Return to the US

My hiatus from the blog sphere can be best described as tiring and stressful.  Spent the last month in Canada spending time with new friends (finally!), packing and dealing with the retarded moving company. At least we didn’t have to pack our stuff into a UHAUL van and drive back and forth from the Edmonton Airport to our place.

Once our suite was cleaned out and our tiny car was packed, we drove out of Alberta and across the Saskatchewan  plains into North Dakota and beyond. The drive was so miserable that I was actually glad to greet the US Customs Agent when we reached the border. I was SO grateful the agent did not make us get out of our car and open our hatchback trunk: our tiny car was tightly packed to the point that it surpassed a clown car’s capacity.

Cutie and I arrived at his parent’s compound, happy to be greeted and to rest after a long week.  I knew I missed the US when I was happy that my father-in law provided a bag of Cheetos to snack on.  Or when we went to a Walmart Superstore in the nearby town and gasped at the size of the store and the variety of food there.  I was happy when we made a stop at the small liquor store and managed to buy a 6-pack of my favorite beer (that I haven’t drank in a year!) and not pay $15 for it (Canada has high alcohol tax).  Cutie and I became more relaxed as we indulged in home cooking and worked on the property: he helped his dad build a fence while I pulled thistle weeds.

Cutie insists that the move to Canada was not a bad idea. He is right: living abroad sounds romantic but it is a huge and challenging learning experience.  What I learned from living abroad in Canada:

1- Food restrictions. This is why when I went into a store at the West Edmonton Mall, a 12 pack of Cherry Coke was selling for $25! Canada restricts a lot of the ingredients found in processed foods in the US. But that hasn’t stopped the Canadians wanting certain brands and paying up the nose for them.

2- Canadianitis: I have encountered this attitude several times among acquaintances and friends who truly believe that Canada is the best country in the world. I understand that the land has blessed them with a good life, but the grass is always greener on the other side. Especially when that side has been fertilized with chemicals. I love my country, but it will be never be #1 in the world.

I have worked with immigrants and Canadians and found that they have similar economic and social problems as in the US. Except Canada has less corruption.  I saw how the Great Recession has not hit Canada and that although the shopping sucks, there is a least one store for every designer brand that exists in the universe.  Like all cycles, this one will also come to an end and will force everyone to hunker down.

3- Urban and road planing is ridiculous and stupid. Damn the construction season! No kilometer markers, closed main roads and the gas stations are not found near the roads. Cutie and I had to make 30 min detours into small towns just to gas up. What annoyed me the most are those bikers riding at the lane exits. In the US they are banned from riding near exits or along the interstates because cars can and do run over them.

4- I understand why some of my Canadian friends are going to use their vacation time just to shop in the US: EVERYTHING is more expensive in Canada.  Food, housing, items, gasoline…EVERYTHING. Even with the exchange rate, the variety of good available in Canada is limited to the point where I barely bought anything there. We bought chairs at IKEA because we gave up our dinning table and sofa before moving to Canada.  I am looking forward to paying less for everything again.

5- Good Asian food. I found lots of exotic Asian food ingredients to use in my cooking. But finding food ingredients off season proved to be a challenge, especially during the winter months.  Cutie and I indulged on cheap sushi at a restaurant nearby.

6- Lack of cojones.  For some reason, a lot of the people who work in manual labor have a chip on their shoulder of some sort. A cashier at the Safeway refused to take my groceries out of the basket to place them on the conveyer belt (could it be a union thing?). Some plumber parked his van behind our car while we were about to leave. Cutie made the guy cow down and move his van. The guy, for lack of cojones, ran to the landlord and complained to her about us being “rude”. I didn’t apologize : I have gotten blocked in my own garage so many times by these contractors that Cutie and I just got tired of being nice. A man in the US would rather be caught dead than to run to a woman to complain about an incident that would have been solved among men. But not in Canada.
 
7-Living conditions are laughable and are considered normal in Canada: paying $800 a month of a basement suite with a shared kitchen with other tenants is considered a good deal in Edmonton.  Or how the Temporary Foreign Workers are so used to being ripped off by rent by their fast food employers (think 8 people in a 1 bedroom suite). If it weren’t for Cutie and I saving for years for this “adventure” we would have been stuck living in a similar situation as these folks.  We’ve  lived with roommates before and have gone past that point as a married couple.
 
