Posts Tagged ‘expat’

Expat Banking

When you move to a new country and try to set up a life there, you encounter a broad range of differences in the way people do things in this new country. For instance, in Britain, everything is harder. Ha! No, it just feels that way sometimes, especially when it comes to banking. Without five years of checkable addresses in the country (I wonder if it counts if you’ve lived some of them in Ireland, Wales or Scotland?), you only qualify for a type known as a Cashminder Account. All this means is that, like in the United States, you have a debit card, can bank online, and can deposit and withdraw money. OK, good, that’s all I wanted to do. Here, customers are charged a monthly fee for different levels of banking because the bank will offer you things like free worldwide travel insurance, home insurance, financial advice, and an overdraft. Overdraft is basically a line of credit. We have something called overdraft in the States, too, but I’ve never had it as anything other than a link to my savings account in case a check bounces, so I won’t be charged.

All things considered, I suppose the British overdraft and the American overdraft are similar, it’s just that its like having a credit card attached to your checking account instead of not having anything and being charged a fee if you go into the red.

My problem with British banking is that it’s ridiculously hard to get anything done. To change your address you have to go into a branch. Not just any branch, either, but the branch at which you started the account. You have to put in various parts of two codes to get into your account online. And because my proof of address, which came from Ealing Council, for a bill for our old address, and thus says C/O [my new address], they’re having problems accepting it as proof. They also won’t issue me a bank account right away because I’m not a UK passport holder, even though I’m not asking for any credit. What is that all about?

They say it’s so you’re more protected against fraud, and I wonder how much there is compared to in the States, but I do know someone who had her identity stolen and fraudulent charges made against her bank account.

Oh! And I forgot! Apparently you can’t do online purchasing through your bank card unless you have a card reader sent to you? Maybe that’s only with Royal Bank of Scotland. But Brits, please tell me your experiences with online purchasing. I’m really interested to know now that I’m about to be able to start doing that.

Now that I’ve finally got a job, I’m really looking forward to being paid. But wouldn’t ya know it, I can’t be for at least another week. Which means I still can’t get a cell phone. I’ll just stare wistfully at the HTC Desire for another week and debate endlessly over which phone provider to go with.

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I have been eligible to vote for 14 years now, and have rarely used my enfranchisement to much good. Though Florida, where I was raised, is a swing state, I was only able to put that to use in the 2000 elections, and we all know what good that did! Actually, do we? I wonder how much of the fiasco made it through to the average British citizen, and especially those who were my age at the time. Recently, I had a near-altercation online with someone who thought it was “ironic” that America went to an illegal war over oil, killing British soldiers, and civilians, and now oil was washing up on our shores. I countered that the American government had started that war, and that neither I, nor anyone I cared to know, had supported it. This person came back with something along the lines of “By the people, for the people and of the people”; I responded, “Yeah, because everyone in this country is a chav or a Tory,” very close to blasting them about civic participation, gubernatorial representation, and did they feel their government adequately reflected their opinions and ideas? In my froth of rage, I wanted to school this person on the 2000 elections and the recount that was called off by Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who just so happened to be under George W. Bush’s brother, Jeb Bush, and then, shockingly, working in Washington soon after. My subsequent realization that I was being trolled cooled me off, but it made me think about elections and my part in the various states in which I’ve lived.

Florida: just 18 for the 2000 elections. Paid attention, discussed the happenings with friends. Ignored local politics. Voted.
Minnesota: The first place I wasn’t oblivious to politics, excited about being a social worker and living in a historically politically active, liberal, democratic state. I wasn’t there long enough to delve heavily into local politics, but I voted for governor, though I suspected that Tim Pawlenty would win, once it was known he had George W. Bush’s support (I was right).
New York: Though I lived in NYC for 6 years, it never felt permanent, and I moved so often, through various municipalities, that I lost steam for local politics.

Local politics are extremely important, moreso than a lot of people think, yet we often neglect them in favor of national politics. Presidential elections only come around every four years but local elections come around much more frequently and have a much larger effect on day-to-day life. I’m really feeling the need to get involved in local politics again, and as such, was extremely excited when last night, a Briton told us that based on his French partner being able to vote, he thought that we, as leave-holders, may vote in local (council) elections. This morning I did a little research, having been saddened that my residence didn’t come through until three days before the election, much too late for me to vote. I did a little searching this morning, but it didn’t take more than a cursory read to realize that neither I nor my husband are eligible to vote in any kind of election in the UK. It would take citizenship for us, though it seems like practically the rest of the world is allowed to vote in, at least, council elections. Below, the requirements. I make sad face now.

