Are you considering living in both the U.S. And Australia? Uprooting your life in one country and replanting it in another is no easy feat—especially when there are children, careers and businesses involved.
But it is certainly possible. We've made it work for our family, and we want to share our story with you.
From planning the big move, to successfully settling back into Australia, we're making the most of living in two amazing countries— and we've put it all together in this three-part blog series.
So if you're wondering what it's like to live between the U.S. and Australia, you're in luck. We're sharing everything we've learned about living the cross-border lifestyle.
In 2020, my wife and I decided to leave Minneapolis, Minnesota, where we had lived for the past 7 years, and move our family of four to Brisbane, Australia.
We had been living happily in the U.S. We were close to my wife's family, had fulfilling careers, and our kids were doing great in school.
While there was nothing wrong with our life in Minneapolis, several life stressors, including the COVID pandemic, pushed us to re-evaluate what we needed as a family.
We realized we needed a change and the time was perfect to do it. In July 2020, my wife suggested the timing would be as good as it was ever going to take our 2 kids with us and move to Australia for a couple of years. After living away from my home country for over 15 years—this sounded like a dream come true for me.
But we knew it would require an entire lifestyle change for our family, with an enormous amount of planning, paperwork, and preparations.
After lengthy conversations, research, and more conversations—we decided to make the leap.
Here's how we did it.
We knew that we were facing some big challenges ahead, but that meant we quickly got organized.
Here are the 11 key pieces we needed to take into account when preparing for the move:
With so many moving pieces to track, we knew it was important for us to have a plan and divvy up responsibilities.
So we leaned into each other’s skill sets and areas of expertise.
And while we did have some shared responsibilities—we divided and conquered as much as possible to make the load more manageable.
The responsibilities that fell to me were:
The responsibilities my wife Eliza took on were:
Lastly, our shared responsibilities included:
In the months leading up to the move, the challenges of immigration, flights, quarantine, housing, finance, taxes, and logistics were the most pressing.
Here is how we handled each of these challenges.
The first question we needed to answer was: Can we even get into Australia? NB: Australia was closed to immigration at this time due to Covid.
Because our children have an Australian parent (me), they are entitled to citizenship by descent. Thus, getting Australian citizenship for the two children was the important first step.
For my American wife Eliza, we found that the best way for her to enter Australia was to start with a tourist visa.
Why? Originally, our plan was to wait until the children received their citizenship. This would have made it easier for Eliza to obtain her long-term visa. However, because the children's citizenship took longer than anticipated (like everything during Covid), the next best step was to obtain a tourist visa instead.
Unfortunately, this presented a few challenges. A tourist visa meant that Eliza could not work, and the visa would only last for one year. But luckily, renewing the tourist visa would not be an issue.
There were several reasons we took this route instead of applying for the partner visa (permanent residency).
First, if she had applied for permanent residency in the U.S., she wouldn't be able to enter Australia until it was granted. This process could take up to two years. Second, the cost of the partner visa is high—upwards of $8,000 AUD. And lastly, we learned that she could simply apply for the partner visa after arriving in Australia on the tourist visa.
We found that consulting with an Australian immigration lawyer was an invaluable investment for our circumstances.
Given the complexity of family situations and immigration, I strongly suggest hiring an immigration lawyer if you are considering this move.
Now we knew we were allowed into the country—but could we even get to Australia in 2021?
Planning a move during the COVID-19 restrictions added a whole new level of complexity to this process.
As we started looking for flights, we found that it was not useful to go through Google Flights, Kayak, or any sort of flight aggregator.
Constant schedule changes, strikes, and flight cancellations were the new normal—and no website was able to keep up. The only way we were able to find real flights was to call the airlines directly.
After tracking the major airlines for months, once we saw flights that met our needs, we called the airline directly and booked our tickets.
Another challenge we were anticipating upon landing in Brisbane was the mandatory quarantine.
Luckily we had an idea of what to expect from the stories I’d heard from clients and what we’d read on social media. Our understanding was that we would have no choice on where we would be assigned for quarantining, nor would we be able to choose the room.
