Thursday, October 30, 2008

Le credit crunch

I was chatting to a French man the other day. Sipping the as usual superb local coffee in a pavement café, we’d struck up a casual conversation while sharing a table. I’d initially slightly resented the intrusion, as I’d been busy doing nothing watching the trams clattering by.

He was a nice guy though and the conversation flowed easily.

Inevitably the discussion got around to the current economic crises or ‘problems’ - the view can vary depending upon one’s political views and bank balance.

After some vague exchanges of views, he said in a slightly apologetic tone “Monsieur, you are English and I would like to ask you a question about these banking and housing problems in England…”

Now at this stage it’s worth pointing out that many French people are not very fussy or correct about their use of ‘England’ or ‘English’. By this I assumed he meant the UK and very possibly the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In other words that great block of the world’s population with social and economic values that are often incomprehensible to most French people.

So, I hastily started to try and remember everything I knew about mortgages rates, government interest rate policies, the banking system and so on. I nodded and picked up my coffee hoping I could use it to play for time if his question was REALLY tricky. Even so, I couldn’t have predicted how much his question, or in fact several questions, would stop me dead.

“Monsieur, why do English people want to sell their homes so often? I don’t understand, because surely it is painful to keep selling the home of one’s family with all those memories? Why are people eager to make big profits by selling their family home every few years?”

The discussion we had following on doesn’t really matter much. I talked about all the usual suspects of the UK having a mobile society, the housing market being a major part of the UK and USA economies, and so on and so forth.

After a few minutes pleasant chatting, we shook hands amicably and he walked off having picked up the tab for my coffee as well as his. As I watched him walk off into the distance between the trams, I couldn’t help but be grateful for our chance meeting.

Yes, one could dismiss his questions and views as ‘yesterday’, ‘obsolete’ and perhaps naïve, but as I finished my coffee I suddenly realised something.

No European country is perfect or an idyll of social values. People in any country, his France included, are just as keen to get the highest price they can when selling a house.

Yet, as I stood up ready to go, I couldn’t help wondering if such questions would even be asked in many English speaking countries of the world today. Even his use of ‘home’ as opposed to ‘house’ or ‘property’ seemed somehow warming...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Expatriates and the Internet

Less than a decade ago the Internet was a tool used by techies and the technologically aware - difficult to access, often expensive and certainly not the feature rich environment we are used to in modern times. Most people know what the World Wide Web is these days, and a particular phrase was coined twenty years ago to describe it - the phrase "Global Village" was used to describe a communication form which literally shrunk the world.

Expats have benefited more than many as the Internet has grown. The idea of the Global Village has been adopted by many expats, as the internet has enabled them to communicate with their homeland, do business and arrange their finances in the most remote of locations. If the Internet gave birth to the Global Village, then expatriates are surely its first generation of citizens. In a future post I will examine some of the key technologies that have evolved within the space defined by the Internet, and how they can benefit expats; many of these technologies enable the average expat to live life in a completely new way whilst maintaining their current location in the host nation of their choice.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What do you miss most from home?

by guest blogger Mac

Sometimes I like to draw up a list in my head of the things I miss from back home that I cannot obtain as an expat. My list includes certain foods such as roast lamb and cheddar cheese, it also includes tea - real English tea with fresh milk. I don’t miss TV in the slightest, and I don’t miss working a nine to five, all in all there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot that I do miss!

I wonder how other expats fare? I know of a few that seem to miss a lot of things, although I am sure they are exaggerating quite a bit over some of the items on their lists. Actually, I just thought of something I definitely miss, I miss not ever having to worry about not being able to find my passport! Funny how a passport becomes such a life defining thing when you are living away from your country of birth. Please take a moment to leave a comment; I would love to know some of the things that other ex-pats miss!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Health Insurance for Expatriates

There was a time when expats had very few choices when it came to health cover whilst living in a foreign country. There has always been the option of long stay travel insurance, although this is somewhat expensive. In many host nations it is also possible to purchase localised insurance, however these are often inferior products and fail to meet the costs of repatriation to the home nation should serious illness require it.

