Thursday, January 7, 2010

Eight Good Things For Writers To Bring Abroad, Part Two

Let’s face it. There are certain things that still make being a writer abroad harder than being a writer at home. A lack of Oreo cookies. An interview subject that doesn’t speak English. Not to mention the challenge of keeping track of payments in several currencies.

But. As discussed in Part One, there are ways to guard against all of these pitfalls. It’s called being prepared. So before you move abroad, or on your next visit home, here are some of the necessities you should consider:

5. A home-country based bank account and a personal banker. Once I saw the fees that my Swiss bank wanted to charge me for depositing a U.S. check (ahem, some of them were bigger than the said check), I was glad to have kept my U.S. bank account open. Now, I send checks from U.S. publications to my mother, who also serves as my personal banker. (Thanks, Mom).

6. Office Supplies. China-based writer Kristin Bair O’Keeffe commented in Part One, “I bring my favorite pens from the U.S. Yes, there are lots of pens for sale in China, but not my favorites. (You know how we writers are about our pens...)." Now I’m not as particular about my pens as Kristin, but when I saw the prices of pens in Switzerland, I suddenly got more particular and now use extra space in my luggage for office supplies. (Why, Switzerland, do you charge so much for everything?) I also have a bunch of printer paper from the U.S. on hand, since paper sizes are different in Europe.

7. Books. In Switzerland (surprise, surprise) an English-language paperback costs about $30. I won’t name the price of a hardcover here, to avoid sudden shock syndrome. So. Guess why each and every suitcase I bring back from the U.S. always weighs 50 pounds? Books. Piles and piles of English books (If you don't believe me, see picture at left. That was one trip home worth of books.). The one alternative I’ve found to heavy suitcases is They deliver for free, anywhere in the world, usually making their prices on par with, or cheaper than, especially if like me, you live in a country without a designated Amazon website.

8. Credit Card. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but it is much harder (and pricier) to obtain a credit card in Europe than it is in the U.S. Before leaving the U.S. (or wherever your home country is), I would recommend applying for a Visa card that does not charge foreign transaction fees. In the U.S., the best credit card I know about for this is the Capital One card (and no, they are not paying me to talk about them). With this card, I can make purchases anywhere in the world, and the card converts the currencies to dollars using the fair exchange rate and does not charge anything extra for the trouble (and trust, me this is a rare thing for credit cards and will save you hundreds of dollars a year). I get all my statements through email and pay them online with my U.S. bank account.

Did I miss something? If you’re a writer abroad, what things do you find important to take with you from your home country?


  1. Absolutely on the home-based bank account. My mom's my personal banker too, but I've also had US-based clients opt to pay me by e-check right into my account. Makes things a whole lot easier!

    Thanks for the BookDepository link. I'll have to check this out! I've found ordering from Amazon in the US is still cheaper (including delivery) than buying books in Budapest.

  2. E-checks are a great idea. I'll have to request those in the future, if I can. Thanks for the tip.

    And yes, check out Book Depository. I've been happy with them.

  3. For people like me and my husband, I would also recommend bringing notebooks if you prefer writing longhand. I haven't checked out notebooks in other countries, but in Italy most notebooks are little grids which both of us find maddening to write on for any duration. If you want to go high-end though, you can still find Moleskin and other products with the familiar ruled paper in many shops.

    I second the laptop thing in part one. My husband's laptop died and he bought his replacement here. It now takes him 15% longer to type anything!

  4. Wish I had discovered your blog sooner! I am an American who just returned to NYC after living in London for a couple of years, and one thing I would add to your list is legal pads (if you use them). Very difficult to find the good, narrow-ruled kind abroad. Also, as you mentioned, US stamps and US-sized paper were a lifesaver. Also, for magazines, I used the forwarding service, which I highly recommend.



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