Thursday, December 10, 2009

Currency warning for festive season house buyers

By Elisabeth Dobson, head of private clients, World First

Property buyers looking to buy over the festive season may be in for a shock – exchange rates can be extremely volatile during December, January and February. Many people do not plan for or even realise the impact of currency fluctuations on foreign house purchases.

The knock on effect of the Christmas and New Year period historically sees rates vary by as much as 5% between the end of November and mid-February. This means a €300,000 purchase could cost up to £20,000 more if the exchange rate moves against you and varies dramatically from the rate first used to calculate the cost of buying abroad. An extreme example is that a property valued at €300,000 would have cost £244,160 in November 2008 but the same property would have cost £287,081 at the start of January 2009. This is an increase of a massive £42,921 and all just down to exchange rate moves!

Of course there’s also the possibility that rates could move favourably for UK purchasers. However the exchange rate risk at this time of year is huge. Undoubtedly a number of Brits will be due to complete on their property purchases over the Christmas period and it is important they know the implications currency fluctuations can have. One move in the wrong direction and a dream property can climb out of reach if the price moves outside your budget...


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

New roles: Forum Leaders and Community Manager

I'm delighted to announce a further improvement to our existing forums with the introduction of two new roles - forum leaders and community manager.

Forum leaders are taking over from the old role of moderator but the change is not purely cosmetic. Whereas moderators have typically been tasked with dealing with some of the less savoury issues of forum management (removing spam, dealing with disputes etc.), forum leaders will also be trying to encourage new members to participate and suggesting new ways in which we can all help each other meet the challenges of expat life. You can recognise forum leaders by their avatar (the picture displayed next to their forum posts).

The role of community manager is intended to support and co-ordinate the activities of forum leaders and also to take a higher level view of all our community based activities here at Expat Focus.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome Carole (username "piglet") to the role of community manager and I'm sure she'll do an excellent job of strengthening the Expat Focus community in 2010 - I know she already has a host of exciting ideas which I'm looking forward to seeing introduced!

Kind regards,


Monday, November 30, 2009

How does a QROPS UK pension transfer overseas work? (Part one)

by Tom Zachystal

A number of readers have asked how the process of transferring UK pensions overseas typically works. In this part one of a two-part column we will look at the people and agencies involved in the transfer process and the various associated costs. In part two, we will look at the paperwork that needs to be completed and steps that need to be taken in order to effectuate a UK pension transfer...


Monday, November 23, 2009

Scene from the life of an English teacher in France

"It was a very warm afternoon in October when I arrived at La Maison de l’Amitié in Albi, a medium-sized town, birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec, in south-west France. It was a handsome red-brick building constructed around a large courtyard where an enormous horse-chestnut grows. After a hot and dry summer it was shedding its leaves as fast as its chestnuts.

I went into the office and said hello, in English, to Frédéric and Sandrine, the admin staff. It’s a sort of running joke, though their English isn’t bad: Frédéric even managing to aspirate his h. Natalie, who’s in charge of the office, fired off French at machine-gun pace in her strong south-west accent, all –ng at the end of words. I usually get the gist..."

More at

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Can you help near Bordeaux?

A request for help from one of our members:

"Are there two fit men near Bordeaux able to help us with a once-only problem? Our 21-year-old son was knocked down in a hit-and-run incident 6 weeks ago and has been in the Pellegrin Hospital since. His bones are mending and he is out of a coma, but weakened and unable to walk. We need to get him home and expect the doctors to sign him off as fit to fly on or soon after 6 November. We just need to get him to Bordeaux Airport, where ground attendants will take over. So it is just a question of lifting him, all 6 ft-plus of him, from a wheelchair at the hospital, into a car or people carrier, and driving him with my wife, who has been with him all this time, to the airport. We'll gladly refund fuel costs. We'd use a private ambulance but the lad had inadvertently let his travel insurance expire. Please ring me, James Darley, on 020 7939 7979 (office), 01494 484414 (home) or my wife Crissy on 07906 218783."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Interview with Simon Hilton, foreign exchange consultant

Simon Hilton is a senior foreign exchange consultant at World First specialising in assisting private clients and companies with their foreign exchange transactions. Simon is authorised by the FSA to offer foreign currency options.Simon Hilton

To contact Simon directly for currency transfer information or a no-obligation quote please click here.

Expat Focus: Simon, can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to work for World First?

I have a BA hons degree from the University of Reading in History and Politics and joined the company in 2006. I have since undertaken regulatory exams and obtained FSA approval to advise our clients on hedging their foreign exchange risk.

Expat Focus: What services does World First offer and what is your own role?

World First offers a foreign exchange service for currency transfers as well as a range of foreign exchange products. Clients can purchase currency at ‘spot’ (for an immediate transfer) as well as being able to fix the exchange rate for up to 2 years in advance with a forward contract.

Our regular payment plans can be quite useful for those with commitments back home such as mortgage payments or if you receive a monthly pension which you would like to convert and receive in the country where you are an expat. You may also like to send part of your salary back to the UK on a regular basis.

World First has recently launched a new range of Currency Options. These products are suitable for transfers over £100,000 and allow you to fix your rate in advance but benefit if the rate subsequently improves.

I am responsible for assisting individuals with their currency transfers. I will take clients through the process from start (first contact) to finish (receiving the brought currency) and I will explain the different products and services we offer. I am also in charge of managing currency options and offering them to our private clients. As these are specialised products we have had to undertake regulatory exams and are authorised by the Financial Services Authority in the UK...


Expat Experiences: Netherlands - Anna Gilhespy

My name is Anna Gilhespy, I am 29 and I run my own business ( making handmade ornaments which I sell mostly online.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved to Hoofddorp (just outside Amsterdam) with my husband in 2003 when he was offered a good job over here. There was little work where we were living in the UK and opportunity was too good for us to pass up.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Our move to Holland was extremely smooth, mostly thanks to my husbands company arranging a relocation agent for us. She helped us find a house to rent and took us through all the paperwork we needed to fill out. The hardest part for me was that I still had one year left to complete before receiving my Fine Art Degree; it was a struggle to find a university that would accept me at such short notice. Fortunately I managed to get my UK university headmaster to pull some strings with a Dutch university that they had links to and secured a place. I did not enjoy the transition between universities; the differences in education approach were more extreme than I had anticipated. They were also not explained to me well, which led to several stressful misunderstandings. My husband slid into Dutch culture with much more ease than I did...


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thai Haiku


by Sean Lawlor Nelson

The sun was flaming
but I was young and hopeful:
was best and worst times

the butterflies
colored the campus neon:
soon lime-green was grey

The giant geckos
were noisy problems for Thais;
I looked up in awe

A stout old woman
cooked for me, was courteous:
I can see her face

I bloodily fixed
my toe, which was ingrown bad:
bathed it in Thai rum

bought ugliest fruit
from old Thai women, didn't know
lichii came so gnarled

Sean is an American who taught for a year in Phetchaburi Province. He lived in Thailand one year, and left 3 years ago. His article, "The Sparrows of Thailand", can be read here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An end to the recession?

Perhaps it is my imagination but I seem to be seeing a few more British visitors around at the moment. Yes, I know it’s the time of year when people start popping over for ‘quick trips’ and long-weekends but even so, there seem to be quite a few around. Some of my regular contacts in various countries are also reporting the same thing and saying that at least some of these people seem to be checking-out property.

It’s very risky to comment on what may or may not happen with the recession, but it’s been about 15 months or so since the news started to peak on banking collapses and the like. People have been in their bunkers for well over a year and many economic indicators still look gloomy BUT there are perhaps a few odd glimmers of hope around.

Now I’m not saying that what expats in Spain, France or Australia think is necessarily a very meaningful economic indicator but there may be some signs of less gloom around. Contacts in France tell me that the property market there has been largely dead for the best part of 18 months or even more but suddenly a few tentative buyers have appeared ‘looking around’ though not at the moment actually buying much.

Vast areas of Spain continue to be a disaster for many expat property owners in financial terms but in one or two areas potential buyers are reported to be sniffing around again.

OK, it’s very tentative stuff but it seems to coincide with some slightly more neutral news reporting on economic indicators. A friend of mine still lays much of the blame for the current global economic position at the door of the media who, he believes, started desperately looking for a financial crisis in January 2007 and managed to talk one into existence by the end of that year. Perhaps he’s just a cynic but who knows?! Maybe if the news channels are now getting bored with reporting bad news and gloomy indicators, perhaps they’ll search for a few half-optimistic signs and start reporting those. That in turn could generate increasing confidence and so on etc etc.

We could all do with it.

