Friday, February 26, 2010

Interview with Nick Digby, Echo-Xpats (Dubai) - 26/02/10

Nick Digby is the founder of Echo-Xpats (, a Dubai based company established in 2005 delivering relocation services to individuals and corporations throughout the region. Nick is also one of the forum leaders in our UAE forum.

Expat Focus: Nick, can you tell us a bit about your background and how Echo-Xpats came into being?

Nick Digby
Nick Digby

Nick Digby: I have always worked in the hospitality industry, starting in a fabulous Italian restaurant in Singapore at the age of 13. I have worked in many world class hotels, including the Mandarin Oriental and Ritz-Carlton. I moved to Dubai in 2004 to start a role in Food & Beverage at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. After completing a one-year rotation, I considered my options for advancing my career. At that time, Dubai was booming, with many residential and commercial projects underway, including the Dubai Marina, Palm Jumeirah and Burj Downtown (most famous for the Burj Khalifa – tallest tower in the world). The pace of development in the city was too exciting to consider leaving. At the same time, I considered opportunities in Dubai and I saw a real need for relocation services with an emphasis on the quality of customer service. Having being raised amongst hotels who pride themselves on customer service, I knew I could transplant my expertise and experience into the business. And so, late in 2005, Echo-Xpats began offering its services...

Read more

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Expat Experiences: Netherlands - Arwa Lokhandwala

Who are you?Keukenhof

My name is Arwa Lokhandwala and I am an Indian expat living in The Netherlands with my husband.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

We relocated to The Netherlands from India because of my husband's work. It has been a little more than a year now.

What challenges did you face during the move?

The initial paperwork was mostly hassle free but took some time. We arrived in Rotterdam in Dec, 2008 which is one of the coldest months of the year so the weather tested us too. The language and the culture in The Netherlands is entirely different from that of ours. But it also presented a great opportunity to learn about different things.

Can you tell us something about your property?

We liked the idea of renting an apartment rather than buying. Once that was decided, we contacted a couple of Makelaars (Dutch for "estate agents") for the property and after seeing a number of flats, zeroed in on one of them. Finding a property in the beginning takes time and effort since you have to be very careful regarding the area, rent etc. It always helps to check things out with different Makelaars before finalising the deal. The rental contract should be translated into English (or the language that you understand) and only after reading all the fine prints should you sign it...

Read more

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Expat Experiences: "Young and Foolish" - United Arab Emirates (UAE)

Who are you?

I’m Young and Foolish - A British expat.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

After working on short contracts in Europe in the early 00´s we decided to look for opportunities to live and work abroad. I took a Contract in Saudi Arabia, but unfortunately the security situation rapidly worsened and I did the first year out there alone. My family joined me for a short while when the situation calmed down somewhat before moving onto another contract in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE

What challenges did you face during the move?

Both practical and cultural ones. Working on a contracted, self employed basis, there was no support from agents, or company P/ GRO´s to get the logistics taken care of. I was lucky knowing people in the city and they were able to help us with basics like directions to the utility and government offices etc. Forums (like EF) were also invaluable during that time.

Culturally, we also had it all to learn again. Believing (as I did) that living and working in one Middle Eastern country prepares you for another one was a trap I certainly fell into. There was also a distinct difference between my experiences working with a very high proportion of local nationals and my family who met very few. We did however make a conscious choice to live "in town" with local neighbours etc rather than going for a stereotypical Expat compound and I’m glad we did...

Read more

Monday, February 22, 2010

Expat Experiences: Italy - Carol and Tony Evans

Who are you?

We are Carol & Tony Evans, both British and come from Hull in northern England and we have been married for 28 years. We have two Chinese Chow Chows. Tony has a son to his first marriage that lives in France with his partner and two children. Before leaving England, Carol was a doctor’s receptionist and Tony worked for a City Leaning Centre as a receptionist/administrator and evening IT tutor.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Since the early 1980’s we had always wanted to move and live abroad. At that time, we chose northern France as a destination but due to a dramatic change in the interest rates, we decided to leave it for a year or so. However, it was 20 odd years before we finally made the move to leave England.

In 2004 my father, then aged 86, was given the chance to revisit where he was stationed during the Second World War via the National Lottery Heroes Return scheme. This was Pozzuoli in Italy. As my mother had died we got the chance to accompany him as his carers. This was our first trip to Italy. We had always asked ourselves the question “Could we live here?” when we went abroad on holiday, but for some reason we didn’t ask ourselves this question this time. It wasn’t until we returned home that we did so. Our answer was maybe, so we booked a two-week holiday for the next year in the same hotel. During that stay, we decided that this was the place. After waiting almost 7 months for our house to sell we finally moved in 2006 to Arco Felice...

