Visiting The US (as a US Citizen Resident Abroad)
Since my announcement last week (SOOOOO lovely to hear from you all, by the way) I’ve been deep in planning mode. Planning my trip, what I’ll need, where I’ll go….etc.
It’s exciting and oh-so-familiar at the same time. I know the PNW coast like the back of my hand, and just looking at the map has me reliving memories that flow through my mind like a vivid movie reel. I can taste the sea, smell the moisture in the air, feel that sand between my toes. It’s so close I can hear it in my soul.
And yet, as I zoom into my soon-to-be drive I also discover places that I don’t recognize. Forest service campgrounds we never went to in “the beast” simply because she was too darn large. Small highway stops we never made, mostly for the same reason. Alas I also find out that many places are already booked up (arghhhhhhhhh!), the inevitable result of more RVs on the road (I guess) and 7 years since I last visited that corner of the world. Even my beloved Cape Blanco, one of the last great FCFS campground on the OR coast, has now become reservation-only (nooooooo!).
I’m going to have to plan this trip out more thoroughly than I originally thought…
On top of that are all the other details the come along with long-distance travel. Although I’m a US citizen (which means I don’t need any kind of travel authorization or visa to come back), I live abroad and that means I do have to think of health insurance, phone service, rental car and all kinds of other details that a US person living in the US might not have to deal with. It’s an odd (and very specific) topic which may admittedly not be of interest to many, but I figured I’d make it into a blog post just the same.
After all, maybe one day some of US my blog readers will live abroad and decide to come home for a road trip too?
First, A Bit Of Info On My OR Coast Bookings
I honestly didn’t plan to book any sites for my up-coming October trip. In fact my whole point of traveling by car and tent was to avoid this very thing, to give me max flexibility so I could just drive and pitch up (or Airbnb it) wherever I felt like it.
Realizing that Cape Blanco State Park has gone to reservation-only changed that plan.
There are places I must stay at this trip, to soak my soul and recharge the very innards of me and it seems I’m not the only traveler out there with that idea for Oct. State Parks are heavily booked, way more than they ever were back in the days we traveled the coast, and I simply don’t want the stress of traveling 8,000 miles to find out I can’t get into the places I really want to. So reluctantly this week I sat down and booked all 10 or so days of my coastal drive.
I’m not keen on it, but I think it’s going to be worthwhile…
I’ve got several days secured in Cape Blanco (yeahhhhhhhh!), a tent site at Sunset Bay, a prime waterfront spot at Tillicum FS Campground (which is a “first” for me), a beachfront site in Cape D, and a couple of Yurt stays.
The latter was a last-minute idea and I’m curious to see how it works out. Basically I think I’m going to be fine “roughing it” with a tent, especially for the short time I’m in the USA, but I also know OR weather can be super finnicky. I could get great weather (fingers and toes crossed) or it could rain the entire time I’m on the coast (for the love of Odin, please no) in which case the 2 breaks I booked in a Yurt may save me mentally.
Either way all is booked now, for better or worse….
I’ve Rented A Car…And Found An Odd Cost Loophole
Car rental prices (in case you don’t know) have gotten insane since COVID.
From what I understand many car rental companies drastically reduced their inventory during COVID, and supply still hasn’t caught up. My car rental for 20 days in OR will cost me close to $1,000 (!!!), and that’s the cheapest option I could find with separate pick-up and drop-off cities. Incidentally I also found an interesting cost loophole as I was pricing it out.
Renting on my French license (as a resident of France) gave me ~40-50% discount compared to renting on my US license with a US address. Seems nuts, right? I priced out several rentals, both directly and through discount sites like rentalcars.com (all using incognito mode on my web browser) and got a better price with my foreign address each and every time using the exact same dates, insurance options and terms. Whether this is a fluke or a real loophole it’s certainly very interesting and something that I’ve only seen mentioned on a few select forums.
By the way I know many of you asked why I’m not renting an RV or van for this trip and TBH I would have loved to, but that price is closer to $3,000 for 20 days which is a bit too insane for me, especially as camping prices are the same on-top either way. For a good $2,000 in savings I’m happy to “rough it” with a tent, at least I am right now (let’s hope I don’t come to regret that choice LOL).
Bottom line, if you’re a s US citizen resident abroad and you need to rent a car back in USA, try pricing it out with your foreign license and foreign address before you use your US license/address (if you still have those). You might be very pleasantly surprised!
