Sunday, January 30, 2011

Something Else to Consider Before Making the Big Move

by Expat Focus Columnist, Toni Hargis

In addition to the list of things I wrote about last year, there’s another thing to consider before making the big move abroad. Family. (If you’re reading this having just had a tiff with the mother-in-law or a sibling, come back when you’ve calmed down.) But seriously, despite the well-worn adage “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family”, raising children abroad often means raising them thousands of miles from family members.

My teenage daughter recently wrote a paper about being a “dual citizen” (US and UK) and her familiarity with both countries. She has cousins her age in England, and indeed second and third cousins that she knows quite well, but no cousins in the US. Although she loves life in the US, and considers herself more American then British since she was born here, she stated that she felt “at home” and “safe” in England because of her family. As someone who is very close both to siblings and cousins, that made me question whether my move abroad has been the right thing to do for my children.

Although many people move abroad for a “better life”, you should consider how great that life is will be if there are no family members within hundreds, even thousands, of miles? Might it affect how children relate to their own children in later life? Will the lack of close family members contribute to any feelings of homesickness or isolation? ...

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

From Spain to Bahrain - Two Old Fools and the Tree of Life

by Expat Focus Columnist, Victoria Twead

It’s hard getting up in the morning before the red sun climbs over the desert horizon. It’s hard catching the bus to school as it weaves between skyscrapers picking up other sleepy teachers. It’s hard dropping the card into the clocking-in machine at school and starting to teach at 7.30 am. But it’s our fault. We chose to leave our beloved village in the Spanish mountains and come here to live in a city in the Middle East and work in an International School for a year.
If we’d stayed in Spain, life would be very different. We’d get up when we wanted to, without alarm clocks shrilling in our ears. It would be much colder, yes, but there’d be no traffic sounds, no skyscrapers. The hills would be dotted with almond blossom and the urgent ‘click-click-click’ sound of quails calling mates would echo round the valley. But here in the Kingdom of Bahrain, there are no birds to be seen except for pigeons and a few scavenging seagulls. And no trees except for ornamental ones, watered daily.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Most Bahraini websites and brochures mention the Tree of Life, an extraordinary tree that stands alone in the desert. It is ancient and appears to survive without water, as rain rarely falls here in Bahrain. There is no vegetation around it, no clue as to how it survives. It’s not surprising that the Tree of Life is a huge tourist attraction...


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Insider Service - extract from "The Expat's Pajamas"

by R.S. Gompertz

After you’ve lived in Spain for a while, you’ll grow immune to the occasional frustrations that once got under your skin. The squat matriarch who bustles in front of you in the crowded bakery to grab the last baguette won’t offend your sense of fairness; she lived through the war, after all. You’ll find deep reserves of patience for the car stopped ahead of you, hazard lights flashing, while the driver, who’s also your neighbor, calmly paralyzes traffic to milk a cash machine and chat with the local tobacconist. As an advanced expat, you’ll share stories of the under-equipped plumber – recommended by your trusted neighbor – who stranded your family without a working toilet, leaving you in the middle ages for the entire month of August.

It’s all part of the expat experience. When and if you return “home,” you’ll realize that whatever land you come from isn’t much better anyway.

So new expats take heed! Before complaining about what may seem like injustices, ask yourself honestly: did you invest the time up front - typically one or two generations - to build a relationship with the baker, the tobacconist, or the plumber and his extended family?

If not, the indifferent service you receive is no one’s fault but yours. Take time, lots of time, to build relationships. It may take years to become an insider, but once you’re in, you and your offspring will be treated like family.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Expat Experiences: Belgium - Alison Cornford-Matheson, Brussels

Who are you?

I’m a Canadian expat living in the centre of Brussels, Belgium. I’m a photographer, artist and writer and I run a blog for expats in Belgium and abroad called

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

My very first ‘expat’ experience was back in 2004. My husband was transferred to the Netherlands for 3 months to help start up an office there. We lived in Amsterdam and I fell in love with the city and knew I wanted to move back.