In recent years, however, several insurance companies have seen the light and have begun to offer specialised expat insurance. These companies offer a variable policy which is based upon the country the expat is living within. Other optional extras are also offered such as evacuation cover which will cover the costs of needing to be transported to another country (if required) for complicated surgery or specialist treatment. Further upgrades include terminal illness care and disability payouts.

Finally, expats are being seen as a specialised market which needs specialist products - this can only be a good thing!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why did you leave your home country?

by guest blogger Mac

I was asked this question last week. I had been talking with the guy who maintains the air conditioning in my apartment block, and had told him that I had hardly been back to the UK in the last 20 years. I was shocked to realise that I couldn’t really answer, I am sure there was a very good reason I left the UK originally but I can’t remember what it was!

These days I think I just stay away out of habit, and the question left me kind of worried that it was possibly time to consider going home. I sat back and reviewed the situation and realised that my lifestyle here is far better than it would be in the UK, and that I would have to give up everything that I enjoy most if I returned.

I found this a good exercise, confirming my reasons for being away, and reassuring myself that I was still doing the right thing. I think everyone who lives as an expat should follow this thought process from time to time, just to make sure they really are where they want to be...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

10 Top Things to Consider Before Emigrating and Expatriating

The website Shelter Offshore has just posted their "10 Top Things to Consider Before Emigrating and Expatriating", including items such as Affording to Stay Healthy, Getting a Job Abroad, and Property and Accommodation at Home and Abroad. Although aimed primarily at British expats most of the advice could be applied to anyone moving abroad.

Check out the full list here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Considering Repatriation

As mentioned in a previous post, global expat statistics seem to indicate that a growing number of expats are now beginning to consider repatriation. This has to be an effect of the global economy beginning to falter, as there would seem to be no other indicator that has changed in recent years to cause this swing, or has there?

Let us dismiss the global economy for a moment, and consider the changes that have taken place in western culture over the last decade. Many expats left their home countries to take advantage of a lifestyle that was simply not obtainable at a reasonable price at home - this situation has changed somewhat, and it is now possible to have the kind of lifestyle expats have enjoyed by staying at home. Certainly it will not be as cheap, but for those working expats, they will earn significantly more when they repatriate.

So is the overall picture of expatriation changing? It would seem that less people are leaving their home nation for a lifestyle change, and younger people are joining the expat community as they seek better work prospects. Is this the start of a new generation of upwardly mobile expatriates?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The changing face of Spain

by guest blogger Mac

In the 1980s, Spain became the major ex-pat destination in Europe, as thousands of people flocked to its Southern Coast to exploit the mild climate and low cost of living. I was one of these people, and I remember quite clearly being shocked by the fact that life in the part of Spain where I was living was actually more like England than England was. Fast forward 25 years, and things are very different now, many of the local businesses have been bought back by the Spanish, and things are much more Spanish in flavour.

So where have all these expats gone I wonder? A quick phone call to an old friend of mine who still lives in Spain revealed the answer. It seems many have now moved in-land. As prices began to rise on the coast, they moved inward and took up residence in some of the small towns and villages, or in old farm houses. My friend tells me that in some villages there are more foreigners than Spanish, and the entire scene which was once in evidence on the Costa del Sol is now being re-created on a micro level in certain Spanish villages. I think next year I will go and take a look, this sounds fascinating!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The expat survivor’s guide to Finnish winter

I noticed yesterday that the leaves have already started to fall from the trees in Amsterdam and it got me thinking about the autumn and winter ahead. Then this article caught my eye:

As you probably know, the Finnish winters can be dark, cold and seemingly endless. Do not let the previous winter’s mild weather catch you out – it is sure to get worse. Essential information on skiing, socks, reindeer and cars is provided below to give you the edge in getting through this difficult time of the year.

Skiing – Skiing is an essential part of life for your average Finn, with skis being attached to Finns as soon as practical after birth. Think very carefully, therefore, before following Finns down what they describe as nursery slopes. Either that, or proceed with caution following a discussion with your life insurer and a good swig of whiskey for courage. Extra care is needed if the Finns say that the slope meanders gently down a forest track on the side of the fell; for fell, read fall.

