The largest tax savings you’ll ever see!

As a new year starts, I always find myself worrying already about how to do my US taxes properly. However, I find myself a little irked when I read things like the following quote from the Expats Guide to US Taxes:

Wow, that makes a ton of sense.

I’m so excited by these “large tax savings”. I do not live in the US, maintain a residence there or benefit from anything my US taxes pay for, but I can be excited that I am “saving” on what I have to pay in addition to my Swiss taxes. My US taxes don’t take into consideration the cost of living in Switzerland, but hey… I’m saving!

I can also console myself in the fact that I am “doing my American duty.” Because labeling it a “duty to my birth country” makes me feel better about being taxed twice, sometimes on the same money because the US doesn’t recognize certain tax laws here.

The reality is more that I am terrified what kind of charges the IRS could impose if I accidentally make a mistake on my taxes or on my FBAR or FATCA filing requirements. So I try my hardest to fill out everything correctly on time, but I do it because I am fearful of the wrath of the IRS. Not because it makes me feel “more American” over here in Switzerland.

Expats Guide to US Taxes may be a little outdated and it is not from the IRS, but it does have some good information. It’s just hard to gloss over little gems like the one above that try to make me feel better about being taxed abroad.

Weekend in Wallis

In, gosh… 2011 (how long ago it sounds!) we received a smartbox as a wedding present that would let us stay one night in a number of fancy hotels or wellness centers in Switzerland, eastern France or northern Italy.

During the winter of 2011/12 we put off deciding when to go because we thought it would be nice to go in the summer and spend one night in the mountains camping and then another night in the hotel. Then we would really have a full weekend to utilize the long journey time by train.

When summer 2012 rolled around we finally sat down and decided which hotel we wanted to stay at but because it was really a wellness hotel with a sauna and steam room, Kay thought it sounded like more a winter activity and he wanted to wait until it was cold to go.

Well, here we are in January and the smartbox was expiring soon! Without waiting we finally booked the hotel last week and left for Mörel early Saturday morning.

Mörel is around 2.5 hours from Zürich and originally I wanted to spend two nights in the hotel, but Kay wanted to save some dough so we just planned to go early Saturday, spend the day snowshoe walking and then later enjoying the wellness center and then on Sunday we would head back.

We got to Salina Maris hotel around 9:30am. They were pretty surprised when we told them we walked up from the station. I didn’t read the reservation email thoroughly, but apparently they would have sent a driver to pick us up from the train station for free! Oh well… it was only a 10-15 minute walk up the hill.

The hotel generously let us check in early (9:30 is pretty darn early!) and rented us snowshoes and poles. We dropped our thing in the room, rearranged our backpacks for hiking and were off.

As you can kind of tell, the mountains were pretty gorgeous. When we first arrived it was really sunny and we had blue skies, but we did experience some clouds and fog throughout the walk.

Snowshoe walking is also, by the way, pretty fun. Tromping around like a little kid in the snow is great!

I ended up just wearing long underwear under my normal trekking pants. I had puffy $10 snowpants from Kohls in my backpack, but I didn’t need to use them because it was warm enough walking.

After a few hours of walking the trails, we headed back down the gondola to Mörel again and prepared ourselves for wellness time!

In the wellness area we spent several hours using the sauna for 15 minute increments, taking a rest outside, using the steam room for 10 minutes, resting and repeating. At the end we jumped in the salt pool and enjoyed the jacuzzi.

At 18:00 there was an apero for guests and we met the other guests (all Swiss) in the hotel for some white Walliser wine. Everyone at the apero was very friendly and I had a nice time trying to keep up in Swiss German.

One of the couples at the apero ended up going to the restaurant as well so we actually enjoyed our complementary three-course meal with a pair from the Biel region! It was not as “romantic” as we had planned, but I was surprised and delighted to have much such open, friendly Swiss. It is really not common to just sit down and eat dinner with complete strangers here, but they were so much fun to talk to.

The next morning we got up and enjoyed the delicious brunch before enjoying the sauna and steam room one last time. When we headed back to the train we were both extremely relaxed.

I can highly recommend the hotel rooms at Salina Maris. They are very large, have nice, clean bathrooms and even kitchnettes and fridges to use for the weekend. The ski slopes were also practically empty, in case you were looking for more reasons to go. 😉

Neubau Progress: I

I should have shared all these pictures a while ago, but I’ve taken my sweet time doing it. I mean, I was busy writing weddingbee recaps when I took these last March!

We cheated a little during our first inspection and just went to some other flats in the same row that already had the wooden beams taken down so that we could get an idea of the true height of the ceiling.

I was standing next to the kitchen entrance on the left, the hallway to the door was to the right and closer in the foreground to the right is the hallway to the bathroom/bedroom. If you notice, this particular flat doesn’t have the built in wardrobes behind that big concrete pillar on the right. The plan would look like this without the built in wardrobe:

Was that big block with all the wiring really necessary to put there in the middle instead of by one of the side walls or up inside the réduit? If that could be somewhere else, there would have been a lot more layout possibilities with the flat. I mean, yeah it’s sort of a handy donut hole for wiring (there are other holes in the kitchen and the bathrooms) but I feel like they could have planned it a little better. The thing about hallways here is that you really pay a premium for that extra floorspace, but you can’t utilize the space for tables or sofas. It’s more “walking area” than “living area”.

