Tuesday, March 29, 2011

From Spain to Bahrain - Two Old Fools Shed Tears

by Victoria Twead

What a sad month... As you all know, Joe and I left our beloved Spanish village to work in the Middle East for one year, teaching at an International school. Many people had hardly heard of the Kingdom of Bahrain, but then, on Valentine’s Day it catapulted to top BBC and CNN news topics.

I’m just an expat, and would never presume to pass an opinion on the politics of Bahrain. Forgive me if I over-simplify matters; this is just how one old fool outsider understands it. All I know is that Joe and I have grown really fond of this little island, and the events of the past month have really shaken us.

The Muslim community in Bahrain is either Sunni or Shi'ite and most of the time they co-exist very happily. For instance, our school is Sunni owned but the Muslim pupils and staff are a mixture of Sunni and Shi'ite. This Sunni/Shi'ite mix usually poses no problem in Bahrain. However, the majority of the population is Shi’ite and unhappy that the Government is largely Sunni, arguing that the Sunnis get the best jobs and preferential treatment. Small protests flare up sometimes, with tyre-burning being the most common occurrence. (Now I understand those black, doughnut-shaped stains on the road!)...

Read more at www.expatfocus.com/victoria-twead-140311

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Next Investment Bubble

by Expat Focus financial services partner, Tom Zachystal

Over the last four years retail investors have largely put their money into bonds and, to a lesser extent, non-US stocks. Money flows into US equity mutual funds have been negative each year in the last four. This trend has been especially prevalent in the last two years, even as equity markets outperformed bond markets.

Just recently we have seen a cross-over; with investors selling bond funds and money starting to flow into equity funds – especially US equity funds.

We should ask whether we are not seeing the initial stages of the bursting of a bond bubble. I think this may well be the case - at a minimum it seems there should be a re-balancing toward stocks.

The case for fixed income investment has to do largely with demographics and fear. As the general population ages it is natural that investors put more money into more conservative income-producing investments. Also, there is still considerable trepidation amongst investors who lived through the equity downturn of 2008. Furthermore, whenever there is political or economic uncertainty, investors still run to US Treasuries.

However, the cards seem stacked against bonds. At a minimum, we might expect there to be a re-balancing at some point as investors diversify their bond holdings into other asset classes. But there is more to consider:

· Interest rates are very low in most developed economies, and surely must rise at some point - a negative for bond prices.

· Sovereign debt has increased dramatically in the US and many European countries - this could lead to credit downgrades or even defaults.

· Many US States and municipalities are also having difficulty meeting their debt burden requirements - bad news for municipal bonds.

In my opinion, the risks outweigh the benefits with respect to bond investment at this time. This view is also shared by the vast majority of professional investment managers whom I have heard speak at the various 2011 forecast events. The world’s largest bond fund management company, PIMCO, has recently diversified its business to stock funds and its Chief Investment Officer, Bill Gross, has commented that the best years for bonds seem to be over. Just recently the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal published articles stating that PIMCO had sold all it’s US Treasuries.

It is important to understand why bonds and bond funds are at risk in a rising interest rate environment and which investments are most at risk...

Read more at http://www.expatfocus.com/tom-zachystal-230311

This article is for informational purposes only, it is not intended to offer advice or guidance on legal, tax, or investment matters. Such advice can be given only with full understanding of a person’s specific situation.

Tom Zachystal is a U.S. Registered Investment Advisor, Chartered Financial Analyst, and Certified Financial Planner™ professional with over ten years expatriate portfolio management and financial planning experience. He has clients on four continents in over a dozen countries and is one of the original members of the Expat Focus Trusted Partner Network, a small group of financial advisors selected specifically for their professionalism and integrity. His services include: US or offshore investment accounts, IRAs, 401ks, portfolio/investment management, UK SIPPs, UK pension transfer to the US or elsewhere (QROPS), retirement planning and other financial planning services for US citizens living abroad or residents of any nationality living in the US.

Click here to send Tom a no-obligation enquiry for financial advice.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Knowing Where You’re Going

by Toni Hargis

I was educated in England and have found the American education system to be one of the most difficult “assimilation” areas so far. One thing I have never really done is make comparisons; the two systems are so different it’s not really apples and apples. However I have recently discovered my one exception to this rule – the college applications process.