Still, it’s good to see that for some folk the recession remains an abstract concept. One UK family I know that are considering buying in Portugal just happened to say that the decline in Sterling against the Euro over the past couple of years or so was not a serious factor in their plans to buy and move. It must be great to be in that sort of position!

As always though, I’m interested in members thoughts on things and in that context, the recession. Does anyone else out there see cause for hope yet?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Marlboro Man on the Mediterranean – the Spanish attitude to smoking

"If we're going to talk about the cultural differences between Spain and the rest of the West, you may as well get comfortable. Pull up a chair, order a drink and light a cigarette.

And there it is. One of the first things noticed by expats in Spain: The smoking. Cigarettes are everywhere, a carelessly enjoyed vice in the street, restaurants, bars and shops.

In this way, Spain is the last slice of Eastern Europe in Western Europe. Despite the (semi) ban on smoking implemented in 2006, Spaniards are slow to take their smoking outside. Shop owners are pretty likely to have an ashtray under the counter. Restaurants still lay out ashtrays as part of their table settings. Cigarettes are cheap (around €3 a pack) and generously shared with friends and acquaintances. Smoking here is less a dirty vice, and more a social signifier of generosity..."

Read more here. Discuss this article here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Special Report - Sterling Crashes and Burns

The following special report is provided by the official Expat Focus foreign exchange partner, World First. To request further currency transfer information or a no-obligation quote please click here.

Sterling Crashes

Given the volatility that sterling has experienced recently, we thought it only prudent to advise you all on what could happen to sterling in the coming weeks and months. We would say that 1.10 and 1.60 are near term targets for GBPEUR and GBPUSD respectively however the prospects of falls below these levels are very strong given the momentum behind the movements we have seen over the past week. A break below these levels could easily see 1.07 and 1.55 which were the lows of the previous range.

We still believe that those of you who need to buy either euros or dollars with sterling for overseas property purchases, emigration or other reasons should be thinking about hedging around these levels through ‘currency options’. Should GBP continue to fall as we expect it do so then the levels achievable will no longer be attractive.

We would therefore advise all reading this to contact the Private Client team here to find out how to protect yourselves against further adverse shocks.

‘Currency options’ like forward contracts, allow you to exchange one currency for another on a future date. However, with an option you can fix a ‘worse case rate’ and unlike a forward contract, if the rate moves in your favour you can benefit.

Below is a graph of GBPEUR 2 weeks ago detailing the ongoing trends in GBPEUR while below that we have GBPUSD.

The top line is a trend of 2 years whilst the lower is that of the past 7 months. GBPUSD seems to be capped on at these levels with many analysts predicting that a break of 1.60 will see this brief rally over and a move back to 1.55. Our expectations that the market would obey the longer term trend has come true.

That trend has broken now as shown below.

GBP is Overbought

Going further in you can see that this is a regression to the middle
ground over the past year.

by Jeremy Cook, World First

To request further currency transfer information or a no-obligation quote please click here.

Disclaimer: The above comments are only our views and should not be construed as advice. You should act using your own information and judgement. Although information has been obtained from and is based upon multiple sources the author believes to be reliable, we do not guarantee its accuracy and it may be incomplete or condensed. All opinions and estimates constitute the author's own judgement as of the date of the briefing and are subject to change without notice. Any rates given are "interbank" i.e. for amounts of £5million and thus are not indicative of rates offered by World First for smaller amounts.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Spanish Landgrab Law - Is it Fair?

"Bob and Jane thought they had found their idyllic retirement in the sun. They had bought Spanish land, gathered all of the permits they needed and began to build. Six months later their house was bulldozed by the local government. Welcome to the Landgrab Law..."

Read the rest of this article here. Comment on it here.

Expat safety issues

I read recently of the terrible accident in Portugal that involved a beach cliff rock-fall resulting in several fatalities.

This put me in mind of how dangerous the world can be and how some, notably holidaymakers or expats, can be in particular danger due to a lack of local knowledge.

I remember being on a beach once (abroad). It was a chilly and not particularly nice spring day. There were only a very few people on the beach mainly walking but one couple caught my eye.

They were sitting on the rocks at the base of a moderately high cliff. At the very second I noticed them, there just happened to be a fairly large collapse and fall of stones, earth and sand from the cliff above them. This came down and hit both of them before I could say anything.

This was a freak occurrence both in terms of how unlucky they were and the fact that the accident happened just at the very second I noticed them. The good news is that they were shocked but otherwise uninjured. They also just happened to be newly arrived expats that had been living in the country only a week or so!

Shortly afterwards I was asking a local why there were no warning signs on the beach under the cliffs. His response was fatalistic “..but everybody knows the cliffs are unstable and wouldn’t sit underneath them..”


The stories of potential expat woe through ignorance abound. Poisonous snakes kept as pets without knowing what they were, dangerous plants cultivated lovingly in the garden and of course lack of local geographical knowledge. Some are no doubt the stuff of urban legend but many are known to be true.

I did know a medical first-aider in Australia that told me that a disproportionate number of the problems he had to help with affected visitors and expats that just hadn’t grasped the local dangers and ‘issues’.

One of my American friends had just moved to the UK when we met up at a mutual friend’s house. While sitting in the garden the English friend said that she must weed near the fence then departed inside.

My US pal suddenly decided to be dynamic and jumped up saying “I’ll get those”. Before I could get out the words “NO, STOP!” he’d dived with his bare arms into the world’s biggest pile of stinging nettles.

Cue a look of horror, screeching and hopping around – and the subsequent liberal application of lots of germoline. As you may have guessed, whatever poison oak and ivy they may have in Northern California, he’d never encountered or heard of stinging nettles before.

So even a suburban Essex garden can have its dangers for the unwary!

I guess the message for expats everywhere is – ‘get that local knowledge and FAST!’

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sangre Del Torro - The ethics of Spanish bullfighting

Want to discuss this article in our Spain forum? Click here!

Bullfighting is one of the cultural earmarks of Spain.

Dating back to the times before Christ and rooted in the pagan mythology of sacrificing bulls to multiple gods, bullfighting is celebrated as a masculine display of bravado and human courage. The first formalised bullfight was staged in the eleventh century, almost a thousand years ago. More than a sport, bullfighting was seen as symbolic of the ongoing struggle between humanity and nature, or humanity and the underworld. Fans imbue it with an almost spiritual importance, and definitely as an artform.

Now social mores have changed, and general opinion has shifted. Even in Spain public consensus is very much against bullfighting. Only ten per cent of Spain's population are fans, with the remainder being either indifferent - dismissing bullfighting as a quaint remnant of a redundant past - or strongly opposed.

The arguments against it are hard to refute: Aside from the cerebral wrangles over an animal's consent to participate, there are more immediate and practical issues of cruelty. Bulls are not released into the ring in their best shape: they may spend an entire day weighted with sandbags to sap their energy, be fed laxatives to weaken and dehydrate them, be partially blinded with petroleum jelly or have their neck muscles cut to prevent full motion of their (shaved) horns. Like the bulls of Pamplona, many bulls are raised in dark confined spaces, released into the light only at the moment of entering the arena, to ensure that they are as disoriented and vulnerable as possible.

The Spanish government has responded to the shift in public opinion. Bullfights have been banned from being televised, following concerns raised by parents about the violent images being seen by children, and under-14s are no longer allowed to attend bullfights. These two moves effectively strangled the profit flow of bullfighting: TV advertising and family tickets to live matches were the two main market sectors.

Nevertheless, the ten per cent of Spaniards who do favour bullfighting are a vocal minority who put their money where there mouth is...

Read More:

Monday, September 07, 2009

Top 10 Paris expat blogs

by Meg Zimbeck at Budget Travel

"Ever wondered what it would be like to live in Paris?
Immersing yourself in an expat blog is one of the best ways to find out. It seems that every year a fresh crop of bloggers has arrived on the electronic scene to share the ecstasies and agonies of life abroad. Because their lives often include a lot of food and fun, expat blogs are also a great way to learn about the local happenings. I've selected my current favorites (not including my own), and invite you to add your personal picks in the comments..."


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Shopping around in a credit crunch

A lot of expats don’t shop around as much as they perhaps should, although now it's more important than ever to do so. That’s particularly true in countries where English is not the native language because trying to get comparison prices AND bargain in another tongue is not easy. It’s certainly a big help to a supplier or potential seller if they can pretend they haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about when you ask them why they’re trying to charge you double what they charge everyone else.

Even in English speaking countries it’s not always easy. A response such as “maybe you can get it for that price in England but here in the US of A nobody has been able to buy it at that price since the 1930s” can sort of stop you dead in your negotiating tracks.

