Taxes, Phones, Paperwork when you ex-pat

I’ve written about these core services that come in handy when you are living elsewhere but as the tax time comes around, its time to gather the paperwork together and fulfill the requirements by April. This year is a little more complex due to ending my job in March last year, taking a 401k payout, and getting my money market account at CapitalOne setup with savings money. Each thing has some paperwork and I was quite worried about the W2 from my employer so last night I called them and they walked me through accessing ADP online to get my W2 PDF from them. I received the Social Security form in the mail at my mail service so had it scanned and turned into a PDF and I have it. One remains is for the 401k. I tried to get that last night too but for whatever reason the retirement company has the wrong birthdate for me so I cannot change or check for the 1099R form I need. I called at 1am here and talked with them and they are sending a form for me to fill out to list changes. Once I get that form, I can fill it out with a PDF editor and fax it back. 

If you need services to do basic things when you are sitting in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur with good wifi, its all possible to do remotely. You can file taxes, have mail delivered or scanned, FAX something to a US fax number. It can seem daunting but really doing it all myself was pretty easy. I’ll pay about $50 to efile my taxes this year and then about $2 to send a PDF file with an image of my passport and the form filled out back to the retirement agency. Here are the three things I use to help me along. Perhaps if you are considering an ex-pat life this may help:

Mail Services – US Global Mail. They are headquartered in Houston, Texas but deal with travelers and ex-pats all the time and understand our unique needs. You can receive packages and mail, have mail scanned into PDF, send packages along using various postal services, and also manage existing mail and have it thrown away if need be. I read about a lot of services out there but this one is the best to me. You don’t pay per piece of mail received which a lot of other mail services do. You get an email when a package or mail arrives and you click on the link and get to order up actions that normally happen the next day. You can download the PDF easily. Give them a look if you are considering relocating or moving forever. They are all set for you and provide a set of services easily used with a web browser.

Phone Services – Again this came to get me last night. You need to have a US based phone number that you can have overseas and use easily. I can receive texts, calls, voicemails to my Google Voice number quite easily. I can also make calls with a US phone number. It may be hard to get this service once you leave the states if not impossible. But… perhaps with a good VPN it’s possible. Not sure.

FAX Services – I won’t recommend any particular one yet because I have not tried them. There are services though you upload a PDF file or other files to and fax to a US based FAX number. My retirement agency provides FAX support so I can send the form back to them that way. Here is one I have not tried yet. It does both free faxing and faxing that costs a little through PayPal. 

Anyways, with these types of services you can take care of minimal business needs especially around tax season and get things done as though you were in the states. You may have to forgo some sleep if you are in Malaysia however ;-). 

Mail Forwarding Faux Pas

It may be that the W2 and 1099R forms still come to me forwarded to my mail service address by the USPS. We shall see. If that happens then the number of steps are less to finalize and file my taxes this year. I don’t really trust the USPS since they seemed to have lost track of a package I shipped to Cambodia in December and are still “investigating”.  Reminder to Self:

Ship to Cambodia with DHL, FEDex, or UPS

These three have much better tracking and discovery and delivery options. In Phnom Penh before, FEDex delivered right to the hotel lobby and called me to let me know a package was waiting for me. Same with something I had shipped to Siem Reap.

If you find yourself in long term travel or retirement in some friendly place like Cambodia, don’t forget the basic service needs that still tie you to the US. You may have to get creative or find services and products that work like a good bank and it debit and credit cards. I have a few suggestions for those too. Always have two accounts and tie them together so you can do fund transfers between them using ACH transfers. Bear in mind it will take 3 days or so to get the transfer. Consider either Schwab or CapitalOne for your banking. Both are very nice services. Schwab will reimburse ATM fees. CapitalOne has great interest bearing accounts for money market accounts.

Now go forth and enjoy! I am gonna be leaving soon for a day exploring again here in KL.