My daughter is currently applying to American colleges for attendance in September. It’s quite a different system from its English counterpart, and I have to say, kinder. In England, you apply to most colleges through UCAS, (Universities and Colleges Admissions Services) with a single application that UCAS manages. You can apply for up to five courses (at the same or different universities or colleges), it’s all confidential, and you’re not required to give a preference order. In my day you had to put them in order of preference, meaning that the colleges further down the list often rejected you just for daring to list them so low. Students then receive offers either conditional on end of year grades, or unconditional which means that you’re in. The tricky part comes in knowing which ones to decline, as you can only hold one firm acceptance and one insurance place. Do you accept the offer from the fab university and hope you get the grades, or plump for the college asking for slightly lower grades? Nowadays, there is” adjustment” whereby if you meet or exceed your expected grades, you have five days to reapply for a better place than the one you’re holding...

Read more about education in the USA: www.expatfocus.com/toni-hargis-140311

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Expatriate Archive Centre - Out of Africa...Asia...America...?

courtesy of The Expatriate Archive Centre

Many of you may have, at the back of your cupboards or under your bed, documents, photos, or journals about your life as an expatriate (or “knowledge migrant’’), living, working or studying far from home. Don’t let these valuable resources gather dust.
The Expatriate Archive Centre, an independent foundation since 2008, exists to collect, preserve, promote and make accessible this collection of source materials. We hold both a digital and physical collection of photos, diaries, journals and blogs all donated by the international community past and present. Is/was this you? Documents and memorabilia which are part of your ‘paper-trail’ become, with the passage of time, the evidence for interpreting expatriate life in this changing world. When you look back on your life ten or twenty years ago, can you believe how it’s changed, especially if you lived in the developing world?

Next time you turn out your cupboards, spring clean or relocate, please consider sending or notifying the Archive of any items which may help it create a historical record: old lists of what you had to take to an overseas location, photos, company guidance, that long forgotten video of the social club musical, a diary recording your emotions or feelings of homesickness, handwritten directions, letters home, school and medical adventures in the middle of the jungle, the desert or the city and particularly the story of how you and your family members dealt with all these hurdles… the Archive is interested in it and will give it a good home...

Article continues www.expatfocus.com/netherlands-the-expatriate-archive-centre

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Affordability and the Cost of Living in South East Queensland, Australia

by Tracie Hocart, Residential Property Solutions

Affordability, Cost of Living, GFC, Resources Boom, skills shortages, budgets, cheap holidays, strong Aussie Dollar, infrastructure spending, under supply of housing – these are just some of the phrases appearing frequently in the media today. And, I’m sure it’s not just isolated to Australia. In fact, throughout the world, countries are going through a time where cost of living, affordability and the health of world economies are big news. This is no surprise given that we are all continuing to ride out the last waves of the Global Financial Crisis – some doing better than others.
Since the GFC, consumers in Australia have changed their habits. They have had to. Banks have tightened their lending policies for individuals, and more so, for businesses. Individuals and families have started to save. Prior to that consumer spending was at significantly high levels. Everyone wanted luxury and spent to get it.

Retailers here have really felt the pinch, with less consumers opening their wallets. Competition in this sector is fierce. Not only are retailers forced to sell products at increasing discounts they are also experiencing the trend of many consumers shopping on line to purchase these goods. This is fantastic news for consumers. In fact, this has meant many consumers are not prepared to pay full price for anything. We are now armed with the knowledge on how to get a bargain and where to go to get that bargain.

In Australia, we are also experiencing a resources boom, the envy of many countries in the world. We are seeing the Chinese showing a lot of interest in investing here, and of course, in our resources. This is part of the reason that our economy has been so robust in the face of the GFC. Unlike many of the world’s economies, we were fortunate to ride out the GFC without slipping into a recession. Another reason behind this has been the government’s stimulus package that included accelerated spending on large infrastructure projects, and also consumer spending incentives.

Our housing sector has taken a bit of battering during the last two years. Prior to this, residential property was climbing in value, and outpacing other investments...

Read more: http://www.expatfocus.com/australia-affordability-and-cost-of-living-south-east-queensland

Friday, March 11, 2011

Expat Experiences: Vietnam - Jonathan Hoff, Ho Chi Minh City

Who are you?

