Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Curious expat behaviour

by guest blogger Mac

Have you ever noticed how many expats always seem to want to spend time with their own countrymen even though they are far from home? I really have never been able to understand why somebody would travel half way around the world and then spend every night in an English theme bar watching football on cable TV.

What I find even more amazing are the people that go to great lengths to track down food from back home, often paying incredibly high prices for things they probably never even ate in their home country. Is this how some people deal with home sickness? And if so, why are they not at home if they miss the place so much? I admit that now and then I crave some kind of food from back in the UK, most notably roast lamb; I haven’t had roast lamb in years.

I also do not understand the kind of expat I meet who has nothing good to say about the country we are in, constantly complaining - why don’t they just go home? If they dislike where they live so much why don’t they leave? Very strange indeed.

Are expats damaging their home nations?

In a previous post I commented on the fact that the average age of expats has dropped dramatically in the last two decades. This means that more people are cashing out early and moving into full or semi-retirement in a foreign country, but what of the effects on their home nation? First, let us make the logical assumption that a person who has managed to accrue sufficient independent wealth, enough to allow them to end their working life up to 30 years early in some cases, can be deemed to be fairly successful. By ending their working life prematurely they are quite possibly giving up the opportunity to become affluent business owners, supplying employment and revenue to their local economy.

The simple fact is that it takes a certain type of person to consider becoming an expat - most are intelligent, skilled and highly capable, in many ways the bright sparks of the economy, the go getters, the movers and shakers. It stands to reason that the increasing number of these successful people who decide to move to foreign shores, instead of staying at home and continuing to build their sphere of affluence, is nothing short of a loss to their home nation both economically and culturally. What do you think?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Have you considered offshore banking?

Offshore banking may have been associated with crime, money laundering and tax evasion in the past but modern offshore banking is a respectable and useful financial tool. Expatriates can benefit very nicely by shifting to an offshore bank, some of the advantages to consider being:

Low or No Tax – The typical offshore tax haven, especially useful if you are working abroad as an expat and are unwilling to have your income taxed by your home nation when you pay your salary or earnings into your bank account back home.

Protection – If you are an expat living in an unstable economy or culture, you may well wish to know that your funds are secure, and any local problems will not see you lose your nest egg.

Privacy – Although offshore banks are no longer entirely private, it is still substantially more difficult to obtain information from them than it is from a conventional bank, meaning your financial situation is kept private.

Offshore banking is no longer expensive, and the application process is extremely straightforward. Anyone who currently uses multiple bank accounts that cross national boundaries should take a long hard look at what offshore banking has to offer but always remember to consult a qualified financial advisor before making any decision about your money!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Laos – Asia's emerging expat haven

by guest blogger Mac

I have spent quite a bit of time in Asia during the last 10 years; I have lived in Thailand and Vietnam and have visited almost every South East Asian country. One place I find myself returning to time and time again at the moment is Laos; it really is becoming an excellent option as an expat haven. The reasons for this are many, the main one being that the infrastructure is fast becoming as good as we are used to in the west. Transport is good, communications are good, and public services are good. The people are friendly and our western money goes a long way.

I think my favourite thing about Laos though, is the fact it is still relatively un-spoiled by foreigners, it still has that back of beyond feel that Thailand used to have a couple of decades ago. Anyone who is looking for an exotic place to spend some time, with enough creature comforts to make like easier, would do well to check out Laos, it really does have an incredible amount of potential, certainly refreshing after spending time in some of the surrounding nations which have been heavily influenced by western capitalism.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Learn the language!

I often get asked for advice by people who are considering moving away from their home nation and living life as an expat. The first of my gems of wisdom is always regarding language and communication.

The single most beneficial thing you can do when living abroad is to make an effort to learn at least some of the local language. Some countries are easier than others for sure, but wherever you are, you will be received so much more openly if you are seen to be attempting to learn how to speak the language.

I cringe sometimes when I see other expats waving their arms around and shouting because they think this will enable the person they are trying to converse with to suddenly and miraculously be able to speak English!

Trying to learn the local language not only makes your life easier, but shows the local population that you respect their culture - give it a go!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tierschutz Mission Burgas – A Dog Rescue Centre in Bulgaria

by guest blogger Rachel Gawith (Bulgaria forum co-moderator)

I initially heard of the Tierschutz (Animal Rescue) Mission through a friend of a friend back in November 2007, when I was desperately trying to find new homes for two puppies from a litter of four, born to a street dog I had adopted. Already having a number of other dogs and cats I decided I could really only keep two of the puppies and so made the hard decision to take the other two to the rescue centre.

