Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Networking Tips for New Expats in Singapore

by Alexandra Sheehan

The expat community in Singapore is a huge, dynamic group of individuals. You will have no problem whatsoever finding a group of non-locals to relate to and hang out with. However, because of its unique cultural makeup, Singapore has a very different social scene than what you may be used to, one of the reasons why it is such a great place to be an expat.

Making connections

The population in this country is largely composed of young professionals who zoom from place to place, enveloped in their smart phones and robotic in their demeanor. This can be intimidating for the new kid in town (or city), making it hard to break those initial barriers and actually befriending someone new. There are tons of resources which break these barriers for you, providing expats multiple outlets for socialization. groups are very active and offer great ways to meet people and do interesting things. It is different from the intimidating idea of online dating, as it isn’t necessarily for people looking for love. These pressures are lifted from your shoulders, and all you have to do is RSVP, show up and have fun at an event. Groups are formed based on common interests or demographics, so it is easy to find someone you have something in common with. It’s also a great way to get new ideas on things to do, because, let’s face it, those tourist attractions lose their excitement after some time...

Interview with Simon Kerridge of Languedoc Property Finders

Simon KerridgePlease tell us a bit about yourself and your company

I have been in residential estate agency for over 20 years. I began in London in 1989 and moved to Pezenas in 2001. Languedoc Property Finders specialise in helping British buyers and sellers buy and sell property in the Languedoc region of France. We currently have offices in Pezenas and Narbonne and operate in and around those two areas. I believe that buying a property abroad should be fun. An adventure if you like, and we work hard to make the journey as enjoyable and stress free as it should be for both buyer and seller.

What has the property market been like this year?

This year has been an interesting one. Numbers of buyers are down but the buyers that are around are tending to be serious about buying. The difficulty is finding correctly priced properties for these serious buyers to buy. To put it simply, if you present a serious buyer with a correctly priced property then they will buy it. Too many sellers are basing their selling prices on "What they want for their property" or "What they need to sell for in order to buy what they want". This is an unrealistic approach. I may need to sell my Ford Focus for €100,000 in order to buy the Ferrari I want but we all know that is never going to happen. Estate agents are also failing to educate their sellers by way of feedback. It is all too common for sellers to only hear from their selling agents when they have a viewing to arrange. Sellers should expect a regular update from their agents in addition to feedback after every single viewing so that they can build up a true picture of what the market thinks of their house...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Interview with Andrew Queen, Golf Property Store, Spain

Andrew and family
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your company

My name is Andrew Queen, and my company is the ‘Golf Property Store’ ( or I arrived here in Spain in 2003 after my family purchased a villa here (Villamartin). It really was for a 6 month trip away from it all. Soon after this I fell into the property industry working for a large property company that brought people in predominantly from the UK on 2/3 day Inspection trips. I enjoyed the job immensely and ditched all plans to return to the UK very quickly! After a few years the recession arrived and the days of subsidised trips were numbered. I met my partner soon after and my beautiful daughter Sofia arrived soon after that. Of course, the recession took its toll on the property business but I adjusted to the market and moved into the ‘Bank Repossession’ market, where prices were very attractive and mortgage conditions were preferable. This has seen us through the recession very well – people are always looking for a bargain regardless of the times we are in!

The one thing I did decide on very quickly was to concentrate our efforts on one area/product instead of spreading ourselves too thin. As such we concentrated on the Polarisworld Resorts in the region of Murcia – close to the Mar Menor. I knew the resorts very well after buying on one of the resorts myself a few years ago, and my daughter attends Kings College – a private British School attached to the Polarisworld resort of La Torre. With prices around 1/3 of the original costs it was a very good decision and we are currently in the process of expanding.

What has the property market been like this year?

In my honest opinion the market has definitely changed. Sales are at their highest for years and there is a definite mood of change in the air. Prices are creeping up on some of the resorts although there are still some fantastic bargains about...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why Don’t You Just Go Home?

