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Resources for living in Europe

I have found three essential services while living in Europe. Having a permanent US phone number, US address and US FAX numbers are invaluable for doing business in the US. Hopefully you find these useful.

US Telephone

Vonage is $24.99/month for unlimited calls in the US and Canada. This is a Voice Over IP (VoIP) telephone. Vonage ships (to a US address but your APO is OK) a small device that plugs into your broadband (DSL) network. THIS WILL NOT WORK WITH DIAL-UP INTERNET SPEEDS! You also have to have a US phone (which likely means you need a transformer) to plug into the Vonage device. You can view the installation page to see how your particular network setup would be used.
 
Features:
  • Unlimited calling in the US and Canada (including toll free numbers)
  • Voicemail (can email the message to your inbox as a WAV file attachment)
  • Low international rates if calling other than US/Canada
  • Add a Toll Free phone number for $4.99/mo (includes 100 free incoming minutes plus 4.9¢/min after that)
  • Add additional virtual phone numbers for $4.99/mo
  • More features...
You pick what area code your phone number is in. Calls to your number within that phone number's local calling area are local calls! For example, my son is at Trinity Univ in San Antonio. My phone number is in San Antonio so he can call me in Germany as a local phone call from San Antonio! If you have relatives in two areas, just add a second phone number in their area code and they can also call as a local phone call to you.

US FAX number

Instead of paying for a separate FAX line, I use eFAX ($12.95 (USD) per month OR $139.95 (USD) per year). eFAX emails your FAXes to your inbox so you don't need a FAX machine. For sending FAXs, you can send right from your computer. eFAX installs a printer driver so you "print" to your "eFAX printer" in Windows. If I have to sign a document and FAX it back, I print the document, sign it and scan the document (or paste in a graphic of my signature), then use eFAX to send the FAX over the internet. Sending a FAX is $0.10 per page to US FAX numbers ($0.15 per page to Germany).
 

US Mailing Address

Having a permanent US mailing address is VERY useful. US Global Mail ($15 Monthly or $150 Yearly) gives you an address in Houston that doesn't change, no matter where you live or travel. They re-ship to you whereever you are. Any mail or packages that arrive for you appear on their website after you login. They also send you an email if you get mail you need to check. They can take open several packages and re-package them to save on shipping. I use my account if I need to order something that can only be shipped within the US and for my credit card addresses. This makes filling out order forms easy for US websites (combined with my US phone number).
 

About Transformers...

There was a misperception about transformers that I wanted to clear up. People have been told that transformers are constantly using the maximum watts they are rated for. This is NOT true. I wrote a transformer manufacturer to confirm this. The transformer does have a few watts of overhead while it's on, but it's very small. The bottom line is that transformers will increase your electricity bill but only by very small amounts. There is no need to rush out and convert all of your electrical equipment to 220Volts unless you're planning on living in Europe long term. Even then, weigh the cost of replacement vs the additional small amount of electricity consumed.
 

Converting Currency

If you have a recurring need to convert larger amounts of US Dollars (USD) to foreign currency such as Euros (EUR), it will pay in the long run to open an account with InterActive Brokers. The minimum new account size is $2000.00 USD. Fees for buying EUR are $3.00 per $25,000. InterActive Brokers has no wire transfer fees. Simply transfer funds to your IB account, buy EUR on the foreign currency CASH market at the trader rate. You have to use the "IDEAL" exchange which has slightly lower bid/ask spread than the "IDEAL PRO" exchange (13 pips vs 3 pips for example). The savings versus going to the bank are substantial. For example:
 
Community Bank (on 6/30/05):
Euro 2000.00 3000.00
Exchange Rate 1.2408 1.2408
US Dollars $2,481.60 $3,722.40
InterActive Brokers:
Euro 2000.00 3000.00
Exchange Rate 1.2099 1.2099
US Dollars + commissions $2,422.80 $3,632.70
Savings:
Community Bank $2,481.60 $3,722.40
InterActive Brokers $2,422.80 $3,632.70
Monthly Savings $58.80 $89.70
Annual Savings $705.60 $1,076.40

 
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