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Ashley works with clients to bring strategy, structure, clarity and confidence to their global financial lives and keep it that way. ​In 2013, Ashley founded Arete Wealth Strategists, a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm for Australian/American expatriates.
November 14, 2022

Our Story of Living Between Two Countries: Part 2 - The Move

This is the second of my three-part series on how my family transitioned to a cross-border life between the United States and Australia.

If you haven't yet caught up, I encourage you to read the first article—Our Story Of Living Between Two Countries: Part 1 - Before The Move—before continuing below.

In part one, we talked about our decision to move from Minneapolis to Brisbane and all of the challenges and considerations that we took into account during the planning process.

Here, in part two, I go over everything we did in the days leading up to the move and how we successfully settled in right after moving

Where Are We Now?

In January 2021 our family of four boarded a Qantas flight to Brisbane and began our new cross-border life where we live between Minneapolis, MN, USA and Brisbane, QLD, Australia.

Our 12 Steps to Get Here

If we could summarize our journey in 12 key steps, here are all the things we did to get to where we are now:

  1. Organized immigration needs
  2. Sold and donated many personal items (sofas, coffee tables, bikes, computers, cars)
  3. Identified what we needed to place in storage and what we would take with us
  4. Determined baggage allowances, weights, dimensions, and purchased 8 extra luggage pieces
  5. Created a detailed dual currency budget for the trip
  6. Eliza quit her job
  7. Undertook numerous home projects to get the home ready to rent—from home improvement, to staging, to purchasing insurance.
  8. Signed a rental contract for a new house in Brisbane while still in the U.S.
  9. Booked two sets of flights (for the same trip), and flew with the backup flight.
  10. Placed our dog in foster care.
  11. Survived two weeks of quarantine.
  12. Spent the first couple of weeks out of quarantine obtaining furniture and home goods to furnish our new home

Risk Management: Insurance

Right before moving, we made sure we had all our various types of insurance policies in order.

For health insurance, I called Medicare from the US and made sure that my children and I wer set up on Medicare from when we arrived in Australia. We are now in the process of obtaining private health insurance to avoid the Medicare surcharge of 1.5% tax that's applied above a certain income bracket as well as for peace of mind in the event of a major medical issue. For my wife Eliza, we obtained overseas visitor health coverage through Medibank private.

We have our existing homeowner coverage until the renter moves in, to keep the house insured until the tenant occupies the building. Our policy specifies that the contents of the home, even those in transit are covered. Once the tenant moves in we switch to a landlord’s insurance policy. 

Since we had U.S.-based life insurance, and had recently done a needs assessment to determine our coverage levels were appropriate, there were no changes needed there.

Finally, for our renter's, business, and auto insurance needs we were able to find a great Brisbane-based insurance agent (Mike Kincaid, QRS Insurance Services) to cover our needs in Australia.

Having all the insurance in place before we took off was a huge weight off our minds as we landed in Brisbane.

Housing Update

As planned, we rented our house in the U.S. and moved remaining personal property to storage.

To avoid the hassle and headache that comes with managing your property from abroad, we decided to work with a property management company.

We compared several quotes from different property management companies and found that the typical fees included one month's rent to place a tenant and a monthly fee to manage the property. Typical quotes ranged from $80 - $200 a month for monthly management rates. 

However, we learned that each property management company has their own set of services and responsibilities. This means you must confirm which services are included in the management agreement. For us, we wanted a property manager who would handle all of the details.

Make sure you know:

  • Whether the property manager will market the property
  • If they find and place the tenant
  • The fee for placing the tenant
  • The monthly management fee
  • The sorts of maintenance issues they manage—some may go in and fix things below a certain amount and charge you after. Some may contact you before fixing issues. 

These details are crucial because some companies may place a tenant but will not manage the property afterward. Some companies may not find tenants, but can be hired to manage the property. 

Clarify all details with the property management company so you don't experience any surprises. 

Some lessons we learned when looking for a property manager included:

  • We found that more expensive property management companies claimed that our house could rent for the highest figure, but we needed to remain mindful of the market rates. Tenants are not willing to pay above market rate.
  • We realized we needed to do some of our own research on the market to find what similar houses were renting for.
  • We based expectations on a realistic rental rate and went with a management company that was on the same page as us. It was important to find a company we could trust that was not inflating the price but also not under listing.

As we had a fully furnished house, we preferred to find a tenant who would be happy to use some of our major furniture. This saved us the hassle and expense of having to store absolutely everything (i.e. moving out our king bed from upstairs would’ve been a major hassle!). 

Ultimately, we found a property management company that could handle finding and placing a tenant and managing the home. When a renter was found, we moved our remaining personal property to storage. And since we had a complete home gym, we decided to lock the gym access for liability reasons. 

The Flight

Months before our move, we had booked our flights to Brisbane through Delta Airlines.

At the end of December 2020 (only weeks before our move) we received notice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to do with Australian government chartered Qantas flights from LA to Brisbane for repatriating stranded Australian citizens. 

While we were feeling pretty confident about Delta's reliability, we thought it would be a good idea to have a backup flight. We were in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with air travel still being unpredictable. 

After confirming that the repatriation flights were fully refundable up to 24 hours before departure, we decided to book one of these flights.

And in the end, we went with the new flight for several reasons:

  • The tickets were half the price
  • We were concerned about commercial flight cancellations (the government chartered flight was much less likely to be canceled)
  • We were able to receive a refund for our original flight

This meant we needed to transfer through LAX, so we had a short stay in Los Angeles right before our big flight out to Brisbane. 

