Sunday, October 05, 2014

London Expat Meetup, Oct 24th

Our first ever expat meetup on Friday Oct 24th aims to bring together new and existing expats in London with a view to sharing experiences of life in the capital.

The evening begins with a free 3 course dinner as the boat makes its way along Regent's Canal towards Camden, followed by a fundraising raffle for The Samaritans. There is no charge for the canal trip, dinner and drinks but we hope all our guests will be generous in their support for such a worthwhile cause and purchase raffle tickets to the value of £25-£30.

As seating on board the boat is strictly limited we are holding a draw for most places. To apply, please fill out the form at:

Good luck and we look forward to meeting you!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

How The 2014 UK Budget Affects British Expats Living Abroad

Oliver HeslopExpatriate tax director of Global Expatriate Tax Services Ltd and official Expat Focus UK tax partner Oliver Heslop discusses the recent UK budget and its impact on British expats

Budget Day in the UK was 19 March 2014, when the UK Chancellor George Osborne announced the UK economy to be very much back on track.

We consider the reforms that he has announced to UK pension annuity rules to be seismic changes.

Despite the changes on pensions, in 2014 the average UK taxpayers will say that they are not feeling the benefits of the UK recovery. With a General Election already fixed for 2015, it was perhaps important for the Government to look after key voters. Some critics argue that they targeted pensioners in this Budget, who are more likely to vote than the under 30’s. We do not wish to be drawn into any political discussion here. Tax facts only!

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Expat Experience - Kim, Near Chateaubriant (Loire Atlantique), France

Who are you?

Hello! I'm Kim, an American from Massachusetts currently living and working in France with my boyfriend and our smiley dog Jojo.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved to France one year ago to be with my boyfriend after several years of long distance. We both work for a French engineering firm based in Chateaubriant, not far from his home town. I'm a commercial export assistant, which has become a crash course in French business culture.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Moving was a whirlwind of emotion and packing. I found someone to sublet my apartment, sold my car and appliances, and stored or gave away anything that didn't fit into three suitcases. It was challenging to consider necessities, like clothing and paperwork, in addition to personal items such as family pictures. Unpacking was a bizarre experience - I managed to bring along a casserole dish and a pineapple plant, but forgot office-appropriate shoes...

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School In Canada - Small Differences, Big Impact

Aisha Isabel Ashraf
by Aisha Isabel Ashraf

Trawling online recently I came across an article about a UK school defending its decision to suspend a pupil over a wrestling logo shaved into his hair; and before that, another story about another school apologizing for insisting a parent supply a photograph of their chickenpox-stricken child for absence monitoring.

Taken together they were a startling reminder of the differences in education and social attitudes between Britain and Ontario, Canada, where we‘ve lived now for nearly four years; almost long enough to forget all the small ways life overseas can be strikingly different even in countries broadly similar.

Held Hostage By The System

Every summer in the UK the same old debate rages over the stranglehold parents endure from inflated holiday airfares and restrictions on removing children from school during term time. The ages of compulsory attendance in the UK are 5-16 and those who fall foul of the law can end up facing heavy fines, as Natasha and Stewart Sutherland discovered when they booked a week long autumn trip to Greece a year in advance...

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Learning To Communicate With The Locals In Italy - Some Tips For Expats

When travelling or staying abroad, striking up a conversation with locals can sometimes be quite challenging. You may find yourself feeling frustrated or anxious when attempting to communicate the simplest things. Many tourists and expats – and locals alike – are known to lose their temper once in a while on account of the communication gap.

In Italy, it is quite easy to get by without speaking much Italian, especially in the major cities like Rome, Milan and Venice. The staff at most hotels, restaurants, transportation services, and shops are proficient in English. But communication difficulties may occur when travelling to the rural regions or the smaller cities of the country.

It is always a big advantage (besides being quite rewarding) to be able to communicate effectively with the locals, even if it’s with just a few words and phrases. Here are some tips to help you sharpen your communication skills when in Italy...

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Visitors From Afar

Lindsay de Feliz
by Lindsay de Feliz

As an expat, one of the highlights of life is having visitors from overseas. Friends and family from your home country, or, in my case, visits from new friends you have made on line. Someone to remind you of where you came from.

I think that visitors are so much more meaningful when you live overseas than when you live at home. For me it means I have the chance to speak my own language, which I rarely do here, communicate with someone from the same culture, and, best of all, someone to bring me all those things I have been missing so much, like Cadbury chocolate, suet to make dumplings, Bisto for gravy, Bird’s custard powder and many more unobtainable items here. Someone once tried to bring me parsnips but the nasty man at customs took them away!

But it isn’t easy having visitors. For a start, the whole house has to be cleaned, and not just cleaned in the usual way, I also have to get rid of all those nasty bugs which I am quite used to, but I know will cause most visitors to freak out. I now laugh when I see a tarantula in the bathroom, but I am pretty sure that would not be the universal reaction. Dominicans are always so excited to have visitors from overseas that they go into overdrive and the house has to be painted, garden totally manicured, streets swept – they really do put out the red carpet, wanting everything to be perfect...

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Expat Experience - Richard Nahem, Paris, France

Richard Nahem, Paris
Who are you?