Read more

Friday, February 19, 2010

Expat Experiences: South Korea - Sue Meldrum

Who are you?

My name is Sue Meldrum. I have a husband named Guy and two children - Jacques who is 10 and was born in London and Sophie who is 6 and was born in Sydney.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I currently live in Seoul, South Korea. My husband moved here in August 2008 but my children and I didn't relocate here until August 2009. I have been an expatriate for 20 years and this is my 9th international posting. For 10 years, I was the employee and for the last 10 years, I have been an expatriate wife, so I have seen expat life from 'both sides!' Guy and I met at work and had dual careers with the same company for many years, until I left to have my first child in 2000. My career in communications/marketing has been predominantly with two major multinationals and my husband is still working for the same company where we met. My first international assignment was back in 1988 when I went to New Zealand for 3 years. The move was a smart career decision and also an opportunity to escape and try something new. Every move I have made since has been for the same reasons really. Both Guy and I are career-oriented but equally, we also wanted our children to have the opportunity of living overseas and experiencing as much as possible...

Read more

Geoff Birch on diversification investment strategies for expats

This month I thought we’d take a look at diversification. There was a time when diversification was putting some money in UK equities and some in European equities, and that was later expanded to Emerging Markets equities too but those days are long gone due to the creeping influence of globalisation and the interlinking of most things financial these days. Today we find that a problem with the Greek economy can threaten the stability of the Euro, the whole European banking sector and weigh on equities around the globe. We find that property is not immune to recession nor banking crisis and we find that government bonds from previously supposed safe havens are not now rated as highly as we had thought. So what can we do?

Nowadays we have to build portfolios with real diversity and it is not easy. We have to have assets that work in shifts rather than all at once. This leads to its own problems because as I had to keep reminding some clients last year when they said “most of my funds are flying, but this one/two is not, shall we dump it/them?”, the very reason we bought them was because they wouldn’t perform when all the others do. They are intended to perform when the others stop performing and to act as portfolio insurance...

Read more

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Some Things to Consider Before Making the Big Move

by Expat Focus columnist, Toni Hargis

Toni Hargis
About the Author

Toni Hargis is the author of the popular expat book "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom" and blogs as Expat Mum

According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, approximately 172,000 Brits left their homeland in 2008, with only half leaving for work reasons. The rest were accompanying someone, looking for work or just travelling around, presumably in search of a better life. It’s more difficult to get US figures, as the government measures immigration but curiously, not emigration; a recent UN report* however, states that in 2009 three per cent of the world’s population (200 million) lived in a country other than the one in which they were born. In short, there are a lot of people relocating around the globe.

If you’re a migrant moving by choice, the grass may well be greener where you’re headed, but it won’t always be plain sailing. Here are a few things you should think about before taking the plunge:

Be prepared – From the practical to the cerebral, there are lots of things you can anticipate to make your relocation smoother. Expat American Michele Oyen recalls “The biggest hassle of moving for me had to do with banking and credit cards; there are plenty of things I could have done that would have improved my life if I had set up international banking services before I left the US.”

(A note to Americans from the IRS, “If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, the rules for filing income, estate, and gift tax returns and paying estimated tax are generally the same whether you are in the United States or abroad. Your worldwide income is subject to U.S. income tax, regardless of where you reside.”)

It helps to read about the culture into which you are heading, even when you think it’s not going to be too different from where you are. Adds Oyen, “The irony is that it never occurred to me to look into advice for expats before I moved--no books, blogs, or any of the other resources available. I'd certainly advise someone to look.” Indeed, with the amount of information readily available on the Web, there’s no excuse these days...

Read more

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

TALES FROM A SPANISH VILLAGE: Churchbells, Choking...and far too much H20!

by Expat Focus columnist, Victoria Twead

Victoria Twead
Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools About the Author

Victoria Twead is the author of the popular expat book Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools and co-leader of the Expat Focus Spain forum

Our village is so tiny that there are only a handful of permanent residents. Uncle Felix, a retired goatherd who shares his cottage with his beloved mule and two chickens. Ancient Marcia who runs a shop selling sweets, beer and cigarettes and very little else. Geronimo, a gentle, football-mad kind of village policeman who enjoys his beer perhaps a little too much. And us.