However, it’s worth trying. Take a recent example - I had to renew some insurance.

For about 4 years I’d been using the same company. I’d received good service (though I’d made no claims) and the price didn’t seem too bad either. Still, I thought it was about time I looked around and checked online. To my surprise, I found I had several other options to purchase identical insurance at almost 150 euros cheaper per annum.

So I called my local office and asked if they wanted to re-quote. They seemed surprised that I would consider moving insurance for “only 150 euros” given that we had a good relationship. I thought to begin with that they were joking but saw rapidly that they were not. I slightly sadly had to explain to them that one annual phone call to confirm renewal hardly constituted a ‘relationship’. Much as I enjoyed their sparkling wit and repartee in our 2-minute chat each year, I didn’t actually think it was worth 150 euros.

So they changed tack to try and persuade me to stay with them. “Have you considered the benefits of our service and having a local office you can call into?” Once again, I had to say that I’d only been into their office once in several years and even then for only 5 minutes. Over the 4 years that 5 minutes had cost me about 600 euros – not exactly good value for money. Pleased as I was for them that they had a nice office in a nice location, it didn’t benefit me one iota.

After a few more increasingly bizarre attempts to justify their extra 150 euros per annum, they gave up and said they couldn’t match the price offered by the Internet supplier. I admit that I had some sympathy when they said, “we struggle to compete with many of the new online companies”. I almost felt mean and a little nostalgic for the ‘old world’ of the local office – right up until they followed up by saying “…and it’s usually the British that are very vulnerable to this sort of selling tactic….”

Selling tactic? Beating someone else’s price by a considerable amount is now some form of ‘dirty trick’? The British are somehow ‘saps’ for wanting a bargain? My sympathy evaporated. Ah well, “next time” I said. The moral of this tale is? Forget nostalgia – get those fingers tapping and hunt for some bargains!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Protectionism and its effect on expats

Whether you’re a ‘corporate assignment’ type of expat or someone who is settling in a new country notionally forever, it seems likely that you’ll have read recently about moves towards ‘protectionism’ in many parts of the world. You’ve also probably been slightly concerned.

There are a few examples that have made headline news and others that have been rather less well reported. Examples include the “British Jobs for British Workers” strikes and disruptions in the UK oil industry and French politicians campaigning for the plants of French car manufacturers in Eastern Europe to be closed and their production moved back to France.

I’m not just picking on the UK and France. There have been major similar incidents and campaigns in many other countries in Europe plus the USA and Australia.

It’s no great surprise that economic hardship and recessions lead to a natural tendency to say, “let’s look after our own and let the foreigners sort their own problems out”. Sadly there are also a tiny minority of disreputable politicians who will also use troubles to wheel out their ancient and discredited views about how bad foreigners are in general.

In fact, the views and concerns of expats on this subject tend to vary slightly depending on the nature of their expatriate status. I’ve spoken to a number of expats of the fixed-term ‘corporate assignment’ variety that are slightly concerned that background political pressures to keep high-paying jobs for ‘locals’ may lead to an early curtailment of their job.

By contrast, many ‘permie’ expats seem to see this as a less of an issue. In some cases that’s a tribute to their integration or in others that they are self-employed and believe that they are more immune to ‘jobs for the locals’ types of pressures.

I’ll offer my personal opinion. I suspect that in some parts of the world, notably the EU, Australia and the USA, the idea that protectionism could directly affect the majority of expats living there seems unlikely. Arguing (rightly or wrongly) for trade protectionism is one thing, but using this to discriminate against an expat population is totally different.

In many parts of the above countries and political blocks, the world is essentially ‘global’. Vast numbers of people have upped and moved across national boundaries and there are very large expat communities of various nationalities in virtually every country in the industrialised world. Many expats are now an essential part of the economic infrastructure of the country they live in and it’s difficult to imagine how this could be changed.

So times may get tough and the odd person may ‘sound off’ about jobs for the locals but in reality I suspect that protectionism as such will probably have little effect on us expats. Of course if this is the last blog you ever see me post then you’ll know I was wrong!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Expat Tweeters on Twitter - who's your favourite?

Do you follow someone on Twitter who has something interesting to say about life abroad? Do you yourself tweet about life as an expat?

Now that Expat Focus has finally jumped on the Twitter bandwagon - and I can see what all the fuss is about! - I thought it might be useful to put together a list of everyone's favourite expat tweeters...

More here

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Professional fees in a recession - expats beware!

One of the advantages of having a blog is that it permits one to ramble on about anything that catches one’s attention. I always try to keep to the subjects related to expats and their affairs (of the non-romantic sort of course!) but I’m not sure I’ve done so in this case – but here goes anyway!

I have noticed recently how the prices of some things continue to rise even though there is a recession on across the globe. Food and some commodities do so in most countries and this is blamed on global supplies. OK, perhaps believable.

What I am less clear on is why some professional services costs are also rising in some countries. While the papers across the globe talk about mass layoffs, wage cuts, bonus reductions/eliminations and the ‘new harsh reality’ that people must learn to live with, at the same time lawyers, surveyors, accountants, architects, auctioneers, dentists and assessors, are all putting their hourly rates and fee charges up. Does this make sense to anyone? I ask because many of these categories of people are those that expats rely on very heavily when moving into or out of their new countries.

I don’t know if this is a common perception around the globe (comments gratefully received!) but in several European countries it seems to be so. I have yet to see any widespread discussion of this in the media but at least one person in the above categories recently ‘explained’ this phenomenon by saying that he’d had to increase his fee percentage as his overall volume of business had fallen due to the recession and he needed to keep his income levels up.

Pardon me? As there were now fewer customers around he had to charge those he had a lot more to keep his income level up?

I have actually seen a similar explanation elsewhere and when reading these I started to doubt my own sanity. How can this be sensible or justified? If a supermarket loses 10% of its customers to another or just because of a recession, do they put up all their prices by 10% to compensate for the lost income? If they did, what would they expect the result to be? How is it that some categories of professional seem to be immune from the law of nature that states prices should come down in a recession rather than go up?

The trouble is that many of these professions are guaranteed a role in aspects of life by the law. There are many things that cannot be legally completed without the intervention of these parties. You may not be able to put in that window without planning permission, and in some countries that means mandatory certified architect’s drawings. House moves usually require the high cost services of a solicitor or Notaire (sometimes both). In most countries a qualified accountant is mandatory for all but the tiniest of businesses and their accounts. Etc etc etc.

As a result, one can’t really ‘do without’ their role and the law protects their business and function in effect. Worse, in many countries these professional groups operate what are in effect pricing cartels. Shopping around can be useless in terms of finding lower fees.

As I said, expats are particularly vulnerable to high costs in these areas. This is not only because of house moves but also because many expats purchase property overseas and are obliged to use the services of architects and surveyors and so on – sometimes even for minor renovations. A high percentage of expats are also self-employed compared to national norms.

What can we do about this? Probably nothing – but sounding off is sometimes therapeutic!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

We like to move it, move it!

I couldn’t help but take notice of a recent news report that contained statistical projections from both the UN and EU. Any article headed up ‘latest statistical projections’ usually has a soporific effect but this one was interesting.

To cut a long story short, the two bodies have projected that by 2050 the UK will have the largest population of any EU country (assuming by then Russia hasn’t joined I guess). The figures being talked about were around 80 million.

The second statistic said that a large proportion of this population growth would come about through immigration. Apparently the forecasters believe that the UK will remain the most popular EU destination for immigrants, both those originating from other EU countries and those from outside of the EU.

Fascinating stuff but the first thought that struck me was how this related to another recently published statistic that up to 1/3 of the UK population is actively considering emigration from the UK? If we take this two together, the potential population movement is incredible.

Maybe my maths are faulty but very roughly speaking…at the moment there are around 60 million people in the UK. If over the next say 30 years roughly 1/3 are planning to leave and actually do so, that’s about 20 million people outbound. That would give a net population of 40 million left. For this to grow to 80 million, that means over 40 million people will need to move to the UK over the same period.

Now certainly I know that doesn’t take into account population growth etc but even so, it is a phenomenal population movement out of, and in to, one very small group of islands. In theory it also means that around 60 million people will be going in or out of the UK over the next few decades – and that excludes normal business and holiday travel.

As with all these statistics, there is a very high chance that they are wildly over-estimated and future guessing is a dangerous business. If you look at similar projections in the 1960s and 1970s, had they been right I would be writing this blog now from Lunar City central and discussing the expat situation on Mars.

Yet when reading these figures and thinking about it, a few slightly irreverent thoughts came to mind if these figures are even only partly right.

