Category Archives: Packing & Moving

Multiple Entry Expats

Feeling like we’re perfecting the Experimental Overseas Early Retirement a little more each day, Diane and I are now holders of valid retirement visas in two Southeast Asian nations at the ripe old ages of 52 and 46. Despite the guy in Penang that literally followed every word I wrote to secure his MM2H Visa in Malaysia, I’m certainly no genius as shown by this blog which doesn’t even include hashtags, revenue generating advertising or commercialization of any kind. But I did read an article on Marketwatch.com this morning that discusses a new IRA rule allowing Americans with 401k plans to make penalty free early withdrawals at age 55 in cases of “job separation”. (No, you can’t quit at age 54 and then withdraw money the next year and if you roll your plan into an IRA as we did, the rule doesn’t apply). Intentionally designed to catch your eye with a headline, first they discourage this rather foolish act and then explain how most Americans can’t afford to retire at age 55 proving why you should probably get your financial ideas from those with no vested interest in watching others make mistakes.

Our first visitors came from China

Rarely talking about our personal finances because the boss in the relationship insists we keep the specifics private, I’ll share a few tidbits that illustrate how we’re doing after almost two and half years with no employment income. Planning a budget of 40-45K USD annually including rent and travel, Malaysia was an easy place to meet the goal because there’s nothing to do in Penang and we mostly cooked our own meals since we didn’t like the food other than duck rice and inexpensive noodle soups. Spending most of our cash travelling to places like Cambodia, Myanmar, Bali and Australia, we skimped on the non travel months and ate in almost every night. Relying heavily on our “no foreign transaction fee” U.S. dollar credit card, we also took advantage of a plummeting Malaysian Ringgit and saved thousands since almost every business other than food courts takes credit cards in Malaysia with no merchant fees.

Continue reading

Corporate Action

Glancing at the Yahoo business headlines today, I came across an article about annoyed Starbucks employees complaining about heavy workloads, excessive demands being made on them, increases in drive through orders and a host of other issues. Obviously, the head honchos in the boardroom are sadly unaware of how things work outside the United States. Returning from a local diagnostic center halfway between Gurney Plaza and Georgetown that screened my blood for cholesterol and glucose, we decided to stop in at a well furnished Starbucks for a french press. ironically, it’s in the lobby of Penang’s largest hospital and my prior experience visiting the Starbucks in Diane’s old employer’s lobby  (a large San Francisco hospital) made me think twice about stopping. Constantly crowded, waiting twenty minutes for a grande latte wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. But alas, this is Malaysia.

Sharply contrasting the retail world we left two years ago, Starbucks in Penang cracks me up. Not even opening until 8 AM or later, Malaysians are not morning people, have no interest in a morning jolt of caffeine and would just as soon spend their mornings doing whatever it is they do instead of waiting on long lines, spending exorbitant sums of money on overpriced western products and then hanging out all morning long. Choosing just about any seat you want, a mid morning visit is an almost surreal experience where bored-shitless employees are so happy to see a customer, they’ll even give you the eight cup French press even though you ordered the smaller one (and paid the lower price). Unclear why or how the company wants to invest in a market where employees sleep on the job while their American counterparts slave away, it’s one of Malaysia’s fun quirks that we’re sucking up before making the next move to Thailand in a few weeks.

Continue reading

Pack, Move, Repeat.

Where the hell does the time go? Literally feeling like we just did this yesterday, once again empty folded boxes are sitting in our humble abode. Unlike the attachment one gets with home ownership, however, there’s no love lost on leaving our ninth floor condo and moving on to greener pastures. (Thailand is in fact actually greener). Now understanding what they meant in all the blogs, websites and articles that discuss why expats feel culture shock when they return to the homeland, we learned that moving, like almost everything in Asia, is a totally different experience. Having moved an entire three bedroom house from San Francisco to Calgary, back down to San Diego and then up to Walnut Creek, California, you’d think it would be routine but unlike in North America, the key word in Asia for almost anything is minimalism so if you’re contemplating such a move, you’ll need to adjust your thinking.

Goodbye old faithful used boxes.