8- Appreciating my country more: I like the US more now that I have lived away from it. I now enjoy the small things that I once did not care about because  I took them for granted.  Not to mention the comfort of using US currency instead of Canadian dollars and not gritting my teeth at how expensive the basic necessities are.
 
 It’s good to be back.

Nature Up Way North!!

It is official: my computer died. After taking the damn thing twice to the repair shop, I can honestly say that a) my computer is out of warranty, b) I will need a new one and c) will search for a replacement in the US.

Other than that nuisance, Cutie and I decided to take a break from city life and head for the Jasper National Park. On our way there, we saw a few mountain goats slowing traffic and green-blue lakes:

Driving by Patricia Lake

Driving by Patricia Lake. There are still sheets of ice on the water!

We stayed at one of the cabin lodges that just opened for the low season. We barbequed our meals every night and chopped firewood for the fireplace. The windows at our cabin were single-pained, so the cabins got drafty pretty fast unless we kept the fire alive.

Cute little cabin. Needs more insulation!

Cute little cabin. Needs more insulation!

I love fireplaces!

I love fireplaces!

During the day, we headed out to do some horseback riding near the Pyramid Road area, trying to see if we could spot a few wildlife.

Near the Canyon

All we could spot was the scenery, a few dead trees and birds.  After our riding, we headed to downtown Jasper to find out about the trails and which ones to avoid (one trail was closed due to a grizzly bear sighting). We decided on the trail that would be less populated by hikers (and Cutie wanted to see a black bear): The Valley of the Five Lakes trails:

Most of the lakes have dried out into ponds :(

Most of the lakes have dried out into ponds 😦

Cutie and I hiked for a few hours on the trails, managing only to see a few ducks, a chipmunk and a few birds. We ate lunch on the bridge that connected the two valleys, over a small stream.

Cool day under the sun!

Cool day under the sun!

After our lunch, we hiked on a bike trail that could lead us to Banff, until I heard a loud growl that made me grasp my hiking stick like a bo. Cutie thought it was a mountain lion stalking us, but after walking a few meters further and looking around, we couldn’t see it anywhere.

After going shopping in Jasper, we headed out to another trail where the canyon was. The trail was mostly paved, but what I found amazing was the frozen waterfall:

And it sounds like someone is taking a shower!

And it sounds like someone is taking a shower!

There was some water flowing downstream, but was enough to take a shower underneath, so to speak.

If anyone wants to stay at this park, beware that at low season the lodging prices are cheaper, but most of the water attractions are still closed (due to the long winter), half of the campsites are closed (again, due to the long winter) and the food and gas are more expensive because downtown Jasper is a tourist town.  Overall, it is a nice park and in our case, we saw most of the wildlife while driving on the roads.

 

So it begins again…

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First of all, I am going to put a disclosure to all or anyone who cares:

I tried my best to find employment and establish a good life here and it didn’t work out. In other words, this country is not for me.

It has been uphill since day one. Then again, with all of life’s adventures, that is exactly how all of them start. You dive in the cold waters, hoping your body will get used to the chill and come out swimming to the surface as normal. Except when you start to drown and need a lifesaver to help pull yourself out.

I have learned a lot of things while moving, living, job hunting and volunteering up here. It opened my eyes to a lot of things and helped me realize how much I miss my damn country:

Social progression is good for those who will stay in this country in the long run (permanent residents and Canadians).

– I hate long winters

The roads were designed by drunken lemurs. After driving on them for almost a year, I can name several places and intersections in the city of Edmonton that were designed for collisions.

-Anti-American and Anti-Immigrant attitudes exist even among the supposedly well-educated

-Canada Post sucks. The services provided by US companies disappoint to no end (Amazon.ca, Netflix, UPS, etc).

-No one wants to get to know you, even if you try to be friendly with them.

I invited this nice lady for lunch last Friday and left me hanging. I thought she would have the decency to call or text me back saying she couldn’t make it. But she had a fucking iPhone so any chance of her being technologically challenged is bullshit. We met while playing board games at the university and I thought we hit it off well. I guess I was wrong.

-Cost of living here is so expensive and people are used to it. That last one made my head explode.

-The quality of health care is better up here.  And the costs of tests and medicine aren’t so bad either.

I am going to spend the next few months getting my affairs in order and move back to the US. It’s going to be a long ride but I will take my chances in the US.  Nothing up here is worth trying to smuggle back to the US (Canadian beer and maple syrup is sold at Sam’s Club for god’s sake!).

