Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Congratulations to our award winning foreign exchange partner

I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate our foreign exchange partner on winning a significant award for entrepreneurs. For those who aren't familiar with the company here's some background:

World First, which employs 35 people, was founded in 2004. The company deals with private clients and businesses. They help private clients with foreign exchange transactions such as transferring money to buy property abroad, often saving them thousands of pounds. They are in direct competition with the major UK banks, and offer services, such as forward contracts, that banks do not tend to offer individuals or SMEs. The company has two offices, one in London and one in New Zealand.

and here's some information about the award:

Nick Robinson and Jonathan Quin, founders of Currency Exchange company, World First, have won an award for the UK's best young entrepreneurs.

The 'Young Guns Award', run by Growing Business Magazine, looks for young entrepreneurs who will become the business leaders of tomorrow. Past winners include James Murray-Well of and Richard Reed of Innocent Drinks.

The award looks for Directors under 35, who demonstrate 'high quality, innovation, uniqueness' and who are 'running companies that are attracting major investment, heading towards a flotation or just very profitable in their own right.'

"Each year we're quite simply astonished by the level of entrepreneurial talent out there. We shouldn't be, of course, as these youthful dynamos are driving the UK economy and will be the business minds behind many of the country's most recognisable brands for years to come," said Ian Wallis, editor of Growing Business magazine.

Over the years that World First has been our official foreign exchange partner the feedback I've received from our members who have used their services has been 100% positive and it came as no surprise to me that they were the recipients of this award.

Congratulations to both Nick and Jonathan and thank you on behalf of our many satisfied members!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Share your expat experience with Expat Focus!

Expat Focus is a website for expats, by expats. If you're someone who has already made the move abroad you will almost certainly have information of use to others - why not share it? You don't need to be a great writer (we can tidy things up), all you need is the willingness to help others by sharing your experiences.

Beyond the warm feeling you'll get from helping others, what else is in it for you? Here are some possibilities:

- Make new friends or contacts. Thousands of people visit Expat Focus every day and anything you write will be available to them all as soon as it's published. If you want others to get in touch with you just ask us to include your contact details in your article.

- Feel that you're doing something useful with your spare time. If you're a trailing spouse, for example, with a lot of time on your hands don't let your valuable experience go to waste.

- Articles can be published not only at the Expat Focus website but also in our newsletter which goes out to over 6,000 subscribers every month.

- There's a certain satisfaction to be gained from preventing others from making the same mistakes you made when you moved to your new country. Equally, have you found a great tip to help others through the endless maze of paperwork you were required to complete? Pass it on!

- Impress people at dinner parties by telling them you write for a popular expat portal. OK, you might not impress them, but you can tell them anyway :-)

If the above sounds good, how do you get started? Simple - think about what you've learnt from your own experiences. It might be something applicable to all expats or maybe just something of use to those heading to your own country, city, town etc. It really doesn't matter, if it's something you think might help someone else and you're able to write at least 500 words about it then we're interested in publishing it at Expat Focus.

Don't think that just because no one else has written about a certain topic before, or you don't see an appropriate section for it already here, that we're not interested in what you want to write about. Remember, if it's something you would have found useful to know, someone else will too.

If you're not comfortable sending us a complete article straight away because you don't think your writing is good enough why not send in a short sample first? It can be anything - something you've written in the past perhaps on another subject or just a couple of paragraphs you've put together to see how it looks. Don't worry too much about making it perfect, although we do appreciate it if you can run it through a spell checker first!

If you'd like to contribute an article, or even start writing regularly for Expat Focus, please contact Jo James via our contact form.

Jo's a lovely woman and she'll be delighted to hear from you, we promise!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Top 20 tips for moving abroad

BE SURE - Moving can be extremely stressful, be as certain as you can be that it's the right move for you before you go. If possible visit the country before you make up your mind, don't rely on other people's impressions. Ask yourself if the new culture will really suit you (and your family).

BE PREPARED - ...For anything and everything to go wrong. Don't assume that you'll be able to find the perfect job or house immediately. If possible make sure you've got enough money to see you through the first couple of months at the very least (preferably longer). And to do that you'll need to...