First off, you’ll need to erase the memories of a Uhaul store and its fancy array of custom sized boxes from wardrobe to specialized art and five different sizes of square from small to extra-large. Hardly anyone in Asia owns 2500 square foot custom-built homes with three car garages, a large yard and room for a shed, pool and some specialized fruit trees. Therefore, we learned quickly that no matter who you call or how much you pay, the choices are standard box and large box. Alas, there’s no industry devoted to boxes, moving and packing either so if you’re thinking you’ll just buy new boxes, good luck with that. Stranger than as anything to us was the notion that hiring a “logistics” (moving) company in Asia means you’ll get empty boxes, packing material and tape delivered to your door by courier as soon as you put down a deposit.

Continue reading

50 Years in 24 Boxes

With two weekends left until Diane and I pack the car and vacate what used to be our primary residence,  it was time to load our remaining possessions into a truck and drive them to a storage locker. Thinking it makes more sense to keep the stuff in California than ship it away to a city we’ve never visited and have no address in, the plan is to have our awesome next door neighbor drive the boxes to a local port after we’ve been in Malaysia for a few months. Fortunately, a reputable storage locker is right around the corner, making transport quite easy. Providing a free truck with move-in, the property managers were very friendly and we chatted about our move while providing payment information and buying a lock. Needing only an 8 X 10 locker, it seemed  odd how 50 years of my life (14 married)  all crammed into 24 boxes in a locker the size of a large closet. They assigned us #532.

Utilizing the amazingly successful app known as OfferUp.com, Diane and I continue to liquidate almost anything we can sell and people drive from as far as four counties away to buy crap. Cleaning out the kitchen ware of everything but the important stuff like some plates, coffee maker and basic silverware, someone came and paid us $95 for a bunch of pots, pans, some utensils and various other little sundries, bringing our total to almost $4,500. Not realizing we even owned that much, the pile of unsold items gets donated to our local Hospice thrift shop this week and fits into about two medium boxes. Unfortunately, nobody seems to want our custom-made Italian microfiber maroon loveseat that we bought in Canada. Waiting almost two months for the delivery, we paid over $800 and can’t even dump it for $50. Unable to find a buyer but needing something to sit on anyway, I scheduled a Salvation Army pick up four days from our departure date. So much for anyone understanding quality merchandise.

Continue reading

Authentically Asian-American

With escrow closed and all the money where it needs to be (for now), Diane and I turned our focus to the remaining issues of getting outta here. Desperately trying to violate the terms of the contract they wrote, the buyers of our house had their rather audacious real estate agent present us multiple requests to vacate ahead of the 29 day “rent-back” they wrote in the offer that gives us an extra month in the house as tenants. Ignoring them, we simply had our agent explain that while we understand their situation (the wife is pregnant and almost due), our move is a complicated issue due to our MM2H filing, liquidating all our possessions, exporting our car back into Canada and scheduling various medical appointments. Squatting comfortably in a practically empty house rent-free, Diane continues to work until Friday, May 15th and my job is to sell whatever else I can on OfferUp.com before donating whatever remains to the local Hospice store.

censoredAnxiously looking forward to a cornucopia of delicious food the likes of which we’ve never experienced, I grew impatient yesterday and made a side trip to my favorite Vietnamese Noodle shop after selling an entire box worth of used CD’s to Half-Price Books for $47. Sadly, Diane recently discovered that all her CD’s, DVD’s and video tapes are subject to a Censorship Fee of USD $5 per item. In addition they’re subject to approval by the Film Censorship Board that physically views and inspects every item shipped, causing delays of 2 to 3 weeks to censor and no guarantee of return. With over 200 CD’s packed in a U-Haul Box it made no financial sense to attempt importing any media materials. Renting a storage locker last weekend, we don’t plan on shipping anything anyway until they complete our visa and we’re confident we like life in Malaysia.

Continue reading

Homeless, Happy and Heading Out

Contemplating the phrase “All good things are worth waiting for”, I started day number 540 of House Husbandry like most others. Walking a few miles to kill time, I headed to Starbucks and anxiously waited for some clerk at the county to “officially record” the sale of our house. Industry speak for making the seller sweat a little more, the long and tedious process of escrow concludes once the county guy has his coffee, adjusts his chair and finally gets down to changing the public record of ownership. Perhaps due to a Friday close, the clerk performed his mundane task relatively fast and as I clicked the online bank account just before noon, I was ecstatic to find that the Experimental Expats have closed escrow and finally look forward to a new life in Southeast Asia. Woo-Hoo !!!!!

opportunityFeeling relieved but not really any wealthier, Diane and now look forward to an uncharted experiment to see if we really can live a 40+ year similar lifestyle, travel, enjoy life, pursue some new hobbies and sometimes just lay around on whatever assets we’ve accumulated. Planning on renting forever, two house have come and go and that’s enough home ownership for us. Ironically, someone sent me a Facebook post yesterday about another white guy/Asian girl couple that retired in their 30’s simply by setting goals and following a prudent lifestyle. Usually turned off by those bastards who beat me by 20 years, I actually read and even endorse the site because the financial principles are almost identical to ours. Titled “How this couple retired in their 30s to travel the world, it’s worth a read if you’re a 30 something looking to “retire early”.

