Four Cities Across Three Continents, Vote For Your Favorite Two In Best City 2017

best city 2017 final four

One of the most diverse groups of 64 for The Best City To Visit Travel Tournament is down to a wide-reaching Final Four. Australia, Europe, and North America face off in polls that have tightened with each round. Your votes determine which cities will advance to one step away from being named your Best City to Visit of 2017.

Click your favorite cities before this Saturday, April 1st, 5pm US EST. You will need to enter your email address, then click to verify your vote from an email that comes from Poll Daddy. Your email address is not used for anything other than verifying your vote. Emails aren’t used in any other way. Your privacy and personal information are important to me, always. Votes may not be visible until after the polls close. Good luck to all the remaining cities!



Remember, the Championship begins next Tuesday, April 4th, 2017.

A Review Of HotelsCombined: A Hotel Search Engine For Hotel Booking Sites

hotelscombined review

Hotel booking sites are generally a cluster of links, rates, and options that are often more overwhelming than useful. Eventually you stumble on to a hotel with a decent rating and low rate, simply to end the laborious search process. Although sites like Airbnb have really optimized the user search experience, there are many trips where renting an apartment or getting a hostel dorm over a hotel doesn’t make sense.

HotelsCombined recently partnered with me to get my thoughts on using their site and what benefits it might have for travelers.

What Is It?

HotelsCombined is a hotel booking site. Basically, as you’re probably familiar with already, they comb other hotel booking sites to offer you a wide variety of deals. Something of a hotel search engine of search engines, with the goal being to provide you with the lowest hotel rates by casting the net wider than its competitors.

hotelscombined search results

Clearly they’ve focused on finding you the best variety of rates over having the best user interface – but as painful as it can be to search for hotels online, HotelsCombined does a good job of reducing the amount of time you need to find a good place to stay at a low rate.

Strong Search

I spent a few hours going through comparisons with HotelsCombined and other major booking sites, many of which are part of HotelsCombined search results. (HotelsCombined also doesn’t have any annoying popups so common with similar aggregators.) In nearly all cases, they had comparable rates. So, for example, the same hotel room for the same dates turned up practically the same price on Booking.com as it did on HotelsCombined’s Booking.com search result.

The benefit to HotelsCombined is it’s able to save you time in finding the lowest rate for a particular room by looking at hundreds of providers, including these 20 popular sites. Ideally, HotelsCombined wants to be the only place you need to go to find the right hotel room for your next trip. Throughout the time I was using HotelsCombined, I couldn’t find a good reason why it shouldn’t be.

Features For The Frugal

HotelsCombined also offers a “Price Alert” feature where you’ll be sent an email notification when the price of a specific hotel booking you’re interested in falls below 10%. You need to register for the feature; probably something travelers who plan more in advance will want to consider. On the other hand, if you’re like me and a little more last minute, downloading their free app might be an even bigger time saver.

A smoother interface with a more simple design (dare I say less options) that just shows your the lowest price, amenities, and ratings, would be my personal preference but until that’s the norm, HotelsCombined at least reduces the amount of time you need to spend searching for the right hotel room for your personal needs and budget.

There Are 8 Cities Left: Vote For Your Final Four In The Best City 2017 Contest

best city 2017 elite 8

Over the past 3 weeks your votes have eliminated 56 cities from 2017 The Best City To Visit Travel Tournament. Now there are a remaining 8, all with strong support, and ready to get into the Final Four. Those of you who nominated cities which advance to the Final Four will all be guaranteed at least a $25 gift card  to any of the following online stores: Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Delta, and Southwest Airlines. Of course though, I know you’re hoping for the $600 top prize. Let me know your favorite cities in the world by voting below all this week!

Click your favorite cities before this Sunday, March 26th, 5pm US EST. You will need to enter your email address, then click to verify your vote from an email that comes from Poll Daddy. Your email address is not used for anything other than verifying your vote. Emails aren’t used in any other way. Your privacy and personal information are important to me, always. Votes may not be visible until after the polls close. Good luck to all the remaining cities!





Remember, the next round, Final Four, begins next Tuesday, March 28st, 2017.

How American Expats Can Lower (Or Eliminate) Their Taxes Back Home

This is a guest post by Olivier Wagner, a Certified Public Accountant, U.S. immigrant, expat, and perpetual traveler who preaches the philosophy of being a worldly American. In his new book, U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans, he uses his expertise to show you how to use 100% legal strategies (beyond traditionally maligned “tax havens”) to keep your income and assets safe from the IRS. Oliver has also written recently what you need to know about taxes if you’re an American who moves abroad.

us passport money

Most Americans living abroad today know about the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) (Form 2555). The FEIE lets you remove up to $101,300 of foreign income from your taxable income when filing taxes back home. This is great news for U.S. citizens who stay outside the country all year and don’t make six figures annually; as it legally allows you to avoid paying any taxes to the United States. However, to take advantage of it, you must be careful to claim things the right way on your tax return.

