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Tools for the Global Citizen

By levsen in Technology
Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 02:32:51 AM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

Being lucky to have one of the more internationally compatible jobs, I am taking advantage of the situation by living and working sometimes in this county, sometimes in that one. Because of the (sometimes less than smooth) transitions between countries and because of leaving behind a trail of friends and business opportunities, I often have to communicate and make business across borders. Now what 21st century space age technology is available to make this easier to the globe trotting individual?

Let's start with email. I have my own domain and as such can not only send and receive email to and from anywhere, I am also independent of any government agency or service provider apart from the dudes who are running the A-root-server, and that's as good as it gets. I can faithfully leave behind a trail of business cards with my email address on it and know that someone ten years later and two continents away will still be able to get back to me.

Now I grew up with the Internet and basically expect everything to work like it, only it doesn't. Take the telephone. Even most geeks admit that telephone numbers make better business and relationships than email addresses. So where is the telephone number, that works from anywhere, to anywhere in the world, independent of anybody?

North American 1-800 numbers come to mind first, and yes I am a happy customer of this company (no I am not getting commission) which is probably as good as any other. You don't have to be a US resident, any major international credit card welcome, you configure forwarding using a web interface, and you can forward the number to anywhere in the world. BUT! a) North American 1-800 numbers are by far not callable from anywhere in the world, much less the 888, 877 and 866 numbers that you're more likely to get, b) any scheme that's toll free for some people (in this case for callers from the US) is prone to abuse, and c) you're still dependent on the US authority that governs the 800 database (which isn't too big a worry since, although not being regulated internationally, this is somewhere in a league with the A-root-server).

Somewhat better, I recently got a number in Germany (country code 49) which is as "virtual" as 1-800-numbers and works like the one described above, except it costs the caller some money, even those in Germany, and it is much more "reachable" from abroad. No, I haven't made the test calling from Papua New Guinea yet, so take this statement as vague as it is. Germany's FTC set aside a special area code (700) for these virtual numbers. Downside to most k5 readers: You need a mailing address and bank account in Germany for this. Other countries might have similar services, I wouldn't know about the US though.

On horizon, the ITU is coming up with more lasting and independent solutions. With UIFN and UISCN, telephone numbers are being introduced that, dig this, are even independent of any country (-code) because they have their own virtual country code. +800 for free phone numbers (yes free to call from anywhere in the world) and +888 for "Universal International Shared Cost Numbers", the equivalent to those German 700 numbers above. North Americans please note: no, +800 does NOT mean 1-800, this is an international call, so you have to dial 011-800-.... The drawback with those number is that, because they are still relatively new, they too, are callable from far fewer places than 1-800's yet and they are expensive and complicated to obtain. If anybody knows a web site where I can just sign up with my credit card and get running in 5 minutes at reasonable rates, please let me know.

Next thing are banks and bank accounts. He, I can send a 1 meg email from the UK to Australia in 1 second essentially for free, yet sending $1000 takes 3 days and they charge me $50. (Yes fifty dollars.) I have an account at some global corporate monster entity bank, with a good credit rating at one of their German branches to be precise, yet the teller at a branch of the same bank, in San Jose, California, knows nothing of this and treats me like a criminal undocumented immigrant fresh off the boat and rates my credit accordingly. Credit cards have brought us the magic of paying from any account, to any retailer anywhere in the world, at minimal cost, why can't this be extended to all other banking activities, such a *being paid* for an instance, getting credit, paying larger sums of money etc. Heh, the being-paid-part is done better by some startup kids from California than any mega-global bank corporation. Can't globalization work in the little man's favor even for one moment please? I admit that there are a lot of locally diverse banking systems on the world, so my dream scenario would be that I get an account that is "wired" into all major national banking systems such that e.g. a direct deposit in the US to this account would look like a national wire transfer, yet the money is immediately available so that my landlord in France can withdraw my monthly rent from it.

One note about Swiss banks: I checked with two major ones, at least they offer accounts in Real Currencies (TM) (i.e. US dollar and Euros) in addition to their funny Franks, and have a good online system that allows you to make cheap international wire transfers, but it only goes as far as that, as soon as I asked whether I could have a credit card in Euros to spend the money, they actually wanted to convert the credit card bill from Euros to Franks and back to Euros to settle it out of the Euro account at the same bank, very funny indeed. So if you run a bank and offer any of the services I am hinting at above, please say so, all my money is yours immediately.