Richard Nahem, born and raised in New York City. I was a chef and caterer in New York for 21 years before I moved to Paris. I now have a successful private tour business where I show clients the insiders Paris they never usually see on their own and I also write a popular blog since 2006, an insiders guide to Paris with posts about culture, art, food, shopping, and history.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved to Paris in August 2005 from New York. I had always dreamed of living in Paris since I first visited in the late 1970s and finally made my dream come true.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Shipping all my stuff over from NYC and getting my identity card.

How did you find somewhere to live?

I was very lucky, I found my dream apartment within two weeks through a storefront real estate agency I stumbled upon and the process was not that hard. A week later I moved in, The only thing one has to watch out for in Paris, is even thought it’s technically illegal, many landlords ask foreign renters for six months or one year additional rent held in escrow. Ours only asked for three months but when we signed the lease they forgot to include it, so I just had to pay the standard one-month’s rent, one-month security...

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Monday, March 10, 2014

If I Knew Then What I Know Now. . . What Would I Do Differently?

Susanna Perkinsby Susanna Perkins

In one month, we’ll celebrate our second anniversary as expats.

Two years. . . sometimes it feels like a very short time. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve been here forever. As I round off the second year of our living overseas, I find myself asking, “if I knew then what I know now, what would I have done differently?” I’m not talking about “if circumstances were different” types of pondering. But if I were moving to Panama today, with a full understanding of the life I’d lead here, what would I do differently?

I came up with three things, of very unequal importance.

Bring fewer clothes

I packed way too much.

Before we left the US, I donated massively to Goodwill. I emptied my closet (I thought) of all but the most essential clothing. I must have given away 20 or more large garbage bags filled with used clothing -- some of it very lightly used.

Still, I brought too much. Somehow I was laboring under the mistaken idea that I would wear long sleeves here, ever. Or jeans. Or dresses. Or shoes. . .


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Starting A Small Business In Spain - 5 Things You Should Know

Starting your own business is a dream for many people – it opens up the possibility of higher earnings, it brings freedom from a regular employment, and doesn’t involve many of the work-related restrictions that go with a regular job. But of course it also comes with a few potential downsides. For one, there isn’t a guaranteed income and you have to begin from scratch. Starting a business in a foreign country poses a few additional challenges.

Before you start your business in Spain, it is a good idea to ask yourself how your business is going to be different from existing business in Spain. Also, is there a market for your business? This initial research will help you start out on the right foot.

Once you’re ready to begin turning your dream into reality, give some thought to the following considerations. These are some important things to know for anyone who is looking to start a business in Spain.

Choosing your business structure

You may consider buying an existing business if you have the capital and want to get started quickly. An existing business that is already profitable will enable you to start earning right away, while avoiding the initial obstacles that go with setting up a new business. It is of course essential that you have your accountant check the details of the existing company first. An alternative business opportunity is starting a franchise. There are many such options in Spain...

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Expat Experience - Anja, Singapore

Anja, SingaporeWho are you?

My name is Anja aka CurlyTraveller. I am a fifty-something woman from the Netherlands, and my blog has articles and lots of pictures about my travels and explorations in Asia, about art, mixed with snippets of my personal life and thoughts. Am crazy about cats and dogs, sketching and the Argentine Tango. Drawn to quirky places and people and to kitsch stuff.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I basically follow my husband around wherever his job brings him. Since 2009 that is Singapore.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Do you know how they call Singapore 'Asia for beginners'? Well, everything is quite well organized here, which makes things not that hard. Also, it was just the two of us. No pets, no children, no furniture. Easypeasy!

How did you find somewhere to live? (e.g. how did you locate a suitable property? what was the buying/renting process like?)

Now THAT was hard! It is one of the biggest nightmares of expats in Singapore. Because it is a seller's/landlord's market. Meaning that houses are strongly overpriced! Also landlords get away with the most insane demands and rules. Very stressful...

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Expat Life – A Matter Of Flexibility

Toni Hargisby Toni Hargis

When I came to the USA in 1990, there were quite a few Brit things I couldn’t get. I remember looking for mint sauce (to go with the lamb), being gone for hours and finally settling for fresh mint and vinegar. It worked by the way, but there wasn’t a hope of buying a jar of mint. Ditto with egg cups, electric kettles and melamine table mats with beautiful prints on them. (Those I had to haul back from the UK, and they weighed a ton.)

Of course, back then there was no Internet. I know. Gasp. I had to locate items myself, phone up and order things or ask visitors for the UK to bring things over.

These days, not only can you get a lot of British merchandise in American shops, you can also peruse the plethora of online British goods web sites, pay through the nose and pretty much order whatever you want. Indeed, given the limits on baggage these days, it’s probably more socially acceptable than asking your guests to use up valuable luggage space with M&S underwear for you...

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Are These The Best Golf Courses For Expats In Portugal?

Tourists and expats alike quickly fall in love with the pleasant buzz and the warm natives of Portugal. The warm climate, economical property prices and modest cost of living make it an attractive destination. A big advantage is that Portugal has a diverse and thriving expat community, which makes it easy for foreigners to adjust. Over the last few decades, Portugal has also served as a major golfing destination. There are a variety of courses to choose from, ranging from inland stadium style to sprawling countryside layouts. There are also clubs and luxury resorts located throughout the country. Whether you’re a golf enthusiast looking to practice your swings or a newbie who wants to explore the golfing culture in Portugal, here are some hotspots that are worth checking out:

Monte Rei

Nestled in the countryside between Portugal’s eastern Algarve and the Serra do Caldeirão mountains, Monte Rei is one of renowned American professional golfer Jack Nicklaus’ signature golf courses. It opened in September 2007, and ever since has maintained a remarkably high level of class and quality. Beautifully constructed, with self-contained holes, the layout and landscape are truly memorable. The club too is known to offer great service, which includes fine dining. All of this comes at a steep price, but the pristinely maintained course with its stunning surroundings of rolling hills and valleys may well be worth it...