The following year Andrew’s company was acquired by an American firm. They offered to let us move to Europe more permanently, with one catch – We had to move to Belgium rather than the Netherlands.

So, a year to the day after we left Amsterdam, we were moving back, to live there until our paperwork for Belgium was sorted out. Three months later we moved to a small village near Brussels and 3 years after that, we moved to the city centre (we seem to have a thing about threes).

What challenges did you face during the move?

Well, I’m considering writing a book on how NOT to move to Belgium... The biggest challenge was dealing with all of the paperwork. As any expat (or local for that matter) here will tell you, Belgium runs on paperwork. It took over a year to get everything sorted out and we had no help from Andrew’s company, which was frustrating. We were sending papers back and forth to Canada for legalisation and it was impossible to get a clear answer from anyone on what exactly we needed.

The other huge challenge in Belgium is language. Although French, Flemish (Dutch) and German are all official, with many people speaking English, the town hall can only legally speak to you in the official language of the area you are in. Although we both speak French, we rented our first place in a Flemish speaking area. Antics ensued.

How did you find somewhere to live?

We were still living in Amsterdam when we had to look for a place to live in Belgium. We only had one weekend to do it, so we hired a relocation agent to help us out. We looked at about six properties and settled on the last one we saw. We didn’t know anything about the area (hence moving to the Flemish side rather than the French) but it worked out ok in the end.

Renting here is a bit intimidating at first because you...

Read more about Alison's life in Brussels

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Expat Experiences: Czech Republic - Nathan and Niki Brown, Brno

Who are you?

Family Photo
Family Photo

Nathan and Niki Brown.

In 2007 our son Matias was born and in 2009, Elliot. Both of our children were born in Brno.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

My wife and I were recently married at that time and thought that if we were going to live in another country, it should be before we had children. We moved to Brno, Czech Republic in March of 2004. Why did we chose Brno? My wife and I engage in volunteer educational activity and there was an opportunity for us in Brno.

What challenges did you face during the move?

It was very difficult to find suitable accommodation (i.e. clean and modern apartment close to the center) when we came. We were in a short-term rental for almost four months before we found what we were looking for.

Another problem which is constant in being an expat is navigating all the visa and residency requirements. Unfortunately there is a lot of information available on the internet but some of it is not reliable.

Not speaking the Czech language was also a big challenge when we first arrived. Fortunately we had some very gracious Czech friends who helped us in so many ways to get established.

How did you find somewhere to live?

Kitchen and living room after renovation
Kitchen and living room after renovation

In the end a Czech friend was friends with a real estate agent who owned the property we ended up renting. He (the Czech friend) has heard that the daughter of the real estate agent was moving out of the apartment and it would be vacant. It was a beautiful, recently refitted apartment close to the center. His help made the whole process so much easier.

In 2007 we bought a multi-apartment building where we renovated one apartment for personal use and a second apartment was used for the offices of our building. The whole process of the purchase and renovation would have been incredibly overwhelming if it was not that I worked in the business and have a great team who assisted with the whole process...


Monday, January 17, 2011

It Takes Two to Tango: Socialization versus Expatriate Adjustment

by Dr Ben van den Anker

Whereas traditional views considered the expatriate the sole actor in his/her adjustment process; recent literature suggests an important role for host country nationals in the expatriate adjustment process. It seems that socialization tactics of the organization and the information-seeking process of the individual have been overlooked as factors in the success of expatriates. As well, expatriates will also experience socialization in the host country national culture. This distinction between socialization in organization and host country national culture is essential. Because incoming expatriates are new organizational members, it is likely that boundaries between organizational and national culture will not always be recognized as such.

Socialization in this context can be defined as the process by which an individual fits in or becomes adjusted to a new role in the organization and learns the content of information necessary for adjustment to this new role. Socialization is, therefore, essentially a learning process and has been described as an expatriate coping strategy (Stahl and Caligiuri, 2005). Six socialization dimensions can be distinguished: politics, performance proficiency, language, people, history and organizational goals/values. Lueke and Svyantek (2000) suggested that combining knowledge gained through research on both socialization and information seeking processes is essential in gaining an understanding of expatriate turnover. Their suggestion is supported by research confirming that the use of these socialization tactics would affect job satisfaction and commitment to the organization. Overall, financial costs of expatriate turnover/failure have been estimated between $2 and $2.5 billion in recent research.