Next thing, postal service. Thanks to these guys (again, no commission, just a happy customer), I can have a mailing address in one of many countries, where people from anywhere can send mail and it'll be forwarded to anywhere I live. Could be better though. Why isn't there a mail-to-email gateway, i.e. they open my letters, scan them, and email them to me? Wouldn't that save a ton of postage and be so much faster? And why isn't there a service where I can send an MS Word or TIFF-file to, and they print it and mail it? Such things exist for faxing, (I am not a customer this time), and a lot of money can be saved if the thing is printed and 'envelopped' as close to the destination as possible thus minimizing physical delivery. Such a service is actually available in France but only to companies.

You get the picture. Now, there are other areas I am interested in, such a global health insurance, but that is probably a subject for another article ...

Get the comments rolling in.


Voxel dot net
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Related Links
o this company
o some global corporate monster entity bank
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o these guys
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o available in France
o Also by levsen

Display: Sort:
Tools for the Global Citizen | 45 comments (41 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
Cell phone? (4.00 / 1) (#1)
by Ian Clelland on Sun Nov 17, 2002 at 06:19:49 PM EST

So where is the telephone number, that works from anywhere, to anywhere in the world, independent of anybody?

It isn't quite as independent as running your own mail server, but wasn't PCS supposed to supposed to solve that particular problem?

On one occassion, I had to call someone in California on his PCS phone, only to discover (when he answered) that he was actually at an airport in Japan.

Blocked Calls (none / 0) (#2)
by Bad Harmony on Sun Nov 17, 2002 at 06:23:20 PM EST

Many American cell phone carriers block international phone calls, supposedly as a fraud prevention measure.

5440' or Fight!
[ Parent ]

So? (none / 0) (#16)
by tkatchev on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 03:54:57 AM EST

Get a normal cell provider.

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

Really? (none / 0) (#24)
by SwampGas on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 08:33:54 AM EST

I have D&E, PCS One, VoiceStream, T-Mobile, soon-to-be Cingular...whatever they decided to call the company this week...for like 3 or 4 years now.  I've never had an international call blocked either when receiving or sending.

Although, I do enjoy seeing Catherine Zeta-Jones as T-Mobile's spokeswoman...nothing against Jamie Lee Curtis with VoiceStream, tho.

[ Parent ]

GSM (none / 0) (#3)
by levsen on Sun Nov 17, 2002 at 06:29:25 PM EST

Darn, I wanted to write something about PCS/GSM, but I forgot. It's true that using my GSM cell phone, I can "roam" pretty wide and far. Problem: Cell phones are expensive to call and roaming is usually VERY expensive. I pay $0.50 to call India from a land line and $5.00 per minute from a cell (or while roaming in India). Nuff said.

I think this is not so much a technical problem, but has more to do with price fixing and the world's fragmented service provider market. Only in Europe some consolidation is setting in and one provider (T-Mobile) is actually available in the US, too. I hope this bears good news for roaming and roaming prices.

The other thing is that porting your existing number to another provider is not yet common to say the least and "porting" it from or to a land line impossible, save for expensive call forwarding fees. Cell phone numbers basically live in their own wireless world.
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[ Parent ]

GSM does not work in Japan (none / 0) (#45)
by pkshiu on Sat Dec 07, 2002 at 07:10:25 AM EST

I have similar situation, using a GSM number (t-mobile) in the U.S. and that works in many parts of the world receiving incoming call. I can tell you how many times I got woken up in Germany because someone calls me in the evenings in East Coast time. However GSM does not work in Japan, Korea, for example. I used to have my number forwarded to my Japanese cell phone number, and I pay for the forwarding. Now I just give out my Japan cellphone number as needed.

[ Parent ]
Going Postal (2.57 / 7) (#4)
by chbm on Sun Nov 17, 2002 at 06:52:56 PM EST

And why isn't there a service where I can send an MS Word or TIFF-file to,
Why oh why would you want to use MSWordDoc ? Isn't there enough sufering in the world already ?

Anyway, Portuguese Post supports this. You upload a text or RTF file, tweak the layout and they convert it to snail mail for you.

-- if you don't agree reply don't moderate --
Telepost (none / 0) (#6)
by levsen on Sun Nov 17, 2002 at 06:59:25 PM EST

Hm! Looks interesting. Can you clear something up for anybody who doesn't speak portuguese:

- Can anybody sign up, even individuals?