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Sterling Strength and Fall In French Housing Prices Provide Perfect Expat Opportunity

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

If you’re thinking of moving abroad, one of the main considerations is what kind of house you’ll be able to get for your money. This is determined obviously by the value of the house you’re buying, but also by the exchange rates, which can have a significant impact on what kind of property you’ll end up in.

If, for example, the pound is strong against the euro, you’ll get more for your money, and you may be able to afford more than you thought. The exchange rates can fluctuate dramatically in the space of just a few weeks or even days, so it’s always worth keeping your eye on the markets.

If you’re purchasing a house in France, and you were transferring £200,000 to pay for it, you’d get around €243,000 based on the current GBPEUR exchange rate. If you were transferring the same amount one year ago, you’d have got €13,000 less for your money. That could be the difference between a good home and a great home, and demonstrates the importance of keeping abreast of what’s going on in the currency markets.

The figure below shows you how the exchange rates have moved in the last year and how right now looks like a strong time for British buyers looking to purchase property in France...

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Saturday, March 01, 2014

Moving To London? Read Our Expat Guide To Travelling On The Tube

“The Tube” is London’s underground rail network, a highly efficient mode of travel to and from a large part of Greater London and some parts of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex. The Tube plays an important role in the life of anyone visiting or living in London. Here is our simple guide to travelling on the tube.

• The network consists of 12 different railway lines, and you will find a poster of a Journey Planner at each station. This will tell you which line you need to take for any particular station. It’s also a good idea to get a smaller version of the planner that you can keep with you while you travel. These are available at any station or newspaper agent.

• Except for the 25th of December, the Tube runs every day, beginning at 5:30 am. Rush hours are before and after work, that is before 9 am and after 4 pm. Try to avoid travelling at these times if you can, to keep away from crowds.

• The London Travel card or Oyster card is very useful for regular travellers. You can avail of some great discounts on this card. It also saves you the worry of having to carry spare change for your tickets every time or standing in long lines to buy a ticket. If you register your Oyster card, then even if you lose it, you can get it replaced at no extra charge with your outstanding credit still intact.

• You can buy tickets from a counter at the center of each station. There are also touch-screen machines that are quicker, although you may have to wait in line for these too...

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Relax! It Might Not Be An Expat Thing

Michelle Garrettby Michelle Garrett

Perhaps it was the very specific Northern Mother-in-Law who first instilled the fear of tea in me. If she were in a good mood I would get lots of jokes about an American’s inability to make a cup of tea, or if she were in a bad mood it would be ‘just let me do it.’ I learned from her that there are as many ways to make a cup of tea as there are tea drinkers and so I understood early on in my expat life that offering to make a cup of tea for a British person I was in a no-win situation.

Or maybe it’s just me. Not all Americans have this fear (or inability) or perhaps some expats are just thick skinned. There is some value in a thick skin, as an expat anyway (I think the proper term for it is ‘emotional resilience’: the strength to deal with the howling gales of frustrations in your new life without becoming ripped apart).

I asked my friend Julia, another American to see if I were alone. Julia lives in London and blogs at I Carried a Watermelon.

“I know what you mean. James (her British husband) always tells me my tea is crap. I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M DOING WRONG! And now I have a complex about it. We need to start a club.”

Then I wondered what a British Expat in the States did to survive being surrounded by people who grew up without ever making a pot of tea. I asked Toni, fellow Expat Focus columnist and blogger at Expat Mum.

“I never thought about how stressful it must be making tea for Brits in the UK. My kids can now make a decent cup of tea.

They used to barely dunk the tea bag in the water, so I showed them what a real cup of tea should be. My 18 year old now takes a PG Tips teabag to school every day for lunchtime!”

So at least Toni can train her family, which helps...

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Expat Experience - Holly Nelson, Hamilton (Ontario), Canada

Holly Nelson
Who are you?

Hi there! Thank you so much for reading my interview with Expat Focus, it means a lot to me to be able to share my story because I love the thought of being able to provide the help and support that I so desperately needed when I was starting out! I am Holly, 30 years old, a great lover of reading, cake and knitting. I was pretty set in my ways in the year before I made this decision to move overseas, so I still find it astounding that I am here!

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I live in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada) and I often write about this city in my blog because I have such a love-hate relationship with it. From what I hear, that is how most people feel about it. I fill my time with the best of my new city though and with my new country! I actually moved here for love. Not much else could have made me leave the safety of my home country England. I rekindled a love with my boyfriend Luke, who had been my boyfriend more than ten years before and, after a year of living through a long distance relationship, finally came here to stay Jan 11th 2013

What challenges did you face during the move?

Oh so so so many challenges! My first challenge was ignorance. I thought it would be easy to fly to a new country and then just stay there. I thought it would be easy to just walk into a new teaching job. As it was, I failed to get my visa when I planned on getting it, leaving me stuck in England, having already handed my notice in at my job through blind optimism! I thought that lawyers would be wonderful people who would just get a job done. I thought that it wouldn’t be too hard leaving my family and friends and that once I was teaching I would be jetting home all the time. Little did I know that there is no such thing as just walking into a teaching job here and that instead I would be left in a poorly paid job missing my family so desperately it feels like physical pain...

