At the onset of my three-year expatriate journey, my attorney advised me to maintain my U.S. identity to ensure successful repatriation. I found this to be sound advice -- even without it, I do intend to keep my U.S. ties. For sure, there will be a time I will return and live in one part of the country or another.
Maintaining an identity usually involves keeping a phone number and street address, and optionally, cell phone number and fax number. I'm lucky to find a number of low-cost providers for these services:
1. Phone Number
I'm retaining Vonage and paying $16.94/month ($14.99 for 500-minute basic plan, $1.50 for "Regulatory Recovery Fee" and $.045 for "FET tax") to keep my original home number. I'm also enjoy the flexibility of Vonage being a VOIP provider -- I can dial all U.S. phone number as local numbers and receive calls as before.
2. Cell Phone Number
We are keeping two cell phones with Verizon Wireless. In August, we signed up for two free phones via a corporate plan, and currently we are only paying $1.21/month (plus per-minute charges) to keep the account active. The cell phones are particularly useful when I'm on business trips in the States (about once every quarter).
3. Fax Number
I use eFax for a virtual fax number. The service charges me $12.95 per month for a Seattle-based number. If you don't need a specific area code, the service will be free! (Additional per-page charges apply.)
4. Street Address
I paid $291 in October for a one-year lease of a fairly large mailbox at the local UPS Store (I do have a lot of mails/magazine subscriptions). This gives me a street address instead of a PO box (if you go to the USPS route). Cleaning up this physical mailbox is now the #1 in my to-do list for my quarter trip to the mothership.
5. Credit Monitoring
I also feel it is prudent to actively monitoring my credit profile (on top of relying on free annual credit reports from the three credit reporting agencies). At $7.46/month, I found TransUnion credit monitoring services via Walmart Financial Services to be one of the best deals around.
All the above services add up to an affordable $800 a year, but I didn't mention one thing, the tax bill! In fact, I am still subject to federal income tax and FICA tax. The FICA tax alone set me back about $9,000 a year. Of course, paying tax is the right thing to do, but it is still costly.