 

 

 

 

Trying

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Been busy doing volunteer work and going to job interviews. Should you ever decide to do volunteer work, here are a few great reasons why:

You will get treated better by your superiors at the non-profit place than at a regular job. This is because the non-profit place can’t afford to lose volunteers. Whereas in a regular job, a supervisor justifies giving poor treatment while dangling the paycheck carrot. Never mind that it takes more than that to get someone to stay.

Your work will be appreciated from day one. I got so many “thank yous” from volunteering at the homeless shelter than in the 6 years working at my old job. If you have the time and energy its worth donating a few hours at a charity you like.

The job hunt still sucks as usual. I went for a job interview for a cashier position at a store and caught the hiring manager misreading my cover letter and resume. I also saw the look on her face when she realized I was overqualified for the position. I also never got a call back from her for the second interview.

An administrative job I applied for the provincial government sent me an invite for a “networking event” before offering the chance to be interviewed by hiring managers. This event will be filled with other candidates while being forced to do team building exercises while being observed by managers and HR goons. Tell me this: what other reason would HR and managers organize this event only to play as amateur sociologists to try to see who is worthy of their  jobs? In the end it will be the extroverts on happy pills who would win instead of people with actual talent. So in a nutshell job hunting up in the far north is becoming more of an attack on the dignity of the job hunters as managers are forced to screen people through polls and trick questionnaires posted online by HR goons. Last time I had to participate in team building exercises, it lasted 4 hours and I got PAID to do them. A lot of spaghetti and marshmallow towers were built that day.

Keeping all of this in mind, maybe its time to leave the hunt and start planning my exit strategy. Fuck you Canadian employers with your worthless expensive work visa requirements and rampant discrimination against US citizens. It’s not like I broke any laws coming to your winter-beaten country. I entered with open eyes and mind and I will be leaving this place driving with one hand and flipping the bird with the other.

Hell has frozen over and I barely noticed

This has to be the longest winter I have EVER experienced in my short life. I try to make the best of it by drinking lots of coffee, eating soup and trying “to make peace with winter” by actually going outdoors and practicing some ice skating.

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Instead of succeeding at peace-making, I end up arriving to my place as exhausted as UN delegates trying to negotiate for world peace. The tiredness is followed by body aches that I don’t understand WHY they occur. It’s not the same kind of soreness as hitting the gym. Or maybe that Canadian polar vortex is getting to my bones. Even the people who lived in this city all of their lives are complaining about surviving the most bitter winter ever. But what do I know? It’s not like I can tell the difference at this point.

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Don’t fail me now, skates….

The migraine for US expats and how to tackle it

It’s around that time again to show the government how much money you’ve made and how much you “owe” them, regardless of where you live.

And money. Lots of money.

And money. Lots of money.

A lot of people who move to another country would not think about how to juggle their finances from a tax perspective until the end of the new year or so. For US citizens, it can be a confusing double-whammy since technically you have to report to Uncle Sam how much you make and report that same amount to the host country (unless their is a tax treaty). If you are used to just sending your paperwork to a tax preparer for your regular state and federal taxes and now your are living abroad, now is the right time to start changing habits. As a former tax preparer, there is a HUGE advantage to learn how to do your taxes versus using a tax preparer service :

1) Decreased chances of someone else stealing your refund, Social Security number and other details. While working with clients who were hard-working adults with families to feed, one out of every 5 was a victim of Social Security theft once their filed taxes were rejected by the IRS.  It was disheartening to see the look of horror, anger and despair from these clients who were counting on their tax refunds to help them with bills and planned purchases for their kids. Explaining to them to contact the SSA to report the identity theft was more depressing because it would force them to take time off work to sort the mess out. What got my head twisted in knots is that most of the clients knew who may have done the deed with remarks such as “oh I got a friend of mine’s college kid to do it for me last year”.

Even if you are super vigilant about your information, if you take your taxes to one of the tax preparation places that have a small booth near the entrance of a Wal-Mart or a mall you may have encountered the following:

a) Not all offices are built for privacy. Some tax preparation offices are set up in open ceiling cubicles. You do know that cashier a few meters away can hear you.

b) Increased chances of exposing your information to outsiders due to lack of proper office security equipment. A good sign would be if you are able to notice a paper shredder or two at the office away from the customers waiting area.  It pays to ask your preparer how long they keep records of your returns. A good tax preparation office would keep the documents no more than a year, keep the data on external hard drives and have proper internet security firewalls in place. If you do not get an acceptable answer, run!