Fridays Camera Fun in KL

I had decided over my breakfast late this morning to go to the IT Lifestyle Plaza here in Kuala Lumpur but never made it. Instead I dallied around the Walk of Life and played with the camera for some hours. My main things to play with on the camera were;

  • Setting Film Simulation to Classic Chrome
  • Setting the Sharpness to +2, Color to +2, and Shadows to +2 on the Q menu
  • Shooting at F8 or F5.6 depending on light or depth I want and ISO 200 in bright light or ISO 400 in darker conditions
  • All photographs taken in Aperture Priority Mode

So this was all a great deal of fun today and the camera has so many customizations and things you can tweak that shooting in JPEGs only satisfy the photo geek in me forever and ever. I could never shoot RAW files since you lose all that and then apply it in editing afterwards. I want the immediate satisfaction I guess.

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All photographs taken around the River of Life area which is a fun place to play around with cameras with all the different skylines, people, market areas, etc.

What’s fun in all this with the FujiFilm cameras are all the things you can do with just the camera. Forget Lightroom or photoshop. I also think the Fuji X series cameras are the best to have fun on. Learning on them is very cool because you get immediate justification without all the RAW file editing and post processing. In fact, I bet a lot of Fuji photographers do not post process their photographs at all and just shoot the scenes in JPEG format.

Anyways, that was today and you got three photographs for the picture of the day! Lucky you!!

Tomorrow will go to the lifestyle mall or maybe I will ride the KL monorail around the city. Not decided 🙂

The Day of Petronas Towers and of Malls – The Thoughts of the Life Led and the One to Come…

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Its funny you know that as I wander the streets and buildings and malls and wonders of Kuala Lumpur that I find a thing of insurmountable worth and feeling after a year on the road. I was sitting the Suria KCC mall right by the twin towers today and had this flash of insight. I guess I’m gonna warn you I am going to write some personal shit so if you wanna click away, I got ya. I’ll post pictures of the towers on my picture of the day post too but this stuff occupied some head space today and yesterday. You may have noticed no blog post yesterday. I had these thoughts about life while I walked yesterday in KL and today while I toured on the hop on/off bus and when I reached KL. There is one picture perhaps that kinda seals it for me and its not a warm family type thing at all. You can see its just a building. Its actually more than a building that got me. Its one of the two towers of Petronas with clouds gathering behind it. I took it with the the FujiFilm X100F today and as I look at it and after the guide and I talked about the nature of the towers, it dawned on me. This one picture is of a single tower that makes up a pair but yet it is not diminished on its own. 

In other words, it stands on its own and creates a sense of beauty and worth by itself. Sure you can argue that without the other tower this one would be less and that has come to me several times since I divorced back in 2011. Therein is the history part of things that occurred to me with this singular picture. So stop now if you don’t want to read my mental meandering…

Divorce is not bad or good, it just is…

It dawned on me looking today at this imposing building standing by itself that if I had not gotten divorced, if my wife had not done what she had done, I would never have paid off all my debts. Would never have retired and left the United States. Would never have found myself on the road and lost myself so many times before. Sometimes folks, the thing you find that is hell on earth is actually only a momentary hell and the spot it occupies on earth is measured. Sometimes, and I would like to tell one particular FB friend that you have to wait and be patient. You cannot walk it back with a thousand FB posts and try to erase it by deleting or disabling your account. It takes time for it to become the “just is” part of things. 

When I track the years back and look, there were these seminal events that had to occur or I would not have been able to do what I did. I had to have all the miserable and shitty debt I had because it taught me a thing. I had to have over a decade of stupid IT consulting jobs that had no point because it made the final job more memorable. I had to live in a series of small rooms to prepare me to live in small rooms. I had to take small baby steps because large leaps would not have worked. Perhaps this all sounds so selfish or egotistic or whatever and I’m sorry. 