Taking away the built in wardrobes does open up the space a lot, but to store coats, shoes and other things you would have to buy or build some storage next to the door. We never had a coat closet in either of the flats we’ve lived in together and I’ve never had one in the flat I lived in alone, so we are both looking forward to having a place to store all our winter and summer coats. Between the two of us we really have a lot of ski jackets, trekking jackets, etc, and now they are all piled up on a poor coat stand by the door and half are shoved under the attic roof in the laundry area.

Second bedroom. Those floor to ceiling windows will be nice!

Looking out our bedroom windows.

Standing in the master bath where the tub will eventually be. I’m obviously really excited about showering here someday. Kay thought the master bath is small, but I think it looks huge, don’t you?

Another view from the living room into the kitchen.

When we viewed the flat without the wooden beams up, Kay still thought it looked overall small, but I was happy with the size. I seem to have better spacial skills (whereas he wins with directional skills) and I was happy with how large it is. The bedrooms are not enormous, but the living room is huge for us and the kitchen will be a big upgrade.

Theoretically we could  have a baby here if forced to and it should be large enough that we can set up some kind of guest room. This makes it OK in my book!

Want to catch up?

No Mortgages for Americans? Signing the Contract

While many neubau owners have to make large payments throughout the building process that require them to take early mortgages, our company offered us a simple and attractive purchasing plan in three steps:

  1. 30k Reservation fee
  2. 15% Sale price due when the contract is signed (minus reservation fee)
  3. 85% Sale price due when keys are handed over

After we visited the flat and decided we really wanted it, we paid the reservation fee and in theory, we were given a week to sign the contract.

The contract took forever to arrive though, and when it did we took it to VermögensZentrum in Zürich to have it reviewed by professionals. VZ gave us some helpful tips of things we should have changed or clarified and we had the contractor make the changes for us to sign.

There were some scary tidbits in the contract that we couldn’t change due to the fact that I am not Swiss (which I’ll mention later), but overall everything looked good. However it took ages for the contractor to remember to include the motorcycle parking space that Kay wanted for his bike so we kept waiting.

Kay was also in Cambodia for a month traveling, so much of the back and forth about the contract was done by email in German. It was pretty frustrating at times if I didn’t understand something and Kay was hard to contact. I met him in Singapore for holiday and it was there that we had our first big scare about buying because I am American.

While VZ ist not a bank, they also offer mortgages and they notified us that while we were qualified to buy the flat, they no longer offer mortgages to Americans due to the new implications FATCA brings to financial institutions outside the US. They were warning us that it might not be possible to buy unless we came up with an additional 160,000CHF so Kay could buy the flat by himself. Riiight. Like we have that kind of money laying around…

“Whatever!”, I thought. We were already pre-approved for a mortgage with Axa-Winterthur, so we are fine.

Kay was nervous though. So when I got back from Singapore, he had me contact Axa to see if they would still accept us even though it had only been a month since I’d met with them. But sure enough, when I contacted our insurance representative again, he told me,

“I’m sorry, but three weeks ago we changed our policy. Axa-Winterthur is no longer accepting Americans for mortgages.”


I started contacting other banks and insurance companies about their mortgage offers. No, no, no.

When Raiffeisen told me over the phone that they aren’t accepting American customers, I felt my stomach sink further than it has in years. This is not something about myself I can “fix”. I am American and I am only American. I do not have another citizenship, nor can I toss aside my only citizenship to free myself from these prejudices.

It was a sobering experience. Ten of the fifteen banks I contacted told me they flat out do not accept Americans anymore. I’ll write you all the reasons why I loathe FATCA later, but I understand the viewpoint of the Swiss institutions. It is a PIA for them to fill out paperwork for the IRS just because their customer is American. The IRS’s filing requirements for Americans living and working abroad are unfair for everyone involved, so many places here are taking the decision to simply avoid working with Americans.

It left a hard decision for us though. Kay had come home from traveling in April. The flat we reserved would not be ready for over a year and we had no idea which banks would say “yes” or “no” to Americans by the time we need to pay step #3.

Would we risk committing to buy a flat and not being able to finance it later because we are rejected for mortgages based on my citizenship?

Hell yes, we did!

We had around 5 banks that said they still accepted Americans, so it’s not like we couldn’t get a mortgage. We even had another big bank pre-approve us again before we bought and we were moderately happy with the terms. The risk is that we might not have the best mortgage offers available to Swiss and non-Americans, but that’s a risk we were willing to take in order to buy.

Have you read up about FATCA yet? It’s really not well thought out. But more on that later.

Want to catch up?

Our Times Square NYE Experience

I still can’t believe we even did this…

On Monday, December 31, 2012, we rolled into NYC and after eating a quick meal, we geared up to head to Times Square to stand and wait.

I wore my long underwear under my jeans that I was discarding on this trip, in case I felt like sitting down on the dirty streets of NYC during our wait. I also wore my new Goldtoe socks with wool in them, which were supposed to be “very, very warm” according to my sales lady and my snow boots. On top I wore my tank top, thermal top, merino wool sweater, Häglofs down jacket, Häglofs gortex shell jacket, arm warmers, gloves, hat and scarf.

1. Thermal Long Johns, 2. Jeans, 3. Goldtoe socks, 4. Snow boots, 5. Tank top, 6. Thermal top, 7. Merino wool sweater, 8. Häglofs down jacket, 9. Häglofs Riot II Q Gore-Tex® Performance Shell Jacket, 8. Arm warmers, 9. Leather gloves, 10. Hat (personal photo), 11. Scarf (personal photo)

Continue reading Our Times Square NYE Experience