Ex-pat and loving it! How long can I do it?
August 22, 2004 1:24 PM   Subscribe

LivingOverseasFilter: If you work for yourself and can telecommute, what's to stop you living overseas (for the longest time legally allowable), working online, and pretending to still be at 'home' for tax (and other) purposes? [mi]

This question isn't as shady as it sounds. I'm an EU citizen, and therefore have the right to 'live and work' in other EU countries (this question is not necessarily EU specific though). To get a regular job in these other countries, you often need to sign up on the welfare system to get ID, etc. Being self employed, though, this isn't really an issue. Sadly, however, self employed generally have to either pay crazy taxes, join a 'trade union', or otherwise prove they're qualified to do the job they've been doing for years. This bureaucracy is idiotic, and so I was wondering..

As someone who doesn't need to get a regular job or use the welfare system, how practical is it to simply live overseas, while 'pretending' to still live in the country of origin? Being more specific, what stops someone in my situation going to, say, France, renting an apartment (which has no special requirements), and telecommuting for several months, while continuing to handle and pay taxes in the home country as normal? All the 'official' documents suggest that this shouldn't be possible, but without being specific on the 'why'. Has anyone here done this before or, er, had a 'friend' do it?
posted by wackybrit to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've telecommuted from abroad for a month or two at a time before (working in the UK, staying elsewhere in the EU), although I didn't need to go to the trouble of renting an apartment etc. I'd never considered that I might be breaking any rules, so the rest of this thread might be interesting for me too.

I also know a chap who's been doing the same thing in the US (and working as if he's in the UK) for a couple of years now and he hasn't hit any problems yet - although in his case he's had to claim he's holiday there rather than working.
posted by cell at 3:02 PM on August 22, 2004

Been doing the same in Bangkok......I develop web applications online...I trouble-shoot online too....I make about half of what I could make if I was face-to-face in the UK (where my clients are)....but cost of living here is at least 25% of UK so "go figure"....
posted by SpaceCadet at 4:02 PM on August 22, 2004

Isn't it hard to rent an apartment in many places without official residency papers or whatever?
I guess if you rented short-term furnished apartments it's totally doable (but more expensive), but then what would you do about an address back home? Would you keep an apartment there too?
posted by amberglow at 4:40 PM on August 22, 2004

I'd wonder if a credit check might pose a problem in the US. You'd be expected to produce some sort of tax id # if not an actual SSN. Not all landlords require them, but I've noticed it's become more common with apartments run as a commercial operation. Don't know if there's any similar requirements elsewhere. This is about the only hitch I can think of, though.
posted by weston at 8:23 PM on August 22, 2004

Taxes can be a big hitch. The law generally says that if you spend more than 6 months out of the year in a country, then you have to file and pay taxes in that country.

It takes some work to stay out of sight of the tax authorities in the country where you reside, particularly since you will almost certainly need a bank account in the country where you live in order to pay the rent, phone bills, etc. France and Spain have the concept of a "non-resident" or "foreigner" bank account, which doesn't report to the tax authorities in the same way. I had introductions when I opened accounts in those countries, so I don't know how difficult it is to do if you walk in off the street.

If you can get a local bank account that sends statements to your local address, but is marked "non-resident", then you can get a VISA debit card on the account pretty easily. You'll need that card for a lot of reasons, for example because airlines often refuse to send tickets to your local address unless it's also your billing address.

Also, you may think you don't need to use the welfare system, but you probably want to look into health insurance. Some policies claim to cover medical repatriation, but if you read the fine print they don't apply if you spend more than 3 months abroad. Private health insurance in France and Spain can be very expensive if you're not participating in the usual bureaucracy, and so you might want to compare them with UK-based contracts that provide worldwide coverage.

Finally, landlords in France often require you to show pay stubs, which can create problems for self-employed people even if they are legally resident in France. Going through personal contacts or finding foreign landlords (if you want to go to Paris, check out FUSAC) can make things a lot easier.
posted by fuzz at 3:37 AM on August 23, 2004

I've got a lot of EU friends doing just what you describe. Nothing really to stop you, except that someplace along the line you may want to "get on the grid" and go locally legit, and you find all you have is a few years of "tourist" status behind you. Some of the EU countries are laxer about taxes than others - make sure you know. I think France is one country where it is pretty hard to slide by the Tax Officials.
posted by zaelic at 8:40 AM on August 23, 2004

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