Accessing your records across continents: Are you ready?

As every expat knows, moving to a new country involves not just cultural adjustment but also logistical challenge. Thus, today we dedicate some time to outlining one of the critical decisions that every relocating person must make: How will I manage my records and files during the relocation and the assignment? While the specific details may vary for each individual and family, I encourage clients to ask themselves (and their advisors) these questions:

1. What original documents do I need to have with me, on my person? These would include things like your passport, your health insurance card, your international driver’s license, certain prescriptions, immunization records, etc.. As every country has different requirements, you need to review the U.S. State Department guidelines, talk to your Human Resources department, and get in touch with your local contacts to determine the rules and norms.

2. What original documents might I need, but would feel better about leaving at home? These would likely include your birth and marriage certificates, diplomas, any original lending paperwork, investment information, your previous years’ tax documents, life insurance policies, divorce or other legal settlements, etc.

Consider the best way to store these physical documents – some options include safe deposit boxes, storage units, and with trusted relatives. Also consider how you will obtain these documents should the need arise. Make sure the person you nominate to be your point person understands how to help you in a pinch, and be sure you make this possible by adding them to the list of people who can speak to doctors and other services providers on your behalf if necessary.

3. What documents might I want to access remotely which are available through service providers? These includes bank and credit card statements, transcripts, investment updates, phone bills, i.e., the kind of information which you are likely already accessing online.

4. What documents do I want to keep, but don’t want to store or move with me? Which of these are suitable for scanning? Examples in this category will vary widely, but could include medical records, letters of recommendation, history of home maintenance repairs if you are renting out your home in your absence, examples of written work, etc. If you intend to scan documents, you’ll also need to figure out a digital file management system. There are several options, including remotely accessing your hard drive from your new location, using cloud services like One Drive, Googledocs, Drop Box, or a more robust option like SharePoint.

5. What documents have I been saving, but can actually recycle or shred? There are many helpful online pages about how long to keep certain kinds of documents. Here is one to get you started.

Reviewing these questions is more than a rote exercise. Indeed, really thinking through how to access important records while you are in another country is an important part of considering how you will live with your life stretched across continents. While your hosting organization may be able to help you find local housing and your employer may even provide some financial incentives like household goods shipment or international schooling, the decision about how to manage the reality of your new life falls squarely on your shoulders.

Get Started

Schedule time to talk with your legal counsel and financial advisor to get their expert advise, and contact your service providers to learn their requirements for someone in your long-distance situation. Then devise a plan with your partner, if applicable. In the previous post, we discussed the importance of inoculating yourself against disappointment by examining expectations ahead of time. Now is your chance to actively shape your time abroad by responsibly participating in the process.

Good luck!

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