A) There are going to be a heck of a lot more expats around in future
B) This might be a good time to start a transport and removals business
C) Given that UK government statistics also show that the UK population continues to drift south towards the south-east and south west (e.g. the population of Scotland continues to fall) AND most stats show new arrivals also head to the south east and west, the UK’s going to be in danger of tipping up!

It just goes to show how global and mobile the world is becoming. There may be no new frontiers left but as people are people, the grass will always looks greener. These population movements could mean that one day the majority of people on this planet are odd thought!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

New expat guide to Florida now online

The Expat Focus guide to expatriate life in Florida is now online at:

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Expats forced to play the property waiting-game

I guess that many are getting tired of watching the value of their house decline. It doesn’t seem to matter much where one is living these days, the property market globally is stuck and retreating. There are of course a few exceptions still. Some city centres and a few property hotspots on some coasts are still just about holding their own, but there’s no doubt that times are tough.

The news is of course full of the various facts and figures, almost all depressing, but there is another aspect that is less frequently talked about.

Having negative equity in your home is of course a serious problem and I’m not suggesting otherwise, but the general stagnation of the property markets globally also carries with it a more all-pervasive logistical problem.

That is that many potential expats can’t make their long planned moves overseas because they can’t sell their home to finance the move. I know of a number of expats who bravely made the move to rented accommodation overseas pending the anticipated sale of their old house sale and are now stuck as their old house ‘back home’ is essentially un-saleable in the current market. This is hitting their finances badly as a lot of money is being sunk into ongoing rent they had never planned for. Some have now rented their old properties out which is good insofar as it generates income but it doesn’t allow them to liquidate their asset and use the capital to buy the home of their dreams in their new country.

This logjam is also starting to hit business. Although this is not just an expat issue, I also know of some expats who desperately need to sell up and move home within their new country for business and professional reasons. Needless to say, they can’t and this means they sometimes can’t take up that new job, position or opportunity – or if they do they have to leave their family behind. One expat recently told me that where he lives (France) it isn’t even a question of price; there are just no property buyers around at all - at any price.

Like just about everyone else including many self-appointed ‘experts’, I don’t know what the outcome of all this will be. I’m a natural optimist and I take some consolation from the fact that many past recessions seem to sort themselves out after a year or two. In some countries the recession also seems to be at least a little less serious than in others so perhaps they will be the countries that will first start to show evidence of an upswing in everything, including property prices and dynamics.

We can but hope!

Monday, July 27, 2009

International Measures - What a Muddle!

As the metric system has become the global standard, in theory this shouldn’t cause most expats any trouble.

OK, many US folk moving overseas of course find metric measures a problem. It’s also true that any Briton much over about 45 or 50 years of age probably grew up in the imperial measurement system and still has to mentally convert in their head from time to time. Yet for most younger UK expats and holidaymakers this shouldn’t be a problem – should it?

Well, it’s an odd world. I happened to see a few weeks ago a UK school exam (informal) set for 14 year olds. One question was a gem involving calculations of an arrow’s flight and distance over time etc. The question was set in metres and kilometres per hour but the helpful information printed above asked children to keep in mind that an arrow can fly “several hundred yards” when released. That must have got the youngsters thinking!

Although hilarious, it’s maybe understandable given Britain’s way of going about things in fits and starts. Britain is probably the only country in the world that’s ‘partly metric’ and this will cause confusion at times. If you think I’m joking, just think about carpets in the UK. Quite often their width is quoted in imperial units but they’re sold by the linear metre. It’s still possible to find carpet shops selling some carpets by the square metre but others by the square yard. This frequently confuses not only customers but also their staff.

Yet these oddities with measures affect not only the USA and UK but in some respects, just about everywhere. I recently was looking at the prices of Forest Bark type products (I don’t have a garden – don’t ask why I was looking!) It’s quite incredible because most people want to buy something that will cover an area to a cubic capacity – i.e. an area so long by so wide by so deep.

Yet locally I found this product is sold by the tonne apart from small bags that are sold by the litre. “What is the cubic capacity of one tonne of this stuff?” I asked. “No idea” came the reply. Nowhere could I find any information that related a weight in kilos to a litre of cubic metre of the stuff – apart from on a US site that helpfully happened to mention an approximate weight by volume of Forest Bark. Unfortunately this was quoted in quarts and pounds/ounces so I had to convert both to metric to get back to a figure in kilos that I needed.

”How did you work that out?” said the local company. “Don’t ask,” was about the best I could muster.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Monthly Photo Competition - "Sunset"

If you love taking pictures, why not set yourself a challenge by taking part in our online photographic competition. Every month we set you a theme, and all you have to do is use your creative genius to produce your photographic interpretation of that theme. Simple!

August's theme is "Sunset". Closing date is August 25th.

The winning member will receive a 20GBP Amazon book voucher (or equivalent if Amazon doesn't deliver to your country) together with a mention in the monthly newsletter. The winning entry will also be placed in the winner's gallery!

Further details about how to post your photo to this forum and enter the competition can be found HERE. Please remember to include details about when and where the photo was taken and what type of camera you used.

Click HERE to go to the photo competition forum and view this month's entries!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Interesting food abroad

Expats have to deal with the fact that they’re likely to have some ‘interesting’ gastronomic experiences.

This may all sound a bit obvious. Yes, different people in different countries eat different things and not all will be to each other’s taste. As an expat you will sometimes see some odd things served to you on a plate. You’re either going to see this as part of the rich experience of living an expat life or run screaming for the hills and the nearest tin of baked beans.

This also isn’t just a question of exotic locations and exotic foods – though it depends a bit on what you call exotic. I know one US citizen living in London that was appalled and terrified by some of the things the local people ate. Top of his list was of course Jellied Eels, cockles, mussels and whelks (though how many Londoners eat those these days?) but the power of speech left him entirely at the sight of a soup dish full of pie & mash.

Nor are all Americans amused by Fish ‘n’ Chips as many seem unable to recognise the battery object as fish. I’ve seen Americans (and some Englishmen for that matter) in Edinburgh and Glasgow with their jaws on the floor as their haggis was served on a plate. Some thought they were safe with the Scottish breakfast until it arrived and was seen to include Clootie Dumpling – a sort of fried fruitcake with the bacon and eggs.

My favourite was an American friend who once asked in Birmingham where the nearest Macrobiotic restaurant was. “Yaow wot?” To be fair to Brum, this was a long time ago.

Of course many people moving from one European country to another find even bigger differences. Many English speaking expats have trouble getting to grips with the horse steaks that can be served in France, the sometimes almost raw meat in Italy (and several other continental European countries) or in Spain several varieties of fish that look like they have been imported from Venus.

I personally think all this diversity is great and all about broadening one’s experiences. Not everyone agrees though. As I’ve commented on before, increasingly in supermarkets and even some local markets one can see the foreign food sections springing up to cope with the demand for fish fingers, beans and tinned soups. That, I think, is a less healthy sign.

Still, it’s always gone on. I have a Chinese friend that has spent a lot of time in Europe and he tells me that he can’t recognise a lot of the food served in Chinese restaurants here as Chinese. In some Chinese restaurants in the Chinatown areas of some big cities such as London, he will ask for the Chinese menu and select dishes from that. He likes ‘our’ Chinese food but just struggles to recognise it. He thinks that it is Chinese food that was first ‘Americanised’ for originally US tastes, then re-exported from the USA into Europe where an essentially American set of dishes was then ‘Briticised’ or ‘Francocised’ etc. Odd theory but he may be right.

So maybe the squeamish expat has a way out. Just open that local restaurant specialising in British or American dishes tweaked for local taste. What about in France battered fish in a Béarnaise sauce? In Italy egg ‘n’ chips carbonara? In Spain perhaps cheeseburger-aella? In Australia roo ‘n’ clootie pie?

Never say I don’t give you ideas!

Sending something abroad? Good luck!

Many expats need to send and receive parcels – and fairly regularly. As many are self-employed, a lot of this is commercial and livelihoods can depend on it.

So, in the 21st century one would expect many companies and national postal services to be able to offer expats a good range of services to choose from and exemplary service to follow.

Yet in fact one of the most common moans and groans from expats virtually everywhere is how unreliable the various parcel services are. I know this to be at least partly true from personal experience.

A friend told me that they had ordered some special Easter treats for their children well in advance and paid for 48hour express delivery services from the UK. They eventually turned up many days after Easter and had been in transit for about 10 days. They tell me that the UK based parcel company had no idea where the parcel had been and they didn’t seem to care very much either.