BUDGET - As unglamorous as it sounds, good budgeting could be what makes the difference between a successful relocation and a disaster. Before you go, work out what everything is going to cost during those crucial first months when you're trying to find your feet in a foreign land.

DON'T DELAY - Start preparing as early as possible, just getting all the necessary paperwork in order can take a long time. Make a checklist of everything you need to do!

CHECK YOUR BENEFITS - If your company has initiated your move you may be eligible for relocation benefits. Make sure you ask if they haven't told you already!

HEALTH - Make sure that the country you are moving to has adequate healthcare facilities and infrastructure to support you (and your family), especially if you suffer from a medical condition which requires treatment or medication.

YOUR HOME - Think about what you want to do with your current home (e.g. sell it, lease it, leave it empty) and what kind of accommodation will be most suitable in your new country. If you don't know anyone in the new country who can help find accommodation, consider the services of a relocation agent.

EMPLOYMENT - Will you be looking for work in your new country? If so, consider starting your job hunt before you go (use the Internet!) Will you be able to use your existing qualifications or will a period of retraining be necessary? If you're moving somewhere where they don't speak the same language as you then you should...

LEARN THE LANGUAGE - Few skills will have such a positive impact on your relocation experience as being able to speak, or at least understand, the local language. Getting to grips with the local lingo before you go is a great idea!

PAPERWORK - No matter how insignificant that old document at the back of the bottom drawer may seem now, take it with you, the chances are at some stage you'll have to show it to someone. Moving countries can be a bureaucratic nightmare at the best of times but if you come prepared with the necessary paperwork you stand the best chance of a stress free relocation. Things to think about include birth certificates, wedding certificates, educational certificates, medical certificates (including those for your pets!), etc.

FRIENDS & FAMILY - Don't forget to inform everyone of your new address and when you're going (unless you don't want them to find you, of course ;-) Seriously though, saying goodbye to friends and family can be the hardest thing about leaving, be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster ride as the day of departure draws near.

YOUR BELONGINGS - Will you be taking everything with you or leaving some items in storage (or even getting rid of them completely)? How will you move your belongings? Can you transport them yourself or do you need the services of a moving company? Set aside those things you need to take with you in person so they don't get packed accidentally (passports, tickets, etc.)

INSURANCE - Once you've decided what you're taking with you, insure it. If you haven't already arranged appropriate insurance (health/life/travel, etc.) for yourself and your family as well...DO SO!

BANKING - You may need to open a new bank account in your new country - look for information on the one which suits you best. Do you need to close your current bank account? At the very least you'll need to tell your current bank that you're moving.

CREDIT CARDS - Credit card companies need to be informed you're moving. Also, will the credit cards you're taking with you be widely accepted?

DRIVING - Depending on where you're going and how long you're going to be there you may need to apply for a new driving license or even take a driving test. Will you take your car with you or buy/rent/lease one when you get to your destination country?

UTILITIES etc - Gas, electricity, cable companies and so on will need to be informed of your departure and contracts terminated where appropriate. Make arrangements for final meter readings and bill payments.

POST REDIRECTION - Having your mail redirected after you leave can prevent you from missing something important.

ELECTRIC DEVICES AND MOBILE PHONES - Check whether or not your TV, video, hair dryer, alarm clock etc will work in the new country. You may need to take out a new network subscription for a mobile phone (or buy a new one with a subscription) - watch out for roaming charges with your current phone if you use it.

EMAIL - If moving means you can't keep your current email address, consider a free web based email account you can access from anywhere.

And finally, a couple of important tips for when you get to your new country...

MAKE FRIENDS - Whether locals or fellow expats, nothing will help you more than being able to rely on the assistance of your friends when you need it. Don't think that socialising is time wasted, it's what makes a new country feel like home.