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Friday, February 28, 2014

5 Good Reasons You Should Move To France (And 1 Reason You Shouldn't!)

France, with its rich culture, beautiful landscapes, fine wine and scrumptious cuisine, is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. It probably doesn’t take much to make you want to pack your bags and head to the picturesque French countryside for a weeklong holiday. But moving to a foreign country is something quite different. It is a truly life-changing move, and one that should usually involve a great deal of thought. If you’re wondering whether moving to France is the right decision for you, here are 5 good reasons why it just might be:

A new cultural experience

Getting introduced to a new culture can always be an opportunity to evolve as a person.

French culture is vibrant and fascinating. Adapting to some of it may take a while, but it’s likely to be a welcome change. The French love to spend time with family and friends, and especially enjoy long, luxuriating meals. It’s a slower pace of life, and the best way to adapt is simply to embrace it. Learn to enjoy fewer work hours and more leisure time. Avoid rushing through your meals, even if you’re by yourself at a restaurant. Take the time to savor your food and drink, enjoy the natural and man-made beauty around you, and maybe learn to spend time people-watching.

Great for those who love to travel

Within France itself, there are myriad places to visit. Apart from the big cities, there are beaches, quaint little villages, and the sprawling mountainside. The added benefit of living here is that France shares borders with many other European countries such as Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany, which are all great travel destinations. If you have children with you, it’s a wonderful way to expose them to diverse cultures...

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Expat Experience - Diane Wargnier, Loire Valley, France

Diane Wargnier
Who are you?

My name is Diane and I'm an American originally from New Jersey now living in France's Loire Valley with my husband, Tom, and Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Dagny.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I live not far from Angers, France, and moved here about two years ago.

What challenges did you face during the move?

I think the move was the easiest part.

The challenge was maintaining a long-distance relationship (me in NYC and him in France) so once we got married, I moved and it wasn't challenging at all. I bought a one-way ticket, packed two suit cases, and was off!

How did you find somewhere to live?

When I first arrived, I just moved into my husband's apartment so it was a seamless transition for me. It's the same town I'd visited many times on trips and is where my husband works. But five months ago, we bought our first house in the same town to have a space we call our own complete with a little backyard for the dog. We searched for several months and in France, the home buying process is a little different than it is the US. Here, you work with many agents since certain properties are only available with a certain agent. I have to say I'm lucky that my husband is French and could navigate the process with ease. Between the paperwork and cultural differences along the way, I would have been lost otherwise...

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Phuket Is Still Peaceful

Anne O’ Anne O’Connell

I’ve never been a political animal… and, never will be, but I would be remiss as the Thailand columnist for this forum not to share my impressions of the protests and the election that never really was.

Most people who ask us about the situation are obviously concerned for our safety. They needn’t be. We have felt absolutely no repercussions in Phuket from the protests since they were reignited in November when the current prime minister attempted to pass an amnesty bill that would have allowed her brother, the ousted PM, to return to Thailand without facing the corruption charges he would have to otherwise.

Basically, the protesters want her to resign. They are proposing that a non-elected People’s Democratic Reform Committee take charge and totally re-vamp the existing system, which they claim is corrupt. An article on the ABC News website on Feb. 10 said that “She has refused to resign, arguing she was elected by a large majority and is open to reform, but that such a council would be unconstitutional and undemocratic...”

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Tales From A Spanish Village: Two Old Fools And Expat TV

Victoria Twead
by Victoria Twead

One could almost hear the howls of anguish from expats across Europe this month, and Joe's was probably the loudest. We'd been warned, although I don’t think anybody really believed it was going to happen. But it did. One day all the BBC channels simply vanished from our screens.

"No BBC1 or BBC2?" asked Joe, desperately punching the buttons on the remote control, scrolling through the channels.

"No BBC3? Or 4?”

NO SATELLITE SIGNAL IS BEING RECEIVED advised the message on the otherwise blank screen.

"No news? No Match of the Day? No golf? No rugby?”

"All gone," I sighed. "I understand they've replaced the old Astra satellite, which means UK residents will get a better picture, but the footprint is smaller. Viewers in Spain and the rest of Europe won't get anything.”

"No darts, no tennis? No World Cup?" Joe slumped back on the cushions in despair...

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Expat Experience - Elle Draper, Almeria, Spain

Elle DraperWho are you?

My name is Elle Draper, and I live in a little converted farmhouse on the side of a valley in Almeria, in Andalucia - Southern Spain. I live here with my partner, Alan, and our three very enthusiastic rescue dogs These are Guido (Chief of Security / G Unit), a Beagador. Pepper (Big Face / Big Black Bear), a Labrador, and Billy (Billster / Ginger / Benjamin Button), a boxer.

Originally I hail from Southsea, Hampshire although I was actually born in York. Together with Alan, I provide web design, online marketing and search engine optimisation services (getting sites to number one in Google for example).

We have clients all over, including the UK, Spain, Canaries, France, Germany, the US, and even Australia. However we also have a number of our own websites... mainly with a Spain focus. Our most recent is which publishes daily articles about anything Spanish... food... photographs... tips... local events... and much more.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

We originally moved in the summer of 2006. Alan and I had met in Portsmouth, through work – and both expressed a desire for warmer climes. We considered Italy and the Canary Islands, eventually deciding on the Canaries. We lived in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands for 6 years before moving to Andalucia in September 2012. The resort we lived in on Lanzarote (Playa Blanca) is a beautiful resort, and has oodles of restaurants and nice bars... as well as a stunning Marina. However, we had been hankering for a more rural existence for some time – and our current home in Almeria ticks all those boxes.

