Thursday, March 27, 2014

Easter in Switzerland

When it comes to Easter planning, The Frau is frustrated. It seems like the perfect chance to get away for the long weekend, but the travel industry does their best to make sure it isn’t. Overpriced airfares (CHF 600 for a 1-hour flight anyone?), apart-hotels that usually have 3-night minimum stays make them 7 instead, and then there are the warnings from locals of heavy traffic.

It’s enough to make anyone consider staying home. Including The Frau.

Easter in Switzerland
So The Frau started researching how to have a fun-filled Easter weekend closer to home. And if the travel industry is frustrating you, don’t let them win. Here is a complete Easter weekend itinerary in Switzerland. Frohe Ostern, mitenand.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday

Costumes from La Scala theater. Torch bearers. Brass instruments and drums. And 50 horses. Watch Christ’s journey to Calvary as you’ve never seen it before–recreated by 200 actors through the streets of Mendrisio.

Easter Saturday

This beautiful house/museum in Baden, filled with Monets and Reniors, also has a beautiful garden. At 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 19, they will have an Easter Egg hunt for children.  Cost is CHF 10 per child. Maximum age of participation is 8 years old.

Easter Sunday

Celebrate Easter Sunday in style—in your swimsuit. At the spa in Leukerbad, a champagne breakfast will be served poolside. The cost is only 42 CHF per person and the price includes spa entry.

Easter Monday

Ok, besides the Easter eggs and bunnies, there will be that odd stand selling Confederate flags. But the Easter spirit is there. And if you’re looking for a large market in a beautiful setting, then the Brengarten Easter Market won’t disappoint.

Anyone else have Easter ideas? The Frau thanks you for sharing.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Taxes for Expats

The Frau can tell any American hoping to live abroad what the worst part is: taxes.

Yes, there is a $97,000 (CHF 84,750) exclusion (not excluding the pain of still having to file). But if one lives in a high-cost country like Switzerland, this is a joke. Graduate students often make more than this in Switzerland. Hey, you’ve got to pay for your CHF 28 plate of Kung Pao Chicken somehow.

For The Frau, the worst part isn’t actually the requirement of paying U.S. taxes, even if it feels like taxation without representation.

The worst part is that it is all so confusing. The worst part is that it costs Americans abroad so much time, stress, and extra cash beyond the tax owed. And finally, the worst part is that the government gives you no mercy and treats you like a criminal despite how well intentioned you may be. If you don’t pay your U.S. taxes by April 15 each year, you pay huge penalties, UP TO 25%. The Frau asks you, what bank do you know of do you get 25% interest rates from?

Anyway, this means that most American expats, besides paying double taxes, also pay yearly penalties (and huge postal fees since electronic filing isn't possible) for their double taxing pleasure. This is because you can’t figure out what you owe the U.S. government until you file your local country taxes first. So you are always behind. You can’t win. This is the worst part of the worst part.

Big companies, most recently, Ernst & Young, were hired by Mr. Frau’s company to help to do the complicated taxes that most Americans living abroad face. But Ernst & Young did more harm than good. In fact, one year, Ernst & Young USA failed to translate Swiss Francs to U.S. dollars on the U.S. tax forms. Failed! The Frau had to correct them. And every year, The Frau and her husband kept paying huge penalties for late U.S. taxes despite so-called professional advice.

Finally. Finally, after another $4,000 late fee from the U.S. government, The Frau and Mr. Frau decided to ditch Ernst & Young. This year, they tried Taxes for Expats.

Disclosure: Taxes for Expats offered $350 off the service if The Frau blogged about the experience. Nothing said she couldn’t blog about them negatively, and trust The Frau, she would have had it been a bad experience!

To be fair, Ernst & Young had done so terribly, both in communication and in actual taxation form filling, that it didn’t take much to be better. But Taxes for Expats was much, much better.

First off, it was shocking, because whenever The Frau or her husband had questions, Taxes for Expats actually returned their emails promptly. This had never happened with Ernst & Young.

Then, Taxes for Expats translated Swiss Francs to USD correctly. In fact, everything appeared to be done correctly, both on federal and state forms. 

Then…which had never happened in six years with other big tax preparers, Taxes for Expats actually told The Frau and Mr. Frau that they could avoid some of the huge late penalties by paying estimated tax by April 15 and they estimated it for them with a form they could mail in! Who knew? Not Ernst & Young.

So, moral of the story.

Double taxes suck.
Taxes for Expats doesn’t.

If you’re an American in a confusing tax situation, The Frau highly recommends giving them a try. They are fast, accurate, and give better advice than any company The Frau has worked with in her almost 8+ years abroad.

Anyone else have taxing troubles or want to recommend a great person or company?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Crime on a schedule

Note to planes in distress—do not try to land in Switzerland—unless of course, you can do it between 8 a.m. and noon, or between 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Otherwise the Swiss Air Force is closed.

Case in point: On February 17, a highjacked Ethiopian passenger jet, which was landing in Geneva, had to be rescued by Italian and French military pilots as the Swiss Air Force was sleeping. Literally.

The Frau isn’t surprised. Because when her husband’s backpack was stolen from the local pool and they tried to get help, the police were closed. Silly Frau. It was dinnertime in Switzerland, so what did she expect?

Crime, apparently, should occur on a schedule, and the Swiss are serious about this. So check the schedule thief, and then steal away. Because in Switzerland, neither the police nor the army nor the air force will catch you. They are too busy eating lunch.


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