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My Fiscal Odyssey: Finding a Good Tax Advisor for Expats

Contributed by InterNations
20 March, 2014

Personally, tax jargon is all Greek to me. Frankly, it's worse than Greek. I graduated in English Literature, ages ago, but I also took a couple of university courses on the classics and ancient languages. Judging from my experience, James Joyce's Ulysses is less incomprehensible than tax laws; deciphering Homeric Greek is easier than wrestling with a pile of tax return forms.

To my horror, expat life means that I now need to file my taxes in not one, but two countries – which makes the whole process twice as tedious and time-consuming. To save myself from a nervous breakdown, I decided to get professional help from an expert who actually likes talking about fiscal rates, deductible expenses, tax credits, or tax reimbursement for foreign assignees: I hired a tax advisor.

To find the right tax consultant, I followed a series of helpful steps:

First, I had to know what exactly I wanted.

I'm not self-employed, so I didn't have any trouble with book-keeping (due to my strained relationship with numbers, this would have been any accountant's nightmare). However, I'm a citizen of one country and live in another state. I earn income in both, from employment in the one and investment in the other, and I had no idea where I was considered a fiscal resident.

So I needed someone familiar with the tax systems of both countries, who could do my taxes correctly and accurately, and who'd advise me on future financial planning with regard to international taxation. Formulating these requirements helped me get a clear image of who I was looking for.

Second, I needed someone trustworthy.

I cannot stress often enough that I'm basically tax-illiterate. Therefore, it was essential for me to find a tax consultant with the right kind of training, the proper credentials, and an official membership in a business association. The latter turned out to be an extremely useful starting point.

Their official website featured a database of all their members, which I could search, for example, by their area of expertise, the countries whose tax codes they are familiar with, and the languages they speak. They even listed those accountants who'd been awarded a special certificate for outstanding quality!

I soon had a shortlist of international tax consultants in town whom I was planning to contact. Of course, though all of them were well-qualified and generally reliable, it didn't mean that they were right for me.

Third, I wasn't afraid to ask questions – and have standards.

As I see it, finding the perfect tax advisor is just like finding a good doctor: you have to talk about matters that you wouldn't necessarily gossip about with your next-door neighbor. Not only do you have to trust them, but you also have to like their "bedside manner" - or however you'd like to call it for a tax accountant.

I decided against a couple of candidates from my shortlist because I didn't feel comfortable around them. One had really rude office staff who never answered my emails or enquiries in anything resembling a timely fashion. One was very evasive when I asked pointed questions about their fees and how their billing worked. Last but not least, one was rather patronizing when I tried to get explanations on expat taxation for "dummies". 

Fortunately, these were the exceptions from the proverbial rule. I finally have a very friendly tax advisor whom I can rely on. She takes care of my tax returns, and I'm perfectly okay with spending some extra money when I have more time to spend as well: a win-win for both of us!

If you're in a similar situation, I hope my advice will help you find your perfect tax consultant as well. 


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