Toni HargisNo one likes a whiny expat. There are books upon books written for expats relocating to yet another new country, and one of the most common themes is “Don’t criticize”. Australians even coined the term “Whinging Poms”* for the legions of Brits who’d go out there and then complain about everything from the heat to the spiders. Reminds me of an old joke - A Brit had almost saved his fare back to the UK but needed another quid to buy a ticket. He asked an Aussie "Can you give me a quid to get back to the UK?" The Aussie said, "Sure, here's a fiver- take four other whinging Poms back with you."

*Whinging is a word of British origin meaning whining or complaining. The “g” is soft, like a “j”. A Pom is a semi-derogatory name for Brits; the etymology is somewhat vague but this is a great explanation.

It’s not surprising that natives get a bit irritated when they hear non locals putting down their customs, food, language, education system, and so on. How would you like it if someone moved in next door to you and then basically denigrated everything you did, said or ate? I’m wondering though, at what point the criticism becomes acceptable? When it is appropriate for an expat to voice a criticism of his of her host country? How long do you have to have lived there, and under what circumstances?

Monday, October 21, 2013

It's The Mosquito Season In The Dominican Republic

Lindsay de FelizI have absolutely no idea why God invented mosquitoes. I cannot see they do anything useful at all apart from being a tasty snack for lizards and tarantulas. However, living in the tropics they are all over the place and you would think you would get used to mosquitoes and not let them bother you. You don’t. When I first arrived in the Dominican Republic around 12 years ago, when I was bitten, which was often, I would get a large lump and it would itch like crazy for days. However I think your body must build immunity as now when I get bitten I just get a little lump which goes after an hour or so. I still don’t like them though.

In the early days I would spray anti mosquito spray all over my body from head to toe, just like all of the tourists, but if you live with mosquitoes all year round, besides being very expensive, I can’t see that it does you any good to cover yourself with chemicals day after day.

So you try and have preventative measures such as screens on the windows and mosquito nets. Also good are mosquito coils which you burn. They are especially good outside in the evenings under the table to stop the little critters munching on your ankles...

Video interview: Casey Bahr, American expat blogger in Costa Rica

Casey's blog:
Casey's Expat Focus column:

See below for interview transcript:

Expat Focus: So Casey, you’re currently living in Costa Rica. Could you tell us a bit about the culture and what it’s like to live there?

Casey: Well, it’s like any other Latin American country, in that it’s fundamentally a Latin culture, and Catholic. And what that means is that there’s a little less emphasis on time and more emphasis on relationships. So when you interact with people, you’re expected to engage in some pleasantries and conversation before you really get to the point about what you want to talk about...

How the US Shutdown Affects Currency Exchange Rates for Expats

Simon Hilton
by Simon Hilton, senior foreign exchange consultant at World First and official Expat Focus foreign exchange partner

In the past few months, we’ve seen the strength of the US dollar take a bit of a tumble. At the start of July, USD was up at 0.671 against GBP, but in recent weeks, we’ve seen it fall below 0.61. And it’s not just the pound against which we’ve seen the US dollar struggle, having also lost ground to the Euro and Australian dollar (AUD), amongst others.

Add to that the political deadlock which brought about a US government shutdown, and it’s certainly been an unsettled picture. About 800,000 federal workers in America were told not to go to work while museums, national parks, services and government buildings remained shut in the wake of a lack of consensus over the US budget and the debt ceiling.

So what has this meant for the US dollar? Well, a temporary lack of credibility and a loss of confidence in USD has ensued, creating a feeling of uncertainty and wariness amongst potential investors, which, in some cases, has actually deterred them from investing...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Education In France – Shoes vs. Hats

Kim Defforge
I recently read the following quote: “In France, once you have chosen a pair of shoes, you must wear them for life.” Well now, anyone who knows me is aware that I LOVE shoes, but the thought of only one pair is unimaginable. I suppose I should say “hat,” rather than shoes, since this is what the American version of this quote would be. Most of us have had a variety of jobs and have worn many hats, with some of us having made total career changes throughout our working life.

In the French school system, the stakes are high: it’s all about memorization and learning is rigid and organized around a centralized curriculum. Tracking in France happens not through classroom assignments, but rather on a school-wide level. Based on test scores, students begin to get funneled into technical or college preparatory schools by middle school.