What challenges did you face during the move?

I have to say that we were really lucky as we didn’t experience many problems with the move. All our friends and family were extremely supportive... with a number of them being surprised it has taken us so long. The only issue, I suppose, was when our household belongings got stuck in Customs for 10 weeks because we used a terrible shipping company...

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Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family

Expat Focus talks to Melissa Dalton-Bradford about her Memoir - Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family—a Memoir about her fantastic journey of motherhood that will inspire any family.

Melissa, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m an American by birth and by passport, but like many of your readers, I’m a good solid Citizen of the World. I was raised primarily in the great American west by parents who had studied and worked in Germany, spoke fluent German, and subsequently kept their secrets from us in German. We cracked that code, there were no more secrets, and my passion for languages (and discovering the world) was ignited.

With my parents and siblings I spent portions of my upbringing in Austria (Salzburg and Vienna), then worked and studied in Austria during my university years and as a young married graduate student. (My husband, who’s American, who’d lived in and loved Germany, and spoke the kind of German that made my jaws and heart melt. I was wooed by his umlauts.) Together, we launched an international career and family trajectory––me writing and mothering, him businessing and fathering–– that has spanned over 20 years and has taken us to Hong Kong, Oslo, Versailles, Paris, Munich, Singapore and finally to Geneva, where we currently live with the youngest two of our four children in a village close to the banks of Lac Léman.

You recently published your memoir - Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family. What is the book about?

Global Mom: A Memoir is, as New York Times best-selling author Kate Braestrup wrote in her endorsement, a book about love. Yes, it’s also true to its subtitle, and draws readers across the global panorama our family has lived in. But it’s far more than travelogue. Far more than cultural commentary. And it’s more than vignettes that leave readers laughing, gasping, swooning, fuming or crying, although I hope it’s that, too. What it is, is a frank depiction of what this kind of peripatetic life deals you––the stress, the loneliness, the fractured then reconstructed identity, the many losses––and how all those factors are counterbalanced with the innumerable gains. At the heart of the book (and here comes the spoiler) is the tragic loss our family has known in burying our oldest child when he was 18. That loss, which hit in the middle of a major international move, re-contextualized every other event––every other element––in life, and sent our family to the strangest, hardest place we’ve ever lived in: the land of loss. Here, the book takes a dive into a new landscape, which heaviness is deliberate on my part, since that’s the reality of traumatic loss. What is redemptive in the book, and readers have commented that it is the strength of the narrative, is that in spite of so many losses and the ultimate loss of death, there is hope in the possibility of living onward. That possibility hinges on love...

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I Come From A Land Down Under…

Nicole Webb
by Nicole Webb


If you're a regular reader of my ramblings, you probably know I've spent a fair bit of my writing time, wearing expat shoes and being quite vocal about the thrills and spills of culture shock - you know - stuff like: what happens when you find yourself catapulted into the arms of another country, anxiously wondering if this is simply a fling or a lasting love affair?

Well, in answer to that - Hong Kong has me in its clutches, but Australia you'll always have my heart. (Awwww.)

But on a recent trip back Down Under, it was kind of like running into an ex-boyfriend and finding something that had been so familiar, for so long, was suddenly quite alien.

I think it's what they like to call "Reverse Culture Shock."

Strewth mate! So where the bloody hell are you?

Stepping into the airport, for a brief moment, I contemplated, Mars? For starters, there's a new thing they call the ePassport. Have you heard of it? I suppose I have, but watching everyone flock to the 'SmartGate' for self-processing had me in a flap. Yes, Yes, I know they have a similar thing in Hong Kong, but this is Australia! My Australia! "Whaddya mean things have changed!?" I've obviously been living under a rock because when you're flying domestically these days, crikey…the people seem to have all but disappeared? "Bag drop-off" has reached a whole new level, it's now called Check-in Kiosk! Not a soul in sight!

Again, "where the bloody hell are you?"

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Where The Wild 'Things' Really Are 'Wild', In South Africa!

Marla Sink Druzgalby Marla Sink Druzgal

When lions woke me in the middle of the night, I thought someone in a nearby room was snoring…loudly. It was our first night in South Africa, and we were staying in a guest house outside the capital city of Pretoria. Snoring seemed a perfectly logical conclusion for what I was hearing. We weren’t living in a national park, and we had done our research before moving: there are no longer free-roaming lions in South Africa.

But the “snoring” continued each night at regular intervals: midnight; three a.m.; six a.m. By the time the manager asked if we had heard the lions, I had already figured it out: the gated community in which we were staying is adjacent to a game reserve, which have a pride of lion.

We now have a house in that same community, and depending on the time of year, we hear them roar a few times each night.

When I would write family and friends about our nighttime serenade, I would quickly have to remind them that we’re safe, that those lion are no more a threat to us than if we were living near a zoo. But they were no sooner placated by this than I would excitedly announce that cat tracks were sighted at my husband’s worksite in Mpumalanga Province. Workers had a debate on whether the tracks belonged to a serval or a leopard, both still free-roaming predators in the country. While they concluded the tracks belonged to the more common (and smaller) serval, not a leopard, it caused excitement among those we told that it could even be possible to still encounter a wild leopard in South Africa...