DON'T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF - Moving to a new country is difficult. Even when everything goes according to plan it's still difficult. There will be times when you're physically and emotionally exhausted but try not to let things get on top of you. Don't be shy about posting a message to our forums to ask for help or support, we've all been there before.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tips on dealing with the stress of moving abroad

Moving house within the same country is a stressful experience, a move overseas even more so. Complicating factors are a lack of familiarity with everyday customs and procedures, language barriers and mixed emotions about the move. Understand that things may not always go smoothly and that there will likely be unanticipated problems to deal with. Accept that people do things differently in other countries, and that the infuriating delay in processing your work permit, for example, is one aspect of the slow pace of life that might have attracted you to the country in the first place. Patience and a sense of humour will definitely help!

Always remember that, although it is important to research your chosen destination carefully, you won’t know what it is really like to live there until you’ve actually made the move. You’ll need to give yourself at least a year or more in the destination to decide whether it is right for you and your family. Even if you plan to move there for good, keep your options open in case things don’t work out and you return home.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More thoughts on preparing for your move abroad

Have you thought about the general environment of your chosen destination? If you are used to wide open spaces, will you be able to adapt to life in a densely populated city such as Singapore or Hong Kong? On the other hand, if you are moving from a city or town to a remote rural area, keep in mind that you will no longer have all the conveniences of supermarkets, corner shops and food delivery services readily available.

Consider your family circumstances and how these are likely to change within the next few years. If recently married, for example, do you plan to start a family, and if so, is there likely to be an acceptable standard of medical, educational and social support facilities available in your chosen destination? Will your family (still) be eligible for social security benefits and paid maternity/paternity leave?

Try to find out about the crime rate and personal security situation - in some countries petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and burglaries may be common, while in others there may even be a high risk of violent robbery or terrorist attacks. Consider whether the likely benefits of living in such a country outweigh the risks.

At a minimum, wherever you move you will find differences in the food, weather, social and business customs, and when the initial novelty wears off you might miss the familiarity of your own country and culture. Try to plan ahead for just such an eventuality and decide how you will react to feelings of homesickness and isolation.

More tomorrow but comments always welcome!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Research, Evaluation & Planning (part two)

If your chosen country has few other foreign expatriates, consider whether you might feel isolated, or whether you will enjoy the experience of being the only foreigner(s) in the local community. Life can be very challenging if hardly anyone else speaks your language and the culture is radically different. Remember that if you go to a country with a large expatriate population you will have an almost ready-made social network, there will probably be international schools that your children can attend and you will be able to find familiar imported products. However, those living almost exclusively in large expatriate communities miss out on getting to know the locals and experiencing the native culture, often one of the most rewarding aspects of living in a different country.

Consider whether you are likely to fit into the culture of the country you are thinking of moving to, particularly if is very different from your own. However, don’t forget that when dealing with the intricacies of daily life, there can be major differences even between countries such as Britain and America – to the frustration of many trans-Atlantic settlers! If considering a move to a very different society, such as from a liberal western democracy to a Middle Eastern Islamic society, you will likely face huge cultural differences. For example, women may have less freedom of movement in such societies, and the consumption of alcohol may be prohibited or allowed only in private homes. Similarly, in some eastern countries such as China, the concepts of personal privacy and freedom do not exist as they do in the west. In becoming an expatriate, you will become much more conscious of the need to observe cultural norms and traditions, something that you probably would never thought about when living in your home country.

You and your family may be involved in various organisations or activities at home that might not be available in your new country, including particular churches or other religious institutions. You should investigate what options are available in the new destination, and whether it would present any difficulties if you have to adapt your leisure, social or spiritual practices to the new environment.

It is important to research the year-round climate of your chosen destination, particularly if you have only ever visited during the summer holiday season. Life may be very different in the middle of winter, particular if the weather conditions are extreme. Take into account any environmental risks such as earthquakes or cyclones, and whether the level of risk would be a concern to you and your family. Try to find out whether there are other health hazards such as high pollution levels or high levels of pesticides in local produce. These may be a particular concern if you’re travelling with children, or if family members suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma.

