What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?
Describe how you "dreamed" expat life would be before you moved overseas. Please provide as much detail as possible.
I dreamed of living in Italy for many years, running my own B&B. I dreamed of sitting around a large table with many friends and neighbors, eating wonderful Italian dishes. I dreamed of exploring the countryside, other towns, even other countries nearby. I dreamed of living a simple life, of having my own garden where I grew my own vegetables. I dreamed of learning to cook Italian dishes, learning the Italian language, and settling into a different way of life.
How has your expat experience met the expectations you dreamed about before you moved abroad?
Almost everything I dreamed of came to fruition, with one important exception. I lived on the side of a mountain, overlooking the Le Marche valley all the way to the Adriatic Sea. I sat for hours at friends' dinner tables, talking endlessly. I explored much of the Le Marche region, and some to the south. I sang in the local choir, became part of the town of Cingoli (wonderful people!). I loved, loved, loved living in Italy, even when we had only one room with heat in the house, and cooked off a small heating element, before we renovated the house.
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How has your expat experience NOT met the expectations you dreamed about before you moved abroad?
The only problem, and it was a big one, was our visas. We needed work visas to open a B&B, and the consulate in the U.S. told us it would be no problem to convert our visas into work visas. But when we had the renovation completed, we were not allowed to convert the visa. We were told to go back to the U.S. and start the visa process anew. We were not willing to spend another year just doing that, so we sold the property, got a good price and now we are in Mexico, just weeks from opening our B&B. (Love it here, too.) No one asked for my advice, but if they did I would tell them to just let life in a foreign country take you where it should. Let the little things, such as visa problems, or standing in line at government offices for hours, roll off your back. Complain to each other, get it out of your system, then let it go and realize what a wonderful experience you are having. Do not expect the same way of life you had in the U.S., which is supposed to be the point, no? "When in Rome..." certainly applies here. Stay open to how life is in other countries. You have to go to a laundromat? Oh, well. Think of the interesting people you will meet there - I know we did. Cannot find peanut butter in your local store? Try nutella. Stay open.
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I, after a wonderful time in Brittany, will be returning to Italy in late summer. This time to Chianti. Part of returning is the required bank business. I had an Italian account when I was in Sicily. Which I closed and replaced with a French account. Now I need to go back to an Italian account? There must be and is a better way. I looked at a few internet banks, including N26. What kept me from going with them is the simple matter of their not allowing direct deposits from the USA. It turns out that Transferwise is now licensed in most US states, I think 48 of them, which means they will setup a direct deposit system. Additionally using them, when they hold your money as a bank, makes the process of transferring money from your account to somebody else's in Europe simple, fast and cheap. I just paid a rent deposit to my future landlord in 24 hours and at a minimal cost and at a better exchange rate. I have not yet setup direct deposit, keeping my Schwab account. What I had to do is transfer money to Transferwise using my debit card. That took less than a minute.
I bring all this up because I think it simplifies finances as an expat. All the services needed, iban number, routing number, currency exchange, debit card is all available in one place and usable anywhere in Europe, in the states and many other countries. And they speak English and answer the phone when you call. It's a breath of fresh air compared to dealing with the Italian banks.
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Beware UniCredit Banca
Until recently if I used a UniCredit ATM with my US based ATM/Debit card, I was assessed a surcharge — maybe €2. These surcharges are still relatively rare here in Italy. I don’t ordinarily use this ATM but I was a block away trying to complete a transaction and unexpectedly needed €200. For convenience sake I was ready to pay the surcharge. However, no surcharge was disclosed. Instead I was notified of “today’s exchange rate”. I never saw this before and was initially confused. Eager to get back to my pending commercial transaction, I accepted the disclosure only to realize that UniCredit exchanged my €200 to USD at a markup of 3%. That €200 withdrawal cost me €6 — much more than a surcharge of €2. I wasn’t given an option to decline their money conversion trick. It was take it of leave it. So, let’s hope this isn’t a trend — identifying people using foreign cards upon whom to foist very unfavorable exchange rates at ATMs that ordinarily offer good rates of exchange. My US bank reverses ATM surcharges, but this wasn’t a surcharge. The transaction was delivered to my US bank in USD after UniCredit pocketed €6. It wasn’t much to pay for the learning experience, but I will be vigilant going forward. An aside: EBay plays the same game. Opt out of these money conversions. Let your ATM or credit card issuer convert the currency to dollars. It is nearly always the best consumer rate available to consumers.
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