Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eavesdropping - Tourists And Tolls

by Expat Focus columnist, Piglet in Portugal

I know it’s impolite to eavesdrop on other people's conversations; however, on a recent flight to the UK I was prompted to tune in to a discussion between a couple of golfing tourists and local residents. The conversation turned from the intricacies of the “ifs” and “buts” of golf to the recent introduction of tolls on the A22 Motorway. For those unfamiliar with the Algarve the A22 Motorway can best be described as the main artery, linking the Algarve from the Spanish/Portuguese border in the east to the towns in the west.

The introduction of the tolls on the 8th December 2011 resulted in protest demonstrations, criminal damage to the cameras, and at one point twenty-four hour police surveillance was mounted at each gantry along the A22 to protect the cameras and equipment. Even a police officer was injured when a disgruntled protester took a pot-shot at one of the offending cameras. The motorway was paid for by the EU and has always been free to use.

The only alternative route is the N125 and is aptly named the “Road of Death” due to the high number of accidents and poor road surface.

Judging from the conversation, I gathered that the resident couple, who looked in their early thirties, lived in Portimão in the Algarve and the others were elderly golfers who had been holidaying there for over 20 years. Tourism is the lifeblood of the Algarve so I was particularly interested to listen to the views of long-term tourists.

As their conversation turned from golf to more general matters the subject of tolls was raised by the couple from Portimão. “Did you use the A22 Motorway during your stay?” they asked almost a little too casually.

“Yes, it was surprisingly empty!” replied one of the golfers.

“That’s because of those damn toll charges.” ...

Read more about tourists and tolls in Portugal

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Other Side of Carnival

by Expat Focus Columnist Stephanie Angulo

Panama is home to the second largest Carnival celebration in the world. Businesses shut down while people hit the streets for five days of drinking, culecos (tanker trucks spraying the crowds with water), gluttonous amounts of food, and scantily clad women adorned floats. Thousands of cars and busses line the main highway in a traffic jam as far as the eye can see from Panama City to the interior for all the major parties; the largest event being in Las Tablas, Panama where the festivities begin the Friday before Ash Wednesday.
Although carnival stretches over five days, only one day is a national holiday, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The banks are closed for a week. Restaurants are unattended for days. Small mom and pop shops remain unopened only during the one national holiday in hopes of making a few sales throughout carnival. Not everybody is free from work though the cities are near empty. What are those people doing?
Work on expanding the canal hummed along as normal. Clinics, pharmacies, and grocers still had customers even though there weren’t the normal throngs of people waiting in lines. There are smaller carnival celebrations that the smaller towns provided to these locals.
Driving through our current town of La Chorrera, we saw dozens of small celebrations. Neighbors got together to make small carnival parties including floats, alcohol, loud music, and thrashing each other with water, the perfect recipe for any carnival celebration!

Read more about the carnival celebrations in Panama

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Expat Experience: Lindsay de Feliz, Dominican Republic

Barrio Living In The Middle Of Nowhere by Lindsay de Feliz

I am Lindsay. English, mid 50s. Started out life as a linguist (French and German), ended up as Marketing lecturer at Kingston University, then Marketing Director of various Financial Institutions in the City.
I have been married to a very hunky Dominican for 7 years, and he has 3 boys who have all lived with us at various times. At the moment we have number two son with us, who is 21, and we also have 3 dogs and 10 cats.

I left the UK and ex husband in 2001. I just wanted more out of life and felt claustrophobic in London. I had developed a passion for scuba diving and had always loved travelling, meeting new people, experiencing new places, eating new food. My plan - such as it was - was to qualify as a PADI scuba diving instructor and then travel the world teaching diving, going from one tropical beach to the next. I didn't really think about where I would go or where I would end up. My first port of call was the Maldives, where the diving is second to none

I thought with a British passport I could work anywhere. Not true. I ended up doing my instructor's course in Singapore and the examination in Thailand.

I could have worked in Singapore but it was not a tropical paradise really, Thailand and the rest of Asia wanted work permits and at that time most dive schools preferred to employ locals. After a month of looking for work I ended up in Menorca as I could work legally there. But the Mediterranean Sea was cold - freezing in fact, and no beautiful corals or colourful fish - just the odd cod swimming past a clump of rocks.

I still wanted the tropical dream and thought that it would be handy if I could speak Spanish and then get work in South America where there were lots of sharks, as I was a shark specialty diver. I applied for a job in the Dominican Republic and came to the south coast in November 2001 for a 6 month contract with the plan to learn Spanish and then move on. But I fell in love with the country and the people and then one particular Dominican man, and I am till here ten years on

What challenges did you face during the move?

The main challenge when I originally left was dealing with the emotions of family and friends back in the UK who thought I had lost my mind, and were all waiting for me to come to my senses and go back to England. Having had a successful career and all the trappings that went with it, they could not understand how I could leave it all behind to live in a bikini and a sarong on a beach. I travelled light, with one bag with all of my scuba diving equipment and the other bag was the rest of my life. I basically left everything else behind.

How did you find somewhere to live?

When I arrived in the DR there was accommodation arranged through the dive school - a studio, which I upgraded after a month to a two bed flat which cost 400US$ a month. After a while there I began living with a Dominican man and his three young sons, and we moved to a bigger apartment with a garden. I then bought a villa in 750 square metres of land, 3 beds, 2 baths, pool and a servant's house, for 120,000 US$.

The buying process was fast and painless, and the house came with all the furniture. We now rent in a Dominican barrio and pay just over 100 pounds a month for a 3 bed 2 bath villa in a large garden. Prices are significantly cheaper in non expat or tourist areas.

