This is the third and final part of my family's journey from the U.S. to Australia, and our experience of living between the two countries.
If you haven't yet read the first two parts, you can find them here:
In this final installment, I want to share some lessons we've learned, reflections on what we would do differently, and tips for a successful long-term move.
My wife Eliza and I left Minneapolis, MN in January 2021, after living there for many years. We uprooted our lives and made the move to Brisbane, Australia.
The entire preparation process took about 6 months and involved everything from navigating immigration to packing, and financial planning to finding a new home in Australia.
Moving to a different country is already a challenging endeavor. Moving during the COVID-19 pandemic added additional layers of complexity.
For our move to successfully happen, it often felt like all the pieces needed to fall into place at exactly the right time.
But 15 months into cross-border life, we’re happy to report that we’ve made a successful transition and have even extended our stay in Australia.
Looking back on the entire experience, we have many lessons learned and thoughts to share.
Our original plan was to return to the U.S. in August 2022, but we revised our plan to extend our stay in Australia for an additional year.
We returned to Minneapolis in May of 2022 for a three-month stay. And now we plan to remain in Australia until August 2023, with another trip back to the U.S. from December 2022 to January 2023.
So we are truly living between both countries now—with full lives in both places.
One of the main challenges for our children’s education has been navigating both the U.S. and Australian school systems. Since our goal is to live in both countries, we want our children to be able to attend school in both places.
However, the Australian school calendar differs from the U.S. In Australia, school lasts the entire year, with the longest break being six weeks long. In contrast, school in the United States follows a nine-month schedule, with a three-month break.
And with family in the U.S., we didn't want our children to be deprived of those relationships and experiences. So, what do you do with a school year in one country that is essentially the opposite of the other country?
Because the Australian school system is divided into four terms, we decided to take off one of those terms and use that time to travel back to the U.S. While we are in the United States, homeschool—which has worked surprisingly well for our children.
Another challenge has been navigating the children's emotional needs and adjustment. When in the U.S., they are happy to see family but miss their friends in Australia.
To help with some of the adjustment, we've put together videos of life in the U.S. for their Aussie classmates, and scheduled Zoom sessions with the class.
After running a business between Australia and the U.S. for 15 months, I’ve had to get creative with some of the logistical challenges.
Two-factor authentication posed a few challenges. I began by using a VOIP (Google Voice) phone number, which worked out well—at first. However, after a while, I ran into issues when my financial institutions would not accept a VOIP service for two-factor authentication. One of my banks also did not have its own authentication app, which was a big issue.
If your bank does not offer an authentication app, the only way to circumnavigate the issue is by using a random number generating (e.g. RSA) device.
Given the massive time zone difference, keeping frequent communication with clients and staff has been a top priority.
Using apps such as Calendly and Accuity have helped to schedule common times for calls and video conferencing. And tools such as Loom have also been immensely helpful to answer questions and keep face-to-face communication going.
As a business owner, working with a flexible team of staff has been invaluable. With staff members not committed to bank hours, but willing to start work later, we've been able to keep business running smoothly.
I originally had my in-laws back in the U.S. receive any important pieces of mail. But the burden on family members and the challenge of finding a common time to go through the mail was ultimately not sustainable.
I now use a service called EarthClass Mail which allows for all of my mail to get scanned and checks deposited.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges was selling my car. Even with a used car shortage, selling was very difficult. Issues due to COVID, altered DMV hours, and navigating wet signatures abroad proved to be very challenging. If I were to do it all over again, I would have sold my car before moving.
Covid 19 has changed client expectations to do with meeting in an office. For the past 2 years I’ve mostly been working from home except for the occasional in-person client meeting. The officing service I previously used (Industrious) does not have a presence in Australia. However, I found WeWork to be a great alternative. With several offices in Brisbane and several in Minneapolis—using WeWork is working out extremely well.
Foreign exchange rates chiefly come down to the spread from the interbank rate. A few of the key foreign exchange specialists include:
In regards to banking, I have been happy working with Ally Bank in the U.S., and Defense Bank in Australia.*
*I do not receive commissions from any of the companies mentioned. We are a fee-only advisory firm.
Using a VOIP phone (Google Voice) has allowed me to keep my U.S. number. When I call, it presents as a US phone number—but works in Australia.
Since we go back and forth between the U.S. and Australia, I’ve found the best way to avoid paying phone bills in the two countries is to:
My wife and I are very happy we decided to use a property manager to manage our home in the U.S.
But what did we do with our house in Australia when we returned to the United States?
Since we are renting in Australia, we had hoped to find someone to sublease while we visit the U.S. and earn about $1K AUD a week.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, be sure to look at your Australian lease agreement and see if it allows for sub-leasing (this is uncommon). If it does, see if the property management firm can handle finding a renter for the time you are away. They likely won’t be able to, and you won’t be able to list on a short-term rental service, so finding a renter is likely going to come down to who you can find on gumtree.com.au or Facebook. The property manager will still want to take an application from the sub-lessee.
In the end, we were unable to find a renter and had an unoccupied (but paid for) home sitting in Brisbane while we visited the U.S. We consider ourselves very lucky!
When coming from the U.S. to Australia, you must be aware of these three financial differences:
There are three types of residency:
Are you planning on living part-time in either country for the foreseeable future? Know that you can only be a primary tax resident of one country at a time.
Note for U.S. citizens and permanent residents—you will always be a tax resident of the US, but it may not be your primary tax residency. You will not necessarily be double taxed, but you will have ongoing filing obligations
With tax residency, all the facts need to support which residency you are claiming. Typically, if you begin a presence in Australia, you will become a tax resident of Australia almost immediately.
However, there could be some exceptions depending on your circumstances.
There are some cases in which you could be in Australia and still have your primary tax residency in the U.S., for up to a couple of years.
How? The tie-breaker provision of the tax treaty between the two countries may come into play.
Perhaps you are a dual citizen who has come from the U.S. to Australia with the intent of an extended stay, but you have return tickets to the United States.
You may have greater ties in the U.S. by:
Be sure to consult with your accountant to ensure you are claiming the correct tax residency status.
Here are some of the biggest risk management insights from our move.
In Australia, health care and health services are generally much cheaper than in the United States. This also includes specialists and service providers such as massage therapists, nutritionists, and counselors.
What do you do if you are coming back to the U.S. for short periods of time?
My family did not have a huge need for primary care services, but we wanted to make sure we were insured in case of emergencies.
We went with an insurance policy through Loomis. This is a temporary, high deductible policy that covers accidents and hospital visits.
For life insurance, we kept our U.S. plan. Life insurance in the United States is significantly cheaper than life insurance in Australia, so we opted to keep our current policies inforce.
For disability insurance, I’ve simply kept my U.S. policy going even though this would mean, in the event of a claim, I would have 6 months to return to the U.S.
How we’ve handled our personal items:
In this series, I wanted to share a little of my story and my family’s cross-border journey. By detailing the ins and outs that come with moving to a new country, we hope you've gained some insight into how this may be possible for you too.
Areté Wealth Strategists exists to help ease the complexity of cross-border living. We work specifically with Americans living in Australia, Australians in the U.S., and Australians who have returned to Australia after living in the U.S.
We know how to navigate the challenges that come with living between the U.S. and Australia, and we can help you plan for a successful future in either country. Sign up for our newsletter to never miss out on our top financial tips and resources.
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