- Do you have to be a resident of Portugal?>p? - How do you pay?

- Can you mail internationally?

- What sort of control over the layout is there, i.e. do they email you back a graphic of the documents that they redered out of your RTF, so that you can verify that the fonts look o.k. etc?

- Have you personally used the service? What is your experience?

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[ Parent ]

Re: Telepost (5.00 / 2) (#19)
by chbm on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 06:20:46 AM EST

- Can anybody sign up, even individuals?

Yes. You don't even need to sign up.

- Do you have to be a resident of Portugal?>p? - How do you pay?

The registration form has a country field so I'd say anyone can use it (they make no mention either way). You can pay with VISA/Mastercard or using an account (you need access to the portuguese ATM network to use an account though). You can send to international adresses.

- What sort of control over the layout is there, i.e. do they email you back a graphic of the documents that they redered out of your RTF, so that you can verify that the fonts look o.k. etc?
- Have you personally used the service? What is your experience?

They say you are presented with the final layout before paying, I'm not sure what exactly you can tweak as I never sent through this, only received. The letters I received looked decent enough and I only noticed cause the enveloped comes with a Telepost logo.
You can use the service for mass mailings and they can do some variable substitution on the text.

You can try the sending form at http://telepost.ctt.pt/envio/documento.asp but I'd say you need to understand some portuguese in some steps.

-- if you don't agree reply don't moderate --
[ Parent ]

Postal Mail (4.33 / 3) (#5)
by 90X Double Side on Sun Nov 17, 2002 at 06:55:55 PM EST

The US Postal Service has a service called NetPost where they will print and mail letters, postcards, or greeting cards for you, and there is no minimun purchase. There are a lot of private companies that do this as well, although I can't remeber which ones are still in business. If you could find similar services in all the countries you mail to, you could probably speed up delivery time and reduce cost of international mailings by simply having a company that provides this service in the country you're sending to send the letter.

“Reality is just a convenient measure of complexity”
—Alvy Ray Smith
US residents only (5.00 / 1) (#7)
by levsen on Sun Nov 17, 2002 at 07:37:18 PM EST

NetPost looks pretty good, but although their signup form has a country field, as soon as it comes to mailing, it will only allow you to enter a U.S. return address and pay with a U.S. credit card. Too bad.
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[ Parent ]
Outdated Attitudes (3.00 / 2) (#11)
by Bad Harmony on Sun Nov 17, 2002 at 09:03:06 PM EST

I currently live and work in the USA. I tried to call someone in Canada from my office and was blocked by the restrictions programmed into the office PBX (private telephone switch). I was told that I could only make the call with the assistance of an operator, who was only available during "normal" business hours, and would fill out a special form for international calls. It turns out that there are a set of policies and procedures for making international phone calls that were probably written 30 years ago, when international phone calls were very expensive. With today's rates, it's probably cheaper for me to call Canada than to make an intrastate long distance call.

Since I work for a company and client that have many international projects, I thought it was strange that they still had such a parochial view.

5440' or Fight!

Calling rates (none / 0) (#22)
by cdyer on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 08:07:01 AM EST

But you're calling Canada. Canada doesn't coun't. You don't even dial international codes (011) to get there. I think that really depends on who you are doing business with. I called Laos once for something like 45 minutes and it cost me $300 (from the US). So rates aren't as universally low as you think. On the other hand, filling out a form for that sort of thing does seem kinda archaic, doesn't it?


[ Parent ]

when? (none / 0) (#28)
by kvillinge on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 04:12:13 PM EST

So, this was in the 1950s, right?

[ Parent ]
800 numbers can be called outside the USA (4.00 / 1) (#13)
by aat on Sun Nov 17, 2002 at 10:33:46 PM EST

Actually,one can call 1-800 numbers by replacing 800 with 880, though one has to pay normal IDD rates for the privilege. The 881 and 882 area codes are reserved for the same purpose, but I don't know which of 866,877, and 888, they replace.

I found this very useful when trying to register for the GRE general test in a test center in America, when temporarily outside the country. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the GRE is an aptitude test that is required for entry to many, probably most, graduate schools in the US. They have a lot of useful material on the web. It would be nice if they had facilities for registering online too.