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A Month In The Life Of An English Writer In Tuscany - January Reflections

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

I love the start of a New Year, particularly in our little bit of Chianti. There is a lot of pruning and tidying to be done in the countryside and by mid-month the only sounds to be heard, were the snipping of vines and the relentless muted conversation of the contadini (farm workers) from the slopes below us. By the end of the month, much of the woodland had been cleared of debris opening up beautiful new vistas for us locals to enjoy on the way to our morning coffee in Fiano. I discovered that the man in charge of the workers at Villa Bacio, which owns vast tracks of land around us, is called Lorenzo.

He is the spitting image of the singer Mick Hucknell, so I was a little disappointed to find out his real name!

From my own point of view, I am glad to report that the necessary discipline for getting on with my novel ‘The Bolivian Connection’, kicked in at the start of January and my heroine, Joanna Wilde, is currently in La Paz about to hear the reading of her late fathers will. If you have read ‘My Father, The Assassin’, you will know that her father was a pretty evil character and made his money by way of assassination and other dastardly means. It’s all getting rather scary now!

Did you know that Italian children love fashion and start wearing black as soon as they are walking? They also like glittery things; pastel shades are definitely out...

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Anti-British Sentiment Sweeps Singapore

Justin Harper
by Justin Harper

Last month a British expat living in Singapore made headlines all across the world with his derogatory comments about poor Singaporeans and how unpleasant it was taking public transport. For those of you who don’t know, his name was Anton Casey and he was a wealthy fund manager who drives a convertible Porsche and is married to a former Miss Singapore.

He had the dream lifestyle until his sports car needed servicing so was forced to take the local underground system, known as the MRT. He then decided to post Facebook messages about the experience, taking a photo of his son on a train with the caption ‘’Daddy, who are all these poor people?’’.

After his train ride, Casey said he needed to wash the stench of public transport off himself, one of a series of offensive comments he made about Singapore which ignited a war of words across social media. Pressure grew on Casey to be deported and lose his job. He taunted Singaporeans via a Youtube video and then hired a PR agency to apologise on his behalf. He eventually fled the country on a budget flight to Australia and indeed lost his job. While opinion is divided over how harsh Casey was treated and the death threats he received online, the Singaporean media had a field day over the debacle...

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Expat Experience - Molly Sears-Piccavey, Granada, Spain

Molly Sears-Piccavey
Who are you?

I was born in a Nottinghamshire village in England. I work in the technology sector and in my spare time I enjoy blogging, tweeting and reading.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I moved to Spain in May 1998. First I lived in Barcelona for many years and then in 2006 I moved to Granada, Andalusia.

What challenges did you face during the move?

The initial move from UK to Barcelona was not too traumatic as I had the support of a local Barcelona family who I already knew.

As I was Young and by myself I was relatively relaxed about it all. The move from Barcelona to Granada was more complicated as there was the sale of our apartment, jobs etc.

How did you find somewhere to live?

When I moved to Barcelona after several months living with my Student exchange family I went to rent a place by myself. Barcelona is quite an expensive city and I wanted to rent in the área around Sagrada Familia which wasn't cheap either. I remember the owner asking me how much I earned and requesting information from my parents to make sure that I was financially stable. I found this quite astounding at the time...

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Moving To Australia From The USA, Hopefully!

Randy Barnhartby Randy Barnhart

Australia! The name has a magical sound. The Outback. Down Under. They have the flavor of adventure and the Old American West.

Now we might actually live there. That will depend upon the progress of this protracted visa process. After submitting the many required forms, we are at the last step, we hope, in a tortuous endeavor. We need to get the FBI’s ok.

As you U.S. expats in Australia already know, we are required to have a criminal background check by the FBI, partly based upon their review of our fingerprints. We mailed our fingerprints last September, just a few days before the U.S. government shutdown. That set us back at least two weeks.

After waiting what seemed to be forever for the results, one Friday we received two different envelopes from the U.S. Department of Justice. One was a normal-sized number 10 business envelope addressed to my husband Jim. In it was a notice saying that he passed the FBI requirements. The other, addressed to me, was a large manila envelope. It contained a letter saying my fingerprints were illegible and a form for resubmitting my prints...

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Expat Experience - Carolyne Huber, Melbourne, Australia

Carolyne HuberWho are you?

I’m Carolyne, a late twenties young professional on the quest to discover, grow, and understand social cultures.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

After having moved to France from Canada for work single, I left 2 years later but this time with a French partner in tow. We moved to Australia as a personal investment in our future. Australia provided us with the great opportunity to discover a new land all while my partner learned and gained confidence in English.

While in Australia, I started Project Y U DO Australia, where I search to determine why people decide to pack up their lives and move to Australia. For more info on the project, you can visit

I try to keep grounded, always apply a curiosity factor to everything that I do, and simply enjoy life. I like to describe myself as the Grounded Traveller.

What challenges did you face during the move?

One of the unforseen challenges that I faced when arriving in Australia was the language factor. As I am a native English speaker, I quickly saw with my own eyes the stress the English language brought upon my partner. Although we were a couple, the administrative processes of setting up a new life in a new country where my responsibility. With this being said, I must say that I gained immense patience and also greater respect for my partner as I saw just how much he was trying to linguistically and socially adapt in Australia...

