I am an alien. An American who emigrated to Canada. This has resulted in a lot of fun and a bit of pain as I've managed to break the systems of many of the businesses I deal with.
As a programmer I can appreciate the importance (and sometimes difficulty) of handling edge cases. It's been an interesting experience living as an edge case myself.
Taxes are confusing enough when you don't have a wife from another country. The friendly folk at H&R Block had no idea how to handle my situation. Their computers demanded a Social Security Number for my wife, which she doesn't have, because she's Canadian. So they left it blank. (Leaving it blank was the consensus opinion of everyone at H&R Block, including the managers.)
To even be able to leave it blank, they had to print the forms, because the computer refused to submit my taxes electronically with a blank SSN. This should've been a red flag to me, looking back.
The correct thing to do was for her to get an ITIN from the US, which from what I know is a like an SSN that doesn't get you SS benefits or allow you to work in the US. It's just for tracking. But they didn't tell me that.
Moral of this story: That's the last time I'll ever use H&R Block. If I want to do my taxes wrong, I can do that myself for free.
The IRS refused to believe that my wife existed without a number to assign her, so they rejected my tax return and threatened to charge me tons of penalties. So I drove down to the friendly neighborhood IRS office. Surely they'd know how to fix this, right?
Wrong. The fellow at the IRS was familiar with filing taxes for Mexicans living in the US, but not for a "non-resident alien Canadian spouse" like mine.
The ITIN docs say that I need to submit a notarized copy of my wife's passport, to get her an ITIN. But notarized by whom? By a notary in Canada or the US? The IRS agent spent at least an hour reading his enormous IRS manual, looking up treaties and international law, trying to figure this out. Eventually he found a footnote scribbled into the margin of his book that said a Canadian notary was OK. So that's what I gave him.
He filled out the new tax forms himself, stapled on a photocopy of the page from his own IRS manual saying the Canada-notarized passport was OK, stamped everything all official-like, mailed it away himself, and... a month later it was rejected again. I needed to get a US notary to do it, or my wife had to drive to the freaking capital of her province to get it super-notarized or something. Nine months later and 3 more trips to the IRS office, I finally got it worked out.
As a US citizen, living in Canada, working for a US company, being paid by a Canadian payroll company, I live in constant fear of doing my taxes next spring.
Moral of this story: Even the IRS doesn't know their own tax code. Thanks again, US Government.
I have good credit in the US. I was able to get a car loan without a co-signer 6 years ago. I have credit cards.
In Canada, I don't exist. My credit score here is zero, as you might expect. I tried to buy a car, and they just flat-out wouldn't let me without a co-signer for a loan. I guess I can't blame them. (Except that I have money, they have something I want to buy, and we both ended up losing out.)
I went to the bank to open a checking (er, "chequing") account, and all hell broke loose. They wanted my business, but how could they justify giving an account to someone with "no credit"? Eventually the bank manager managed to run a US credit check on me (at least she said she did) and they let me open an account.
But I can't get a credit card here. Not even a $500-limit high-interest card like they give to kids in college. Not even after I had the bank write a letter of recommendation vouching for me. I have to wait a year and keep getting paychecks before I show up in the system. ("Paycheques"?) I'm still looking for other options in the meantime.
Moral of this story: Well, no moral. Sucks to be me, I guess.
I tried to buy a computer online recently (from Dell, which I'm starting to regret). Not having a Canadian credit card, I used my US card. This is OK, my card works up here, with a small foreign transaction fee of %1-3.
But the website wouldn't take a US address as my billing address. I had to give a Canadian address. "Province" was a drop-down, mandatory field.
No matter, I'll just go to my bank's website and change my billing address to one in Canada. I checked with my bank before I moved, and they said it was no problem to keep the account even if I moved to another country. "We have lots of international customers!", said the teller.
Well, my bank's website won't let me specify a non-US billing address. "State" is a mandatory drop-down. Which is awesome. I emailed the bank and asked them to change my address for me, and they did. Now when I go to the "change my address" form on their website, half the fields are filled in and half are just blank. So if I ever use the form again, something will probably break.
Once I got on the phone with Dell, they were more than happy to take my US credit card as payment. Their online form just couldn't handle it.
Moral of this story: Text fields, not drop-downs.
An so on
When I fly across the border, I have to fill out a customs declaration form. There's a field asking "country of residence". Well, technically I am a resident of two countries. So I pick "US" when I fly down to the States, "Canada" when I fly back.
I tried to get a Costco membership in Canada, and they wanted a driver license. My license is from Oregon. Hilarity ensued, and they decided I didn't need one after all. Any time I need to give a driver license for any purpose, I end up breaking something.
Note that in every situation I've described, what I was trying to do was valid, and after some hassle, everything usually worked out OK. Computers just got in the way and slowed the process way down. And I'm not that much of an edge case. 250,000 people immigrate to Canada every year.
I suppose it might be better to optimize for the common cases, force people to pick their province from a drop-down. And then deal with the edge cases like mine manually later. Every text field is another opportunity for users to type in gibberish and chaos. But I wonder if the programmers actually thought about it this much, or if they were just being lazy.
I'm not really complaining. I don't expect the world to change to accommodate me. It's been more funny than annoying. But I do find it interesting to see the flaws in computer systems exposed. I get a certain sick satisfaction out of seeing people write "invalid" values into fields that I know are going to break someone's database down the line.