In the French system, students are grouped together depending on their section (in high school, these sections are literature, economics and sociology, and science). Even though this system is rigid, it obliges the students to have a solid educational background for the future. The French education system is structured toward traditional teaching methods, with techniques that are designed to help students acquire the required standards and pass exams. There is a strong emphasis on math, reading, writing, science, and the French language, based on rote learning, rather than on creativity...

A Tale of Two Countries, One House, And No Documents

Susanna Perkins
Before we moved to Panama in the spring of 2012, we sold off pretty much everything we owned. Some went through ads on Craigslist or eBay, but most of our worldly goods went to others in the course of a single-day estate sale.

Trouble was, we still owned the house itself. The real estate market was so depressed at the time we didn’t dream of selling it, so we found a good rental agent who in turn found us an excellent tenant.

One year later, the real estate scene was looking better so we decided to put the house on the market.

The internet is a wonderful thing. Thanks to modern technology we were able to sign all the listing agreements through an online service. When the first offers came through, we could respond virtually to those as well.

The real adventure began with the closing...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Moving To Hong Kong? 10 Things You Can’t Leave Home Without!

Nicole Webb
When you get the call to uproot your life and relocate to a new, foreign country, the shellshock of packing up your ‘life as you know it’ and heading into the unknown abyss, is more often than not followed by a fast and furious ‘Google’ of the new ‘home’ in question.

First things first:

Location: Check! (Yes it is right where you thought on the map; or Surprise! who knew it was so close to Timbuktu!?)

Population: Check! (Mighty important to know what you’re dealing with here - are you one of hundreds, thousands or millions?)

Language: Check! (Just how much brainpower is this assignment going to require?)

So, with the basics ticked off - you’re in business.

Next on the relocation agenda, the things that make your world turn - jobs, real estate, schools, medical facilities and supermarkets.

If you’re a couple making the move into the expat world, usually one of you gets the job of heading into uncharted waters first and it’s usually the one with the new job.

For us, it was my Hotelier husband, who arrived cold turkey in Asia’s World City. We’d both had a brief taste of the city that never sleeps in a past life but for all intents and purposes, those trips (for me) were about shopping, eating and sightseeing, not so much focused on the unknown fact that my future might involve living amongst the madness that is Asia’s Manhattan...

Finding a Broadband Provider in Italy

Twenty years ago, the idea that you couldn’t survive without the internet was a strange prospect. Nowadays, however, we’re connected all the time: chatting to friends on Facebook, emailing documents to clients and contacts, checking newswires and weather forecasts. Moving to a new country can be daunting when it comes to choosing a broadband provider who can actually deliver a fast service without too many hidden charges.

Unfortunately for those who don’t speak the language, the vast majority of ISPs’ websites are written in Italian. In terms of choices available, the range of services are much the same as they are in the UK or US: wireless, cable, DSL and dial-up are the four options to choose from. Of course, dial-up isn’t ideal and if you’re moving to a remote area you’ll need to check that broadband is available and that speeds aren’t prohibitively low. In general, however, you’ll find a similar speed of service to those you’re used to elsewhere; the infrastructure is well-developed and connection problems are relatively few. Now all you need to do is choose where your bills will be coming from, and when everything is new and confusing, that is easier said than done. We’ve put together an overview of some of the available services.

The first thing to check before you even move to the country is that your area has a phone network; some rural places still don’t. If there are phone sockets in the house you’re looking at, then you’re probably OK. The next step is to search for internet services nearby; most Italian websites will refer to broadband as ADSL, though some will use the term banda larga...

Expat Experience: Rachel Farndon, Dublin, Ireland

Rachel Farndon
Who are you?

I am Rachel Farndon. I’m in my twenties and I am a career expat.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

My first big move was as a 9 year old when my family moved from New Zealand to Brunei. I have since travelled all over the world. In 2012 I made my next long term move to Ireland. This was purely spontaneous. I applied for a working holiday visa, picked up and left within about 3 months. I am now living and working in Manila, The Philippines.

How did you find somewhere to live?

In Ireland I had a number of happy coincidences.