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Expat Traveler Survival Kit

Shannon Enete
by Shannon Enete

Moving abroad is in and of itself a huge feat, loaded with adventures and trials around every bend. It takes a unique, flexible individual to make it work. Oftentimes, those individuals are avid travelers, but once settled down into a new culture they stop exploring. Over the last two years living in Costa Rica, my wife and I traveled to over twenty-five domestic destinations and have created new experiences, hiked new trails, saw active volcanoes and raging rivers, zip-lined through cloud forests, observed 16 foot crocodiles alongside our boat, kayaked in a crater lake and along the Caribbean Coast, was enthralled by fire dancers, surfed a few great breaks, learned countless lessons, met amazing people, swam in waterfall pools, cliff dived over 55 feet (my butt still hurts), touched starfish,

saw countless exotic birds and monkeys, and pushed ourselves to new limits in many categories of life. Sure, we moved to a vacation destination, but that was no reason to stop having vacations! My advice to those that are expats or those that are aspiring expats, make sure to keep challenging yourself, and feed your passions. For many expats, travel plays a large role in both of those tasks.

As an experienced budget traveler, let me share with you my survival kit...

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France - Five Recommended Expat Blogs

At Expat Focus, we like to take a look around the internet and see who’s sharing interesting ideas and useful tips for expatriate life all around the world. In our travels, we come across lots of blogs we’d like to recommend, and we’ll be featuring some of them over the coming months. Today we’re focusing on France; here are five of our favourite expats writing from their new French homes.

American Mom In Bordeaux

As the title suggests, Jennifer writes about life in Bordeaux with her French husband and three daughters. A mixture of personal updates and tips for travelling around Europe, Jennifer provides an open, fun insight into what it’s like being a parent in a new country.

Laurel Zuckerman’s Paris Weblog

For those who like to fully immerse themselves in every aspect of a culture, including history, politics, education and ecology, Zuckerman’s Weblog is not to be missed. The site features local cultural events and literary festivals, as well as new book releases and news on Parisian political issues...

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Why Did Grumpy Get The Hump With Amazon And Tights?

Christine Morgan by Christine Morgan

Recently I discovered on FB that a friend of mine from Uni days is now a famous writer and I curled up under the duvet ready to download her e book and enjoy a good read in bed. Thereby ensued a fight (which lasted 2 days) with Amazon. Due to a purchase way back when from I had somehow been affiliated to the .com (USA site) rather than the. (UK one) and was being forced into paying for the book in dollars.

This was further exacerbated by the fact that my Kindle is a golden oldie, where you have to punch your message in rather than the sophisticated touch screen of later models. Slouched in bed trying to resolve what I considered an affront to my British identity I kept hitting the wrong letter and pressing the wrong key, stubbornly refusing to leave the warmth, get up, put on my dressing gown and go to the office where I could have had the whole process done and dusted in a matter of minutes on the computer.

I spent half an hour growling abuse at Amazon, my kindle and the whole world before I gave up and switched out the light, my bedtime reading plans sabotaged...

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Good News For UK Expats Moving Abroad As Sterling Continues To Strengthen

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

When a new year arrives, it can be tempting to set ourselves goals that we want to achieve in the coming 12 months. These could range from small things like keeping fit, learning a language or eating more healthily, to big ambitions like moving abroad, buying a house or getting a job overseas.

For those with such goals in mind, or people already living or working abroad, the exchange rate is all important, as it determines how far their money will go when buying a property or sending money home, for example.

Well, we’re now more than a month into the new year, and if you’re still standing by your resolution to move abroad, now may just be the perfect time to do it. Your pounds will now go further than they have done for a long time, and you’ll get more for your money.

The recent strength of sterling has coincided with an improvement in the performance of the UK economy over the last few months, and a stream of favourable news coming out of the UK. We found out a few weeks ago that UK unemployment had fallen to 7.1% in December, and it’s data such as this that has helped sterling to its current high level and enables expats looking to buy overseas to get a better property than they would have done, say, just a year ago...

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Five Recommended Expat Blogs – Canada

At Expat Focus, we like to keep an eye on the blogosphere and see who’s sharing interesting, up to date content about expatriate life around the world. In our internet travels, we come across blogs we’d like to recommend as excellent reads for anyone considering expat life. Today we’re focusing on Canada; here are five of our favourite Canadian expat blogs.

Colder Weather

A fun and quirky take on life in a busy apartment complex, Colder Weather details the adventures of Swedish expat Rebekah, her Canadian husband and her cat McDuff. Focusing on day to day life and finding pleasure in the small things, Colder Weather also takes part in Wordpress’ weekly photo challenge, and the pictures are definitely worth a look.

K & K Adventures

Karin and Kieran are two British expats residing in Ontario. With lots of practical tips on setting up a household, local cultural event guides and travelling on a budget, K & K Adventures is a must-read for anyone who’s thinking about living in Canada. The blog also features guest posts and interviews with other expats to give a well-rounded flavour and a good idea of what to expect when making the move...

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Expat Experiences - Mike, Perth (Western Australia)

MikeWho are you?

I'm a family guy first, trained as a mechanical engineer and working in the Oil and Gas services industry.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

We were living in our home town of Edmonton, Canada and were offered a position by my company in Perth, Western Australia. The thought of having an "Australian Experience" on the company dime was too great to pass up.

What challenges did you face during the move?

The relocation company we worked with was very experienced moving people from the US but was very unfamiliar with Canada.