Nobody seems to be immune. I know of one person that shipped an expensive gift via one of the household name US couriers. Upon arrival the recipient signed for it and opened the box only to find it was empty inside. The box had been opened with a knife, the contents stolen and the box then expertly re-sealed. As this was invisible from the outside the recipient had perfectly understandably signed for it on receipt as ‘OK’ because the problem was not visible externally. The shipping company have refused to pay up on insurance because they hold a signature that says “OK” from the point of destination.

I know of another appalling example of the dishonesty and incompetence that can arise. A large parcel was shipped to an expat business in Egypt via a prestigious carrier at a cost of almost 100 pounds sterling, and through a trackable service. The box then disappeared for nearly three months, during which time the tracking showed constantly that it was still at the airport of departure!

An insurance claim was launched. At the end of three months the doorbell rang at the shipper’s residence and the man said that the parcel had been found. He demanded another 100 pounds “return freight fee” before he would release it to the shipper. He said his documentation showed that the consignee in Egypt had refused to accept the box so it had been returned.

Upon examination, the box showed absolutely no sign of ever having gone anywhere. There were no entry stamps for Egypt, no flight stickers, no return slip documents and the consignee in Egypt confirmed they had never seen it and certainly never refused to accept it. It was clear that the parcel had never left the local airport in 3 months and the courier were unable to produce any evidence that it had ever been anywhere. Apart from losing a very valued client over the fiasco, the shipper is still 200 pounds out of pocket and is fighting to recover it – so far unsuccessfully.

So the message to the courier companies is clear – come on guys, get your act together! The cowboy days of the 1970s should be long dead. Expats (and many others) need services they can rely on and honesty/integrity from you. Make it happen!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Growing old overseas

Yes, I accept this isn’t the most attractive looking title I’ve ever come up with and it doesn’t suggest there are barrels of belly laughs to follow. Even so, it is though a real issue and one that many expats may need to face at some time in their lives.

Quite a few expats have moved overseas and burned their boats in the process. That’s brave, admirable and probably not cause for concern if one’s 20, 30, 40, 50 or even in one’s 60s. The trouble is, time passes and we all age. As we get older we may need more help and attention.

There are of course two real aspects to this.

The first is to ensure that you have appropriate health cover and retirement benefits in place. It’s worth remembering that having health insurance isn’t necessarily the same thing as having ‘care cover’ for old age related situations. Check to see what benefits and cover may be available from the local social security and health services, if you are part of them. If you’re not, you should check to see what services may be available to you locally if you are on an ‘E’ form type of reciprocal cover.

The second is that of familiarity, culture and language. If an elderly person is living in an English speaking culture and needs to go into hospital for treatment or needs care and help, then that may not be a major issue. It could though be far more problematic if the person concerned is living in a non-English speaking country and could be surrounded by health or care professionals they cannot understand and who cannot understand them.

I know of one case where an elderly member of an expat family had to go for a week’s observation and specialist convalescence after minor surgery. Although the care was superb and the staff stunningly friendly, in fact few of them spoke any English at all. Although his family did all they could, they clearly could not stay with him 24x7 and during that week of being surrounded by people he couldn’t understand, the elderly gentleman became mentally very confused though he was normally quite sharp.

Fortunately at the end of the week he returned home and rapidly recovered his awareness and mental sharpness but it did illustrate the potential problems of becoming old in a foreign land.

I have no easy answer to this one but it’s worth keeping in mind – particularly if you’re thinking of bringing elderly relatives to come and live with you overseas.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Running A Business In France - A Tax Nightmare?

One of the most common complaints I hear from expats in France (and there are an estimated half a million British expats alone living there) is that although France is a wonderful place to live, it is one of the worst places on earth to try and run a business. Many foreigners in France call the country ‘business hostile’ due partly to the vast and largely pointless bureaucracy that many businesses find themselves bogged down in, and partly due to taxes.

I don’t personally own a business in France so I’m not sure I fully understand all the ins-and-outs but essentially it seems to boil down to the fact that French taxes are some of the highest on the planet. Apparently the French tax system is divided into two – taxes proper such as VAT/TVA, income tax, property taxes and so on, then come the much dreaded ‘social charges’.

The social charges are mandatory payments made to the state to cover things such as health contributions, retirement benefits, invalidity cover etc. They are the rough equivalent of DSS contributions in the UK but about 5 times higher as a minimum. These are of course all taxes but are called ‘social contributions’ in France as the semantics of this sound warmer and cosier than ‘tax’.

Historically it has been the social charges that have crippled and destroyed many expat (and French) businesses. There are many different issues and legal ways of setting up a company and paying them, but it doesn’t seem to matter how you do it, you can be sure that around 40% of your turnover or profit (depending upon how you set up your business) will be taken by the state in social charges. Income and other taxes could be payable in addition to this huge percentage.

I know of many expats in France who have given up their small businesses claiming that the state was just bleeding them dry – several telling me that it was a complete waste of time trying to make a living there.

There may be some good news. Finally the French government have created a system to simplify the process of starting a company (in the past even that could be a nightmare I’m told) and much of it can be done online. More importantly, the payment of taxes and social charges for small businesses has been simplified at a lower flat rate. If I understand it, the new rate is 12-13% of your turnover and provides all income tax and social charges cover.

This may be a lifeline for those thinking of starting a business.

I believe the French state site at has all the details and also it has an outline of the new system in English. It may be worth having a look though be aware that the site has been unavailable a lot recently due to traffic ‘overloading’.

Keep an eye on Expat Focus for a more in-depth article about running a French business – it’ll be available shortly.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Nasty Nudies

More controversy in the forums surrounding Portuguese beaches:

"Whats do you folks think about horrid naked adults on local beaches? Mainly Clerigo - as this is the beach I most often visit.

Personally I hate seeing rotten old wrinklies in their birthday suits, when I am taking a stroll along the beach taking in the wonderful sights and smells of nature - suddenly, there they are, jiggling willies and flabby bums ugh! I just wish these people would go to remote beaches where they cant offend anyone - or perhaps they are exhibitionists. In that case, they should be arrested. Its gainst the law to walk around the streets naked, so why are the beaches any different?"

More here

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Expat economics - is opportunity knocking?

It’s interesting how economics can change people’s behaviour very quickly and how those that are ‘fleet of foot’ can benefit.

For a long time the euro was very weak against the US dollar and Sterling. The halcyon days for many were when the pound Sterling was at 1.45 euros and many things in Europe, notably property, seemed very cheap.

Now that’s all changed of course. At some levels the euro and pound touched parity and as I write it’s sitting at about 1 pound to 1.16 euros. That’s been bad news for many British expats who get their income such as pensions in Sterling but are now living in Europe in the Eurozone. Suddenly prices in continental Europe don’t look so cheap and I know many are struggling to survive on their old income.

Even so, some dynamics are already swinging into action. Suddenly Brits in Europe are starting to buy more and more over the Internet from the UK as a lot of stuff ‘back home’ suddenly looks much better priced than the same items being sold in the local town. The ferries are suddenly full of vans going over to the UK to ‘stock up’ on various items - notably DIY, Electrical Goods, Clothes and, wait for it, alcohol! The clinks of mass bottles can now be heard on ferries docking at the channel ports coming FROM the UK!

How times have changed!

Perhaps one of the biggest growth areas in this respect are the new and second hand car markets. There are now a number of specialist UK based car suppliers of left-hand drive vehicles based in the UK and they are selling their vehicles in Sterling not Euros. I know someone that recently purchased a LHD car from the UK in Sterling and saved approximately 4500 euros on the same car if purchased locally.

It’s also noticeable how small businesses, predominantly Internet based, are now springing up in many Euro countries and they are all targeting locally resident British expats that want to stretch their pounds further. Many of these include delivery services to a range of specified European countries.

As they say, “It’s an ill wind that blows no man any good”.

Of course this isn’t quite so good for those British expats living outside of Europe. The idea of running a white transit van from Calais to Sydney filled up with light bulbs and DIY kits isn’t perhaps a terribly sensible one, though then again Sterling’s decline has been less marked against many other currencies that it has been against the Euro.

So, for those expats in continental Europe, it may be worth looking on the Internet for the prices of at least some of the things you need if purchased in Britain and in Sterling. You never know, you could save yourself a lot of money!

Friday, June 26, 2009

This Marriage Thing - Navigating Love Abroad

by guest blogger Suzer from Suzer's Expat Adventures

Since meeting on a backpacker tour of Ireland, my husband and I have lived and loved in four different countries, before we were finally able to settle down in his home country of Australia. Along the way, we have faced challenges particular to a marriage on the move.