I paid a series of debts though both financially and mentally and socially and came out the other side. So what can you take away from all this introspection? What can you package up and take back with you? What is there waiting to become your own? I would only say,

You cannot get there from here

Sorry. My road is not your road but your road can be even brighter. Like the sun shining behind the Petronas towers you can do it too. You don’t need to look back until you are ready to look back. You don’t need someone else if your path is solitary. There is nothing wrong with solitude and traveling solo. Someone once remarked to me,

There’s a difference between between solitude and loneliness. Solitude is being alone and loving it. Loneliness is being alone and hating it.

Don’t despair though. Paths are never meant to be shared. Even the smallest little change is a new path for you. If you find a life ending and your path is unclear, I believe a new one is waiting for you. It may not be like anything you ever did before and that’s okay too. Don’t wait for the new boss. Perhaps the world looks just the same. Reminds me of this song…

You may end up meeting the new boss and it will be the same as the old boss.

That’s tough crap dudes. You can do better. It may take something completely different. You can do it though.

The KL Hop on, Hop off Tour and Other Things…

Just to take things to a different place, I signed up for the KL hop on/off tour. There are two routes which you can get on in the double decker buses. The routes are like this

RouteMap

What I like about this is the freedom to explore areas, find another bus stop and then ride elsewhere. I have 48 hours to use the tour so will go Wednesday and Thursday this week.

The other nice thing like other tours like this are the numerous stops close to each other so if I miss one or walk past it, I can find another stop and continue. I’ll do the downtown (red) one Wednesday and the Garden (green) one Thursday. Everything can start at Stop 1 since its easy for me to get to and its the hub of the tour.

I got close to the Petronas Twin Towers today but will not be doing them until the tour or after. I have weeks left here to get around so I don’t feel I have to rush to see the sights in KL.

No matter what the time here has been excellent and let me really see the city! Today I did a really good walk and ended up stopping at a Burger King for lunch. First time for a burger in awhile :-). It was pretty good.

I try to start walking back by early afternoon since KL gets rainy in the afternoons and sometimes gets thunder boomers come rolling through. 

Changing the Trip…

I decided on a whim to change my trip again and split the last two weeks into two places. I had decided to not do Port Dickson but now am going there for 4 days and then PJ for 10 days. PJ is about 20 miles from KL so its easier to get back to the airport to fly up to Penang when its time to head up there. 

Changing more in the long term, my daughter wants me to come see her next year. I cannot do it this year. I have things booked through October and will have a trip booked to Taiwan and the Philippines in October through January. I think I will combine going back to the States with seeing Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, and Dubai and fly to Florida the other way. I don’t want to spend a long time in the states but I may end up taking the Amtrak cross country train to California then since its a trip I have wanted to do for years. I guess I would then fly back to Cambodia perhaps via Japan again :-).  I also have friends in California I’d like to see again.

Anyways, all of this is fun to consider and I have plenty of time to get this defined and see how long I will want to stay in the states. I cannot imagine wanting to stay too long. I just don’t like it there that much given how much everything costs.

Kuala Lumpur Eating, Drinking, and going to the Mall(s)

So this is some city for eating folks. I’ve been going to the smaller food courts, cafes, and restaurants that serve up such a variety of foods! I had wondered about the prices here for food after being in Singapore for a week and mostly eating at cheaper places that came in there around $4.50 or so for dinner. Here I have eaten for much less. One lunch at a local vegetarian places was about $1.70 and some other lunches came in at around $3.00. This includes places where you get the big heaping spoon of rice and then you pay for whatever you want after. In one restaurant down by the Central Market, I paid about $3.00 and got this huge plate of food. I got a fresh squeezed orange juice which cost $.50. So eating here is easy and cheap for so many types of food. I do like to find hamburgers and western food though and KL really does not disappoint there but truth be told I have done one meal at a Burger King and then a meal at a McDonalds and that’s about it. In the NU Sentral Mall across the street from my hotel there are both an Outbacks and a Tony Romas. 