Replace 800 with 880? (none / 0) (#15)
by levsen on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 03:40:23 AM EST

That actually depends on your phone company. The way you describe it is e.g. the way France Telecom handles 1-800-Numbers (and it's very confusing). Most phone companies I've tried just let you dial +1-800 (or 888 etc.) and there is an announcement that the call is NOT free of charge and that you can hang up now if you don't like that and you will not be charged.
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[ Parent ]
ASK SLASHDOT (2.14 / 7) (#14)
by jann on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 03:04:29 AM EST

sounds like an ask slashdot article ... which is something I have always hated. As far as contribution to the point in question ... well ... you have very much answered your own questions ... e-mail and www just works, mail - get a friend to scan it, or, is forwarding is such a chore, and telephone ... get a satelite phone or even a global roaming mobile.


efax == Bad (4.00 / 2) (#17)
by bugmaster on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 04:19:12 AM EST

Warning: a bit offtopic.

Consumer tip: don't use efax.com. Their website is the most broken piece of crap that I have ever seen. For example, unless you enter the fax number in a precise format, the fax transmission will fail. No, these people have not heard of regexps or StringTokenizer, apparently. I also could not figure out how to update my expired credit card. Oh well.

Anyway, whatever service jfax offers, it's got to be better than these guys :-)

I second that, and jfax / j2 is parent company (none / 0) (#18)
by fraise on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 04:47:12 AM EST

I used a pay version of j2 (same as jfax) for a while, but faxes sent to me kept getting lost. Not good at all since I'm a translator and sometimes have clients who are afraid of email, so send their originals by fax. I ended up buying a printer/copy/fax machine - not as portable, but at least it works!

Also beware, after canceling my subscription to j2, they continue to send me spam. Lovely when it's in the form of 1Mb attachments, and my email host doesn't have filters (which is annoying, but hey, it's cheap and reliable).

[ Parent ]
700 numbers? (3.00 / 2) (#20)
by giminy on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 06:48:25 AM EST

I too have joined the ranks of the international citizen.  I have an address in Germany, but have never heard about these 700 area code numbers...how can I get one?


700 number (4.00 / 1) (#21)
by levsen on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 07:43:33 AM EST

You need to apply for one at RegTP (www.regtp.de). They're "vanity" i.e. you can pick your name as number, it must be 8 digit. Then go to a provider such as Arcor (www.arcor.de) or 1 & 1 (www.einsundeins.de) and have it activated. I am with Arcor at the moment but they are not really advertising this product so it makes me think they'll stop it soon.
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[ Parent ]
"I grew up with the Internet ..." (3.00 / 1) (#23)
by wiredog on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 08:19:16 AM EST

and basically expect everything to work like it, only it doesn't
Heh. I grew up in the era when "The Phone Company" meant "AT&T". There are times when I'm amazed the internet works at all.

The old AT&T had the advantage that, when you had a problem, the tech was there that day. The disadvantage was that the Phone Company saw no reason to provide second phone lines, caller id, or the rest of the modern phone conviences to their customers. And phone service, especially long distance, cost quite a bit.

OTOH, telemarketers operated under the same restrictions and were, therefore, much rarer.

I am, at a personal level, fairly conservative about some things. The internet is good for communication, but business? No thanks. I want a paper trail (ummm, when I want one, see "credit cards" below) that is on actual, physical, paper. I don't bank online. I use paper checks, and a hand written register. When I don't want a paper trail, I use cash. Every payday I swing by the bank, write a check to myself (for the paper trail), and have sufficient cash to get me through until the next payday. I don't use one of those 'shopper cards' at the local grocery, bookstore, etc.

More Math! Less Pr0n! K5 For K5ers!

taxes (4.50 / 2) (#25)
by ryochiji on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 01:10:55 PM EST

In my late teen years, I tried to run a software translation business while I went back and forth between Japan and Germany (my clients never knew which country I was in :-). All I really needed to run my business was a computer and an internet connection. My payment processor was in the US, and they sent me checks at my parents' address (in Germany at the time). Since I'm also a dual-citizen (Japan and US), it made me wonder about taxes. If I could do business in any country, and for that matter, dump citizenships, what legitimate reasons do governments have in taxing me?

It turns out, according to what one banker/CPA friend told me, the US government doesn't tax citizens working in other countries if they earn less than $75k. But stll, it makes you wonder. When borders become less and less relevant, not only to corporations but also to individuals, how will tax and business laws change?

IlohaMail: Webmail that works.

