Inform your credit and debit providers.
It's important to call your credit card providers a few days to a week before going abroad. The reason is that if the provider suddenly sees overseas expenses on the card, they can lock it down for suspicious activity. While this is a great safety feature many cards have to prevent fraud, no one wants to be abroad and suddenly unable to use their card. And, not all the time can the card be unlocked for use so easily. Also, make sure to ask your credit card provider about any foreign exchange fees they may charge for foreign transactions.
For your debit card, it's important to call your bank for similar reasons. Inform them which countries you are going to and if your card can be used at merchants and at ATMs there. Specially ask what kind of ATM fees could be charged while abroad. Some banks may also offer special travel cards for short term use while traveling internationally.
Set up your US mobile/cell phone with a good international plan.
Failing to do this can rack up hundreds of dollars a week in international roaming charges for both phone calls and data usage.
Have you postal mail held.
Visit your local postal office a few days to a week before leaving or go online to fill out the hold mail service form. This will prevent your postal box from overflowing with mail. Just don't forget to go to the post office after returning to pick up your stack of mail!
Ask someone to watch the house.
Find a trusted neighbor or friend who will come by the house every few days to look at the place and report anything suspicious to you. Also, sometimes deliveries may be made by FedEx or other couriers when we are away we forget about. Our trusted friend can help by collecting it and keeping it aside in a safe place.
Inform your landlord.
For those who travel abroad for more than a month at a time, inform your landlord, especially if your landlord is not your trusted friend or family member watching the house. We wouldn't want our landlord to think we absconded on the lease and moved without notice.
Turn on the water in the house every two or three days.
If you live in a cold place and go on a vacation or to India in the winter or during very cold weather (freezing temperatures), ask your trusted friend or landlord to enter the house every two or three days to turn on the water in all the taps, and flush the toilets at least once. This will allow the water to continue to move through the pipes, preventing freezing pipes Believe me when I say you do not want to deal with frozen pipes when you return from your holiday overseas!
Don't cancel your car insurance.
I have heard that some foreigners living in the U.S. have canceled their car insurance if they visit their home country for more than a one month stretch to save money. While this may seem practical, it actually can cause more problems than it solves. If anything happens to your car while you are away, it can cost more money to solve that problem than if the car insurance was maintained.
In addition to late bill payments being reported on your credit report, in the U.S. many bill collectors (including many apartment complexes) will charge late fees and/or interest on late payments. While in some cases, it's possible to revoke some late fees, interest will rarely be revoked. But, instead of worry about the headache of all this, set up your accounts for auto pay. If you do not think your accounts can pay the entire amount of your monthly bills, call up providers and ask them about paying minimum payments. Normally a minimum payment paid on or before the due date will avoid late fees, but not interest on unpaid amounts. In today's e-banking world, most of us can set up autopay on most bills on or before their due date to assure there are no lapses. Personally, I prefer to set up autopayments for about 3-5 business days before the payment is due. In this way, I can check my bank account to assure the amount has been deducted on time as well as the provider's site to assure the payments have cleared. Note that bank transfers in the U.S. may take one to two business (banking days) to clear.
Author Jennifer Kumar provides cross-cultural preparation seminars for expats going to the United States for international assignments, onsite client projects and business ventures. Contact us for more information.
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Post office, bank sign: Jennifer Kumar (note: any bank names or place names are purely coincidental. Authentic Journeys does not endorse any particular bank or place.)
Water tap: Joe Shlabotnik, creative commons @flickr