The second thing is drinking here. Many of the smaller restaurants down the street from the hotel have outside dining and you just get the big bottle of Tiger Beer or Carlsberg and sit and watch. You do this because everyone else sits and watches the people too. And you see an amazing variety of people come by and more than a few characters. I watched the other diners and they all do the same thing in the evenings. Eating, drinking, and people watching. Other visitors will come by and stop to eat and soon they do the same thing. Lets face it though even at the wide variety of coffee shops I can visit everyone does the same thing there too. Most of these are somehow located by Malls. Which kinda brings me to the last subject.

I am a mall lover for some reason. I love just wandering malls from the Antelope Valley in California to the Tokyo Subway Station to Hanoi and Hong Kong. KL is no slouch. One of them the MidValley Megamall was in a word “mega”. I don’t think I have seen a mall that big and inter-connected yet with other malls. The mall by my hotel is the NU Sentral Mall which is no slouch either. Floors upon floors of restaurants, shops, elegant names on stores, food courts, more shops. If you combine malls with markets, KL has a lot of markets too. What I mean here is the asian type of market where there is everything. The most intensive I have ever found though is in Cambodia at the Central Market. Nothing matches that market for the level of stuff you can find but the markets are specialized in ways that malls are not. Markets may be more focused on produce and meats at one where another has clothing, backpacks, touristy things. Take the Old Mall in Siem Reap by the river. Its a great place to end up after strolling the city because restaurants and coffee shops line all the sides of the market. Next door almost is the Night Market which is kind of next door to Pub Street in Siem Reap. I’ll just say for all the areas eating, drinking, and shopping, Siem Reap is pretty nice.

The other place has to be Singapore. Malls are just organic there and sprout up all over the place. The Singaporeans love to walk them I think but also love the eating and drinking at food centers. A food center in Singapore and here in KL will have numerous hawkers or food court stands vying for your business. Often, a person comes out to take your drink order. Most often the bill is cheap even with a drink. In Singapore and even here in KL, the food is cheaper than the beer!

I mention all this just in case you are planning a trip. Don’t rely on what google maps tells you about restaurants and food courts or centers. You have to walk the streets. All the places on the first few weeks of my time in both Singapore and Malaysia have been really good for all the things I like to do. Definitely try to get to the markets though. I don’t get a sense at the Central Market in KL that haggling is done so much while in Phnom Penh or Vietnam or wherever, its just a thing you do. 

There are lots of other things to do besides eat, drink and shop. But I do like seeing the local shops and trying so many different kinds of food. The food here in KL is absolutely excellent and so many different varieties to try that will not break the bank. Makes for a good time for me. As I mentioned though, I cannot just eat one thing all the time. I could not just do Chicken Rice although I love it. I need to have a burger or steak or tacos. All of the cities I have been to in the last year have been well equipped to provide a variety of foods. 

That’s my basic report on eating, drinking, and shopping. I won’t try to exhaustively name places because there are so many especially here in KL.

Exploring Kuala Lumpur day by day

Since I don’t have a specific agenda or time to leave the hotel in the mornings, I tend to watch some news, drink coffee in the room and slowly decide a place to visit. One of the things I want is to explore the Brickyards area a bit more since it has an interesting mix of high rise shopping centers, local businesses, and different areas that I can reach walking quite easily. Today I decided to head toward Little India here and explore just because it lets me explore more of this district in a direction I have not walked yet. One of the little so-called projects I have here is to document the local neighborhoods with my FujiFilm camera so people can see how varied KL really is. 

My hotel is about mid way in the Brickyards and being located by KL Sentral means that transit is easy should I want to explore on the excellent train, bus, and light rail systems here. Honestly though, the only time I opt for a mass transit system is when I want to reach a place which is farther distant and I want to spend the entire day exploring there. I did this in Singapore a few times and it worked very well for seeing different attractions or city areas. Today I’ll extend my reach and views of my district here. 