Socks – Socks are your best friends during the Finnish winter, and not just because they keep your toes warm. They can also provide good business opportunities. For example, have a little laugh to yourself when your British relatives fresh off the plane say that one pair of socks is plenty when snowmobiling in Lapland. The trick here is to take extra socks with you to use to extort money from your loving family when their feet turn to ice blocks about 12 seconds into the journey.

The rest of the article can be read here!

Monday, October 13, 2008

The USA as an Expat Destination

Many expatriates do not consider the USA as a destination due to the fact they perceive it to be both expensive and often with similar features to their home nation. What these people fail to realise is that the United States of America is huge, with some states as large as or larger than many countries.

Life in the USA also varies extremely depending upon where you live. Similarly, so does the cost of living. If you are seeking good quality housing, a great lifestyle and easy assimilation into a developed western culture the USA deserves a second look.

Certainly for people who are considering leaving Europe, a move to the USA can make a lot of sense. Buying power for people with European based incomes will double on average when moving to the USA and you will not have some of the problems associated with moving to a more exotic location.

Many parts of the USA have a character all of their own, the Southern States are very different (compare New Orleans to Washington DC for example!) so instead of considering the USA overall as an area to live, do a little homework into specific areas - you may well find something to your taste.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Positives and Negatives of Moving Internationally

by guest blogger Steven64

Read on to find out what I believe are the positives and negatives on moving around the world.

From a person that moves globally I believe the following are positive reasons to keep in mind:

1. You are able to live in a country with a different culture and if you embrace the culture and enjoy every aspect of it, you will enjoy your stay;

2. It is very interesting to see how different countries work, from government departments through to shops and even the traffic rules;

3. You get to explore a completely new environment and travel without it costing you a fortune;

4. You make new friends from all over the world, as an expat
you will become part of an expat community and this community will tell you where to go, travel and visit;

5. Then there is the local community and if you are working with locals, they will do the same thing, tell you where to go to experience the local community;

6. Usually you get to earn a better salary than in your country of origin, so save save save;

7. It is also not unusual, when accepting a job through an overseas company that many of the normal day to day expenses are paid for, such as accommodation, transport, medical and schooling; and many others that are taken care of;

8. If you have children they will have the opportunity of getting an international schooling and become global citizens of the world;

9. Many people are never given the opportunity to move around the world, this is such a wonderful opportunity to teach your children how to cope in different situations, travel and cope in airports, embrace other cultures and generally survive a different lifestyle;

10. You learn to take baby steps, accept how things work or don’t, not to sweat the small stuff and become accepting of situations, people and places iow to chill. All of the above can teach you a lot about yourself.

What about the negatives then? It is so normal for us humans to always potentially look at the negative side before we look at the positives and we tend to always find so many more negatives. So here is my list but with positives to go with them:

1. Packing your entire life to move or store, probably the worst part of moving, you need to decide what to keep or sell or give away or throw away; positively it’s a great opportunity to get rid of junk!

2. Unpacking, ditto to the above….

3. Leaving your family and friends behind which under any situation is difficult; positively the world is such a small place now that between email, blogs and skype they are always only a pc away. Plus with air travel it is easy to get home very very quickly;

4. The language differences can result in misunderstandings and things not getting done in the way you would have done them in your own country, positively this teaches us patience and English is a fairly universal language;

5. You will have to go through all the processes of getting Visas, Residence Permits, sometimes even going through medicals, driving tests, finger printing, etc (depending on the country you are going to) which can be incredibly frustrating, but this is the way that the country you are moving to can keep tabs on who is coming and going from their country. Positively, it should make you feel safer knowing that they are checking on who is entering, that these people are responsible citizens of the world and have no criminal records, etc.

6. It will be hard for the family to settle, everything is different and unusual if you have gone to a culture very different from your own, even if it is similar it is still different; talk to the family, let everyone express how they are feeling, be understanding of each others’ moods and positively it gets the family talking;

7. New routines, a new school, a new office, new friends; and all of these take time; but all the above have the word new in so that is positive.

8. Moving countries is one of the top 3 most stressful situations a person can be in, but how you handle it will result in how well your health copes with the move; remember to always think about (perhaps even list) the reasons you made the decision to move (make sure it is a decision that has been made by the family) and hang on to all those positives, you are going to hit rough patches and you are going to need all your positive lists to get through certain stages and times of the move.

