by Jenny Smedra
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I returned to the United States this past year after living overseas for more than a decade. Moving home was already stressful enough. But, when you add international travel and paperwork to the mix, it becomes a nightmare. These issues are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problems of living in two time zones. I am still partially involved in both lives, yet not fully rooted in either. To add insult to injury, the universe continues to throw one road block after another in my path. So, this week I have dedicated my time to solving the problems my dual life has created.
Financial Difficulties When Working in Two Time Zones
Problem #1: Access to Banking Services
When you need to run errands, like going to the bank, it usually only takes a few minutes. You can pull into the drive-through and quickly be on your way. It requires little time and even less hassle. This was also the case in Taiwan. Sometimes, I would have to wait for a translator, but it typically took 15 minutes or less to complete banking transactions.
However, now that I am not physically in the country, everything has become infinitely more complex. This is just the beginning of the problems of living in two time zones. Let me start by explaining how difficult it has been even to access my accounts. I expected to be back in Taiwan by now, but travel restrictions made that impossible. While I knew this might happen, many friends assured me that their mobile app was very user-friendly. You could easily check balances, transfer funds, or make withdrawals with their online banking services.
Unfortunately, my experience was quite different. First, I do not fluently speak or read Mandarin. So, I couldn’t even navigate the website beyond the landing page. Nor could I easily ask a friend or coworker for help. Once I found someone, scheduled a time, and attempted to move through the site, I then discovered that I needed a text verification sent to my Taiwanese cell number. Since I canceled my service, my primary plan was shot down.
After several more pleas for help, I finally found a work-around. By mailing documents and banking information overnight, my friend was able to access my account. She then withdrew my funds and sent them to me through an electronic payment service. Although effective, it cost me an anxiety attack and nearly $100 for express shipping. It was neither fast nor easy.
Filing Taxes in Two Countries
With one huge financial problem off my plate, I was ready to tackle the most daunting task: filing taxes. Although nobody likes filing taxes, I have been procrastinating this year since it will be especially problematic.
In the past, I only had foreign income, so the filing process was straightforward. Just submit the correct form to the IRS and claim the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. As long as you are below the threshold, you don’t pay taxes on foreign income. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to do that this year since I have both foreign and domestic income for 2020.
Not only must I complete returns for both countries, but it is also going to be much more complicated. Therefore, I planned to file an extension to buy more time. Since Taiwanese can only file taxes online during the month of May, I thought it would relieve some pressure. However, the IRS announced an extension meaning I could complete both before the new filing deadline. It seemed more beneficial to take care of both tax returns in one go rather than putting it off again.
However, once I saw how complicated my returns would be, I knew I needed help. I contacted a Certified Public Accountant who specializes in international clients. Although he charges significantly more than other tax preparers, I firmly believe that you can’t put a price on peace of mind. Knowing I had a professional in my corner, I focused on getting my tax documents for Taiwan.
After gathering my income statements, converting the amounts, and downloading the software, I was ready to get it over with. Unfortunately, when I logged into the Taiwanese e-filing system, I kept receiving error messages. Yet again, I was facing another inconvenient problem of living in two time zones.
The good news is that I am not the only one experiencing technical difficulties. Apparently, everyone has been experiencing system issues. So, at least I know it was not a user error. After a brief call to the English helpline, they assured me the problem would be fixed at the end of this week. But, waiting is always the hardest part, especially when the clock is ticking. If the system issues are not resolved by the end of the week, I have contacted a Taiwanese CPA to handle my returns there. Although it is not the most cost-effective solution, it could prevent me from paying even more in penalties.
The Communication Breakdown
Looking back on this week, there have been several obstacles to overcome. However, the biggest problem of living in two time zones comes down to communication and the language barrier. Although I spent two years studying Chinese, I am nowhere near competent enough to handle important financial matters like these on my own. When I was in country, I could usually find someone who was willing to help translate. Unfortunately, even that has become more difficult with distance.
The time zones have also created more problems than I had ever imagined. The 13-hour time change makes it difficult to find overlapping times to talk. Furthermore, I spend extra time to get someone who speaks English. And let me tell you, when you are already tired, waiting on hold becomes a Herculean task.
At the end of the day, all my frustration and efforts have gotten results. Even though I spent more time and money than I had hoped, I was able to find solutions for my financial woes. Once this final hurdle is crossed, this gauntlet of international finance is over. However, one thing has become perfectly clear: it is impossible to live in two worlds. For the sake of my sanity, it is time to firmly ground myself where I am.