Thursday, January 29, 2009

New Canadian citizenship rules impact children of Canadian TCKs

by guest blogger Robin Pascoe of ExpatExpert

If you are Canadian and gave birth or planning to give birth to any of your children while living overseas, please read this and pass the link along to any of your Canadian friends who did likewise.

Not enough for TCKs to wonder who they are, new citizenship rules which go into effect April 17th of this year from Citizenship and Immigration Canada are now going to have their children wondering what nationality they are.

Read these new rules carefully. To help you along, here is a key phrase you should look for in the section about 'Persons born or adopted outside of Canada' after the new rules go into effect:

“This means that children born in another country after the new law comes into effect will not be Canadian citizens by birth if they were born outside Canada to a Canadian parent who was also born outside Canada to a Canadian parent.”

Government bafflegab to be sure but essentially, it means that if you had your child abroad and gave him/her your Canadian citizenship, after April 17th, that same child cannot give their children the same Canadian citizenship unless they are born in Canada (and a few other rules thrown in for good measure). Given that a high percentage of children of expats are born abroad and TCKs have a propensity for living and working abroad in adulthood, there’s a pretty good chance your grandchildren (if you’re old like me) or your children (if you are a TCK reading this) will also be born outside of Canada.

The head of the Canadian Expat Association Allan Nichols and I have been working together to get as much clarity as possible on these changes since I was alerted via a posting on my Facebook site by Valerie Bolduc of Ottawa. She had been reading an article published yesterday about these new complex citizenship laws in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Now, we are all trying to reach as many Canadians, Canadian clubs and chambers as possible.

Also unclear from the get-go (besides that convoluted language above) are the exemptions. It says in the rules that children of Canadian diplomats, military or any other personnel of the Canadian government born abroad are exempt. But when Mr. Nichols called Ottawa yesterday to get some answers, he was told that even diplomatic families will not be immune if one of the spouses was born outside of Canada. If this is indeed true (they are so confused it would seem in Ottawa) it would mean that a Canadian foreign service officer, a Canadian ambassador, indeed anyone who served Canada abroad but chose to marry a non-Canadian, may not have Canadian grandchildren!

So, what can you do?

For starters, send this link onto everyone you know who is Canadian with children born abroad or thinking about it. Don't forget, they may even be back living in Canada now. It doesn’t matter. Help educate other Canadians and stress the urgency for action of clarity.

Second, watch this blog for updates as Mr. Nichols and I are both on the case and engaging as many people as possible to gather information including the Canadian Employee Relocation Council. A power point presentation illustrating the fallout of this Byzantine movement by the government has been assembled by Mr. Nichols and is available to view through this link.

Third, and most important: Write to the Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, right now and demand clarity and answers. His e-mail address is and the mailing address is The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C.,M.P, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1. Remember this goes into affect on April 17th so write to him now! Time is of the essence.

Mr. Nichols explains in his presentation why the government is changing the existing laws, but it is clear, that innocent fish are being caught in a net designed to close loopholes. More to come a we know it, but please, act now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Christmas sparrow

An expat friend of mine living in France told me how his efforts to support the local community caused him a catastrophe last month.

Apparently near his house is a local poultry farm. He and his family had always purchased their Christmas turkey from the local butchers or supermarkets, but in 2008 they decided to do the ‘community thing’ by buying a turkey from their farmer neighbour.

So a few weeks before Christmas they called and ordered a 6-7k turkey as they had family coming to stay. Collection was arranged for late Christmas Eve.

On the day itself, my friend went over to collect the turkey. He went in, and shared a drink or two for the season with the farmer. After a little time had passed, thinking it was time to be moving, he asked for his turkey.

“There it is” said the farmer. My friend looked around, struggling to see where.

“There!” said the farmer – pointing to the dinner table of his living room.

To my friend’s horror, he realised the farmer was pointing to what he had assumed on entry was a very small chicken on the table that looked to be not much bigger than a large sparrow.

After a few minutes of rising panic, it became apparent the local farmer had used his judgement to provide a smaller bird as he’d assumed 6-7k would be too large and must have been a translation error. A nice and considerate thought to save a foreigner some money perhaps, but he hadn’t grasped my friend had several family visitors coming to Christmas dinner.

After desperately asking if another turkey was available, much to the farmer’s puzzlement, my friend left in a panic, running out into the darkness with the tiny turkey in tow. When he arrived back home his wife literally screamed when she realised that they were going to have to feed a house full of people the following day with a turkey that they discovered weighed less than 2 kilos.

The next hour was spent frantically driving around trying to find a shop still open and another turkey – totally without success.

The following day their guests arrived and the mini-turkey cooked. My friend told me they had to carve every single piece of it just for the one sitting and still really didn’t have quite enough with the plates looking a bit ‘thinly populated’ with turkey and empty spaces filled with yet more Brussels sprouts. Fortunately their guests understood and took it with good humour though several played the Oliver Twist role and held their plates up asking plaintively “Please could I have some more?”