Traveling Slowly Means More Time…

I’ve come to realize especially here in KL that I get to focus more on the photography and walking and just the day to day things by spending more time in places. My stay here is for 23 days which is about the norm for a lot of places I’ve stayed. I enjoy the three weeks to a month window of time in a place although I stayed in Hanoi for three months. For here though, I judged that spending more time in KL would let me experience more of the city’s dynamism by walking. 

Traveling slowly in a country also requires visa or visa exemption rules that support it. For US passport holders, you can get 90 days here out of the box. That is pretty good! For other countries that are my favorites like Vietnam you can get longer term tourist visas and stay for six months or a year and slow travel the country. One of the things for visas offered in Vietnam for longer stays, you have to leave the country every 90 days and then re-enter. Some would say that this is an inconvenience but if I was planning a longer stay in Vietnam, it actually provides a great opportunity to go visit the neighboring countries or fly elsewhere. When I had to leave after 90 days, I opted for Hong Kong for 4 days but if you want stability and the chance also for some trips, you could get the year tourist visa in Vietnam and then every 90 days pick a new place to visit next door. So many choices that are within reach! You could easily reach Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand and design the so-called visa runs to be explorations of a shorter time or even longer in each place. Air fares are very reasonable and bus trips are considered the norm. I would not look at these trips as visa runs but an opportunity to explore but still having a year of stability in Vietnam. Upon reflection, I realized that if I did get the year long tourist visa I would probably change locations in Vietnam every three months. It would mean three months of living and exploring in Hanoi, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City and perhaps Da Lat or another place. 

I think that this does not fit well with how people normally do their round the world trips or making attempts to reach 90 countries in so many months and with so many continents visited. The desire to slow down though allows a luxury to emerge that does not seem visible or possible with short stays targeted to clearing as many countries and cities and continents. You can more slowly move through the countries, perhaps find an apartment or room that gives you stability, and you can pick places which are cheaper for the longer stays. This is the central tenet to my slow traveling or vagabonding method or lack of one. Simply pick places that are cheap to stay longer and pick places that are expensive to stay shorter but allow for exceptions. One of my exceptions is the desire to go back to Japan and go from Hokkaido to Kyushu and see it all for 90 days. But my general rule is a week in a place like Singapore and longer in countries where the cost of living is less as long as Visa rules hold that up.

Give it some thought when you plan a trip. Are you looking for the maximum number of countries, cities and continents to visit within a limited time? Perhaps there is the so-called round the world (RTW) goal you have but only have a year. What would be the cost though if you only went to 5 countries in that year besides not being able to advertise on your twitter bio that you did 45 countries, 3 continents, and 90 cities? Is there an unwritten law for RTW travelers that say they must do it a certain way? If slowing down means you see less yet you see more because you can move more slowly in a place and experience more in places you curate for the experience, what is really the cost versus benefit?

I’m pretty convinced if you have the time and inclination that seeing 5 countries and 1 continent in a year may yield appreciable benefits lacking in the rush to get passport or visa stamps for as much as you can. If I had it to do again, I would have gotten the year long tourist visa in Vietnam and used Vietnam as a home base for travels since the visa is multiple entry. I did the next best thing though and got the Cambodian extension of stay for retirement for a year which allows multiple entries and I believe that Cambodia is centrally located to reach so many places easily.

I do think with the current trend of “more is more” that people may not like doing less for longer. I got it! Just give it some thought when you plan your gap year or RTW or whatever you are calling it. You may not be able to claim the country and city counts but you may find that the moments and memories suddenly become so much more when you have the time to see a place, travel within it, live in it for awhile. Try considering shorter times in more expensive places and longer times in less expensive places perhaps using those as home base locations for extended travel. My picks would be Cambodia and Vietnam for the home base opportunities given the travel and visa requirements and abilities there.

Just some ideas to consider if you are going to be traveling for longer or perhaps forever. Traveling forever is not traveling by the way. It’s living. Pick a way of living that gives you the best of the worlds presented to you. Take moments instead of times. I did.