Choosing Between The FTC And FEIE

You can also claim a credit for any taxes you have paid to foreign governments through the Foreign Tax Credit (FTC) (Form 1116). This is very useful if you are a resident or worker in another country. However, you have to choose between using either the FTC or the FEIE to lower your taxes – you can’t take advantage of both.

  • Generally, if your foreign tax rate is greater than your U.S. tax rate, the FTC will save you more.

If you have children who are also American citizens, you can get a refundable tax credit of $1,000 per year per child with the Additional Child Tax credit. To qualify, you must have at least $3,000 of income and not use the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans

amazon buy now

My friend Laura from Ohio used to work as a self-employed English teacher in Milan. Because she would spend the entire tax year in Italy (and made much less than the $101,300 FEIE limit), she qualified for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion each year when she filed her American taxes.

However, there is one other requirement you must meet in order to use the FEIE. You must pass either the Bona Fide Residence Test or the Physical Presence Test. Although you only need to qualify using one of the two, having both provides a safety net. If you are ever audited and you fail one test, you can simply provide another Form 2555 using the other test.

How To Pass The Bona Fide Residence Test

This is a somewhat fancy phrase that explained Laura’s situation perfectly. A bona fide resident is someone who has legitimately established residency in a foreign country. Although she was abroad in Italy for an undetermined, potentially indefinite period of time, Ohio still saw her as a resident for tax purposes until she proved otherwise.

In order to use this test to qualify for the FEIE, she just had to remain a tax resident of Italy for an uninterrupted tax year. Even if a country doesn’t have an income tax system, so long as they would otherwise have authority to tax you, you qualify as a “tax resident”. She also must not have submitted a statement to Italy that she was a non-resident there. She could not be living in Italy as a tourist.

lisbon portugal

Every other tie to the country counts and the Bona Fide Residence test is inherently subjective. If you are unsure, I would not recommend claiming it. I advise that you use the Physical Presence test or the Foreign Tax Credit instead.

How To Pass The Physical Presence Test

Alternatively, Laura also could have qualified for the FEIE using the Physical Presence Test. To pass this test, a person must spend at least 330 days outside the US in any 12-month period.

Each of those 330 days must be an entire 24 hours. I once had a client of mine tell me, “Well, of course I can use the Physical Presence Test. I live in Canada year-round.” Then he said, “I only return to the States once a week to fill up on gas.” Oops. Those quick little trips meant he was only out of the country for 6/7ths of the year, or 312 days – not quite enough to pass the Physical Presence Test.

Additional Exceptions To The 24 Hour Rule

  • Being in the U.S. for less than 24 hours while in transit between two foreign countries.
  • Being in international waters for less than 24 hours in transit between two foreign countries. International waters do not count as a foreign country (hence, time spent there does not count toward the 330 days). Likewise, time spent in Cuba in violation of the embargo does not count toward the 330 days.

Since Laura was living in Italy for the entire year, she passed these tests as well.

Filing The FEIE On Your Tax Return

The FEIE can be claimed on either Form 2555-EZ or Form 2555. As a tax professional, I usually use Form 2555, but if you’re preparing your own return, you might enjoy the simplicity of Form 2555-EZ.

Requirements For Form 2555-EZ

  1. You must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien.
  2. You must earn wages or a salary in a foreign country.
  3. You must have a total foreign earned income of $101,300 or less.
  4. You must file a calendar year return that covers a 12-month period.
  5. You must not have self-employment income.
  6. You must not have business or moving expenses.
  7. You must not claim the foreign housing exclusion or deduction.

While the 2555-EZ is an enticing option, it is not applicable to people who receive self-employed income, claim moving expenses, or claim the foreign housing exclusion or deduction. This becomes a problematic area for many English teachers who give private courses outside of a structured work environment, and are therefore considered “self-employed.”

Another Option, The Foreign House Exclusion

My friend Laura also considered claiming the foreign housing exclusion. The foreign housing exclusion is useful for those whose earned income exceeds the limit of $101,300. (The first $44.28 per day is not deductible.) The Foreign Housing Exclusion is called the Foreign Housing Deduction for self-employed people, but the concept is the same.

american flag kansas

Many expats get extremely frustrated with the U.S. tax-filing process, with its seemingly never-ending pages of questions followed by the massive crunching of numbers. I have met many of those people, worked with them, and assured them that we would be able to comply with all the tax requirements so long as we were detailed in our approach.