c) You don’t need your own Tax Preparer ID number to file your own taxes. Some places will hire experienced preparers but keep in mind that unless they have their own ID numbers, they have nothing to lose if anything goes wrong with your taxes. If you do have your taxes done with someone you suspect isn’t that good, chances are he/she has her boss check his/her work and then sign your returns with his signature and ID number. And you are STILL responsible for all information on your taxes, regardless of who screws them up.

d) The price is never right. A lot of preparers send your returns through the internet and then charge you up the nose for basically asking you questions about the stuff you should have been doing all year (collecting receipts and other things that help you reduce your tax bill). The money charged for such services would be justified if you owned your own business. But for the average non-business owner, it’s not worth paying one third of your refund to send 5 pages or less to the IRS and your local revenue office. Especially when the tax preparers use software to do the calculations for you.

They will find you and fleece you, one way or the other..

They will find you and fleece you, one way or the other..

Now imagine having to deal with all of this while living abroad. There are a lot of certified or chartered accountants  who specialize in tax preparation for US citizens living abroad. But the scary part is that they charge over $300 USD or more for working and filing both local and US federal taxes. Unless you own a business while living abroad, it pays in the long run to do research on your own on the host country’s tax laws. Things you NEED to find out:

1) Existing tax treaties between the US and the host country. This is something that EVERYONE who is planing to live abroad should look into FIRST. Forget the nice weather or cheap cost of living.  Depending on how much money who bring (or have) you can hit with a huge tax bill if you don’t report your money to the host country’s revenue office.

b) Residency status and when you became a resident in that country. This piece of information can make a huge difference on how much you owe money on your host country’s taxes and how much income and assets you have to report. You can find this information on the host country’s revenue office website or at their government building.

c) Constantly update your knowledge on how to report to Uncle Sam what you own while living abroad. Ever since FACTA was enacted, a lot of banks in different countries are pushing back against the US government’s attempt to turn them into foreign IRS agents.  Some banks have become reluctant to open accounts for US citizens as a result of this nightmare. Even if your host country manages to flip the bird against the enactment, all US citizens have to send paperwork to the Dept of Treasury showing you aren’t hiding anything from them (filing an FBAR if your foreign bank account has more than $10,000 USD worth at any time during the tax year).

Once you do your research, the next step would be if you can tackle on filing your own taxes. Again, keep in mind of your personal financial situation and which country you are currently residing in. Some countries may not accept your self-prepared tax returns unless they are certified by a registered or licensed accountant. If that is the case, then it’s best to shop around for someone who is willing to charge you for their stamp and signature instead of doing all of the work. If you need to have your taxes done by a professional, ask the professional (unless required by law) not to keep your information in the office. Even if you return to their office next year, chances are you will still need to give them last year’s returns for them to start on the new ones.  The reason behind this is that it is harder to prosecute criminals for identity theft when the crime is committed outside of the US.  Even if you are planing to live in the host country for the rest of your life, never turn your guard off.

Because no one gives a crap about your money more than you and Uncle Sam.

Why even try??!!!

There are few times where I have a pet peeve about doing the right thing and following the rules. This time, it involves the job hunt.

I don’t understand these higher ups who claim to be great business men and women, yet are too chicken to take a risk on someone to hire. Or that these same men and women want someone who meets ALL of the requirements for the job without offering a decent wage with benefits.

I can understand why people are so reluctant to leave their jobs even though they hate working at their jobs. The mind-fuck games HR and management play to try to hire the perfect candidate would made the calmest person go postal. Especially in the interview room.

Don't ask me why should you hire me!!!

Don’t ask me why you should you hire me!!!

 

It gets even more frustrating when your resume fits the job description to a T and yet the hiring manager tries to play psychologist with you even though he/she couldn’t even pass a Blot Ink test:

“So what do you expect from the company once you are hired?”

“What is your biggest weakness?”

“My concern is that with your vast experience, this position might not be challenging enough for you”

“I don’t see how with your excellent qualifications you can be having trouble finding something more adequate”

“We need someone with more enthusiasm and passion for this position”

As a candidate, you can’t be too assertive or super-confident else you are seen as an arrogant woman. I’ve noticed men in my same position being assertive and acting confident then get rewarded with a good paying job.

Cojones-free women wanted :(

Cojones-free women wanted. No exceptions 😦

I can see why so many people play the damn lottery or turn to crime. Or do both. Maybe this land is just as exploitative of its workforce, except they are more polite about it.

why even try??!!

why even try??!!