With only brief directions to finding the centre and speaking very little Bulgarian, the journey there was a nightmare. I got lost in central Burgas and the puppies were getting very stressed. But eventually Margarita, who runs the office for the Tierschutz Mission found me and drove with me to the centre, which is situated just off the main road from Burgas to Sozopol.

First impressions of the centre are that it is very basic. There is one long, low building made into pens and also housing a small operating room for simple procedures and an area for new Mums and pups. There are then various sheds and kennels around housing many more dogs. But the few staff that volunteer to run the place were all friendly and very dedicated and it was kept very clean. My two pups were found accommodation in a large outdoor pen and I said my goodbyes and made a donation to the cause.

A few months later I received a telephone call from Margarita to say my pups had been re-homed together to a Bulgarian family living in the countryside with plenty of space. She also mentioned that the Mission was very short on funds for food and medical care. I promised to try and raise some money from the expat society in Bulgaria. However, despite appeals on various forums only one person came forward and gave some money.

So on 5th September this year, myself and two other expats met up in Burgas to visit the Mission’s office and discuss raising funds through organised events and donations. We met with Christa Schechtl, a German journalist who has dedicated much of her life and much of her money to helping street dogs in places such as Turkey, Ukraine and Bulgaria. It is Christa’s dream to build a large, new, modern dog rescue centre on land she has purchased close to Chernomorets and to date all funds for the office, dog food, housing and medical expenses has been covered by Christa and from donations she has managed to get from people in Germany. The sanctuary has received no funding from Bulgarian sources.

Christa organised and paid for 30 dogs to be taken back to Germany and re-homed there in a trip taking 3 full days of driving and an awful lot of money. In September 2008 she is flying two more dogs back to Germany. She has published 3 magazines (in German only) available at http://www.der-schrei.de.

The Mayor of Burgas has recently informed Christa and Margarita of his intention to use the land where the current sanctuary is to build a fun park for holiday makers. It is hoped that funds can be raised from the Municipality wanting to reclaim this land and used to start building the new centre.

However, there are still over 100 dogs housed at the current sanctuary. These all need good new homes and in the meantime, money is required for medical treatment, food, blankets for winter and toys etc.

We visited the sanctuary and spent a couple of hours playing with the numerous puppies, talking to staff, walking round the pens. A German family arrived while we were there and brought with them a brand new puppy pen and puppy bed as well as food and drink for the staff. We heard the tales of how many of the dogs had come to be in the sanctuary; like Morjo who was born there 2 years ago, or Merri, a three year old beautiful Setter type dog found starving in Sofia and then there is Tony, a little terrier dog who was a house dog for 7 years until his owner decided he no longer wanted him, hit him over the head and threw him out. He required various operations to sort out a head wound and broken teeth but is now looking for a new home.

With the help of a colleague in Burgas we are hoping to set up a few collection points where food can be dropped off, as well as blankets, cushions, toys etc and also get some collection boxes on display at various locations.

I also intend to organise regular fund raising events such as car boot sales, book sales, dinner parties, sponsored events and theme nights. These will mainly be held in the Burgas, Yambol, Sliven, Stara Zagora and Chirpan areas. Anyone willing to help or interested to get involved can contact me using the details below.

If you can give a dog a new home where he can run freely in a garden, experience long walks in the country side and be part of a family, then please visit the sanctuary as there are many beautiful, loving dogs waiting there.

It is hoped that a website can soon be set up for the Mission but at the moment donations can be made at the following site: http://www.thetravelbug.org/tierschutzmission.htm

Rachel Gawith

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Expat "longevity" - how long will you stay?

Taking data from a recent HBSC survey, which presents a whole host of interesting information regarding the top expat locations, we find some surprising facts.

First let us consider longevity, or how long an average expat lives in a particular country or area of the world. We find that Europe overall sees the most long term expats, with up to 80% of them living in Europe for more than three years. This is hardly surprising in itself, it only becomes interesting when correlated with the next fact.

Almost every European country scored very low in the overall scores, most displayed a relatively high cost of living and low standards of lifestyle based upon income, almost all of them were criticised for their social and economic environment.

So the real question is why are so many people so keen to stay in these countries, even though the survey results would seem to suggest that they are the least attractive expat options to be found? Could it be that the survey neglected to factor location into the equation? European expats who relocated to another European country have the huge advantage of easy access to their home nation, something the survey seems to overlook...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why do people move abroad?

Recent statistics show that in some countries, the expat community can make up a noticeable percentage of the population. Of course we are not talking a huge percentage, but the very fact it has now become possible to express the expat head count in percentage of population form in these countries is indicative of the fact that people no longer see moving abroad as a particularly large hurdle to overcome and more and more people are willing to leave their country of birth to seek a new life elsewhere. One recent survey of the expat community in Spain found that there were three main reasons that people had chosen to move there:

1. Lower cost of living means a better lifestyle, even if income was reduced.
2. Ability to relocate to a more desirable area, both socially and environmentally.
3. Better climate and healthier environment.

