Handling License Renewal, Jury Duty and Other Issues On the Road

Extras, Finances & Savings, Passports & Visas, Planning — By on November 11, 2010 at 12:00 pm

There’s nothing worse than getting summoned for jury duty when you’re half way across the world. Or having a suspension on your credit card. Or an expired license. Unfortunately we travelers run into these problems all the time, and dealing with American companies two time zones away while you’re buried in Thailand can be tricky. But, if you take a few precautionary steps before you travel, you can save yourself a lot of time, money and hassle. Lost Girls’ Lauren Fritsky tells us how.

By Lauren Fritsky

LG Special Report

When I discovered my credit card was due to expire in July, I quickly went online to my company’s Web site to change my American address to my Australian one so I could receive my new card in the mail. After going to my account info and searching the FAQs, I realized it wouldn’t be so easy. I was unable to enter an international address.

A little panicked at the prospect of not having access to this source of funds, I called up mom. Thankfully, all my mail was now going to her house in New Jersey. She watched for the new card in the mail and sent it to me right before the expiration date hit. I lucked out.

When you’re traveling or living abroad, it’s easy to focus solely on the new country and forget the legal, civic, financial or contractual obligations that still exist back home. Add snail mail, poor Internet connection or time differences, and problems pop up quicker than you think. Fortunately, if you handle some of these elements before a trip or at least create a backup plan, you could save yourself a lot of time, money and anxiety.

Debit and Credit Card Expiration

Several banks and credit card companies do not allow customers to change contact details to an overseas address. The good news is that most companies send out a new card weeks before the old one expires, giving time for a family member or friend to mail it. It’s crucial to check when a card will expire to arrange for it to be mailed and possibly prepare to be without the new one for a few days. Remembering to change the account address to a parent’s or friend’s house before the trip or move is also key.

If staying put in one country, it may prove beneficial for individuals to find a bank connected to their home country’s financial institution so they can transfer funds and use a totally different debit or EFTPOS card abroad.

Jury Duty

When Laura Bishop moved to Sydney to begin a three-year PhD program, she never thought she’d be threatened with jail time back in the States 18 months later.

She learned last month that a jury duty summons had been mailed to her old house in Buffalo, NY. Her parents had recently moved to Canada, however, and didn’t receive the notice until after the 10 days to respond to it had already expired.

“My dad emailed me scanned copies of the forms right away, but that was Saturday morning for me on Labour Day weekend, so the earliest I could mail them was Tuesday,” Laura says. “The Erie County Commissioner of Jurors doesn’t do phone calls, faxes or emails. Only snail mail.”

All was quiet until a few weeks later, when Laura’s parents received another message, this one threatening a $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail if she did not explain why she hadn’t responded to the first summons. Her dad then wrote the court on her behalf.

“We haven’t heard anything more, so hopefully that worked,” she says.  “If not, I’d like to see them chase me down here!”

One way of handling a jury summons when overseas includes assigning a power of attorney. The person designated for this role can deal with correspondence regarding legal matters. If an individual finds that unnecessary or too involved, she can do what Laura did and ask a family member to respond on her behalf. This will also involve ensuring mail is forwarded to a relative’s or friend’s house through the USPS.

If a traveler is able to get a jury summons quickly snail mailed or faxed, she can ask for a deferment herself or include a written statement saying she’s overseas and provide copies of bills showing an international address, overseas license or student ID. Procedures for responding to and/or deferring summons for jury duty will vary by state.

Cell Phone Plan

For those whose cell phones or plans don’t work overseas, several companies offer “stand-by plans” that let them pay a low fee ($12 a month for Sprint members, for instance) for several months of non-use. The downside: this option isn’t available indefinitely, so long-term travelers may need to go back to paying a higher per-month rate later, which may or may not be more costly than terminating the plan early. The better bet may be to just keep the same plan, but add international call capability and get a new phone that works in the country. A traveler can also purchase overseas SIM cards from companies like Cellular Abroad and Telestial.

Travelers should also take note of when their cell phone contract is ending. Those who know they’ll be overseas should simply not renew their plans when the time comes.

License Expiration

Long-term traveler Brooke Schoenman had just arrived in Australia when she realized her Illinois driver’s license was due to expire. Fortunately, her home state is one that allows for a sticker license renewal process if the driver is in good standing. Brooke’s mom took it upon herself to get the sticker renewal for her daughter via snail mail, and the Aussie expat got her new license within a few weeks. Had she let it lapse, she wouldn’t have been able to drive in Australia.

“I wouldn’t have been able to participate in self-drive tours of this massive country–one of the true ways to see Australia,” she says.  “From what I’ve read on the RTA [Roads an Traffic Authority] website, your overseas license must be valid to be used here.  Otherwise, I’m guessing I would have been fined or worse.”

Some other states offer the sticker option, online renewals or extensions. For those that don’t, a letter to the DMV outlining the person’s situation may help with soon-to-expire licenses. Another option is getting a host-nation license or international license to secure permission to drive in another country.

Whatever a person decides, simply letting a license expire is not a good idea. Not only can it mean one less form of photo ID available to show, but it can prevent driving in a foreign country and force a person to retake the driving test when they return home. Information on license renewal by state can be found at dmvusa.com/

Taxes

Newsflash: the IRS doesn’t care when a U.S. citizen goes abroad. If that person received or still receives U.S. income, they must keep paying taxes no matter where in the world they are. To avoid rerouting hard copy tax information and having to mail checks for tax bills back home, travelers can use a special pin or employer ID number and get all their tax information and pay any balances online. Individuals can make payments, including quarterly payments required for independent contractors like freelance writers, through EFTPS.gov U.S. residents need to have a PIN number to access this system, so it pays to get it set up before going across the pond. Also, individuals have to pay taxes on foreign wages if they make more than $80,000 a year. To meet the requirement, though, they have to be overseas in one country for at least a year, so country-hoppers can possibly avoid this rule.

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