Read more about life in the Dominican Republic

Friday, February 10, 2012

Could You Survive Abroad Without the Internet?

by Expat Focus columnist Piglet in Portugal

As more people either work or retire abroad I often wonder how expats managed to survive in a pre-internet world. How did they communicate with family and friends back home, or research different aspects of life in their new country?

I can’t even begin to imagine life abroad without the internet. Can you imagine being totally reliant on the long drawn out process of sending letters by snail-mail when you can now send emails in seconds? Or the cost of using a standard telephone when you can use VoIP (Skype) or even better two-way interactive video calls for free?

How did expats research different countries, the culture and the lifestyle? How did they interact with other expats prior to their move? Just asking myself these couple of simple questions made me realize the massive impact the internet has had on our daily lives. I know it makes me feel less isolated.

When you take a few moments to reflect how communicating via the internet has evolved over the last few years, the options are amazing!

My personal favorites are:

Emails are great –instant (well almost) and so simple. I love to receive daily emails with photographs of our grandchildren, family updates or even emails from friends, just to say “Hi!” or “Shall we meet up?” Can you imagine the lengthy process if all this was sent by snail-mail?

I love VoIP! Whoever, invented, created or discovered this nifty application is a genius!
Where would expats be without it? I currently use Skype because calls to other Skype users are free. I also love the instant message option – Why? It’s quick and uncomplicated!

Video calls
This is by far my favorite method of communicating with our family. I can check out our grandchild’s new tooth, new dress, a web-tour round a newly decorated room, a Christmas day chat; our family is right there in our living room, although they are thousands of miles away. I wonder how many children grow up thinking their grandparents live in the computer!

My friend’s daughter lives in Australia so visits are limited. I know she would be devastated without the use of video-calls to stay in contact with her daughter and little granddaughter.

Article continues here

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Personal Branding is the Key to Expat or International Career Success

by Expat Focus columnist, Megan Fitzgerald

In today’s dynamic, competitive, global marketplace where employers are seeking out talent across the globe, to succeed professionally we must understand how we create value in the world - and insure that the people that need that value are aware of it. We must be visible to right decision makers so when those choice projects and job opportunities come up we are well positioned to secure them.

But understanding what it is exactly that we have to offer can sometimes be a challenge, given we often define ourselves and what we offer based on our job titles or areas of expertise and knowledge.
For this reason, personal branding is what any current or aspiring expat should be using to guide their career management or international job search.

Personal branding is about clarifying and communicating what is unique and different about yourself and using it to reach your personal or professional goals.

Contrary to what some may believe, it is NOT about crafting an image for yourself and then creating a snappy tagline and interesting elevator pitch to support it. It’s about unearthing your natural strengths, talents and qualities and then strategically sharing how they can combine to make a meaningful impact in organizations and the world.

In addition to visibility critical to career success, here are several more of reasons why personal branding should be the core driver of your expat career management and international job search plan:

• CLARITY: Being clear about your unique value and what you offer allows you to maximize your ability to leverage that value to reach your goals. Clarity around what your keys to success are also increases your confidence and focus. We’re more likely to consistently make the right choices that will take us where we want to go if we use our natural strengths and talents to drive our career choices.

Article continues here

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Conquering My Driving Demons

by Expat Focus columnist, Aisha Isabel Ashraf

For us, 2012 will be the Year of the Road Trip, the year we travel to Tadoussac to see the whales swimming in Quebec’s first purely marine national park, where the Saguenay River meets the estuary of the St Lawrence. I’m excited at the thought of the drive and the stops we’ll make en route, but this wasn’t always the case. My confession? For a while back there, I lost my driving mojo. What was once a source of enjoyment provoked a cold, sinking dread in the pit of my stomach. No-one was more surprised than me, lover of fine cars and consummate speed junkie (think Jeremy Clarkson without the gob).

For a long time, before exchanging my British driving licence for a Canadian one, I would mentally rehearse driving here. Closing my eyes, I would imagine every part of the journey into town, all the intersections, traffic lights and lane changes, haunted by the fear I would end up on the wrong side of the road and terrified of the potential carnage.

I had read, in my trusty “Guide to Living and Working in Canada”, that it was helpful to stick a post-it on your dashboard reminding you to “Keep right”, so I knew it wasn’t unknown for people to forget. If it was a possibility for some, it would be a certainty for me!

Our first year in Canada passed without a car, thanks to the narrowing effect of a temporary work visa on our finances, so the pre-occupation with driving diminished. But the day came, when we were offered a monthly rate that wouldn’t bankrupt us and found that rare gem: an insurance company willing to consider our previous driving experience. Wonderful though this was, it meant the spectre of my potentially lethal driving was back.

Article continues here

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Goal Setting

by Expat Focus columnist, Evelyn Simpson

January - the beginning of a new year; the time when we look at our lives and resolve to do things differently. Most people set resolutions in January but have often broken them by February. In this article, I’m going to discuss the use of more rigorous goal setting – akin to that used in the workplace – to get more out of expat life. For accompanying partners, whatever your employment status, goal setting can be a meaningful process of evaluation which enables a critical look at life and creates an intention of how to use your time. The article will also give you some tips on how to make your goal setting more effective and pass on some resources that you might find helpful in my own annual goal setting process.

Why set goals?

First, some of the aspects of life that make being an expat accompanying partner challenging can also create opportunity. For instance, taking time out from your career is the most obvious example of a decision with challenging consequences but also provides the opportunity to try things that were precluded due to lack of time. A conscious planning process can be a key tool in realising those opportunities and in making the most of your expat experience.

Second, deliberate planning can be pivotal in avoiding one of the most common traps into which the expat accompanying partner can fall; that of making commitments not because they fit your values and purpose but simply because, at a time when you are vulnerable, it feels great to be asked...

Article continues here