I asked my friend what lessons he’d learned from this miserable experience. Had he gone off the idea of helping neighbours by buying locally?

Apparently he hasn’t but he has learned that collecting the turkey on Christmas Eve is a little risky...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Property advertisements now free at Expat Focus

As you may already have seen announced on the Expat Focus homepage, both real estate agents and private individuals are now welcome to advertise their properties at no charge in our country-specific property forums. Click here for further details.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Service with a grimace

I’ve decided it’s time to be controversial.

Maybe we shouldn’t, but inevitably expats compare things in their new home country with those in their country of origin. This is where I can’t help highlight something many expats living in different parts of continental Europe comment upon – service standards. So, here we go:

Controversial generalisation number 1. Why is it that point of sale service in continental Europe is so often friendlier and more efficient than in the English-speaking world?

I can imagine now the howls of indignation from many Brits and Americans etc, but many expats find this true. Why it is that in the UK for example, one can go into a restaurant where waiters or waitresses outnumber the customers but they STILL can’t get your order right? Even if it is more or less correct, it arrives to the table with the obligatory “Who ordered the sausages and who wants the pie?” as the server seems incapable of noting on the pad who ordered what – even when there are only two people at the table. A variation of this is the arrival of only one plate to the table where you’re sitting with your guest and in response to your questioning glance you receive the famous phrase that strikes terror into customers in restaurants all over the UK - “what did you order again?”

The USA isn’t immune either. Many restaurants and shops have professional ‘greeters’ that treat even total strangers as long lost brothers upon entry, then immediately service deteriorates to downright rudeness and at times incompetence. Once in a fairly up-market restaurant the bored waitress told me the special included ‘supersalad’. The conversation went along the lines of

“OK, I’ll have the supersalad”

“Sir, it’s the supersalad”

“Yes I know, I’ll have it – the supersalad”

“No sir, it’s SOUP-OR-SALAD and I just don’t have the time for this”.

Charming – an amusing 50/50 accent-related misunderstanding finished off with an aggressive insult to the customer. Upon departure the ‘greeter’ said “great to see you and have a nice day” – yes, right enough!

By contrast on the continent in the vast majority of shops and restaurants service is efficient and very well organised. Quite often one will see one or two people serving a large number of tables without any misunderstandings at all and shops cope similarly. Service also seems spontaneously good-natured and friendly rather than ‘professional and plastic’.

Generalisation number 2. Why is it that post-sales service is so poor outside of the English- speaking world?

Oddly, everything changes around once one has need of help after-sales. For some reason in many continental countries, any attempt to suggest a problem has arisen, however politely and delicately one approaches it, can generate hostility and negativism.

I have lost count how many times I’ve had to explain to people in such circumstances that I am not criticising them personally, but just asking them to accept responsibility on behalf of their organisation to ‘sort it out’. It is as if the phrase “Hi, I have a problem with the xyz I purchased from you…” immediately brings down the emotional shutters.

The most recent example of this was a tax related communication a friend of mine received from the government. At first she didn’t understand the amount demanded, then recognised in about 10 seconds that their calculations on the form contained a trivial arithmetic error that made the final figure far too high. Essentially instead of using 1 month’s figures as a base for projection x 12 for the year ahead, they had added two months together in error then multiplied by 12. As a result the figure they were asking for was too high by far.

Calling the local office of the department concerned, it took her at least 15 minutes to convince the very hostile official that she was not criticising him, and to persuade him to actually look at the figures on his screen. Her statement that there was a simple error at their end was dismissed as “ridiculous”. Once he VERY reluctantly checked his screen, there was - I am told - an almost audible ‘CLUNK’ as the penny dropped that the mistake was theirs. His response? “Well, you should have pointed this out earlier.”

In vain my friend tried to point out she had only received their letter that morning and sadly, her psychic skills were not what they should be. How could she know in advance that they’d make such a stupid error? An apology or even acceptance was not forthcoming and all she received was a grudging agreement that they’d resolve the problem at year-end.

I know what my theory is. I suspect people on the continent are more ‘protective’ towards their job than their Anglophone counterparts. This culture means that service initially is better but the tendency to be defensive means paradoxically that if an issue arises post-sale the customer often them receives poorer service than say in the UK where people have less qualms about accepting that their employer has screwed-up and as a result they just ‘deal with it’.

I said it was controversial! What do you think?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Renewing my passport (part 2)

For those waiting with bated breath on the next instalment of my passport saga I can now reveal that - yes - you DO have to send all the necessary paperwork to Paris when renewing a British passport in the Netherlands, the British consulate no longer plays any part in passport renewal.

Thank you to the staff at the consulate for clarifying the situation!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Renewing my passport (the end of the world as we know it?)

Having lived abroad for nigh on ten years, the time has come for me to renew that most precious of all expat documents...the passport.