In my first two days I had landed a live in job in a hostel purely by talking to people and letting them know I was looking for work. In the Philippines I had one month in a hotel to sort out what I would do next. I spent a lot of time looking online as well as contacting rental agents directly.

Renting was itself, rather simple. My agent did all the liaising and I was able to reach a rent amount I was happy with. Setting up cable and internet was also smooth because my building has an administration office that takes care of contacting companies for you...

A Month In The Life Of An English Writer in Tuscany

June Finnigan
The continuing adventures of June Finnigan, her Man, and Farty Barty the cat.

I am really excited to be able to share my wonderful life in Tuscany with you and this is the perfect time of year to begin this column. If you have ever visited my little bit of Tuscany on the edge of Chianti, you will know that September is the start of the Vendemmia (grape harvest) and the countryside echoes with the sound of squeaky old tractors and the clanking of trailers carrying big juicy grapes, both purple and green, to be crushed at the local fattorie(farmhouses). Now, please do not worry, this column is not going to be dedicated to the food and wine of Tuscany, despite how delicious the cibo and vino is. No, I intend taking you much deeper in the lifestyle of the region and all will become clear as to why we have lived here for nine years.

Principally, we came here because my man wanted to learn Italian and he is a lovely old romantic. On a more practical level, the internet meant that we could live anywhere in Europe and still continue with our UK business. But enough of that. Let me tell you more about September...

Canadian Creepy Crawlies: ‘Does It Bite?’

Aisha Isabel Ashraf
One of the less vaunted aspects of adapting to life abroad is getting to know your neighbours. Not the human ones, with whom you can decide the degree of interaction you’re mutually comfortable with. I mean those household occupants we live cheek by jowl with who don’t share a surname or the rent (or any idea of personal space, come to think of it).

Before we emigrated I did a little internet digging on just how murderous Mother Nature habitually was in southern Ontario and was relieved to find Ontario's only poisonous snake is the Massasauga Rattler, which put us on a par with the adder in the UK. By moving, we’d just be swapping one for the other, the bonus being we’d hear this one coming!

As far as spiders were concerned, all we had to worry about was the Brown Recluse spider (or Fiddleback), which can inflict a bite capable of causing a rash, nausea, fever, scarring and even death. Bizarrely, while researching this article (and trying to make myself feel better by confirming my hunch of a similarly hazardous species of spider in Britain) I discovered there are more venomous spiders in the UK than I realized, so I figure if I survived over twenty years there without any issues the odds look good for us here...

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Building Your Own Tribe In Thailand

Anne O’Connell
Being an expat and moving to exotic locations around the globe can be exciting… yet, often terrifying and sometimes lonely. Advice on how to make friends in new places abounds on expat forums, and I’ve even pontificated myself on blogs and in my book on how to get settled in Dubai. The truth is, no matter where you’re moving to, the advice on settling in can be repurposed with simply swapping out the city and country name.

In the book Expat Women Confessions: 50 Answers to Your Real-Life Questions About Living Abroad they offer some sage advice on finding local groups and networks that you might like to join. “If you don’t find a group, network or association that interests you, do not be afraid to set one up yourself,” say the authors, Andrea Martin and Victoria Hepworth.

When I moved to Dubai, I did find a few groups of business and expat women that I had common interests with and got quickly involved but I also felt the need to create my own tribes where I could establish the parameters and invite the members myself. There are two areas I am very passionate about and no matter where I am, try to find like-minded people to connect with… writing and community service. In Dubai, I set up the volunteer chapter of Room to Read and then also set up a writers group (Flamingo Authors). Both brought great joy and satisfaction and the other writers who joined the author group have become fantastic critique partners. Our Facebook page has been a great way to keep up on each other’s progress. I recently had the immense pleasure of helping one group member get her first book published. The first time she had talked about her desire to write a book was at one of our meetings...

Expat Experience: Graham Dixon, Boston, USA

Graham DixonWho are you?

I’m a musician and writer from Britain with a background in 18th Century music, trumpet performance and creative writing. My folks instilled a love of traveling and before even starting university I had been all over Europe, visited Florida and crossed the date line to explore the Pacific. After finishing my Oxford degree and spending a year in London for my Master’s, I decided to volunteer with VSO and work in China. A two-year contract became five years in Asia, traveling and writing throughout, toward the end of which I met Jenny, my wife-to-be.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Jenny and I set up home in England in 2006, had a fantastic wedding and petitioned the USCIS for a Green Card.

