So We Applied for a Green Card

My family and I first moved to Nashville in the USA in 2015. At that first move, Cha and I didn’t really decide how long we were going to stay here and when we will go back to the Philippines.

I was granted an R-1 visa because I work with a global agency of the United Methodist Church. Since the R-1 is only good for a maximum of 5 years, I needed to apply for a green card if I wanted to keep working here.

Sometime in late 2017, we decided to apply for the green card so we could continue staying and working in the US.

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Bank of the Philippine Islands Just Made It Significantly More Difficult for Overseas Filipinos (OFWs) to Use their BPI Online Banking System

I’ve been a loyal BPI customer since I first opened a savings account with them in 2005. I love their service and their online banking system. It’s easy to pay bills online and connect your savings, checking, and credit card accounts together.

Although I’ve been in the US for the past 4 years, I continue to use my BPI account for remittances–sending money to family, funding my investment accounts, saving some money, and paying online bills and subscriptions. I also use my BPI credit card every now and then for transactions in the US and when I travel around the world.

Towards the end of 2018, they announced the transition from BPIExpressOnline.com to Online.BPI.com.ph. The new website features a sleek new design and a more minimalist, elegant design.

Right now, that’s all the good I could say about this new service. You see, BPI just made it significantly more difficult for Overseas Filipinos to use their online banking system. Here’s why.

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How Much Does It Cost to Apply for a Green Card in the USA?

Applying for a US Green Card can be an expensive process. Some jobs provide a way to become a Permanent Resident. Sometimes, though, you arrive in the US with a work visa and after at least two (2) years, you become eligible to apply for Permanent Residence, aka Green Card.

By the way, it’s called a “Green Card” because the Permanent Resident cards issued before 1976 had the green color. Since 2002, though, the card has a light pink color.

We arrived in the USA in the third quarter of 2015. By mid-2017, we became eligible to apply for Permanent Residence. However, because of the demands of my job, we chose not to apply. But I was actively seeking information about the process and what it will require from us.

Expensive!

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Kindergarten Blues: Bus or Car?

Coco’s school is close enough to our apartment. It’s a little over 2 miles away. When we were preparing him for Kindergarten, we talked about the transportation situation.┬áMetro Nashville Public Schools a school bus for kids who live within a certain distance from the school.

For the first month of Kindergarten, we told him that I will drop him off at his school in the morning. And in the afternoon, he will ride the bus home. He agreed.

Every time he gets home in the afternoon, he rides with a bunch of other kids from our apartment complex. He has made some friends, and so the bus ride is pretty enjoyable for him.

It was perhaps a little too enjoyable that he said he wanted to ride the bus in the morning, too!

That presented a bit of dilemma for us.

He tends to wake up in the morning and being the 5-year old that he is, he would dawdle. He wanted to spend an extra 5-10 minutes lying in bed, half-asleep, when we try to wake him in the morning.

And then, he would spend another 25-35 minutes eating breakfast. Then, another 30-40 minutes to take a bath, brush his teeth, and prepare for school! That pretty much ensures that we leave home just in time for us to arrive about 10 minutes before his class time.

For him to ride the bus, we needed to adjust our morning routines at least 20 minutes earlier! That would be even tougher in the winter!

But to be honest, I like driving with him, then dropping him off at school.

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How to prepare for your first winter

If you’ve spent some time in Baguio City or Mountain Province in January or February, then you have an idea of what cold is like. You cannot take a bath without a heater or hot water. Your breath steams early in the morning and the fog!

But that is nothing when you experience your first winter in the United States. It is cold, nope not Baguio Cold, but refrigerator, freezer cold!

If you are new to the US you better prepare for the cold of winter!

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The Art of Accumulating Pasalubong

Every Overseas Filipino know the importance of stocking pasalubongs for loved ones in the Philippines. Some even send balikbayan boxes regularly. You probably see many balikbayans at NAIA with lots and lots of baggage and boxes, especially during the Christmas season.

Pinoys who have spent many years in the USA have probably come up with their system of buying and accumulating pasalubongs. But for newcomers, it may be a bit overwhelming. Here are a few tips on the art of accumulating pasalubong.

First things first: decide on a budget and stick to it!

Do not bankrupt yourself because you want to give something nice to family and friends. I repeat, do not bankrupt yourself! Decide on a budget and stick to it. Read my post on keeping up with the Joneses.

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3 FREE Ways to Communicate with Loved Ones in the Philippines

Before the advent of the Internet and all the free ways to communicate online, friends and family of overseas Filipinos had to go to a payphone, line up, and wait for their turn to talk. If that doesn’t work or if their town does not have an RCPI outlet or a payphone, the only alternative is to send letters that would take weeks or months to be delivered.

Now, thanks to all the internet technologies at our disposal, we can contact friends and family all over the world. You don’t even need to pay extra if you have a device and an internet connection.

A phone call to the Philippines from the USA is very expensive. But it’s important for us to see the faces and hear the voices of our loved ones. And if we can do it for free, that’s even better! Here are the three free ways that we communicate with our family and friends in the Philippines.

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How to Apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN)

Disclaimer: The article that follows tells the story of how my wife and son applied for their Individual Tax Identification Number (TIN)s. It is not meant to be taken as financial or tax advice. This is only for educational and informational purposes. The reader is encouraged to do their due diligence.

After my first year of working in the United States, I had to file my income tax return. I had my Social Security Number, our HR Department withheld my tax every payday. All I had to do was to file my income tax. I decided to do it online through TurboTax. It was easy–all I had to do was upload my form W-2, which our HR provided.

There was a catch, though. I was taxed as a single person because I could not claim my wife and my son as my dependents. They did not have Social Security numbers and they couldn’t get it either. They are considered as dependents of a non-immigration alien. What that meant is that my wife cannot work at all.

I, on the other hand, was being treated as a resident-for-tax purposes.

Good thing, I got in touch with a few Filipinos who had been in the same situation as we were. They told us to explore the possibility of getting an ITIN for my wife and son. That’s exactly what we did in November 2016.

If you have family members who are dependents, but you want to claim them as dependents in your tax returns, then this information may help you.

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How to Save Money on Your Child’s Haircut

Kids haircut in America costs at least $12, plus tip, it would be around $15-$18. Our son gets a haircut probably 8-10 times in a year. That would be about $120 to $180 yearly.

When I was a small boy, my father cut my hair. I know that I looked pretty good as a kid. But I don’t really remember what my haircuts then were like. As I progressed through my elementary years and my father got busier, I started going to a barber. I usually got a “flat top” or a “barber’s cut.”

When I felt like I had haircut problems in America, I started looking for the right barber. At about the same time, my wife and I decided that I could cut our son’s hair in the comforts of our home. That’s important tip for y’all out there. Always consult your wife in all important matters such as your child’s hair!

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The Best Ways to Send Money to the Philippines: Transferwise

Like any good Overseas Filipino, I need a fast and reliable way to send money to the Philippines. For the past three years, the main way for me to send money to the Philippines is Xoom.com. I have reviewed this remittance website in the past. You can read that review here: http://amightylife.com/the-best-ways-to-send-money-to-the-philippines-from-the-usa-xoom

My main problem with Xoom, however, is their terrible, terrible exchange rate. They charge an upfront fee of $4.99 for USD to PHP transfers or $7.99 for USD to USD transfers from your US bank account to your recipient in the Philippines.

However, they also make additional money on the backend through their exchange rate. It’s the same criticism that has always dogged Paypal.com.

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