Starting on the Road

As I said, my husband and I met in Ireland. At the time we were both living in different parts of England, myself while studying and himself on a working holiday. For 8 months, we met up every 2 or 3 weeks on weekends, and for our last 4 months in the country, after my degree was complete, I moved into his London flat. This involved my husband staying in the UK longer than originally planned. In fact, he was away from home for a couple of years longer than he’d expected to be as a result of meeting me and I ended up permanently moving to a country I had intentionally left off my list of places to ever even visit. We found ourselves talking about marriage 4 months into the relationship, much sooner than we would have if we didn’t have to think about how to avoid living 10,000 miles apart. We went from the UK to a long visit to the US, then on to Australia where I got a working holiday visa for a few months, simply because he wanted me to suss it out before he felt ok with my decision to move there permanently. After that, we were off to New Zealand, where we got married and spent the better part of our time there waiting out a spousal visa. Almost 3 years later, we’ve now been back in Australia for about 9 months, where we are being patient with settling back into our home and marriage...

More here

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fury at Inconsiderate Dog Owners in Portugal

Interesting discussion going on in the Portugal forum, kicked off by this post:

"I have been reading this forum for sometime and have finally been prompted to join to air my frustrations regarding dogs on beaches and the owners total disrespect for other people.

Am I alone?

Today, I went to the beach and low and behold as always several dogs on the beach DESPITE signs stating NO DOGS…do these owners think the sign does not apply to them and their prized pooch, I ask myself? These dogs roam around poohing and weeing on the soft golden sand their presents awaiting some unsuspecting child to share the same “spot” of soiled sand as they play.

The final straw came today when I sit there minding my own business and low and behold another dog owner arrives the dog heads straight to a families towels and picnic bag and cocks its leg spraying and contaminating the unattended “camp” with urine!! Is this fair??

I chased after the dog and berated the English owner who just shrugged their shoulders and carried on. I was absolutely fuming as the unsuspecting family whose possessions the dog had urinated on had a young child

Who can I report this to as I followed the person back to the car and took their registration details?

If there is no consequence why display signs??. Owners should be responsible for their pets actions…if they were parents they would be or are DOGS held above humans??

Who else has witnessed this total lack of respect?

I look forward to your coments"

Follow up comments can be read here

Are you an expat in Portugal? Are you a dog owner? What is the situation like in other countries? Comments very welcome.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Of Mad Dogs and Expats

Interesting blog post from Peter Foster over at Telegraph Blogs:

"I see from local news-reports that Guangzhou is about to institute a 'one-dog' policy despite the weeping and gnashing from two-dog owners who must now choose which of their best friends they like the most.

Might seem a little cruel, but speaking as a resident of a Beijing tower block where dogs are a complete menace, I'd thoroughly support the idea. In fact if I was emperor for the day (God save us) I'd have a 'zero-dog' policy."

More here

Interesting comments too - I didn't realise dogs (especially those little yappy ones) were seen as status symbols!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Value of Mateship

by guest blogger Suzer from Suzer's Expat Adventures

After I got all of my spousal visa paperwork submitted for my move to Australia, a slim envelope turned up in my mailbox with another form to fill out. It was called an Australian Values Statement, and required my signature as acknowledgement that I would accept certain Australian values as a newcomer to Oz, one of which was the value of mateship. At the time, I thought it was somewhat amusing, and wondered how it came to rank up there with equality, democracy, and respect for the law. Looking back, I should have seen how it struck a certain resonance with my biggest worry about my move to Australia, which was leaving friends behind. Wondering how long it would take to meet and get to know new people, I was concerned about being lonely, and wondering how I would fit in to this new place.

Hoping to do something ahead of time that might alleviate my fears, I started up an online social group for expats in Adelaide. Within no time the numbers of the group soared, and just over a year later, there are over 250 members. Some members have been in Adelaide only a few days, others for many years, and we even have some local Aussies who’ve been here a lifetime but are keen to meet new people. We have a monthly pub meet, and help each other out with information on adjusting to life in a new country. The best outcome of starting up this group, however, has been the new friends I have made. Some are acquaintances that I only see once a month, some are friends that live nearby, and some are mates that I have even had the luck to work with. We meet up for coffee, go on hikes, and often explore new places in Adelaide together for the first time.

Once a month, we have a ladies lunch with members of the group. It’s an informal, relaxed way to meet or catch up with new friends, have a glass of wine and a meal, and share stories about our new lives down under. We talk about what it’s like to be a woman in Australia, how we relate to our Aussie husband’s family and friends, the challenges with meeting new people and settling in. I had a very emotional response to the first ladies lunch, which included a group of women who came from places as far as the US, Canada, China, Colombia and Singapore. One of our main topics of conversation was that of friendship and the feeling of belonging and identity. Three are married to Aussie blokes, and for us, this poses a particular challenge. Not that Aussie lads are flawed in any way, but more so that fitting into their already existing circle of friends can take time. This could be said for anyone moving to their partner's country and trying to find their way into a life already begun. Being a long way from your own friends and family, you are in a position where you not only have to try and fit in, but also find a new identity for yourself, while at the same time maintain who you are. It’s no easy task, but it’s a rewarding one. Hearing these women sitting around me talk about going through the same things was a very validating experience.

I still keep in touch with my friends back home, but I sometimes think my ‘new Australian’ mates understand me better, in some respects. It’s still hard at times to be so far from my best friends who I’ve known the longest, but I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to have new people in my life. I can still vividly remember how lonely I was when I first arrived in Australia, but so much has changed since day one, much of it due to meeting my fellow expat ladies. I've been really lucky that in the short space of time I've been here in Australia I've met some great quality people, and while I miss catching up with my friends back home, I'm not lonely here. I tell newcomers these days that Australia is a place where the earth is red, you can see the stars, and there’s always a mate around to brighten your day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bi-Lingual, kinda

by guest blogger Toni Summers Hargis, author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom"

Having lived in the States for nineteen years, I like to boast that I’m “bi-lingual”. What? You think there’s no new language to learn? “How different could it be?” you ask. Let’s just say the learning never ceases. Only last week, as we were heading off to an outdoor concert with some friends, one asked if I had the “church key”. I thought he was referring to the front door key, which I proudly produced, to gales of laughter from everyone. Come on – how was I supposed to infer that he was talking about a bottle opener?

For the most part, American English and British English are similar enough for us to be able to communicate; British goose pimples become goose bumps across the Pond, the phrase six and two threes translates to six of one and half a dozen of the other” (or six and one half when pressed for time), and fanny simply means one’s bottom instead of, well, a female front bottom. Some of the differences are hilarious either to Americans or Brits, depending on the situation. For some reason behoove, (which is the American version of “behove”) cracks me up every time I hear it. If you’re trying to warn me that it would “behoove” me to do something, you’ll need to choose a different word to be taken seriously. Similarly, every time I pronounce the word herb with an audible “h”, all the Americans in the room will smile indulgently at each me and then repeat my pronunciation exactly. The most hilarious of all is when Brits come across Americans named Randy. There’s much elbowing, winking and general Monty Python-esque behavior, which falls on utterly deaf ears as Americans don’t use the word “randy” to mean “horny”.

Generally, the differences cause mirth instead of confusion, but when your husband tells you he’s been shagging flies, it’s important to jump for the dictionary rather than jump to conclusions. (The term means to throw and catch baseballs in the outfield when the baseball game isn’t in progress.) Similarly, when your teenagers tell you they’re boning up on something, you should know that they’re studying (or claiming to) rather than getting up to anything more illicit...


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Living the dream - on 1000 euros per month?

Yesterday happened to be a nice day. The sun came out and it was fairly warm. Suddenly, as if by magic, out came all the tables and chairs onto the pavements. Flowers appeared in vases in the windows, birds were chirping away in the trees and everyone seemed to be smiling.

A lot of women decided to declare an end to spring and had their summer togs on, though oddly most of the men seemed to still be hedging their bets and were still wrapped up. I suspect there is something very significant in that difference although I can’t see it (I’m sure every female reader is now screaming at this point “It’s easy - men are all wimps” or the equivalent).

Certainly there was suddenly that ‘continental atmosphere’ around – that thing that one can rarely if ever find in an English speaking country. Felling pretty good and refreshed, I returned home to pick up some expat news. As always at the moment, it was full of doom, gloom and calamity but one item on British expats living in the Algarve caught my eye.

It was talking about how they have suffered a triple whammy this year. Firstly house prices have declined by around 25%, secondly the decline of Sterling has reduced their income levels in Euros, and thirdly they’ve had the wettest winter for 15 years.