Who can register to vote?

You can register to vote if you are:

* 16 years old or over and
* a British citizen
* or an Irish, qualifying Commonwealth or European Union citizen who is resident in the UK

If you are 16 or 17, you can only register if you will be 18 within the lifetime of the electoral register. You cannot vote until you are 18.

Below is a full list of Commonwealth and European Union countries. If you are a citizen of one of these countries, and resident in the UK, you are eligible to register to vote in UK elections. To qualify, Commonwealth citizens must be resident in the UK and either have leave to remain in the UK or not require such leave. The definition of a ‘Commonwealth citizen’ includes citizens of British Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories.

Citizens of the European Union who are not Commonwealth citizens can vote in European and local elections in the UK, but are not able to vote in UK Parliamentary general elections.

European Union countries

Czech Republic

United Kingdom

Commonwealth countries

Antigua and Barbuda
The Bahamas
Brunei Darussalam
Fiji Islands
The Gambia

New Zealand
Papua New Guinea

St Kitts & Nevis
St Lucia

St Vincent & The Grenadines
Sierra Leone
Solomon Islands
South Africa
Sri Lanka
United Republic of Tanzania
Trinidad & Tobago
United Kingdom

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There are many differences immediately noticeable to expats: accents, stores, music, currency, culture, but there are also things that take a while to be noticed. It took us a little bit to notice not just the cars that are obviously different, we don’t really have Citroën, Renault or Peugeot (somehow mangled as Per-zho by the Francophobic Francophilic British), or the awesome smart cars. Then there are familiar brands, which are all different models, none of the ones you’re used to. And cleaning products provide a different scent to your clothes and your home.

I have also begun to realize that all of the people around me are different – I don’t just mean that I am in Britain and thus am surrounded by British people who have a different accent (! accents!!) but even the minorities are different. Britain has Poles, Asians, and a number of other groups I’m not aware of yet. Asians are from Asia, East-Asians are from further east. It does make more sense and is more culturally aware than saying “Indian” for anyone who looks vaguely like they came from the Indian subcontinent. But they may be from Bagladesh, Pakistan, you get the picture. But I miss Puerto Ricans. I miss Cubans. I miss Mexicans. I don’t know whether it’s just because I am learning Spanish, and thus miss the opportunity to practice, or because these are people with accents that I am familiar with, am comfortable with.

Recently the Best Boyfriend In the World and I watched the entire first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the best thing to happen to me since NARS Tobago lipstick. One of the queens, Nina Flowers, is from Puerto Rico and her accent brought it all home for me. (Ay, loca!) I love Western hemisphere Spanish speakers!! They’re totally different from Spaniards. Not saying they’re better, just different, and that “differentness” goes to the heart of what I’ve been feeling the past four months.

Here’s another thing I realized in the past week – yes, I have friends I can hang out with, yes, I’m having a good time, but I don’t have anyone I can just call up and chitty chat with or whine about something stupid happening in my life. Not just because there isn’t anyone with a schedule as open as mine is now (and was in NYC), but also because cell phone plans are different here. I’ve got a plan that allows me only 200 minutes per month. So I can’t just call someone up and while away the walk to the home improvement store or I won’t have enough minutes to last the month. *grump* I’m used to having 900 minutes a month. ‘Course here you don’t pay for incoming calls or texts, so at least there’s that. But we don’t have a land line yet, despite our roommate saying she’d get it a month ago.

All this adds up to an increasing feeling of isolation. I have to join a group or something, take a class, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to on my tourist visa, and I don’t really have the money to spend on something like that. Good thing spring is here and I can get out and meet chicks who ride bikes. That group is already available but I didn’t want to hang out with them outside while it was freezing cold.

I made cookies, I made biscuits, found a recipe for making pudding from scratch, want to come up with a color to paint the closet(s), and have to poke the boyfriend again about consolidating bike bits. I swear to god, they never end!!

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