Shipping Our Personal Items

Instead of hiring a shipping company, we decided to bring all our personal items in checked luggage. With 15 checked bags in total, we needed to rent a special large van to get our bags and ourselves to the airport. 

This was perhaps one of our biggest lessons learned. If we could redo this trip, we likely would have shipped some items instead of placing them all in luggage. 

Packing For the Move

We had a unique flight to Brisbane—one that was uncatered and had no in-flight entertainment. 

Because our airline had not been flying any passengers for months, they had no contracts in place with these services. Thus, we had to pack all our own food, entertainment, and toys for the children. 

We also needed to make sure we had enough quarantine survival goods and activities for ourselves and the children when we reached the quarantine hotel. This also included obtaining and packing power adaptors and power strips rated for Australia. 

Plan B - Anticipating the Unexpected

We spent months planning, preparing, and packing for our big move to Australia. We had a solid plan in place and felt pretty good about everything. 

But, always looming over us, was the chance that something would happen. Something to throw all our plans out the window. We needed a solid Plan B that we could rely on if our original plans failed.

These were the risk management steps we took to lessen the chance of our plans being disrupted. 

Situation 1: What if Our Flight Was Canceled Last Minute?

This was the big reason we decided to book two flights for the same trip. We bought our backup repatriation flight even though we had purchased a commercial flight months earlier.

Situation 2: What if We Test Positive for COVID-19?

There was always the chance that the night before our flight to Australia, someone in our family could test positive for COVID. In case of a positive test result, we knew that we couldn't fly to Australia, nor could we fly back to Minneapolis. 

We would have had to ship our bags and rent a car to drive back to Minneapolis. 

Situation 3: What if We Are Otherwise Delayed for Several Weeks?

In our case, we knew that we could have delayed our trip about one more week. After that, we would have needed to cancel our move—which was a scary prospect.  

Considering Other Potential Disruptions

Several other situations could have significantly disrupted or canceled our plans:

  • Business compliance: One especially important consideration that had absolute make-or-break power over the trip was business compliance. I wanted to be absolutely sure of my business compliance status. To that end, I hired two different compliance firms to report back on what I needed to do to serve clients from Australia. I took comfort in learning that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has specific authority to regulate overseas based Registered Investment Advisors and re-registered from the state of Minnesota to the SEC.
  • Renting: If we were unable to find a renter, we would have to shorten the length of our trip as it would increase our monthly costs by about $3K USD.
  • Major market or business downturn: This could significantly disrupt or shorten our trip.
  • Massive foreign exchange movement: If the foreign exchange rate shifts, it could drive up the cost of our move by thousands of dollars per month, and shorten the trip.

While many things were not in our control—by having a solid plan and taking risk management steps, we felt confident enough to keep moving forward. 

Running Two U.S. Businesses from Australia

If you have a U.S.-based business and you're thinking about moving to Australia—it’s completely doable, with a few adjustments. 

Continuing my two U.S.-based businesses in Australia have required me to make a few extra considerations.

First, it involved coordinating time zones with clients and staff. Using tools such as Calendly helped with finding availability and scheduling. 

Next, during client weeks I needed to shift my schedule around to increase availability for my clients. This requires getting up around 5 am to prepare to meet with clients at 6 am—which is around midday Pacific Time Zone.

Verifying my tax residency and tax responsibilities in Australia was also key (see prior blog post). 

Lastly, running a U.S. business from abroad means keeping an eye on the exchange rate and implementing a strategy to mitigate risk, such as setting limit orders to convert funds when the rate is favourable.

Surviving Quarantine

After we landed in Brisbane, we were required to quarantine for 14 days in a hotel room assigned by the immigration authorities. 

The things that proved to be most helpful during this time were:

  • Plenty of games and activities for the children
  • Having enough food and snacks on hand
  • Requesting an adjoining room
  • Setting up a daily routine
  • Entertainment (Apple TV)

Eliza's Career

Because Eliza's tourist visa does not allow her to work, she has had to find ways to stay connected with the professional world and her field. This has included networking to discover volunteer opportunities, getting involved in professional organizations, and looking into licensure transfer.

By getting a head start now, once she can legally work in Australia (assuming she migrates to Permanent Residency), she’s already connected and knows how to find work in her field.

What Would We Have Done Differently?

After looking back at all that we went through to make this happen, there are a few things we wished we had done differently.

  1. Shipping goods instead of bringing 15 checked bags and 8 carry-ons: Instead, I would have checked up to the free bag limit. For any leftover items, I would have looked into air freight for shipping. And I would have potentially considered cargo shipping for any large items that we didn't need immediately after arrival.
  2. Packed bikes more carefully: Unfortunately both my bikes received damage during the move. This was expensive, time consuming and stressful to resolve.
  3. Sold both cars in advance: We were able to sell one car prior to leaving, but selling the other proved to be much more challenging from overseas.
  4. Confirmed with the property manager how to transfer over all utilities: We were still responsible for utilities, and it would have been easier to settle this transfer before moving.

We Made It to Brisbane!

Thank you for joining us on this journey of our move to Australia. If you’re considering moving to Australia or living in both the U.S. and Australia, like us—we hope our story has given you some insight into how we made it happen.

Make sure you catch part three, where we discuss our reflections and lessons learned after 15 months of living in Brisbane. 

Planning to move to Australia? We can help. At Areté Wealth Strategists, our firm offers comprehensive financial planning and wealth management services to Americans in Australia and returning Australians. 

P.S. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on our latest webinars for expats. 

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