Much of this was well-travelled stuff and nothing new. What did surprise me though was that the article happened to mention that one needs 1000 euros per month to have a modest but OK lifestyle. Well, I guess it depends a lot on how one lives, one’s personal circumstances and what one considers ‘modest’ but if you read the article I would caution against taking this as a fact.

Allow me to climb onto my soapbox for a second. In many parts of Europe there is a widespread quoting of this almost holy figure of 1000 euros per month. I have heard accountants in at least three European countries telling their clients that they should be able to have a reasonable lifestyle on that sort of profit per month (assuming they have no mortgage) and I have seen it mentioned in other articles previously.

My message is – be careful! It doesn’t really matter what EU country you’re living in, 250 euros coming in each week is NOT a lot of money to survive on even if you are mortgage free. You can probably rule it out as pure fantasy if you have children. Even if you do not or your kids have flown the nest, when your washing machine breaks down and the repairman wants 150 euros to fix it, can you pay everything else that week with 100 euros? If you have a car repair bill of 500 euros to pay, do you not eat for the next two weeks? What happens when the car repair bill and the broken down washing machine happen in the same week?

Living the dream is possible and I believe in going for it but it is important to keep a level head. Financial trouble and difficulties in making ends meet are the most commonly cited reasons for expats needing to return ‘home’ permanently. Keep a level head and do your sums before heading off to foreign parts and above all, don’t take as gospel this casually thrown-about figure of 1000 euros per month!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

BBC infuriates expat audience

A storm is brewing over at the BBC website about changes made to the BBC news section, in particular the way in which UK news is served to those outside the UK. Further information and comments (scroll down to see the comments) at the following pages:

Returning home for the summer

Great article over at the Telegraph about expats returning home for the holidays:

"It's that time of year again. The suitcases come out, kids get fractious and the dog follows every move with melting eyes and slouching movements that give added meaning to the expression "dogged".

Swarms of expatriate wives and children from all over the globe descend on clogged airports intent on "going home" for the summer. Plans are made for Dad to join the fray, for a couple of weeks, in the middle of this madness of visiting grandparents and living out of suitcases..."


Monday, June 15, 2009

The excitement of expat life (really? where?)

A little while ago an American expat living in Moscow made news with a novel called ‘EXPAT’.

This got attention because

· It was raunchy
· Her publicity site for it included photos of herself in scanty underclothes
· Her name is Deidre Dare
· Perhaps most of all, she is (or was at the time) a senior lawyer for a major British law firm.

The novel and her poetry appeared to suggest that the life of an expat in Moscow consists largely of drink, parties and sexual excesses.

I’ve never lived in Moscow so I can’t speak from personal experience – maybe it is like that there. The key point about her exploits (of the literary and publicity kind) is that it fuels the stereotypical view of the average expat. I’ve commented on this before – that widely held view that all expats everywhere spend all their time by the pool, drinking themselves senseless and engaging in various forms of what I’ll politely term ‘frolics’.

The reality of course is not like that for the vast majority. If you’re considering the expat life, maybe you’re now thinking “oh that’s a pity”! Perhaps so, but in my own humble way I’ve decided to set the record strait and put a few words of my life experience diary down.

Day 1.

Got up. Raining. Went to work. Got hung up due to delays on the trams. Received a phone call at night from someone trying to sell me cheap car insurance.

Day 2.

Lights fused. Repaired quickly. Can’t find my favourite pencil.

Day 3.

Wrote my blog for Expat Focus. Got a phone call in the evening – wrong number. Watched some TV.

OK, a fairly hefty exaggeration for laughs but I hope making the point that while every day as an expat can bring something new and rewarding relating to living overseas, a life of non-stop excitement it isn’t.

Now having made that great and no doubt noble point, I’m starting to wonder if it IS such a life for everyone else and it’s only me that isn’t part of it? Do comment and let me have your opinion. !

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Home and Away – USA, Property and Visas

I don’t normally comment on those “let’s help you find a home overseas” type TV programmes but I’m going to make an exception here. Some of these programmes are well made and some are not at all to my taste. Many people, though, find them great entertainment and a motivation to do something about their overseas living dream.

I have recently watched some of the new series relating to the USA as an expat destination and two things have consistently annoyed me.

For a start, the potential expats are consistently shown a property in the UK and another in the USA and asked which one they like best. Due to differences in house prices and the impact of the recession, this often involves them looking at (e.g.) a one bedroom tiny flat somewhere directly outside a waste disposal tip in the UK, then asking the participants to compare this to a 10 bedroom mansion with swimming pool and private lake in somewhere like Florida.

“Do you know yet which house you prefer?” is usually the inane question.

OK, that’s subjective and moderately (but only moderately) exaggerated I know. The point is that nobody doubts that in many parts of the USA at the moment your money will buy you a lot more in bricks and mortar than it would in many parts of the UK. It may or may not be a good time to invest in US property - that’s a subject for specialist advice - but the key thing is that this programme is meant to be about changing one’s life, not just finding investment opportunities and/or holiday homes.

That leads onto the second point. This programme and others like it rarely discuss in detail the participants’ visa or citizenship status. There are sometimes some passing references and at times one can deduce from the fact that one of the people involved has a US accent that possibly they have residency rights.

The trouble is that programmes like this can mislead people. Buying property in the USA is not at all difficult and it is about 1% of the issue if contemplating lifestyle relocation there. What IS difficult, in some cases insurmountably difficult, for many potential expats is obtaining residency and work permissions. In the USA owning property in itself does NOT guarantee that you will get the right to live in your dream home permanently and there is no such thing as a retirement visa.

You can use various Expat Focus resources to read up more on this, sometimes complicated subject and there are specialist organisations that will help people relocate to the USA, usually for a fee. You can find their details on the Internet – there are many of them.

All in all, you need to do your homework before starting to fly over to the USA to check out properties with or without a TV presenter’s help! Maybe I’m just being grumpy, but I wish this issue were covered a little more realistically in these sorts of TV programmes!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Feeling the strain?

It is a fact that sometimes expats can have need of counselling. The stresses of being an expat can be significant and some studies have shown that this is particularly so for those on work assignments overseas as opposed to family relocations.

In a sense that is unsurprising. If you have moved with your family to start a new life overseas then there is a group around you to share the (hopefully numerous) highs and of course, the odd low from time to time. If on the other hand you are on your own overseas or perhaps you are the partner of someone working long hours in the office while you’re at home alone surrounded by strangers, then it’s fairly easy to start ‘turning in’ on yourself and feeling a bit blue.

In fact, some statistics indicate that about 50% of expats of the overseas work assignment variety actually request re-assignment back home after less than 1 year of what should have been a 2 or three-year contract. Of those cases, about 95% of the time the reason given relates to isolation and loneliness either of the expat or their partner.

Under these circumstances, it may be nice to have someone to chat to just to get some sense of reality. There are usually local expat organisations that can help, although you may have to make the effort to go and find it or other forms of support.

Of course it is possible that the idea of sharing your concerns with your next-door neighbour or the chairman of the local expats’ association isn’t quite what you had in mind. Sometimes it may be beneficial to talk to someone unbiased and impartial.

If that happens, it may be possible to seek some form of counselling. It’s important to note that in this I do not mean psychiatric counselling! It is beyond my sphere of expertise to discuss when those occasional and perfectly normal attacks of ‘expat blues’ may be in danger of turning into clinical depression – a doctor should be able to advise you.

What I am talking about is the counsellor who has been through relocation and understands some of the pressures an expat can be under. The trouble is that for expats living in non-English speaking countries, finding such a person may not be easy. There are some webs sites that claim to offer expat counselling - try Googling for a few minutes and see what you find.

Please note that I am not necessarily recommending these services or advising you to use them – there are several such sites and offerings on the web and you should do your own search and preferably take references. The point is that if you are feeling a little low then there is no reason for you to keep this to yourself. There are people to talk to out there - whether it be your neighbour, new friends on expat forums or a good counsellor.

Don't keep things bottled up, we've all been there at one time or another.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How to park a car - Aussie style!

by guest blogger Vicky Gray from Australia Uncovered

Parking in Australia is free in most places, barring airports and Hospitals. Unlike in Essex where I was horrified to discover that I had to pay and display at my local Somerfield store, even when I was just popping in for a pint of milk and some peanut MandM’s. I was reimbursed when I produced the other half of my ticket at the checkout, but that really wasn’t the point, it’s extremely inconvenient and if you don’t have a 20p coin on you, you’re buggered and forced to shop elsewhere.

Anyway, all you have to do here in Oz is observe the clearly marked signs that tell you how long you can park - and on which days. Car park bays are spacious and you no longer have to squeeze carefully out of your car to avoid banging into the car next to you with your door. The child parking bays are ridiculously oversized and you feel unworthy of using them unless you have a minimum of three children, a dog, two goats and a couple of loose chickens.

