File under: Things that only happen to expat wives.
I’ve lived (happily!) abroad for nearly 10 years. For the most part, I forget what life “at home” would really look like because the last time I lived there, I was living such a dramatically different life that there is really no comparing then versus now. For example, the last time I lived in the USA-I had a paying job. Nay, I would even go so far as to say a Profession. I traveled for said job and in order to make that work, The Husband and I employed a nanny and a weekly cleaning lady. All other aspects of home life were managed by yours truly. Oh, and I had a 9-month-old baby. And I was young enough to go out drinking on a Wednesday night and be able to get up at 6am with the baby and make it to work in fine form by 9am. I can’t even go out on a Wednesday, now! So, my life then does not resemble my life now. Because it’s been so long and I’ve become accustomed to the things that are “normal” abroad, I often don’t realize that they are not “normal” at home.
Only every so often, something happens that makes me think, “Hmmmm”.
This is NOT normal. This would NOT happen if we were living a normal life in the USA.
This week, I’ve been dealing with a situation that frustrates me simply because it is happening only because of the “weird” life we live. Probably the most frustrating aspect of being a trailing spouse has been adjusting to the attitude, rules and sometimes just the custom of banks and financial institutions. I understand that legally, in the eyes of The Kingdom of Thailand, I am present and granted a Visa only because my spouse is working here. I like go joke that I serve at the pleasure of my husband. If he were to get really pissed at me, he could revoke my Visa and send me packing.
This is not new. It was the same in Switzerland and the same in Hong Kong. And I dealt with the fact that I am not really granted access to our bank accounts due to the fact that my status is not the same as my husbands. Initially, I thought it was just because I was the wife…or because I don’t have any income. But, it turns out many banks have rules about the kind of Visa you must have in order to open and keep a bank account. I’m not sure what the domestic job breakdown is for most families-but in our family, ever since I can remember, I handle the finances. The bills, the bank accounts, etc. The Husband manages our investments and sometimes asks me to transfer money here or there or to write a check to somebody or something, but for the most part, we have quarterly meetings where we discuss major expenditures and/or goals and the rest of the time he just trusts me to handle it. I appreciate that. I really do. See my post about shopping…tee hee. In all seriousness, though. There was an occasion in Switzerland when I needed to get a payoff amount on our joint bank-issued credit card and they wouldn’t give me the information. Clearly, their policies are set to protect the spending habits of the primary cardholder. And I cannot have a credit card in my name in that country because I do not have a proper Visa nor do I have an income. So-every time there is an issue or they have a fraud protection shutdown on one of our cards…inevitably, The Husband has to take time to handle it. Which just gets me all fired up. I can spend the money, but I can’t know our balance? I can pay all the bills and set up the online accounts and make all the transfers, but I can’t clear the hold on the account? Thank God my husband is so liberal with the money, because he could easily put me in a position where I have an allowance and that is all.
We’ve had to give up our Swiss and Hong Kong based credit cards since leaving those countries. And we opted not to have a Thai credit card because we try to keep as little money as possible in Thailand in the event of a political crisis that might result in a financial crisis. So, our only payment options in Thailand are our Thai bank debit card, our USA bank debit card, and our American Express. When we moved abroad the AmEx was the only card without foreign transaction fees. This year, over the holiday, we decided to get a new US credit card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees because many places don’t accept AmEx and we hate paying the foreign transaction fees and/or getting really bad exchange rates from vendors. I did my research and filled out a simple online form with all of The Husband’s details and applied for the card. Literally less than 60 seconds later we were approved. For an enormous credit limit. We were surprised at how easy it was, and shocked that they had given us such a high limit. We haven’t needed to use the card, but wanted to have it for travel. Fast forward to last week when I called to let them know that we were “traveling” and would be in Thailand until June. In addition, we would be in Hong Kong this weekend…and could they please make a note so that the card wouldn’t be shut down for suspicious activity. The agent was lovely and agreed to notate the file. I made one purchase that afternoon to make sure everything would be okay and it was. Yahoo!
I tried to use it at the hotel last weekend and they said it didn’t work. I thought maybe it was because the card is a new-fangled fancy card with weird technical aspects. So I used the AmEx. And then I tried again at the mall. It was declined. Weird! So, I logged in online to see what could be happening. The account status was “Disabled” and there was a number to call. I’ve never missed a payment (okay, I’ve never had to make one) and the balance was not even 10% of the limit. Our first payment isn’t due until early February. So I called. And spent 10 minutes on hold (on my dime- because 1-800 numbers are not free from Thailand) while the agent tried to “determine the nature of the problem”. Finally, he came back to tell me that they had security concerns and needed to discuss them with the primary cardholder.
I swear, my temperature went up a full degree. I could feel the blood pulsing in my ears. I asked him what kind of fraud they were suspecting and he was clipped and weird with me. He asked to speak to The Husband. I explained that he was in Hong Kong, as our file surely noted, and was not available to speak to him. He cut me off by saying he was not at liberty to discuss it any further with me but would I please have the primary cardholder call him back.
Sigh. Now, as I said earlier, The Husband has had to do this before. He hates it and it makes him crazy, but he does it. But this situation is different. They clearly think I am a made up person, or that I have stolen his identity. When he called they told him that they would not reactivate the account until he could prove his identity (which for the record they did not ask for when they issued the card in the first place). We needed to provide proof of residency (utility bill with his name on it), and his social security card. My first thought was, Seriously? Who keeps their original card? He does, actually…and Thank God. So I gathered all of the documents, scanned them and sent them to him because HE has to be the one to send it on to the Credit Card Company. Seriously. Can you imagine this happening to a stay at home spouse in the USA? If you google our address for the tax records you can see both of our names on that deed. And now they say it will take 2-3 days to decide if they will lift the ban. Maybe they don’t want us to have it because we live part of the year away from the US? I’m not sure but it was the strangest “Expat Only” experience.
I’m thankful that we are going to Hong Kong for the weekend and not Cambodia or some other place where nobody takes AmEx.
But I’m mostly just chapped about feeling like a second-class citizen. Wait, I’m not even a citizen. I guess I’m an alien. I find it insulting somehow. It makes me feel like something less than a full person. I have my own credit score, and half of the utilities at our house are in my name-mostly because I knew one day I might want my own credit card and I needed to keep a credit history in the USA.
Then again, I’m thankful that I have this problem. It is truly a First World Problem as The Husband would say. He would also tell me to “Suck it up, Buttercup”.