Post-entry socialization experiences then may affect expatriates’ experience of fit and value in the new organization. Consistent with the general nature of socialization described above, Florkowski and Fogel (1999) link perceived acceptance of expatriates in the new organization to host socialization efforts. Socialization is dependent on two players, the host country nationals and the expatriates themselves. Discordant behaviour by...

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Expat Experiences: Vietnam - Michael Tatarski, Ho Chi Minh City

Who are you?

My name is Michael Tatarski. I am a 22 year-old American from New Orleans who is teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I attended the University of Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania, where I studied Political Science and History.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved to Ho Chi Minh City, which most people still call Saigon, on September 8th of this year. I moved a few weeks after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh. I wanted to get a job overseas but wasn't hired by my desired government agencies, so I decided to go into the ESL field and move to Vietnam.

What challenges did you face during the move?

My move was actually rather easy. I enrolled in a ESL certification course several months ago, and half of the training took place in Saigon. LanguageCorps, the company which provided the training, arranged a hotel for my first two weeks here, and the staff was very helpful in getting us adjusted to life in Saigon. Obviously I missed my family, but it is easy to make fast friends in the expat community here.

How did you find somewhere to live?

I decided to look for housing with two of the other training participants. One of them found a real estate broker who was advertising houses on Facebook. We contacted him and looked at an amazing 3-bedroom house and signed the lease shortly thereafter. The renting process was fairly straightforward. Some extra paperwork was necessary since we are foreigners, but nothing too complicated. It helps that you broker speaks a good amount of English, although our landlord butchers the language and is somewhat crazy, but she leaves us in peace for the most part and responds to any problems with the house quickly.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Very few, if any. We live in a non-touristy part of the city, District 3, that is mostly inhabited by Vietnamese. The big expat areas are farther outside of the city...

Read more about life in Vietnam

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Expat Experience: Brazil - Jim and Luiz, Niterói

Who are you?

My name is Jim. I was born in Detroit, Michigan, USA, but after college I moved to San Francisco, California where I lived for 24 years, prior to moving to Brazil. While in San Francisco I was the Executive Director of various non-profit organizations over the years and most recently the Director of the San Francisco office of the American Cancer Society. Long hours, lots of fundraising.

I have been with my partner Luiz for nearly 12 years. Luiz was born in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and lived in the US for 23 years, working as a fine dining waiter, before our return to Brazil in 2008. We met in San Francisco.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

There were a number of factors that went into our decision to relocate to Brazil. First and foremost is the fact that Luiz is an only child and his parents are aging. It is absolutely expected that a good son will take care of his aging parents (assuming there has not been a dramatic event which has broken up the family). Also, one of Luiz’s worst nightmares was to pick up the phone in the middle of the night and be told a parent had died (heaven forbid).

Luiz had been living in the USA for more than 20 years; it was time to think about going home.

Add to that my “been there, done that” attitude toward my work life, plus a painful impatience with the political and economic state of affairs in the US, and I was pretty open to the idea of moving.

Luiz and I had traveled to Brazil on 5 separate occasions, each for a minimum of three months, and traveled extensively throughout the country. Not only did I fall in love with Luiz, I fell in love with Brazil as well.

In 2003 we laid out a five year plan to make the move. I would keep working a job I disliked, but which paid well, so we could save as much money as possible. Luiz would work out a few details with his parents so that when we arrived we would live in separate residences, but still own our home/apartment.

We stuck to the plan and five years later we packed up and moved.

What challenges did you face during the move?

There were not many difficulties, just the desire to earn as much money as possible before cutting off our income. We connected with a good moving company and shipped about 1/3 of a container of stuff. We knew the realities of Brazilian products (quality and price) so we brought many items we felt it was worth shipping. In particular, ALL THINGS KITCHEN and a quality mattress and box springs. We are SO glad we did that!