Off topic, but interesting (4.00 / 2) (#26)
by levsen on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 03:15:44 PM EST

I have thought about that, too. I still do pay taxes, but considerably less than the average person, since the progressive percentage rate doesn't really work if you are not working 12 months/year in one country. Sometimes you don't even have to pay at all, e.g. if you stay in one country for less than 6 months.

There is a downside, too, though. It makes it harder to participate in any government-run social security scheme. E.g. you can't collect unemployment benefits if you have worked less than 2 years in the same country etc. Some of these things are being harmonized throughout the EU, i.e. you can work in one country and pay social security in another (and collect the benefits there later), but that's just the EU.

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[ Parent ]

social security (none / 0) (#27)
by kvillinge on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 04:10:20 PM EST

I worked in England for a year, paying taxes and national insurance. When I went back to my home country, I wasn't eligible for unemployment benefits. As far as they were concerned, I had not been working. I don't know why I should have paid taxes then in the first place? To pay for British nuclear weapons? I got a temp job and worked 15 hours for a company and then I was eligible for unemployment benefits. I couldn't care less about international borders, but sometimes it makes all the difference.

[ Parent ]
but I can get social security from Japan (none / 0) (#29)
by ryochiji on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 06:37:48 PM EST

I might not get anything from the US government, but I still qualify for all kinds of benefits from the Japanese government. Even though I haven't paid them a single yen. If I marry my current girlfriend (who has German and US citizenships) I can get a German citizenship, making me eligible for more social services. At the end, it might be cheaper for me to simply dump my US citizenship entirely.

IlohaMail: Webmail that works.
[ Parent ]
IRS (none / 0) (#32)
by DodgyGeezer on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 04:07:38 PM EST

I always thought it odd that American citizens had to file a tax return with the IRS every year, even if they'd been living overseas 20 years and had no intention of returning.  Just what is that all about?  If you don't have a tax liability in the US, why they hell should you have to tell them anything about yourself?  Where's the freedom in that?

[ Parent ]
Why? (2.00 / 2) (#44)
by BCoates on Fri Nov 22, 2002 at 08:07:21 AM EST

If you've been living overseas for 20 years and have no intention of returning, why are you keeping your US citizenship?

IIRC, if you don't have a tax liability, you don't have to file (but you do have to file if you want a refund, if you get one).  I know you don't have to file taxes if your income minus standard deduction is in the 0% bracket.

Benjamin Coates

[ Parent ]

Swiss bank accounts (3.00 / 1) (#30)
by Oscill8 on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 07:19:31 PM EST

I have been looking into this for the past few weeks. This site has a pretty good run down of some different Swiss Banking options. The "Investment Fund Account" looks like the best option for a U.S. Citizen, that is unless you have the $200,000 minimum balance for the "Swiss Numbered Account" option. With the "Investment Account" you can bank online, trade on the NASDAQ or the Swiss exchange with the funds in your account, and you get a VISA/MC. This place sets it up for you for $800, and you just have to maintain a $7500 balance. It would be kind of pointless to trouble yourself with a Swiss account for less than that anyways.

That "Swiss Numbered Account" does look cool though... you get a banker who knows you by name - heh.


Swiss rip off (4.00 / 2) (#37)
by levsen on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 03:31:10 PM EST

I don't know who these people are or why they are charging $800 for what they do, but when thinking about Swiss bank accounts, remember that in the first place, Swiss bank account are not for rich people hiding their money but for ordinary Swiss mom-and-pop citizens, and just like in the US you usually get one for free (free setup) and a low annual fee, and online banking is taking for granted even in a village in the Alps.

So only maybe you have to show up in person in Switzerland to set it up, and you don't have to do it if you cough up the $800, but apart from that it looks to me more like those Swiss accounts are presented as something more special than they are and you are charged accordingly.

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[ Parent ]

International wire transfers (3.50 / 2) (#31)
by lordpixel on Tue Nov 19, 2002 at 11:09:21 AM EST

I'm also a customer of the same mega bank, and while I certainly found their English enabled ATMs in downtown Tokyo helpful, I've experienced the exact same thing with US bank tellers assuming I'm an unwashed undesirable (I'm English).

I've also been quoted the $50 international transfer fee, which is why I was particularly intested in a piece of spam they sent me (wow! that's like 2 useful spams I've had since 1994) pointing at this: $10 international transfers done online.