Well, New Year's Eve was interesting. The village was filled with people enjoying the holiday and getting away from their city lives. The Spanish have this tradition where you are expected to swallow one grape every time the clock strikes at the midnight hour. Each chime, and grape eaten, will bring luck in the coming twelve months of the year. So Joe and I walked down to the church at midnight as usual, clutching our twelve (seedless) grapes.

If you've read 'Chickens', you'll know our church clock is rather erratic. It usually chimes twice, so at midnight it'll chime 24 times. Sometimes it doesn't chime at all. At midnight, Marcia, Uncle Felix, Geronimo, all the villagers, Joe and myself waited with baited breath, grapes poised...

Read more

Expat Experiences: Gordon Dolan - New Zealand and Australia

My name is Gordon Dolan; for many years I wanted to migrate but had cold feet, until a recruitment team from HM Naval Base, Auckland, visited Plymouth where I worked in the Devonport Dockyard; being selected for migration with costs paid was too good to pass up, my partner Diana agreed and off to New Zealand we went, when I was 30. We built two houses in New Zealand; like Australia there are few restrictions on home building which results in great variety in architectural styles and choices. We had a ball with the process, getting great satisfaction and achievement and few negatives to report...

Read more

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Expat Experiences: France - Cynthia Caughey

Who are you?

I’m a 51-year old American expat living in Chambery in the French Alps.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved here in 2008 to marry my fiancé, now husband, who is a French citizen. We met when I was vacationing in Provence on a train to Avignon. After a 2.5 year long distance relationship between Chambery and Los Angeles, I moved to France at the age of 49.

Cynthia Caughey
It was a very difficult decision since I left behind a city I loved and lived in for 26 years, dear friends, a thriving consulting business, a lovely home, and a six-figure income. Additionally, I never had an interest in France or spent any time there so I didn’t understand the culture. I had lived in Italy for three years and vacationed there for 20 years so I was oriented towards the Italian culture. Surprisingly, these two cultures are almost the opposite of each other so I had more culture shock than I expected to have.

What challenges did you face during the move?

They have been numerous. Since my industry (nonprofit fundraising and consulting) doesn’t exist in France, I’ve been struggling to find a way to recreate myself professionally. I have a French Alps Tour business (, a photo blog ( and a video diary of my observations and travels at These are still start-ups without income but you have to start somewhere! Since I work 50 hour weeks, take care of and cook for a family of four, travel to the US for business and personal reasons three times a year, and live in a small city with no affordable French classes, finding the time to find community, to learn French, and to have a social life has been extremely challenging. I have also been amazed at the huge cultural differences between France and America, which are not apparent until you live here. They have added to an interesting marriage as well...

Read more

Friday, February 12, 2010

Skilled chef in Egyptian restaurant shows off for the expats!

Filmed at the Fusion restaurant in Maadi (Cairo) during the February 2010 Expat Focus meet up, this chef puts on a great display for the diners.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Bach, Building and the Berlin Wall – about Germany and Living There

House prices here in Germany have been stable for a long time and are beginning to rise, unlike the situation in the UK. I only discovered this some time after I had bought, demolished and rebuilt a small house in a place no-one in Britain has ever heard of. That was in 2004. I can now say definitely that it was the best and most exciting thing I have ever done, and I haven't exactly led a sheltered life.

Read more

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Expat Experiences: Portugal - Eric and Diane

We are Diane and Eric. We are both trying marriage for a second time... so far! We are both former Devonians although my wife was brought up in Cornwall. We met through our work at a local newspaper and after knowing each other for eight years and having both been divorced for ten years we decided that we could make it work. That was back in 1991. So far, so good. I have to say that it was Diane who had been hankering to get out of the U.K. She had been trying, unsuccessfully, to do so since 1960...

Read more

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Expat Experiences: Portugal - Robin and Shirley Hepworth

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

In 2007 we sold up and moved to the Western Algarve, Portugal. Why? Many reasons - better quality of life, less stressful living, nice people, good food, wine & Medronho! We first visited Portugal in 2001 to take part in a sponsored ride from Alcoutim on the Spanish Border to Cape St Vincent in aid of RDA & PSP. I was riding and Shirley part of the support crew and as a result we saw parts of the Algarve most Algarveans never see. We came home feeling that the Lagos area would be a great place to live...

Read more

Monday, February 01, 2010

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

This is the second installment of a two-part column on the process involved in transferring UK pensions to Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes (QROPS). In part one we looked at the people, agencies, and costs involved in the transfer process and here we will summarize the paperwork that typically needs to be completed...

Read more