Here’s a cautionary tale that I’m whipping up real quick-like, on the spur of the moment, for any would-be immigrants to the U.S., with a word of advice:
Sort your money out before you leave home for good.
I know, I know. This sounds totally obvious. But in this day and age of internet banking, it’s easy to fall into a false sense of security. I know I did.
When I first immigrated out here, I had about half a year’s salary (in Maine) in an Australian savings account, earning fat interest. I didn’t want to move it all across to my U.S. bank accounts, because then it’d be way too easy to blow, and if I needed an emergency plane ticket home or something, I felt safe in the knowledge that my ING account would have my back.
For awhile, I was transferring money from that account onto a zero-balance Aussie credit card I had, and using that card to pay for things. But when I tried to move a bigger sum into my American account, I hit a few hurdles.
Firstly, my Commonwealth internet banking wouldn’t allow me to increase my daily international transfer limit past $2,000 without receiving a security code via SMS. Commonwealth would let me change my profile to accept a U.S. cell number…but only after receiving the SMS security code on my Australian cell phone. The one I canceled for good.
I could change that over the phone, but to up my transfer limit to a larger ceiling, I had to provide written proof that I was who I said I was. That involved faxing (!) copies of my passport, Queensland driver’s license and a copy of my signature to the bank’s security department. I tried this in Colorado in November, and they said my signature didn’t match.
The signature they had in my system was saved when I first opened the account … when I was 14 years old. Half a lifetime ago. There was no way I could remember what it looked like, let alone replicate it from half a world away. My only other option was to “visit a branch,” and as you can imagine that wasn’t well-received.
I managed to get around it by transferring the cash to my sister “domestically,” then having her up her international limit and sending it to me that way. It was an ugly loophole, but it worked.
I ran into the same brick wall once I moved to Maine when I needed cash money for rental deposits, furniture and other household items. I called Commonwealth, explained the awful situation with my inability to replicate a 14-year-old’s scribble, and prayed.
After talking to every middle manager in the building, pleading my case each time, someone finally conceded and let me make a one-off lump sum transfer, and I assured them it would be the last time. Well, that was dumb.
Since then, I haven’t had any cause to move more than a few hundred bucks at a time from Australia to the U.S., which is good because the transfer fees and the exchange rate make it obnoxious to say the least.
Well, until now. I’ve got a handy little tax return coming my way from my final few weeks of work at the ABC, in July/August 2013, and I wanted to get my hands on some of it to replace my battered phone and buy some new winter clothes before it hits us hard.
I had heard that you can transfer money to yourself for free, or for a smaller-than-a-bank fee, via PayPal, if you have an account set up in each country’s currency. As it happened, I do have both of those things, so I figured I’d give it a whirl.
Linking my Australian bank account wasn’t difficult, even from abroad, as its mailing address is set as my dad’s address, so I still have a postal presence down under. I deposited the sum I wanted to withdraw from the Commonwealth account – I won’t elaborate, but it was more than $999 – and clicked the button to suck it up into PayPal. And waited. And waited.
After five business days, it finally arrived in my PayPal wallet, and I got an email notification … but not the type I wanted.
See, if your wallet balance goes above $1,000, you have to officially confirm your identification so as not to arouse money-laundering suspicion. SHIT.
Through the grace of God, I had my passport in the car at work after my quick trip to Canada this weekend, and my tax return forms appeared to be enough proof of my “current address,” so I was able to submit them as evidence. But now I have to wait, wait and wait some more for the wheels to grind and someone at PayPal to confirm I am who I say.
I feel like this isn’t the last of this saga, but let it be a lesson to you at least. Learn from my mistakes, and figure out how you’re going to move your finances before you move your suitcases. I’m not a very good grown-up.