in order to turn-in the few papers I’m carrying my satchel and set the clock ticking for my Rentista Visa. Ooops! I’m nowhere near prepared for that! Let me count the ways:
- My documents all need to be Apostilled, (a special stamp) and to do that I must send them to the U.S. State Department office for the region in which they were created: N.Y. for birth, and Florida, for marriage and divorce.
- The local, five-year, police clearance is not enough. I have to get a thorough investigation by the FBI, in all my names, and must send away for that. I can hire some company online for $18 to accomplish this and supply the results to me. Otherwise, my lawyer must accompany me to Interpol here, for the same type of investigation. But, FBI is the favored choice.
- I must obtain proof of my retirement income from overseas. Well, that was easy. I went to the Social Security website, www.myssa.gov, and now have that proof.
- To open a bank account here, my bank at home must supply a letter of recommendation. Done!
- I need to compose a Letter of Intent, stating my desire to become a resident and then, have it, and all of the above, copied in Spanish by a certified public translator. Then, I’ll submit the package to the Immigration Office. This allows me to overstay my three-month visa deadline, while waiting for all of the paper-processing to be completed in three to five months.
- A fairly simple Health Checkup Certificate is something I have yet to schedule here but that should be easy.
There are months of waiting, in-between official appointments and a lot of bird-dogging to keep the process moving right along. It’s probably an easier time than foreigners have obtaining their U.S. residency or citizenship, though.
Reading the above list, my brain admits that it looks ridiculously easy. It IS possible to do this all myself and I will later scoff at my “paperwork panic” of the moment. But there are reasons why law firms charge close to $3000, plus $500 in official fees, to help us get this done correctly. A tiny error in language or perception; a missed appointment; a forgotten duty somewhere, during the three to five year process, can sink our ship and we might have to start all over again.
However, I must now ask myself:
“Is three weeks of trying this country on for size, really long enough for me to know whether it’s the one I’ll ultimately choose to stay at home in?”
And, a little voice inside replies: “It’s almost like marrying somebody! You’d better date awhile!”
As time goes by, I plan to share with you….The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, as I live and breathe the expat process. But, I’ll tell you one thing right now. Something wonderful HAS occurred within me because of this unfamiliar…and nerve-wracking….. need to get all my ducks in a row and make them march in unison…. in Spanish, no less!
It’s a bright idea to create some investigative tours here, designed to take wanna-be expats by the hand, in advance of moving in. Certainly, before buying property. And even, as a way to choose which locality, or country, works the best for them. To help them do their recommended Due Diligence (which I’m doing now, alone, and after my arrival) in pre-move increments.
All that paperwork could be sliced and diced at home, brought along for Spanish-Spellcheck, so to speak. Every picky detail….like how to ship their furniture or car…. or bring their pets….. or start a business, could be thoroughly addressed in bus and hotel lectures by professionals, who will later get their business. Many for sale property showings, strolls through grocery stores and malls; a trying on of life, during an off-season vacation in luxury hotels all over this fascinating, highly-varied country.
Right now, the only choice to cope with this mountain-high, learning curve, is to fly down here alone, or as a bewildered couple; book in hand…. of they’ve opted to buy one….and, befuddled, stand on a street corner, wondering where in the heck to begin???? There’s just no time to muck about and make stabs at stuff when your time is limited. It’s expensive and inefficient. Yet, it’s all we’ve got right now. Re-invent The Wheel, maybe with printed instructions, if we’re lucky.
I may be the most-confused New Kid On The Block, but I do know how to plan great tours, having cut my teeth on doing this in the early days of the opening of the Soviet Union. It’s been awhile….. but, it’s just like riding a bicycle. At least, these tours would be a choice! Those folks who still want to muddle through alone can certainly continue to do that. But the rest of us could make it fun! Who wants to go with me?
EXPAT LUXURY DUE DILIGENCE TOURS
7 Days….. $1995 14 Days….$3495
Next blog post: see how I’m faring in my 202 sq. ft., not-cheap, apartment! While dreaming up the way things “oughta’ be!” It’s actually quite par for the course for me!