Friday, March 13, 2009

One foot in the past

When an expat initially takes the plunge and moves, for some time afterwards there is a natural tendency to have ‘one foot in the old country’.

This is partly emotional with family or friend ties and that’s fine. Few expats want to shake that off.

For the most part though, it is practical because however well organised one was prior to departure, there will ALWAYS be loose ends left. Whether it’s that final sale deed of your old house, queries about the final meter readings or confusion with your old bank over new addresses, in the first few months after departure there will be things that keep popping up to drag your attention away from your new expat life back to the way things were.

The good news is that slowly over a few months these distractions diminish and eventually disappear. Suddenly you’re an expat ‘living the life’ and apart from family/friends back home, your old life starts to seem a long way away.

That though can change.

In spite of living abroad for many years, a friend recently received an official letter from the ‘old country’. This was a request to complete a tax declaration for 2005/6. As he had left in 2002, and has been integrated into his new country’s tax system since 2002/3, he assumed this was an error and understandably ignored it.

A few months later he duly received a reminder.

Now he is a fairly conscientious sort and decided to telephone his ‘old’ tax authorities to explain the position. After many transfers, and no doubt high telephone costs, he eventually received an apology for their “inexplicable error” and was told to ignore the demand.

Needless to say, this didn’t end it. A few weeks later he received a curt reminder and notification that he was being fined the equivalent of roughly 120 euros for non-completion of the form. There was also a nasty threat that the 120 euros could be collected through the tax authorities in his new country!

Cue more phone calls and faxed irate letters. As his tax affairs were in exemplary order he was understandably furious at this insane situation. More apologies were received.

Finally a few weeks later he received a nice letter of apology confirming

a) No tax return was required
b) He owed absolutely no tax at all

There was also included an equally nice statement showing he now owed 120 euros (the fine) and confirming that they were seeking to recover this via his new tax authorities.

The saga continues but to avoid boring you, I won’t go on!

My friend told me that in the past few months he’s spent more time talking with, and writing to, his old tax office than he ever did in the many years he lived and worked in his country of origin. He’s thinking of re-emigrating to another destination, in his words “to get away from it all!”

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