So not too bad, I love being a citizen of the world, I love knowing that I have gone through this process, that I can do it, that I can be positive, that I can meet some fantastic people that are different to me, that life is bigger than just my small little world.

If you are thinking about moving, think of the positives and negatives that it will create in your life and if you can cope especially with the negatives, go for it! Have an adventure!

Steven Coleman runs the most comprehensive global relocation calculator available, an internet service that is used primarily to calculate expatriate salary levels for global assignments, which can be found at

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Expat Escape Tips

Global politics has always been fluid, and for those of us who have decided to live our lives in a foreign country this can bring a whole set of problems. Looking back to the situation in South Africa not so long ago, it is clear to see that as an expat, you need to make sure you are covered for every eventuality. Below are three tips to staying safe and one jump ahead of the crowd:

- Have a parachute ready, keep some reserve funds in a bank account that is not within the nation you are currently residing, this emergency fund will be your back door should the political situation turn bad in the country you are living.

- Know your embassy, make sure that you have the telephone number and address of your national embassy on you at all times, if you find yourself in trouble, do not hesitate to call them, they are there to help.

- Keep abreast of the news, not the global news, the local news. If you don't understand the language ask a local to discuss it with you. Forewarned is forearmed as they say - don't live in potentially dangerous ignorance.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Working and keeping in touch when on the move

by guest blogger Mac

Last week I met a guy who works in a similar field to me, and also travels the same way. We spent an evening drinking local beer and exchanging ideas. Both of us work via the internet, both of us move around a lot, but this guy had things much better organised than me. He had managed to put together a portable office that he could carry with him all day. Personally my laptop is left in my hotel room and I am always a little concerned that it might disappear. Not so my new friend! His laptop was unobtrusively nestled in his small backpack.

He was carrying an ASUS EEE PC 1000, which is a tiny sub-notebook, with a 7 hour battery life and a solid state drive (meaning if he drops it, no problem) and no moving parts. For internet access he uses his mobile phone as a Bluetooth modem, and he has a tiny travel mouse in his pocket. His entire rig weighs less than 2 kilos. For an expat who likes to move around, yet still work, this is a great little set up, and one that I fully intend to copy as soon as I can.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Interesting Expatriate Statistics

According to a recent survey carried out by GMAC Global, the expatriate workforce is changing shape drastically and with increasing speed - certain key demographics which have not changed much for decades have suddenly begun to slide.

Over 20% of the entire expat workforce is now made up of women, this is a jump of over 9% from the previous year's figures.

The average age of expats has also dropped significantly; last year’s figures showed that 41% of the entire expat workforce was between the ages of 20 and 39, this year the figure has jumped an incredible 13% with 54% of the global expat workforce being in the 20 to 39 years age bracket.

Interestingly enough, it would seem that the attrition rate is also raising, meaning that more expatriates are deciding to repatriate. One can only assume that this is due to the growing problems with the world economy - it would seem the younger people are seeking work abroad, whilst the older expats are deciding that it may well be time to return home.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

US Immigration - same questions over and over

by guest blogger Kirstie, USA forum moderator

Hey there! I'm Kirstie, and I'm currently sat in Tampa Bay, FL on a wet windy day as Tropical Storm Fay finally makes her way across the state (for the second time).

I'm a "newbie" to Expat Focus, and to blogging. I have spent a very interesting afternoon going through the Forums (fora?) and am amazed to see that the same questions about US immigration get asked - over and over again.

It's been over 6 years since I moved to the US from the UK, and I'm amazed that information and fact gathering is apparently still so difficult. The internet was in its infancy when I was doing it - and I was doing it on dial-up from good old BT, with a free ISP account from "Bun"! (Do they even still exist?)

There are a few comments in the forums about information being "for sale". Hmmm. I think I'll come back to that one on another day.

The problem with all this is that information about immigration is valuable. There is a lot out there, and forums like on Expat Focus are a great resource. There are a lot of very knowledgeable people who use them. There are a lot of people with a wealth of experience to share.

BUT - and this is a big but - not everyone is right. Not everyone has up-to-date information. Not everyone had a typical story.

Be aware of this, and do your research. Find reliable resources. Ask around.

Kirstie Wilson
British Business Connection