But we had heard that some places could upgrade your room if you were willing to pay an additional fee. And preference was given to families for apartment-style lodgings. We knew we could expect 3 meals a day, and learned that family and friends could drop food off for us.
Of course, the current COVID-19 restrictions and quarantine procedures have changed since then. But this was what we were anticipating back in early 2021.
Before moving, we had two main housing issues to resolve:
With exorbitantly expensive flights, costs of quarantine, figuring out business compliance, the possibility of a major foreign exchange move against us, and a host of other logistical and financial challenges, we thought—can we even afford to do this?
After analyzing the costs, we determined that we could but we would need to rent our house.
A few other considerations we needed to factor in were:
We realized that even though we had family living across the street from us, we didn't want to place the responsibility of management on them. For us, professional property management was the way to go. So, we began the search for property management companies.
Next, we prepared our house to be rental-ready. We spent a lot of time and energy, donating or selling our underutilized possessions, painting the house, installing a new deck, and cleaning windows—essentially getting the house ready as if we were about to sell.
To mitigate the risks of renting our home when thousands of miles away we needed to put a few things in place.
We looked at converting our homeowner’s policy to a landlord policy that included worldwide coverage on liability. We also needed to make sure the tenants obtained insurance with liability equal to or greater than the rebuild cost of the house.
And we also realized that we needed renter's insurance for any remaining personal property in the U.S., either at the house or in storage.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, with record low interest rates Australian real estate prices were hitting all-time highs in 2020.
The rental market was not immune to this either, with numerous expats returning and many properties receiving above-market offers just to rent.
We navigated our rental search by contacting realtors in Australia and sending an introductory note containing information on:
This was key, because realtors could then contact us when matching rentals became available.
We decided to take the conservative step and rent for at least 6 months, before making any decisions to buy. Why?
Several reasons led us to rent first. First, being a non-resident property owner in Australia has many disadvantages. From non-resident taxes, lack of capital gains exemptions, and the potential local and state taxes—it made sense for us to rent since we knew we would be moving back and forth between the U.S. and Australia.
And even though we were moving back to my hometown, it had been 15 years since I'd lived there. We wanted to get a feel for what our new lifestyle would be, and needed the flexibility that comes with renting.
Additionally, there are big benefits and incentives for first-time homeowners in Australia. We decided it would be better for us to wait. And in the future we could return with a larger down payment to get the home we'd like to keep for the long term.
Piecing together the logistics of an international move is daunting. We not only had to fly ourselves but all our personal belongings as well.
The questions we were asking when it came to shipping our personal items:
Through our research, we discovered that packing and shipping a 4-bedroom house from the U.S. would cost approximately $10,000-12,000.
But we found that we needed to look closely at the extra fees and delivery times. Shipping abroad also meant additional port fees and fumigation fees. And delivery schedules 90-120 days out were not ideal.
Ultimately we decided to move only with checked luggage and re-furnish our house when we arrived.
Getting health coverage as a citizen is a different process than as someone coming in with a visa.
For our family, insurance for me and my daughters (all citizens) was straightforward. All we needed to do was get onto Medicare in Australia, and look at any private insurance we wanted as extra coverage.
For my wife coming in on a tourist visa, she needed a specific type of health insurance for non-immigrant temporary residents.
The last part of logistics included buying any items we needed before moving to Australia. In addition to purchasing luggage for traveling, we had other purchases we needed to make.
We took an inventory of all the items we needed that are not easily found in Australia and made sure to stock up on them before moving. For us, these included certain electronics and other products we have come to like and want to have in our new home.
Whether or not we could even afford this trip was our biggest financial concern. This prompted us to take a good, hard look at our financial situation and determine what we could afford.
For this, an initial budget was required.
In our budget we had separate sheets that detailed:
In the U.S. budget, we had all the costs that we needed to keep paying even when we were in Australia—this included:
In the Australia budget our base costs included:
Then finally, we added our rental income cash flow to come up with a final monthly expense number.