If you are thinking of moving to a northern European country, consider whether the lack of sunshine, and the relatively short daylight hours in winter, would be a problem for you and your family – remembering that it is often dark by around 4.30 p.m. On the other hand, summer offers the benefit of long light evenings in these countries, although it may be too cool to want to stay outside for long. If considering a move to a country with a hot climate, find out how high the temperatures and levels of humidity actually are and consider what it will be like to live and work in such conditions, bearing in mind of course that you will probably have air-conditioning to help cool you down when inside.

More tomorrow!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Research, Evaluation & Planning

Whether you are considering a temporary or permanent move to a different country it is important not to rush the decision making process, especially if you are taking your family with you. Not everyone is suited to expatriate life, although for many it will be a thoroughly enjoyable and life-enriching experience. Find out as much as you can in advance about life in the country you plan to move to, and consider carefully whether it will suit you and your family.

Use the Internet to get as much information as you can about your chosen destination. Most countries have expatriate community websites with personal articles, blogs and lots of practical advice and information to help new expatriates settle in. You may also be able to find travel books, videos or CD-ROMs about the country you are thinking of moving to in your local library. Take the time to watch the videos or browse travel literature together as a family, and discuss the likely benefits of the new destination as well as any concerns that family members may have. If you are thinking of moving to a distant location, find out how easy and affordable it will be to make trips home, or for family and friends to visit you. You’ll need to consider whether there are direct flights or not, and what the overall travelling time is likely to be, as well as the cost. Remember how stressful long-distance travel can be, particularly if you are travelling with young children.

If at all possible, visit the country you are planning to live in before making up your mind, but remember that daily life there will be very different from your experiences as a short-term visitor. Talk to other expatriates about their experiences, and ask them about the best and worst aspects of life there. Even if you don’t have any existing expat contacts in the country, you will often find that expats tend to congregate in particular areas of town, or in favourite coffee bars or restaurants, where it may be easy to strike up a conversation with them. Lessons learned at this stage, before you commit significant time and money, may be extremely valuable.

More tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Why Move Abroad?

People these days leave their home countries to live and work abroad for a wider variety of reasons than ever before. Ease of travel and communications, increased knowledge of foreign destinations and the development of a truly global economy have encouraged people of all ages and backgrounds to become expatriates.

The largest single category of expatriates from western countries is almost certainly those who are posted overseas by their existing employer on a temporary basis - the staff of large international organizations or the diplomatic staff of overseas embassies, for example. However, more and more people are now choosing to move independently to another country, for employment or retirement purposes or just to experience a different environment and way of life. The decision to move to a different country might be based on:

- Better quality of life
- Warmer climate
- Lower cost of living
- Availability of more rewarding employment
- Interest in a different culture
- A relationship

Ultimately, everyone has their own individual reasons for moving abroad. What would it take for you to leave your current home and move to another country? If you did decide to go, how would you start?

I'll talk tomorrow about what I think is the best way to prepare for a successful relocation abroad...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Most expensive cities for expatriate employees

Questions about cost of living expenses crop up fairly regularly in the Expat Focus forums so I thought it might be useful to post this link to Wikipedia's "List of most expensive cities for expatriate employees." Some of the entries may surprise you! Another page well worth a look is the "List of cities by quality of living." Definitely two lists you might want to bookmark and refer to if you're starting to think about a move to one of the world's major cities.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Amanda Lamb Interview

UK readers familiar with the TV series "A Place in the Sun" will probably recognise the name Amanda Lamb, the show's presenter (they may also know her from the Scottish Widow ads!). has an interview with Amanda where she gives some very useful tips on moving overseas and buying property abroad. Her main advice is to get sound financial and legal advice before you do anything else - we couldn't agree more!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Great blog for expats heading to Canada

Expat Travels : From Switzerland to Canada is a great blog (with some wonderful photography) for anyone considering a move to Canada. Written by an expat who moved from California to Switzerland and then to Vancouver it has a really upbeat, friendly vibe which we like. Check it out!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

New guide to Holland taking shape

Some good news! Our revised guide to expat life in Holland is really taking shape now with just a few more sections and revisions to add. When complete it'll set a new standard of depth and breadth for our guides which we hope to replicate across the board. If you have an opinion as to which of our country guides should be "upgraded" next please let us know!