by Peggie Pentecost

Today’s returning expatriates will likely consider the Internet to be their most valuable resource as they begin the process of repatriating to the U.S. Dozens of websites are available to guide the expat to valuable resources that will assist them with their return.

I recently assisted a couple with the purchase of a home after they had been living abroad for more than 15 years. A state income tax, accessibility to travel and cost of living were among the factors they considered. “Returning takes some advance planning and the more you do, the easier your transition will be,” said Maryann, the returning expat client. They recommend that an expat should begin to do their research and make preparations as early as 18 months in advance. This couple found that having some U.S. credit ultimately made it possible for them to secure a mortgage on a home. They recommend a bank account be established as well as at least three credit accounts with U.S. addresses that show regular payments being made by one year prior to their return.  Watch your credit report and deal with any derogatory remarks in advance. Be sure to draft a budget and be realistic about what kind of monthly expenditures you will have. If you are not going to have an income when you return, establish one by putting your money into an annuity that pays you monthly. And don’t forget about making sure you acquire a U.S. driver’s license and that your passport has at least six months left prior to travel!

An experienced international REALTOR® will be savvy about helping the expat weigh neighborhoods and locations against priorities in order to find the perfect home. While being present for the inspections was possible for this couple, they did a lease back to the seller, who then was able to assist them with meeting utility providers, etc. It may be necessary to have a spouse return early to make those arrangements prior to move-in. Deposits for utilities can be paid by credit card, and most of the necessary arrangements can be made on the internet and by phone. They also mentioned that since the closing was done with papers sent overseas by courier, expats may appreciate knowing that their closing must take place at the Consulate’s office. There, a required recognized notary stamp can be affixed for a per-stamp fee, usually 8-10 stamps per transaction, payable in cash.

This couple had two large dogs. They said that they paid close attention to deed restrictions or HOA covenants to ensure they could keep their dogs. In addition, preparations for their travel and admittance into the U.S. sometimes requires special steps, so they suggest that you do your homework to make sure their reentry goes as smoothly as possible, too.

Expats will have to make arrangements to establish new relationships for their health care as well. That means that they should plan to have at least three months worth of medications, including over-the-counter meds. You will also need to make arrangements for health care coverage in the event that your employer does not provide it, and that, too, can be handled by Internet in advance of your arrival.

The shipment of your personal effects will likely take up to 12 weeks. This couple suggests that you carefully pack good quality, soft-sided suitcases with the clothing you will need. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has made many recent changes regarding the shipment of personal effects by air, with some shipments being delayed. Another item that bears mentioning is the many updates and improvements since the expat has been away. Items like furniture, clothing, electronics, computers and accessories, kitchen items and bedding have greatly improved in current years and they suggest you replace outdated items upon your return.

If you purchase a car in advance, ask the dealer to arrange for airport pick-up or a loaner until your car is available. Most dealers are happy to deliver your vehicle to you or have someone pick you up when your flight arrives. Careful planning will help avoid unnecessary frustrations and give the expat an opportunity to make thoughtful decisions and well laid plans.

Peggie Pentecost has been licensed in Texas for more than 30 years. She is an avid writer and blogger on the subject of real estate who gives back to the community. She is a first year volunteer on the HAR 2011 International Advisory Group and with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo on the International Committee as a writer for their annual newsletter.