I haven't actually signed up for and used said service yet, but it looks sufficiently cheap, and they guarantee an FX rate at the time you submit your request. (of course, if the rate improves before they execute, they keep the difference)

I am the cat who walks through walls, all places and all times are alike to me.
Damn Bank Tellers (3.00 / 2) (#39)
by 0xA on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 06:01:04 PM EST

I don't think there is a more infuriating person to deal with than a bank teller. Well possibly the bank manager.

No matter what your standing with thier organization you get treated like scum. I had a teller slap a hold on my expense check from work once, she wouldn't tell me why. When I got the manager over there he assured me that they did not think that the check was fradulent but that they needed to hold it because they couldn't be sure that it wouldn't bounce. I'll admit it was a largish check, about $2000, but I din't work for Bob's Tire Shop or something.

This bank manager, this cretin in a twelve dollar Walmart tie was holding my $2000 check from General Electric in case it bounced.


[ Parent ]

Globalization (4.00 / 1) (#33)
by TheGrim on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 11:54:44 AM EST

I also quite often get the impression that this whole globalization thing is mainly an advantage for big corporations and and not so much for individuals. I am a German resident and the EU is supposed to make things easier between its member countries. While you can pass borders without being inspected and you don't have to buy Guldens just because you want an ice cream at a motorway service area in the Netherlands there are major issues when you move from one member country to the other.

This relocation is supposed to be pretty easy. Indeed you don't need a work permit but - as an example - don't dare to register you car at your new home. I once tried to help a Spaniard registering a car here. First you need an insurance. We went to Allianz because she is a customer of the Spanish branch. Of course, she wanted to have the same discount as in Spain and thought it would be pretty easy. But they said: "Oh, we're sorry but these are two completely independent companies. We need this and that paper and don't believe you anything." Then you need a German paper with the car's technical details. They wouldn't even accept it in English. Then you need to have you car inspected. Again you have to provide numerous papers. In German. Not in Spanish. Not in English. It's true that Germany is infamous for its bureaucracy but I've been told in other EU countries it's the same.

On the other hand, doing businesses between companies of EU countries is pretty easy. One of the first thing to be abolished were customs. And with the Euro it's really easy to transfer money.

I know quite a few foreigners living here, and I know quite a few Germans living in other EU countries. And it's always the same: They have to fight against a lot of bureaucracy.

EU vs. US (3.00 / 2) (#35)
by levsen on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 03:12:47 PM EST

I know there's a lot of bureaucracy but it could be worse. Did you know that in a lot of cases, cooperation between individual states in the US is worse than between countries in the EU?

Because you can keep driving with your Spanish driver's license even when you move to Germany - you CANNOT keep your Nevada driver's license when you move to California!

Fuck, the California Department of Agriculture even maintains veritable BORDER POSTS between California and Nevada to keep you from smuggling potatos from one state to the other.

I hope you feel a little better now. :)

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[ Parent ]

About "Real Currencies (TM)" (4.00 / 2) (#34)
by snowcold on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 02:08:02 PM EST

One note about Swiss banks: I checked with two major ones, at least they offer accounts in Real Currencies (TM) (i.e. US dollar and Euros) in addition to their funny Franks...
The Swiss Constitution states that every Swiss Franc (note the 'c' at the end) in circulation must be backed by 40% in gold reserves. Both the US Dollar and the Euro are fiat money (i.e. they have value because the government says so) without any intrinsic value.

Freedom is not free; free men are not equal; and equal men are not free.

I gold REAL MONEY (TM)? (5.00 / 1) (#36)
by levsen on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 03:22:13 PM EST

Ok that sounds pretty good what you are saying there, or does it? Because the value of gold is also a highly 'percieved' value, no? You cannot eat gold, build houses with it, or fuel your car. Granted, there are a few limited practical uses for gold, but today's gold price in no way reflects that. It is only the antiquated perception that gold represents money that keeps today's gold price where it is.

I wonder how many grams of gold I could get for every Swiss Franc and what the market value of that gold is. In any case what the market value of that gold will be tomorrow, no one knows.

There was an article the other day (k5 or /.? I don't remember), about how the value of diamonds is a fragile construct of a monopoly maintained by de Beers. If it's somewhere close to this with gold, the market could break together any day and the value of that gold vanish in an instant.

