Clickbait-y title, I know. But I do truly believe that in addition to all my articles about sandwiches, and banks, money, insurance, and work, this one is right up there as the most important thing that applies to so many different aspects of your new (or old) expat life.
Here it is…
- Get details and/or contracts in writing, signed, and dated.
- Read it and confirm that it says exactly what you want.
- Clarify any mistakes and document it in writing (preferably on a fresh document).
- Take a photo of it.
- Email the photo of it to yourself immediately.
Especially the big things like your apartment, but even the seemingly smaller things.
Josh, you're insane, how is this your most important tip!?
Moving to the United States opened my eyes to lots of business opportunities and the ever-present side hustle, but it also opened my eyes to how these things can be manipulated.
Coming from Australia I was used to a lot of protections in place whereby it's actually quite difficult to get yourself into a contractual dispute. There are lots of rules around what you can and can't contract in and out of, and therefore you can skim some of the finer print pretty comfortably.
In many states of the US, this isn't the case.
If you sign a contract that gives you certain rights, privileges, or obligations, then you are bound to those, so you better know what exactly is written.
This is especially important when it comes to anything financial, long-term, or involving your personal security (like a roof over your head). Once signed, it can be incredibly difficult to move backward and get out of the bound terms.
Why is this relevant now?
We're currently experiencing quite a severe economic downturn and from that, there are going to be a lot of desperate businesses and individuals looking to capitalize as quickly as possible to recover their own financial position.
These won't all be scams.
I'm not saying you're going to have your wallet stolen tomorrow, but what might happen is you agree to an extra-long contractual term you didn't realize, or you might be on the hook for some additional expenses you weren't aware of.
You're probably in a slight (or great) state of worry yourself too, which is completely reasonable. You might be worried about your own position, so you're potentially more excited than usual by the deal being put in front of you and take less time to comb through the finer points.
All I'm saying is that you should take an extra few seconds. Plan for the worst-case scenario and think “What would happen if…” and use the document as a guide to see what would happen.
What about 4 and 5, why the photo and email?
It's sometimes difficult to remember all the things you might have entered into and exactly what was discussed. You may also lose the document you signed!
By taking a photo, you have a snapshot (literally) in time of what was discussed and any details that may have been written on the contract (that aren't present on the original).
The email is crucial: An email is near impossible to forge due to the fingerprints servers leave on them. By emailing it to yourself, you have a provable way of showing the details at a certain point in time.
This trick works for all sorts of things. If you discuss an idea with someone or talk about details, write it in an email to yourself with what you discussed because again, you have a time and date stamp that holds all the crucial elements.
Give the email a decent subject, too. Don't do a Josh and write “important stuff” because that will not help you in the future.
Don't be bullied
If someone tells you to “not worry about reading it”, then read it twice.
If you're told that “it's all standard terms” then you should take the time to look for the standard terms and compare them.
Take your time! Even if this is a time-crucial deal then tell the other party that you will take an hour to go away and read through things.
If it's a large financial deal, or something non-standard, then use a lawyer.
Legitimate deals don't have to be signed within seconds of receiving them.
Surely this is a bit over the top!?
100% it is.
It takes an extra few minutes of your life and could end up being everything you rely upon later.