We had to figure out how I was going to secure a permanent resident visa and then get that paperwork in order prior to our departure. Brazil will allow the...

Read more about life in Brazil

Sunday, January 09, 2011

How Safe is India?

by J.D Viharini author of Enjoying India

In general, India is pretty safe, especially if you don't toss common sense to the winds. With the exception of a few hotspots, such as Chattisgarh and Kashmir, India is no more hazardous than most other countries in the world. In fact, you are less likely to be the target of violent crime here than in many places in the West. And in spite of all the fear-mongering about it, the odds of being caught in a terrorist attack are very small. On the other hand, there are a few safety issues you need to be aware of.
The biggest safety issue in India is actually the traffic. Indians are, for the most part, extraordinarily bad drivers, possibly the worst in the world (though most think they are pretty good). Whether you are walking, driving, riding a bicycle, etc., you need to be fully alert whenever you are out on the streets. In fact, alertness is the most important thing wherever you are when it comes to safety, both in terms of traffic and crime.

Talking on your cell phone while you are walking or driving is an invitation to trouble. There are many accidents that are cell-phone related, most of which could...

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Expat Experiences: Brazil - Brynn Barineau, Rio de Janeiro

Who are you?

That depends on who you ask. Some will say I'm a bold adventurer, others a certifiable lunatic. Possibly a hopeless romantic or a masochist. Officially, I'm an American from a southern, suburban town outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I became an expat four years ago when I moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I'm a teacher and writer. I keep a blog called Coconut Water about living as an accidental American expat in Brazil.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

In 2005 while in grad school in Washington DC, I worked for a Fulbright program that brought legal professionals from around the world to DC for a year of networking.

One of the participants was a very brilliant (and handsome) Brazilian from Rio. We started dating two months after his arrival. After finishing my grad classes, I moved to Rio, we got engaged and were married in 2007.

We have been living in Brazil full time since September 2006. After four years in Rio de Janeiro, we wanted a smaller city and two months ago we moved to Vitoria, the capitol of the state Espirito Santo.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Coming straight from college I didn't have anything to move except my clothes, no kids, no pets, no furniture. I did ship a few boxes of books which are pretty much the only thing you can bring into Brazil and not pay very high import taxes on. I also brought my electronics (computer, printer, stereo) from the US because these things can cost almost double in Brazil what they are in the US...

Read more about life in Brazil at

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Expat Experiences: Argentina - Katie Metz, Necochea

Who are you?

My name is Katie Metz, and I’m a yanqui (Argentine slang for an American) from Philadelphia living in Argentina. Love brought me to the seaside city of Necochea, Argentina, where I work from home as a freelance Spanish-English translator.

I write about my musings and reflections on Argentine culture, food and current events on my blog Seashells and Sunflowers. You can also find me on Twitter:

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I met my Argentine boyfriend (now fiancé) Daniel four years ago. After maintaining a long-distance romance for two and a half years, we finally decided that for the benefit of our relationship, one of us would need to make the leap into the unknown. For personal reasons, we decided that it would be easier for me to move to Argentina than for Daniel to move to the United States, particularly since he’s involved in his family’s business. I moved to Necochea, Argentina, a coastal city of 65,000 inhabitants in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, back in March 2009.

What challenges did you face during the move?

The greatest challenges I faced during the move were probably of a financial nature. I had just started up my translation business, and as with many new business ventures, it took a while to gain momentum. I was also trying to sell my home in the midst of the U.S. housing crisis, which, needless to say, proved to be difficult. In addition, as I was moving independently and not as part of an expat relocation, I had to bear all the costs of the move myself. After investigating the costs of shipping my things in boxes or a container, I determined that it made more sense to sell most of my belongings and buy what I needed in Argentina. I used Craigslist and yard sales to sell most of my furniture and other belongings, and I felt this was a successful approach.

How did you find somewhere to live?

I was spared the process of ...

Read more about life in Argentina