The interesting thing about these three reasons is that they were originally the prime driver for many retired people relocating to the warmer parts of Spain; however, the average expat age has dropped significantly over the past two decades. It would seem to suggest that younger people are seeking early retirement or semi-retirement - in effect we have a whole batch of young, financially well off people leaving the shores of their home country to live in Spain. One can only presume that this has a negative economic impact upon the country they are leaving, as the people literally cash in their chips and take them elsewhere. In a future post I will explore some of the possible effects this could have on a country over the long term.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Expats & the global economy

As the global economy continues to flounder and the cost of living increases rapidly due to the spiralling price of oil, it could be said the world expat community is getting the worst deal of all.

Most expats tend to include regular trips to their home nation to visit friends and family into their annual budget. With the drastic increase in oil prices causing previously unseen levels of inflation in air fares, many expats are finding that their visits home are beginning to damage their pockets. This situation can only worsen as world oil stocks become lower - for many expats who take frequent trips home, this could well be cause enough for them to repatriate.

Additionally, for many expats chose to start a new life in a nation with a reduced cost of living, a high quantity of these expats are also living on a fixed monthly budget with no additional income. As food and housing prices begin to rise across the board, these kinds of expats will find it increasingly difficult to maintain their current lifestyles on their current funds.

With the world heading into recession, we could begin to see the amount of expats returning home start to increase as they struggle to maintain their life in their chosen host nation.

What about you? Are you having second thoughts about your new life abroad or are you unaffected by the ups and downs of the economy?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why is Asia such a challenge for expats?

Asia is both one of the most often chosen locations for expats to choose as a now home, and one of the most likely locations to see an ex-pat giving up and returning to their home country. Just why is Asia such a tough nut to crack for expats?

The primary reason why Asia is such a challenge comes from the hidden costs of living, in most Asian nations it is not possible to own land or property, expats are required to place their property into the hands of a local and this has led to many problems with individuals losing their entire wealth through making some bad decisions about who to trust. Overall, as an expat in Asia, you must be prepared to lose any capital you inject into property as you cannot even own your own home.

Secondly, Asian culture can be quite daunting, although on the face of it it appears to have many similarities to western culture, it is in fact fundamentally different at a basic level. Religion is still a major driving force throughout daily life in Asia; many westerners find it increasingly difficult to come to terms with these differences the longer they stay.

Asia can be a rewarding place in which to live, although often not a simple place Any person considering Asia as an expat location needs to do a little homework before making any drastic moves.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Will Latin America be the next big expat destination?

For many people, one of the major reasons for choosing to live outside of their own country is that their income or savings will go a lot further and buy them a much higher quality of life. Several European countries including Spain, Portugal and Greece witnessed a huge expat boom in the early 1980s for just this reason. With the acceptance of the Euro as the standard currency throughout most of Europe, the cost of living has levelled out somewhat, making these destinations less desirable for those looking to spread their wealth as far as it will go.

If we take a look at the ten cheapest countries to live, we find that eight out of ten of these countries are to be found in Latin America, these ten being Uruguay, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Argentina, Ecuador, Belize and Chile. If we consider the fact that almost all of these countries now benefit from a very well developed set of social amenities and an ever improving infrastructure, it becomes clear that they may well become expat hot spots in the not so distant future. Keep an eye on Latin America!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Some financial advice for expats

A surprising number of expats fail to streamline their banking and financial practices once they have taken up residence in their country of choice. International banking makes it possible to hold an account in a country and access your funds from anywhere using either a debit card or ATM. Although this makes life very simple, it comes with a cost, often international transactions will carry an additional fee for handling and administration, and whilst these costs are relatively small at transaction level, they can mount up to a significant figure over time.

ATM charges are particularly hefty when using your card in an overseas ATM; some banks are keener than others in their price structure, whilst some may charge as much as $2.00 per transaction regardless of the quantity of cash that is withdrawn via the ATM.

Many banks will also charge an additional fee for forwarding mail to an overseas address, meaning your bank statements and other documents will cost more. Almost every bank offers internet banking these days, reduce your costs by switching to on-line statements only.

Possibly the best way of reducing your banking costs is to open a bank account in your country of residence, and transfer money from your home country directly into this account electronically, then use this account to fund your stay in whichever country you have chosen to reside in.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Language learning made easy

For an awful lot of expats, the idea of learning to speak the native tongue of their new home country can be an extremely daunting proposition. Many see learning a new language as a huge task which is best approached in an academic fashion. Whilst schooling is an excellent way of learning a language properly, if you only require the ability to converse fairly easily with the locals, you can stop worrying right now, it is not as tough as it seems.