By breaking down all our costs and cash flow, we could clearly understand how much we could afford to spend on our monthly expenses in Australia.
We knew there were several one-off expenses we would incur by embarking on this trip.
Some of the one-time expenses included:
Moving to a country where you need to change your currency adds an extra challenge.
For us, we needed to factor in the current exchange rate, as well as any potential changes to the exchange rate and how that would impact our monthly costs. A sensitivity analysis of the exchange rate helped us understand how different changes could affect our budget. At that time the USD:AUD exchange rate had been strengthening for the prior 6 months, from about 0.685:1 at the time the idea was proposed to 0.77:1 by the time we got out of quarantine. I ran a budget and saw that we would not require any lifestyle adjustments provided the dollar stayed below 0.85c.
My tax philosophy is—always be compliant and pay the taxes you are legally required to pay to both countries (but no more).
With that in mind, my goals for tax planning while living a cross-border life included:
To tax plan, you must know where you are a primary tax resident, and when you become a tax resident.
You can only be a primary tax resident of one country at a time. At the same time, because the U.S. practices citizenship-based taxation, all U.S. citizens and permanent residents must file U.S. taxes no matter where they reside.
Still, I needed to know where I would be considered a primary tax resident.
In the most simplistic reading of the Australian Resides tax residency test, I understood that as a returning (tri) citizen, I realized that a claim could be made that I would resume Australian tax residency upon resuming physical residency in Australia. The test reads: "If you reside in Australia, you are considered an Australian resident for tax purposes and don't need to apply any other residency tests."
However, upon consulting a U.S/Australian tax accountant, I was made aware of the tie-breaker provision in the U.S./Australian income tax treaty, which at Article 4, paragraph 2 states
In consultation with the aforementioned accountant it was determined that we would remain as U.S. tax residents throughout our temporary stay in Australia given we maintain our permanent home in the U.S., and have closer ties with the U.S. (businesses, school enrollments, pets etc).
The differences in timing between tax years, with the U.S. using the calendar year, and Australia's going from July 1st to June 30th of the next year, present the possibility for some tax planning.
Depending on one’s business and situation, it might be possible to accelerate the recognition of income while in the U.S., for their lower federal tax rates and defer expenses until one is an Australian tax resident, later in the same calendar year.
While a resident of Minnesota, I was required to pay state tax. Will I need to pay U.S. state taxes once I move to Australia? Should I move my business to a non state-tax paying state?
In my case—no, Minnesota does not require nonresidents to pay state taxes.
However, whether you will need to continue to pay U.S. state taxes if you move to Australia depends on your state. For instance, California is one such state that requires non-residents to pay California taxes.
Furthermore, what will it look like if I plan to take a trip back to Minnesota of more than a couple of weeks? I will be come a partial year tax resident, liable for state income taxes for the number of days I’m back resident in the state.
If you're a business owner, you may be wondering whether you are required to pay social security taxes while overseas. As this blog post is simply the recounting of my own situation and not specific advice, all I can say is yes, I still am required to pay these taxes given the unique circumstances of citizenships, length of stay and overall fact pattern. Due to the totalization agreement between the U.S. and Australia, since I will be working in Australia for less than 5 years—I am only subject to the laws of the U.S.
Other business structures could potentially require you to pay into Australian Superannuation.
As always, for personal guidance and personalized financial planning advice—speak with your financial advisor.
Living a cross-border life can be complex, but with careful planning, it can mean living your dream lifestyle.
At Areté Wealth Strategists, we deeply understand not only the financial needs of globally mobile individuals, but that the personal and the financial are intertwined. And we are here to help you navigate these waters. Having lived the cross-border life myself, I know first-hand both the joys and challenges that come with it. To learn more about our firm and how we can help you, visit our website.
Here I've shared some of the key things my family needed to consider in the months before moving from the U.S. to Australia.
Be sure to look out for part two of our journey, where I talk about our experience of the move itself and how we managed to settle into our new lives in Australia.
Access our comprehensive, unbiased financial guides here.