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[ Parent ]

You are largely right (5.00 / 2) (#38)
by snowcold on Wed Nov 20, 2002 at 03:53:43 PM EST

The price of everything is determined by supply and demand. Most of the supply of gold in the world is in the hands of central banks (notably Switzerland) and some in the U.S. Federal Reserve. Hence yes, if they decide to sell this gold its price is going to fall like a rock since the demand for it is fairly limited (mostly electronics & jewelry).

You are also completely right about diamonds.

However there's a difference between commodity money and fiat money: At least you get something for your paper. While it is possible that you won't be able to do anything useful with a bar of gold at least you get it and can do with it whatever you want. With fiat money you get the paper and nothing more than the paper.

Why is this important?

Because governments can print as much paper money as they want, but the supply of gold is fixed. In fiat money you have to worry about both the supply and the demand. With the supply fixed only the demand matters.

Freedom is not free; free men are not equal; and equal men are not free.

[ Parent ]

No longer true? (none / 0) (#40)
by TheGrim on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 05:14:48 AM EST

IIRC then the Swiss National Bank just recently abolished the Franc Gold binding. I'm sorry that I could not come up the a reference in English but this German article talks about what the Swiss Government is about to do with all the gold they no longer need.

[ Parent ]
Switzerland: No longer what it used to be (none / 0) (#41)
by snowcold on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 11:09:50 AM EST

You seem to be right. Unfortunately Switzerland is going down the drain pretty quickly. They have also dumped their famous neutrality when they joined the U.N.

It seems I'll need to find another place to open a bank account.

BTW, Ich kann einen Artikel auf deutsch lesen.

Freedom is not free; free men are not equal; and equal men are not free.

[ Parent ]

Global finances for individuals (3.00 / 1) (#42)
by TuxNugget on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 07:54:53 PM EST

Some rambling thoughts on this topic...

I recommend Belgian banks, not Swiss, if you want your account in euros and/or want to buy some euro stocks.  Their banks are free of Belgium income tax for nonresidents (but beware, the EU will eventually probably create an income tax of their own...) and the ATM cards work pretty much everywhere.  The interest rate is 2-3% for a standard savings account, youll be lucky to get 1-2% in the US. There are various fees and charges, and withdrawals cost 2-3 euros -- but nothing is perfect.

If you want to do the Switzerland thing and you are not a millionaire, actually go there (it is a wondeful place for hiking) with some extra cash and open up a postal account. The post office is also a bank, and you can access your account online.  Once it is open you can send it checks or wires or whatever... and can also withdraw your money in the post office.

If you are a globetrotting US citizen, and you have real money overseas, you are supposed to report your interest, etc... to the IRS just as if you earned it in the states.  The US system is worldwide taxation, not national taxation... There is a short treasury form to fill out if you have >$10k overseas. There is also a box to check on the first page of the 1040... but that pretty much it. It is short and easy,
and better than fines or prison or being a suspected terrorist financier.

The US-IRS is upset about unreported overseas bank accounts and debit cards and whatnot, so you might consider giving up a bit of privacy and playing by the rules... this includes those of you playing with e-gold (which is held outside the US, if I remember correctly)

Unfortunately, US tax breaks are only for working overseas, not overseas interest or playing the market. Some people wind up being fooled by promises from an overseas broker or banker that an overseas account is somehow 'secret' and not taxable in the US.  That combination should be a warning, but people's greed often gets the best of their rationality.

Paypal was mentioned... but not the dangers.  

You might want to check out paypalsucks.com, nopaypal.com and the like, as some people there seem to be quite upset with forfeiting their money to paypal.  Others complain that it is easy for your paypal account to be ripped off.

Perhaps it will be cleaned up under Ebay ownership, who knows...

c2it charges about 4% commission (4.00 / 2) (#43)
by TuxNugget on Thu Nov 21, 2002 at 08:21:20 PM EST

I looked at c2it's claim of $10 overseas transfers.

In the fine print they also get to keep the difference between the interbank forex rate and the exchange rate they offer you.

I looked through the sample exchange rates, and this extra commission is about 4%.

Therefore, wiring $1000 will end up costing you $40 for the foreign currency exchange, and $10 for the transfer, = $50.

You can money wire to most countries for a $30-$50 bank fee, and get the interbank exchange rates yourself (less than 1% bid/ask spread) instead of paying 4% to c2it.  If your bank wont do this, they are ripping you off, and you need to shop around... In this case, bigger banks may be better because there are fewer intermediaries between you and the destination bank.

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