Looking back, it’s been a great seven years spent in this house and we’ve enjoyed living in the San Francisco Bay Area just enough but those of you following know there’s no love lost when leaving a place that shuts out desperate home seekers that bid  $80,00 over asking price or more. Hoping Southeast Asia provides a fascinating new lifestyle, I thought this would be a good time for a gallery of some pictures we’ve taken from the area in our second house as a married couple.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Looking ahead, Diane and I got a month of free “rent-back” meaning we can stay as rent-free tenants for an extra month. Wanting extra time to finish liquidating all our goods, secure a storage locker, wait for the MM2H visa to be received and just basically hang around a bit longer, we plan on vacating May 19th. Deciding there’s no real hurry to hit Malaysia since the visa will take about 90 days for conditional approval, Diane suggested we re-import our 2002 Honda CRV into Canada, spend some time with relatives, give the car to her niece and leave via Vancouver. Whenever we feel like it. Hey, we’re retired now.

penangArmed with two suitcases, a backpack with important stuff and the memories of 50 years in North America, we’ll fly to Penang and check in at a hotel while we search for housing somewhere near Tanjong Bungah. Continuing the blog as expats in early July, we’re excited and hope we can share some great stories, blunders and pictures with all of you. Thinking Diane is less stressed out over a starting a new lifestyle, I can only sit back and quote a Tom Petty song from his 1994 Wildflower album that says

Well, it;s time to get going; it’s time to move on; where I am going I have no way of knowing”.

Here’s to new beginnings !!

We’re actively seeking new friends to meet once we arrive in Penang. If this is you, please share your contact information.  

 

The Home Stretch

After a stressful period of cleaning, landscaping, staging, cleaning again and disappearing for the day, Diane and I are almost home free and nearing the last stages before heading off to Malaysia for early retirement. Not only did our potential buyer outbid the next closest offer by an insanely high amount, they even agreed to buy all our remaining bedroom furniture. Saving us the hassle of finding someone to dismantle our California King size bed and allowing us to live with bedroom intact right up until we leave, we think they were more excited than us. Additionally, their offer included 30 days free rent after close of escrow which helps put some time between our MM2H application on April 15th and the time we arrive in Penang as homeless expats.

inspectionsMaking the deal even sweeter, they buyers only asked for one week for inspection contingencies and would have waved them altogether had we done a sewer line inspection. Trusting the professionalism of our home, fireplace, roof and pest control inspectors, our buyers, a very nice young couple, clearly wants this house as much as I want to get out of here. After 515 days as a House Husband, I’m ready to leave now but all good things in life are worth waiting for so what’s another 60 days? Scheduling our departure for May 19th, we’ll be packing everything we can fit into four suitcases and two backpacks, loading the car, importing it back into Canada where we purchased it and spending about a month in Alberta, Canada with friends and family. Hoping it’s warmer than our holiday trip, we’ll soak up the last bits of comfortable weather before embracing 365 days of heat and humidity. Over the next 60 days we’ll share various posts of random musings and then the fun starts with an actual expat blog. Please stay tuned !!!

Coming next:  Our last trip to the Asian grocery store outside of Asia

Done Deal !!

Exactly 509 days ago, the manager of my once upon a time employer called me into that dreaded meeting where you know you’re about to be shit canned. With little hope of regaining a meaningful job in the financial services industry at age 48, Diane and I made a hard decision to retire about five years earlier than we hoped. Deciding Malaysia was the intended destination, this set up a painfully long period where we’d live on Diane’s salary while I took on Life as a House Husband. Designed for middle class retirees over age 50 that wish to retire but not work, the MM2H Visa suits our needs except for the age requirement that doubles the financial commitment for applicants under age 50. Needing to sell our possessions and primary residence to have any chance at a 40+ year retirement, I began the long daunting process of waiting way back in November, 2013.