Very few people realise that in order to be able to speak a language fairly proficiently, you only need to learn around 3,000 words. With 3,000 words under your belt you will understand 90% of the most commonly spoken words and phrases, meaning that during a conversation, you will understand nine out of every ten words, making it highly likely that you can guess at the general meaning of the word you do not understand. Learning 3,000 words does not seem such a daunting task, even at ten new words a day, it means you would be speaking fairly fluently within a year, certainly well enough to live your new life without resorting to hand signals!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Crowded Britain?

Here's an interesting article on the BBC's Mark Easton's blog discussing the idea that Britain has become too crowded due to immigration:

Is Britain too crowded? The MPs and peers who put their names to today's report calling for a cap on immigration must believe so.

This week's Map of the Week is intended to provide a bit of evidence to go with the debate. In fact, I am posting four maps which look at population density and a measure of what might be described as "crowdedness".

The Cross-Party Group on Balanced Migration sounds moderate and consensual, but what it is arguing for is extremely radical. They want government to introduce policies which would limit Britain's population to around 65 million. Current government estimates suggest immigration will push numbers to around 79 million by 2050.

Read the rest of this article here

Over 1,000,000 pages served last month!

Unaccustomed as we are to blowing our own horn we just couldn't resist mentioning that Expat Focus served over a million pages last month to our visitors, the first time we've ever hit the seven figure mark!

OK, that's enough self congratulation - time to get back to work...

Friday, September 05, 2008

Should expats living in Thailand begin to worry?

Thailand has had a long history of political instability, much of which is hidden from the western world by a veil of censorship. It was only two years ago that a military coup, thankfully bloodless, took place to dispose criticised Prime Minister and business man Taksin Shiniwatra, following allegations of mass corruption. Two years on, following the first democratic election since the 2006 coup, and amidst allegations of vote buying and further corruption, Thailand once again witnesses a violent response to its current political situation.

Demonstrators for the People’s Alliance for Democracy have been blockading airports and government buildings since early this week, several trade unions have gone on strike to support them, seeing the entire rail network grind to a halt. PAD is calling for Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who many see as a puppet for the aforementioned Taksin, to step down from office.

The army so far has refused to step in and quell the troubles, after avowing they would never become involved in politics again, however it can only be a matter of time before they are forced to act regardless of their wishes, as the streets begin to erupt into violence and the economy suffers.

For expats living in Thailand this is a troubling time, it seems the country is becoming increasingly unstable, and potentially dangerous. This is a major problem due to the high number of expats who have a family in Thailand - no simple relocation for them...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

So you want to be an expat?

Almost everyone at some stage in their life considers moving to a different country, although very few people actually commit themselves to this brave move. If you are considering becoming one of the growing expat community, then ask yourself these three questions below, before taking things further.
  • Are you self sufficient? Not only financially, but emotionally as well, it can be very difficult to move away from the support of friends and family. It is important that you have the ability to support yourself in every way.
  • Are you confident? It can be very difficult to learn to live in a different culture, especially if you do not speak the local language and your native tongue is not spoken widely by the locals, many people underestimate the stress involved with living a day to day life where nothing is ever easy or straightforward.
  • Can you persevere? Many expats will tell you that the first few months are the hardest, learning enough of the language to get by, getting to grips with the local culture, and dealing with the short term problems of accommodation and amenities, you will need to stick with it for quite some time before things get easier.
Life as an expat can be exciting and full, but it does not suit everyone, think long and hard before you make any commitments, many expats fail to assimilate into their new home and return to their nation of birth within a few months of leaving.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Don't bank on it

by guest blogger Mac

Currently I am living in Thailand, and have been using the ATM to take funds out of my UK bank account for over two years. A couple of months ago, a friend of mine was coming out to visit me and offered to bring a pile of mail that was sitting in the UK waiting for me to read it. When he arrived, I noticed a few banks statements mixed in with the credit card offers and other junk mail. I don't usually check my statements very closely, I just don't keep very close track of my spending, but on this occasion I decided to look over them. I was shocked to find just how much I was being charged every time I used the ATM, I was also surprised at the terrible exchange rate I was getting. The next morning, I took my passport and rental agreement to a local bank and opened a Thai bank account, it worked out far cheaper for me to transfer a lump sum into a local account and use a local ATM card than it was to keep using my foreign card. If you are a frequent ATM user in a country that is different to the one your bank account is in, check the charges, you may also find you are paying over the top.