Thursday, January 22, 2015

taxes: one down, one to go

Filing taxes in Korea is something I've never done myself before. Our office recently bombarded us with a series of emails regarding our income, as well as what to do to file. Today, while I was at lunch, one of the office ladies called me and asked what I had done to prep for tax filing. I told her I hadn't done anything; she said to come to the office, but that I also needed to request an income and deductions/withholding statement from my previous university. She then offered to obtain that document herself, but said she'd need my old university's contact number. I couldn't find it (I must have deleted it), so when I finally got to my campus's main office, the office assistant looked the number up herself.

For the better part of an hour, two office assistants helped me out with the overly complicated filing procedure. The document from Daegu Catholic arrived while we were puzzling over one of several screens; because the document wasn't formatted in the same way that Dongguk's tax documents are, there was some confusion, which caused more delays.

Another snag occurred when one of the assistants asked me for an electronic "certificate" so she could access my Dongguk-related personal records on a different computer; she said the certificate ought to be on my thumb drive. I told her I didn't have a thumb drive, and that the certificate, an .exe file, had been installed on the computer at my work station.* She asked me to find the file, upload it to her thumb drive, and bring the drive back to her—all so that she could gain access to my records. I told her that it'd be a heck of a lot easier for her simply to come to my desk, where I could just log into the Dongguk intranet and we could finish the tax-processing there. Turning this into a power struggle, the assistant said she preferred the more zigzaggy way (i.e., Kevin goes to his desk, finds the certificate file, loads it onto the thumb drive, and brings it back to her at the office); I relented and asked her what the name of the file was; she said gong-in injeung-seo, but when I went back to my desk and tried to find a file by that name, nothing came up.

I went back to the assistant empty-handed and once again asked her to just come over to my desk. She refused and said, "Here, let me try something." Eventually, she dug up a copy of my certificate herself, which left me to wonder why the hell I had to physically bring her the certificate from my work station. But that's Korea for you: nothng here is linear. It also turned out that the certificate's file name was NOT gong-in injeung-seo: it was some weird, unpronounceable alphanumeric string, which was why I couldn't find it.

In the end, the office ladies did pretty much everything for me. I was annoyed during parts of the process, but the whole thing took about forty minutes, and now it's completely done. I asked whether I'd have to visit a local tax office or something and was told that I wouldn't: "done" meant done. So all in all, I suppose that wasn't as bad as it could have been, but I didn't envy the office assistants the chore of having to go through this administrative bullshit another forty-some times with the rest of our faculty.

So now I've got to file my US taxes. There are some helpful websites for expats out there (here's one), so I'll be looking into filing as soon as I can. I think it's absurd that my own country requires me to report income that I earn and largely use overseas. By rights, such income shouldn't be taxed at all. Alas, that's not the world we live in.

*The whole thumb-drive issue is based on the assumption that, if a teacher wants to log in to the university database remotely (i.e., from home or from some other non-campus-based computer), he'll need to install his electronic certificate on whatever computer he's using. For this reason, the certificate must be kept on a thumb drive and toted around physically. In my case, (1) I lost my thumb drive back when I was at my previous job; (2) I saw no need to tote around the certificate because I've got a Mac at home, and .exe files don't work on Macs without special software. The whole "certificate" thing is highly annoying; it's a result of Korean slackerhood when it comes to developing websites with modern encryption. Most Korean websites are still stuck in the Stone Age of Active X, which is total nonsense, not to mention that Active X is eminently hackable. Korea won't change its ways until it loses about a trillion dollars through a gaping security hole.



John (I'm not a robot) said...

I'm no expert, but I think there is only a requirement to file, your overseas income below a certain amount ($75,000) is not taxed. As far as I know. Maybe you have to pay the SSI though.

Just going through my employment paperwork--they had me complete IRS form 673 "Statement for claiming exemption from withholding on foreign earned income". Go online and take a look at the form.

Anyway, I know there is an H&R Block near the Yongsan-gu office. May be worth it.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks, John. The tax-help site that I linked to also notes that my income likely won't be taxed. I'll believe it when I see it, of course, and it'd be really nice if Uncle Sam owed me money instead of the other way around.