Being adverse to form filling I approached the paperwork with some trepidation but was pleasantly surprised to find the process simple and straightforward (there's nothing particularly unusual about my background so I could skip most of the questions). The trouble began, though, when I tried to find out what I needed to do with the completed form.

Firstly, the form itself makes it clear that I needed to send it somewhere, but it doesn't state where. Nor does it explicitly state where I can find that information. Being an experienced Googler though (as most of us are these days) it wasn't hard to track down details of my nearest consulate.

Here I encountered the next problem. Some pages on the consulate's site stated that I could take the document to any consulate, others that this was no longer possible and I needed to send it to the one in Paris which now issues passports to all British expats in the Benelux region. To confuse matter further, I'd also read a forum posting suggesting that Paris was indeed the correct place to send my form to but that consulates in the Netherlands had not yet officially adopted that practice.

So far, so confusing but here's what really gets my goat. If you have any questions about the process (and it seems as though a lot of thought has been put into making sure this is almost certainly the case) there's a phone number you can call. This number belongs to what I can only assume is a private company and the cost, per minute, is around 1.50 GBP. Let me repeat that, if I need help ensuring that my most important national document is securely processed I don't speak to my government, I instead need to pay an extortionate rate to a private company.

Is there nothing left in our society which hasn't been rationalised, downsized or exploited for profit? Now, it may well be that there are sound economic reasons for these changes - the government is, of course, obliged to spend taxpayers' money wisely - but for some things being treated like a customer rather than a citizen seems to be the wrong choice.

I'm off to the consulate tomorrow to see what they say...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Expats and the financial crisis - let's stick together!

Not long ago I was reading a web-based news site that was dominated by a front-page photo of Gordon Brown shaking Nicolas Sarkozy's hand in their recent Paris meeting on the current economic crisis.

It suddenly struck me just how much of this I'd seen in the news recently and as I paged back through the headlines of recent weeks, the numbers of photos of world leaders all shaking hands in one 'love-in' after another is quite stunning.

In 2007 and even the earlier parts of 2008, many world leaders seemed to have little time for each other. Then the 'crash' really hit and suddenly they've all become lifelong friends in adversity. I guess that's OK, a little hypocritical perhaps, but OK. It's going to take a lot of people working together to get things going again so the more hands helping the better - though I can't help wondering just how much money they'd save us all if for their meetings they used the telephone or video conferencing more and first-class travel and accommodation less.

There's no doubt that the current crises are affecting expats everywhere, though of course some more than others.

In some countries those segments of the property markets that exist solely to 'service' expat buyers have stopped dead as people are putting off their purchases due to either nerves or waiting to see if property prices will fall further. Industries everywhere are slowing down and finding work/income is getting harder. As so many expats are self-employed they're also feeling the pinch as a group more than many others.

In spite of all this gloom, there are some positives. As per our illustrious leaders, many communities are recognising that times are hard and are starting to pull together to help each other. Interestingly there are some indications that this 'pulling together' is helping break down barriers that in some cases had arisen between expats and the wider community.

This shouldn't be too surprising. In much of continental Europe there is a more recent history of mass hardship, particularly in rural areas, than is the case in the Anglophone countries. There is therefore a deeper tradition of neighbours and communities helping out by giving gifts of food or doing jobs for each other just to try and help. In many communities people don't differentiate much between locals and expats and therefore the networks are growing to encompass all. That can only be a good thing that will also yield integration benefits once the economy picks up.

Of course, it's not always easy to be a contributor to such self-help networks. In my case I'm not sure my neighbours and local community get too enthusiastic when I offer my limited practical skill sets in support. One looked distinctly alarmed when I offered to give a hand with a piece of carpentry work he was doing - clearly he'd seen some of my DIY efforts and rapidly formed the view that my help was well worth avoiding if at all possible!

In another example, a good neighbour and friend helped me with a little DIY job. When I asked if he needed any sort of reciprocal help he gave the matter some thought then after several seconds said "not really because I can't think of anything you're any good at". A little harsh perhaps but sadly true!

Our particular skills may not always fit well during hard times into an increasingly self-help orientated local society, but the gesture is almost always appreciated and will be remembered.

So, I'm thinking of trying to practice what I preach soon. I may go to see my bank manager to ask for a loan and tell him that if he says 'yes' I'll clean his bank's windows free for a month. He'll probably decide I'm not talented enough to take up the offer!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Expat Focus in 2009

Happy New Year, everyone, I hope those hangovers are starting to wear off!

2008 was a good year for Expat Focus with solid growth in visitor numbers resulting in over 30,000 total registered members by the second half of the year. In addition we crossed the 20,000 mark for newsletter subscribers for the first time last month.

There won't be any resting on our laurels for 2009, though, and there are already one or two additions to the site in the pipeline. However, I'd like to stress that Expat Focus remains very much a community effort - if there's something you want to see, or something you're not happy with, by all means let me know. I can't promise to accommodate every request but we'll try our best!

To all our members and everyone else in the wider expat world, all the very best for 2009!