Jonathan Hoff, born in Bournemouth England. I'm 30 years old and currently a teacher by profession.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved abroad to Korea in 2004 before heading to Vietnam in 2005. I had spent a year travelling Asia and Australasia before that, and the thought of returning to England to embark on a long, mind-numbingly boring career (which seemed the only option) was not too appealing. I preferred the excitement of boarding a plane with a few hundred dollars in my pocket to a far away country. I took a contract to teach English in a small South Korean countryside town and have never looked back.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Korea was a culture shock certainly, as was Vietnam, but at the time I was so young that I didn't really feel like it was a challenge, I just took everything in my stride. One challenge I met during my time here in Vietnam was that of bettering my career chances. I took my wife, who is Vietnamese, back to England for 10 months. During that time I returned to University to get my postgraduate teaching qualification, allowing me to apply for better jobs in Vietnam, and improving my career prospects. My daughter was also born during that time, on English soil.

How did you find somewhere to live?

I came to Vietnam to study in a TEFL course and soon after arriving moved into a shared house with other trainees. After six months they left the country and I moved into a single room in a large house with a Vietnamese family. I had a small balcony and used a shared bathroom. It cost ($50) a month and I lived there for a year and a half until I got married. We then progressed to an apartment in the city which was ($350) per month, and now we live in a nicer suburban area (the first of its kind in Ho Chi Minh City) in a three bedroom apartment where rents are anything from ($700 to $2000+) a month for an apartment or villa...

Read more about Jonathan's experience in Ho Chi Minh City: www.expatfocus.com/expatriate-vietnam-experiences-ho-chi-minh-city-jonathan-hoff

Friday, March 04, 2011

Being a French foodie

by Jacqui Brown

I will admit that the wine and food of France (especially the cheese and boulangerie fresh croissants, baguettes and gateaux) helped us to make our decision to move here. However, after nearly 7 years of living the dream, here are my top 10 reasons why I will never be a true French foodie. You will notice if you read on that this has absolutely nothing to do with being bored of either wine, cheese or the croissants!

1) Breakfast - a typical French breakfast is quite small; a bowl of coffee served with a buttered baguette and jam or a croissant. Now I LOVE the croissant, it is delicious, especially from our boulangerie 2 doors away, but I prefer my breakfast to be a little bit more substantial. I am not talking about the English fry-up, which does nothing for me, but a steamy bowl of porridge when it’s cold or shredded wheat with fresh fruit when it’s not, just perfect - I’m a fibre girl!

2) Chocolate Cereal - the French are starting to ‘get’ cereal but it is very difficult to buy cereal that doesn’t have chocolate added - again, I LOVE chocolate, but not for breakfast.

3) Coffee Bowl Bread - I will never, ever, be able to dunk my baguette into a ‘bowl’ of coffee - a breakfast ritual for the French. Coffee, in my opinion, is best served small and black and the only thing I dunk in it is a square of 70% dark chocolate. This is a mid morning ritual for me.

4) The Daily Bread - much as I love the freshly baked white baguettes and pains I just can’t eat them with every meal, every day - like I say I’m a fibre girl and therefore am also the proud owner of a bread machine that is used regularly to produce delicious wholemeal or seeded loaves.

5) The Cooked Lunch - French families regularly return home at lunch time for a full 2 or 3 course cooked meal - how they are organised enough to have a cooked meal ready for 12.00 is beyond me. Cooked lunch here is a soup!

6) Tripe and Andouillette - both are considered speciality or delicacy dishes here. As much as I like the idea of not wasting anything from an animal killed for food, my delicate tum will not permit me to eat either of these!

7) Late Night Eating - following the large lunchtime meal the French will eat again, but quite late in the evening. No matter how large the lunch I’ve managed to rustle up I need to eat before 8 o’clock a) as I’m hungry and b) because after then it’s just too late to eat!

8) The Starter - most if not all French main meals will be 2 or 3 small courses. Whilst I think this is a great idea I find it really difficult to coordinate a meal with a starter; there is either an enormous gap between starter and main or the main has ruined while we eat the starter.

9) Marmite - you either love it or hate it, or, if you’re French you just don’t get it - I LOVE it!

10) I’m English - the very fact that I’m not French means that even if I manage to prepare, cook and serve it like they would at the correct time of day it would never truly be considered French!

C’est la vie et bon apetit!

Read more about Jacqui's life in France at The French Village Diaries