I Need Health Insurance..And It’s Reasonable
An often overlooked part of travel, especially for US citizens going home is health insurance.
As a French resident in the French system I am covered for just about everything including emergency treatment all across Europe. However this does not cover me in USA, and as someone who has researched and understands the true costs of US healthcare it would be insane to ignore this.
Now I have several credit cards that offer travel insurance, but when it comes to healthcare coverage the devil is always in the details. For example my “best” credit card at the moment (Chase Sapphire Preferred) offers $100,000 “accident insurance” if I pay for the entire trip with the card. This sounds pretty darn good at face value, but if you read the actual Chase policy it only covers me for very, very specific injuries (e.g. loss of a certain number limbs, or permanent loss of eyesight, or death etc.). In other words, if I simply get sick or end up in hospital and don’t lose a limb (for example) I’m not covered at all!
There are other credit cards which offer “emergency medical” coverage as well (which is more all-encompassing) but often you’ll find the $$ values are too low (anywhere from $3,000-$10,000) for US healthcare purposes. If something serious happens to me, IMO this is not nearly enough.
I am not yet of Medicare age, so what I need is a stand-alone health insurance policy and not only that I need an insurance company willing to insure Americans who live abroad for short-term visits back home (it’s kind of a weird insurance situation). I’ve only found a few companies that do this, but IMG is one of them and they offer a plan called Patriot America Plus that rides on the United Healthcare PPO network (which is fairly substantial), and also covers COVID-related illness.
I haven’t used this plan and hope I never have to, but for 20 days, I can buy a $1 million coverage plan with $0 deductible for only ~$189 (even less if I chose a small deductible). Honestly I consider this a pretty solid deal.
Bottom line, don’t rely on your credit card to cover you for general healthcare purposes, especially when traveling to USA. Just buy a separate healthcare plan. For non-US residents, it’s not all that expensive and you’ll have peace of mind.
I Need A Cellphone Data Plan…Going eSIM
I wish I could do my trip to the USA without any connection at all, but alas I am directionally-challenged and addicted to Googling everywhere I go. Plus I want to stay in touch, post some stuff….all the modern conveniences of life whatnot.
My French Orange phone plan does provide an “add-on” that I can buy for USA travel, but the data amounts are pretty small (10Gb) and I just know I’ll blow through that in no time, especially as I’m staying in state parks with no WiFi to tide me over.
Thankfully there are several companies that sell short-term data plans (say, 20 days or 30 days) either with a physical SIM or eSIM (which my iPhone can handle) at pretty reasonable prices.
The main “gotcha” with kinds of plans is that they’re sold by third parties (Holafly, Yoho, Airalo, Nomad, Ubigi etc.), so what you really need to figure out is which underlying network (T-Mobile, ATT or Verizon) they’re running on, as this obviously affects your coverage big-time. Also there are hundreds of these kinds of services, but for unlimited data (why not) there’s only a few options that look good and rate well (high customer satisfaction).
Personally I think I’ll be going for Holafly which runs on both ATT and T-Mobile, and claims to provide truly unlimited data (in their FAQ section they say you could get throttled for 24 hours if the network sees > 90GB usage and decides you have exceeded local Fair Use Policy, but otherwise there are no limits). I’ll let you know if it works out!
Note/ All these eSIMs are data only (no voice calls or SMS), so I plan to use Whatapp for all my calls/texts while traveling. If you need phonecall & SMS ability there are physical SIMs from companies such as Simify that offer data/voice/SMS.
I Will Need *Some* Comforts Too
I may be “roughing it” this trip with a tent, but I also plan to bring along a few comforts that will hopefully make my life easier.
I’ve done enough long-distance walking over the last 2 years that I have a pretty tight packing list and know how to go light as well as what mini-comforts make me happy. I just need to upgrade things a bit for this car-camping trip such as bringing a tent, camping pad, collapsible chair (essential, I tell you), backpacking stove/pot and portable French press (I must have morning coffee or I will DIE!). Most of these I already have from my old backpacking days 20+ years ago, but I’ll need to bring ’em out, dust them off and make sure they haven’t turned into mouse food somewhere along the way. Perhaps, once I get my gear together, I’ll post about that too.
That’s about it my friends! For those few of you that might actually have stayed with me this far and found this blog post interesting (I know it’s somewhat specialized) DO let me know if you have any other questions. For the rest of you, I will see you here again soon.