Our House for 30 more days

After what’s felt like an eternity, we’re delighted to report that The Experimental Expats received six offers for our house after only one weekend open house. We’re even happier to report that there’s way too many people with too much money in the San Francisco Bay Area. Coming in astoundingly high, the winner of our mini bidding war offered 13% above asking price with practically no contingencies other than routine inspections. Even agreeing to waive the appraisal contingency even though we believe the property will probably appraise at less than what they’re paying, our buyers really want this house. Clearing the way for our expatriation, the last step is filing the MM2H Application as soon as I hit my 50th birthday, 21 days from now. Relieved and a bit sentimental, our plan is to stay in the house one month after escrow closes and then drive the 2002 Honda CRV to the Motherland (Canada), where we’ll stay with Diane’s family a few weeks while allowing the visa some processing time (The buyers even gave us a month of free rent).

goodbye1Hoping you’ve enjoyed our tales of expat destination research trips disguised as vacations to places like Borneo, Ecuador, Thailand and Aruba, in a few short months we’ll be off to Penang in search of adventure, relaxation, volunteer opportunities and a place to live. Should any wonderful readers have any suggestions on where to start the process of apartment searches, please feel free to contact us. Looking for new friends, we’ve already met Eric and Marlina who filed their MM2H application 6 weeks ago and are heading to nearby Ipoh and we’d love to meet anyone willing to spend some time. And don’t forget to check us out on House Hunters International. Hopefully by year’s end, we’ll be making an episode. Cheers and thanks for reading !!!

Coming Soon:
Upcoming plans, final thoughts on overpriced California and stories not yet shared from our past escapades. Then, we promise a real expat blog by summer !!

Stress Test

Topping the financial headlines this week were stories about a new round of “stress tests” for the “too big to fail” banks in the United States. Unlike the CEO’s of America’s behemoth financial institutions, Diane and I have more to lose if something goes awry. Having endured the last few weeks of vendors poking, prodding, cleaning, inspecting, painting and washing, the process finally came to a rather uneventful end yesterday with the staging of our house. Looking more like a show home than an occupied residence, the house was professionally photographed and is ready to be officially listed for sale.

retire-early2As you may recall, it all began on November 1st, 2013 with my unexpected layoff. Enduring almost 17 months of life as a House Husband, it’s been a long and rather boring road except perhaps for an incident where I totaled my car but somehow escaped injury. Because of unfavorable financial ramifications for MM2H applicants not yet 50 years of age, Diane and I decided that waiting it out on one salary for an extended period made the most sense. Having endured 2014 as a “semi-retiree” with not much to do in this quiet suburban enclave, preparing the house for sale began a few months ago with a landscaping project. Fully engulfed with selling our possessions, greeting and paying vendors, and careful budgeting, I think working would have been less stressful. Discovering the semantics of our monthly bank statements today, we also learned that we’ll be able to send the MM2H Visa application package on April 15th and begin our experimental overseas early retirement in Penang, Malaysia soon after that.

Continue reading

Our First Baby Steps (Finally)

Feeling like an eternity and three extra lifetimes have passed, The Experimental Expats have finally taken the first baby step towards retirement in Malaysia. Exactly 487 days after being rudely “downsized” from my crappy but reasonably well-paying job, we met with our real estate agent last night to discuss the pricing of our home. Probably one of the most exciting feelings, it’s actually not as easy as it sounds. Using comparably similar houses that sold in the last year (comps) as well as a series of minor mathematical calculations about price per square foot, our agent gave us a recommendation that was within what we’d be hoping to receive. With 41 days to go until we can file our MM2H Visa, the anxiousness is getting intense.

Our spruced up home ready for sale

Our spruced up home ready for sale

Those of you following our story for the last five months know that the boss (Diane) has laid down the rules about not posting our personal finances and I’m contractually bound to respect this request (Basically, this means our marriage contract may as well be void if I violated these rules). Understanding curiosity and a wish to identify with the story, I offer this link as a general guideline to the Overpriced Land of The Sellers Market otherwise known as The San Francisco Bay Area. I have no idea why this magical land of Utopia trounces the national average for home prices by at least five-fold other than the claim that “we have the jobs”. While statistically true, the “affordability index” is also dead last for all 50 states which means 95% of all buyers are simply living the typical American dream that requires working to the grave and two-hour commutes. And that’s just fine by me.

Continue reading