One rule that must be obeyed, which is totally different from England is that you can only park your car on the road the way the traffic is flowing. So you can no longer eagerly hop across to the other side of the road when you spy a space, you must first turn around and then go into it. Otherwise you may face a fine and even some penalty points.

Reverse angle parking seems to be the rage in Queensland – but this varies from State to State. If you do come across these type of bays, never park ‘nose in first’ – you will be frowned and tutted at, but only by Australians as they are justifiably fed up of seeing Poms hopelessly manoeuvring their 4WD’s into relatively easy spaces. You will probably find though, that fellow Poms will recognise you as a ‘newbie’- wonder over to introduce themselves and maybe even become firm friends!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Affected by the global economic downturn? Contact the BBC!

Kirsty Good at the BBC has asked me to post the following:

"I'm a producer working within the Business Economics Centre at the BBC. Has the global economic downturn forced you back to the UK? I'm looking for an expat who's recently moved back to Britain because they simply couldn't afford to remain living abroad. I can be contacted on email at

My telephone number is +44 (0)208 225 8266

Many thanks
Kirsty Good"

If you'd like to help Kirsty, please drop her a line!

The International Retirement Directory - can you help?

Expat Focus is pleased to be contributing to The International Retirement Directory to be published in June. Its editor, David Creffield, is also looking for personal contributions from those who have happily (or unhappily!) settled/retired abroad. The directory will cover 50+ countries so contributions are welcome from any country in the world. David would appreciate contributions of 500 words or so and a (high-resolution) photo. You can see more about this project at and contact David directly at

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Ghanaian Job

by guest blogger Holli from Holli's ramblings

So my friend and interior decorating inspirational counsellor and I conspired to revamp my son’s bedroom and bathroom recently.

In our attempt to do it all on the cheap in a company provided, 70’s throwback style house (which was incidentally the Libyan Embassy in Ghana before we lived in it…), one of the aspects of our clever plan was to paint the en suite bathroom walls gold (to bring out the best in the hideous tiles). I mean, seems natural enough? No? Well, you’d be surprised how difficult it is to find gold paint in Ghana. Or maybe you wouldn’t…

So, as we do, we picked a Saturday when we were feeling particularly brave and energetic, and headed into ‘the Market’, the infamous neverending rolling squalor of Makola…There is a saying that anyone who has traversed the pathways of Makola knows, ‘You can find anything in that market!’ … but you might not find your way back out!!

So true to its legend, as we trudged through with green solid slime gutters underfoot, chickens and goats skirting around, and a constant flow of hot pulsing bodies surrounding us under the oppressively beating sun, we poked in and out of crowded alleys and deeper and deeper into the abyss, and we stumbled upon some sellers with.. wait.. GOLD SPRAY PAINT!!! So I bargained and bought two tins. The seller assured me this would easily cover a small bathroom. (All the walls are tiled halfway up).

We found our way out of the maze, after walking the ‘gauntlet’ of used clothes sellers, and buying more than a few “Selection, Madam!” items…at about $2 each.

And as things go in Ghana, we didn’t actually plan to do the dirty work ourselves! We’d have Eric, the house help do it… Therein lies the ultimate Ghanaian experience. You want something done. It seems simple and straightforward. You convince yourself you are too busy etc. and ask the ‘helpers’ to do it. What could go wrong???

Silly question, really. Monday morning I armed Eric with three week’s worth of old Sunday Times, an industrial roll of tape, and the two spray paint cans, with strict and precise instructions – cover all the tiles, ceiling, sink, toilet etc. with the papers…

Monday I arrived home from work and opened the door of the bathroom… drum roll please…

The two empty spray cans tossed on the floor caught my eye first. Then the white walls... What’s wrong with this picture?

Then I opened the door further and there in the back corner behind the door, on a 2 x 2 ft. section of the wall, was gold.spray.paint. Newspaper was taped to the tiles below, about a half inch below where the tiles begin (hence the top of the tiles is now gold spray painted), and every few inches a piece of tape, placed vertically, right into the spray painted area of the wall. So that when you remove the tape, there is a tape shaped white rectangle on the gold portion of the wall.

Question to self: Where is Zen when you need him? Deep breaths. This is funny, right? Cute even... Don't snap, just avoid Eric for the day...

Really I should just leave it. What did I expect when I said, tape paper over everything? That it was assumed the REASON for this was to create protection from the gold paint? And how else would one tape up the paper, if not with thumbstrips of tape?! You mean you wanted the paint to be uniform?

I looked up at the ceiling – a fine mist of tapering gold…

When I asked Eric, determined to stay calm, about all these absolute F^&%^ ups, not to mention the fact that he didn’t bother to spray across the wall but over and over on the same spot until both cans were completely empty… he shrugged and said “Oh Madam, the paint wasn’t plenty, o. The man who sold it to you was cheating… And I forgot about the paper for the ceiling. Also, I don’t know how to put paper up on the ceiling. Madam, please, it will fall. …”

I’m tempted to give up, just as is and leave the mess that is there. After all, TIG (like “This Is Africa”, but my more dear to the heart version, ‘This Is Ghana’…). But I just can’t. So I will painstakingly explain what I REALLY meant the first time about the tape and then describe how one goes about spray painting, and send Eric himself to find more of the paint…

After all, I’m a glutton for punishment and Eric may never find his way out of the market…

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Saying Goodbye to China

"My experience in China has not been about demystifying this culturally complex place or becoming a Sinophile. Old China Hand, China expert--I'm none of those and don't feel any more qualified to write about "the Middle Kingdom" now than I did when I arrived three years ago. The only thing I can say for sure is that I'm leaving a different person from when I arrived. There is nothing like being skyrocketed out of your comfort zone and landing in an unknown place to turn you inward and make you reflect--on the world as you know it, and your place in it--and being in China has certainly done that for me......"

Click here to read the rest of this post

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Hotel Expat

One of the things the newer expat discovers very quickly is that they suddenly have a large number of new friends.

Some of that will have been expected - the new neighbours, the other expats living along the road, the nice local people in the nearby shop or bar etc.

What is often more of a surprise is just how many ‘old-new’ friends they suddenly also discover back home! There is a proven mathematical relationship that governs this phenomenon. It runs along the lines that the number of ‘old-new friends back home’ made will be directly proportional to the tourist attraction rating of your new location.

This really isn’t a joke! Many people see the newly settled expat as an ideal opportunity for a free stop over or cheap holiday. Obviously most expats welcome family and close friend visits as they would anywhere, but sometimes this can become a little too much and a problem.

One expat was telling me that between late June and the end of August, she and her family had not had a single weekend without visitors.

Another family was also telling me that having opened a small hotel, they’d had several awkward situations with friends asking if they could stay for periods. They said it had been very tricky because their various friends always wanted to come during the relatively short holiday season thereby occupying rooms they could otherwise let out. This meant that their real and precious income was being hit hard. Apparently some friends had reacted very negatively when they’d been asked to re-schedule their planned visit or pay for the room(s).

I also know of another working family who had a fairly ‘distant’ friend coming to stay for a few days. The day before arrival he very considerately emailed them with a list of places he’d like to visit and a rough itinerary – he’d also been doubly thoughtful and included a reminder that he couldn’t drive so they’d need to factor that in when making arrangements to take him around!

These are of course exceptional cases, or at least I hope they are. The vast majority of those that descend upon the conveniently located expat are well-intentioned and considerate people and their visits are welcomed. The trouble is that although each individual visit may be welcome, cumulatively they can be a strain.

What those old next-door neighbours of yours who have just popped in for a few days fail to realise is that being an expat is not usually the same thing as being on holiday. Perhaps they think that spending a day or two with them is not a big ask, but if they’re the fourth visitors in the past 6 weeks then that’s a total of 8 days you’ve had to take off work to entertain and show people around – and this says nothing about the cumulative costs of food and drink etc.

So is there an answer to this?

I suppose you could try to avoid moving somewhere that is too picturesque or which has beautiful sea and beaches. Certainly beaches, cute city-centres or historic towns with castles can be risky in terms of attracting old-new friends.

On the positive side you could try only handing out your contact details to very close family and true friends while swearing them to secrecy.

If that’s not your scene then what about taking some photos of a cement factory somewhere and sending them to all your old acquaintances back home on a post card labelled “view from our garden”?

You can be subtle and email back home to one and all making casual little asides such as “really enjoying it here in spite of the local health scares”.

These are all techniques that real expats claimed to have actually used with some success. I wonder if they were serious?