We both intended to start doctoral studies in the US and applied to many cities, hoping that one would have a place for us both; Boston came to the rescue. Every British kid growing up in the 1980s wanted to live in the US; all of our cultural icons were American: Schwarzenegger, Rambo, the Space Shuttle and downtown Manhattan proved an inexorable draw, although I didn’t consider emigrating until I had met Jenny. After that, the decision made itself; to be with her, I had to both come to the US and move towards making my stay here permanent...

Self-Employment in Belgium: Know the Rules

Bruges, Belgium
If you’re moving to a new country for the sake of a lifestyle change rather than because your employer is sending you elsewhere, self-employment can be one of the best ways to ensure you still make enough to pay the mortgage whilst maintaining a level of control over what you’re doing and when. A huge number of expats choose this route, and there are countless websites devoted to helping people who want to live a freelance life. The benefits are obvious: getting up when you want to, dictating your own working hours, choosing which clients you can work with and perhaps pursuing something that has always been a dream job but never felt within reach. It’s not an easy route, though, and with more and more people wanting the flexibility to choose their own working lifestyles, competition is hotter than ever.

Beyond the usual difficulties, of course, there is also the added issue of trying to work out how to go self-employed in a new country. Many places have different tax laws for people who work for themselves, and as anyone who has done it in their home country will know, this can be confusing even when you speak the language and understand the culture.

Recently, Belgium reinstated the LIMOSA registration system, which was relaxed somewhat during the first part of 2013. The system aims to ensure that all workers in Belgium have social security numbers and are legally allowed to work there. However, understanding exactly what you need to prove can be difficult. We’ve put together a quick guide to setting up your own business in Belgium...

Expat Experience: Damon Wilson, Córdoba, Argentina

Damon Wilson
Who are you?

My name is Damon. I’m 33 and was born in the United States in the San Francisco bay area in a city called Santa Rosa. For the last 10 years I have lived in San Francisco which continues to be my favorite city in the world.

I’m an industrial engineer by trade and after working for a large IT consulting firm in the US I now work for a startup software analytics company managing our large accounts.

I currently live in Córdoba, Argentina with my girlfriend who was born here. We rent a 1-bedroom apartment in Nueva Córdoba.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I’ve been living in Córdoba, Argentina since August 2013 so I only have about a month of full time expat experience under my belt.

In 2010 I backpacked around South America for 6 months. Argentina was definitely one of my favorites. I had only planned on staying in Córdoba for a few days as a stop while travelling from Mendoza to Buenos Aires. However I loved this city. I’ve always had an affinity for college towns and Córdoba is certainly one of them featuring 7 different universities including Argentina’s oldest and most prestigious. The buzz and energy of the city full of (attractive) students kept me here for weeks. Well that and I met a girl. We’re still together to this day...

Should You Switch Banks When Moving to Portugal?

Navigating the world of banking can be difficult at the best of times, but when you’re moving to a whole different country it can be almost impossible to work out what to do with your money. Keep the bank you’re currently with and hope they have enough branches to make it worthwhile? Move to a local financial institution and hope that the legal jargon in their terms & conditions doesn’t say anything too prohibitive?

The major cities of most countries in Western Europe will have at least one branch of the larger banks you’re used to: HSBC, Barclays and Bank of America all have local branches across Europe. Unfortunately, Portugal seems to be one exception to this rule. Often it can be easier to just transfer money over to an existing bank in your newly adopted home country, however there are lots of things to take into consideration if this is something you want to do. Will the bank staff speak enough English to understand your consumer needs? If not, do you speak the local language fluently enough to understand some of the more complex financial jargon that’s unique to the finance world? How often do you travel back to your country of origin? And arguably the most important factor: where are you living? If you’re in an apartment in the centre of Lisbon, you’ll probably be OK. But if you’ve just bought yourself a beautiful little place in the most scenic of rural locations, you might find it difficult to withdraw money quickly...