As you probably already know, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as “Obamacare”, imposes tax penalties on American citizens without health insurance. Fortunately, anyone who qualifies for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion is not subject to the penalties of the ACA.

In Laura’s case, we managed to successfully file her taxes and her Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. We also managed to receive a tax credit for the income taxes taken out by the Italian government.

Thank you very much Oliver for sharing some of your expertise with the many expats who may be paying taxes they don’t have to. Oliver goes further into detail in his highly rated book, U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans. For those of you Americans living abroad, it’s probably a good idea to know how your tax situation changes – and doesn’t – which Oliver has covered previously on foXnoMad in his post, How Taxes Change When Americans Go Abroad.

The Best City To Visit Travel Tournament 2017 Is Down To A Sweet 16

best city 2017 sweet 16

This has been a weird tournament so far. The Second Round of Best City 2017 last week resulted in 3 ties (the most ever in a round and second most in a tournament) giving me tough tie-breaking decisions. Vancouver, Taipei City, and Kuala Lumpur’s excellent street food move to the final 16 cities. For those of you who nominated cities, you’re only 2 rounds away from earning prizes.

Readers, it’s time to vote! Click your favorite cities before this Sunday, March 19th, 5pm US EST. You will need to enter your email address, then click to verify your vote from an email that comes from Poll Daddy. Your email address is not used for anything other than verifying your vote. Emails aren’t used in any other way. Your privacy and personal information are important to me, always. Votes may not be visible until after the polls close. Good luck to all the remaining cities!

On a side-note, I’m planning to expand the tournament a lot next year. I want to give more of you prizes (because you’re awesome and your support of this site makes my crazy travel life possible) so vote, share, and let me know if you have any suggestions in the comments below!









Remember, the next round of Elite 8, begins next Tuesday, March 21st, 2017.

How To Protect Your Phone And Privacy When Traveling Across International Borders

phone edinburgh

You are traveling in a world that’s getting smaller while at the same time carrying more information about yourself than at any time history. As international travel becomes easier, more and more travelers are confronting the legal reality that many rights you may have in a country don’t apply at the border. Earlier this year, Sidd Bikkannavar, an employee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (and a US citizen), was detained in Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and his NASA-issue phone searched.

Such cases are more common than you may realize. In the United States in 2015, an estimated 4,444 phones were searched or seized at the border. It’s important to understand your digital rights as a traveler and protect your personal information from unwarranted searches and seizure.

What Are Your Rights At A Border?

Not all borders are the same but broadly speaking borders don’t have to be lines on a map either. Sea and airports are considered borders themselves, which is why you haven’t technically entered a country until you pass the immigration line. The United States Supreme Court, for example, has repeatedly ruled that the American 4th Amendment to the Constitution doesn’t quite apply at the border, even if you’re a U.S. citizen.

Your phone, all the social media accounts its logged into, photos, and other personal information can be searched, confiscated, or downloaded without probable cause in most countries. There are however, some measures you can take to protect yourself faster than you can say, “I have nothing to hide.”

Tactics From Simple To Drastic

First of all, know your rights depending on where you are going. Not bringing your phone with you is the first, most drastic option. Leaving your smartphone which serves as camera, GPS, fitness tracker, and more isn’t feasible for most people. Many companies (not to mention journalists and lawyers) whose employees travel with sensitive company information on their devices, opt for a less drastic maneuver. To protect their proprietary information, sources, etc. they back up their phones to a hard drive, cloud service, or somewhere else; then wipe their phones before traveling. Once they arrive at their destination, they simply restore their phones from the backups.

Other tactics include getting a “burner” phone, one you only use while traveling that’s not logged into your social media or email accounts. (Maybe a new Nokia 3310?) Obviously, you’re shifting your data elsewhere and inconveniencing yourself to varying degrees depending on how concerned about your privacy you are.

Digital Resistance Band

In many countries, it’s legally more difficult for border agents to compel you to give up a password, than a fingerprint. Some privacy advocacy groups recommend removing fingerprint unlocking capabilities from your phone; or turning the phone off so you can legally refuse to give up your passwords. (Be careful though, in Canada for example, this can get you charged with obstruction.) And in pretty much all cases, resisting is going to get you a lot of hassle.

Ultimately, this is an issue that will continue progress (or not) in the various legal systems around the world. In the meantime here’s how to boost the privacy of your iPhone, improve privacy settings on Android, and come up with your own personal travel security plan.

About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More

Get my latest posts in your inbox:


Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube FeedBurner

Recent Articles

A Review Of HotelsCombined: A Hotel Search Engine For Hotel Booking Sites

There Are 8 Cities Left: Vote For Your Final Four In The Best City 2017 Contest

How American Expats Can Lower (Or Eliminate) Their Taxes Back Home