They caused us a lot of additional work and needed to be managed often. I highly suggest expats who have a relocation policy to read it thoroughly and push back on relocation companies asking you to ignore what the policy says.

The first 3 months in general was tough with temporary accommodation much smaller than the house we left and not knowing anyone or how to navigate policies and procedures and even where to buy things...

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Expat Experiences - Lauren Mokasdar, Nagpur, India

Lauren Mokasdar
Who are you?

Hello, my name is Lauren and I am originally from England. I have a master’s degree in pharmacy, but I have now left my career as a pharmacist behind and followed my heart on a one-way ticket to India.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Nagpur is now my home, known as the orange city (famous for growing oranges). It is located in the state of Maharashtra and is centre point of India. Since I was a child I had dreamt of travelling to this mystical land.

The more I learnt about the culture and spirituality, the more the country enchanted me. I knew it was inevitable that I would visit India someday. I did not expect that when my dream finally did come true, I would be going to India to meet my in-laws, get married to an Indian and I would be living here permanently.

After our marriage I had to return to England for a year for work purposes (July 2013). I soon arrived back in India in December after quitting my job in a well-known pharmacy multiple. I had become too stressed balancing work and a long distance marriage. As soon as I was reunited with my husband in Mumbai, I knew I had made the right decision for me. I chose my happiness over my career...

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Three Coins in the Fountain: Falling in love through faith, family & frequent flyer miles

Expat Focus talks to Catherine Tondelli about her book "Three Coins in the Fountain", a funny and helpful memoir of her life as an expat in Rome.

Catherine, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born - along with my twin sister - into a large Irish/Italian family in Chicago, the ninth of 11 kids (six boys & five girls). Growing up as part of this large, chaotic family has provided me with many entertaining stories that are woven in my memoir. Most significantly, at the age of 13 my father walked out on us all and never looked back. Against all odds, my mother, a school teacher who made sure we all got an education, while raising us with no alimony or child support on her pauper’s salary.

From those humble beginnings and after having met my Italian Roman husband, I am today a cross-cultural expert, living and working abroad for the past 13 years with several multinational companies in marketing, PR and business development. I am an American living in Rome and globetrot as a luxury hotel expert and event manager, assisting companies with their meetings and events worldwide.

You recently published "Three Coins in the Fountain: Falling in love through faith, family & frequent flyer miles", what is the book about?

My book recounts how my entire life changed in one fateful trip to Italy, with my mom. It all started from the title, “Three Coins in the Fountain” where I threw them in -- in Rome’s Trevi Fountain, wishing for love and of course, a return trip to Rome. It is not just a love story but a story about faith, hope and survival. As they say all roads lead to Rome and my road went from Route 66 in California to Via Veneto in Rome...

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The Trouble With Truffles

Kim Defforge
by Kim Defforge

When I hear someone talking about truffles, it takes me a second or two to figure out which kind they are referring to: the confection or the fungus. This can cause trouble because, although the words are the same, their meanings are not at all interchangeable. The word truffle derives from the Latin word tuber, meaning swelling or lump, which later became tufer and eventually evolved to the current term in French, truffe.

The black truffle, referred to as l’or noir (black gold), are actually tuber melanosporum, a fungus that are harvested at the base of oak trees in winter and summer. Truffle production depends on just the right combination of soil pH, precipitation, and sunlight for a warm, dry environment and therefore, is rare. This makes them a highly prized and priced delicacy, commanding from $250 to $450 per pound.

Last summer I saw prices at 120 Euros for 100 grams. Summer harvested truffles are less flavorful, and therefore, are a little less expensive than in winter – Christmas demand can elevate the price from 500 to 1000 Euros per kilo (1 kil0 = 2.2 lbs.).

Truffles are hunted and harvested with pigs or trained dogs that able to detect the mature truffles strong odor from underneath the ground at the base of the oak trees. The odor is similar to a pig’s sexual pheromone, making their reaction a telltale sign - the trouble is trying to prevent the pig from eating the truffle...

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A Month In The Life Of An English Writer In Tuscany - December Reflections

June Finnigan
by June Finnigan

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

Well, here we are again at the top of a New Year and looking forward to a gentle slide down through the seasons in Beautiful Tuscany. For years we had gigantic Christmas trees, however, that was when we had properties to match. Now a small tree takes pride of place on our former dining table, in the sitting room of our lovely little hillside villa. Christmas markets were on in most towns and villages. In Florence, one could visit the German (yes German) Christmas market, which is hugely popular. Germany is said to host the best markets in Europe! However, I do like to support the local shops, where things are very much the same as thirty years ago in England. Small shopkeepers still somehow survive and their window displays are lovely.

I was delighted to discover Richmond’s English Shop in Viarregio. It is too far away for us to visit; however, they sent me an lovely goodies box, which included Christmas Crackers, Mince Pies, Bird’s Custard, and Daddy’s Brown Sauce & Colman’s Mince Sauce. I have been drizzling the mint sauce over everything!

The Chianti countryside in December took on a gold, brown, and silver green glow. The sun was a russet gold and the light fantastic. Mornings of bright warm sunshine and freezing fog in the valleys below, made for some fantastic photos and lovely walks through the hills. These hills are not only vineyards and olive groves; in fact, a large area is made up of steep hillsides covered in mixed woodland and quite a few sheer crumbling inland cliffs...

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Exploring The Outskirts Of Phuket

Anne O’Connellby Anne O’Connell

When living the expat lifestyle it is important to establish a routine. Each time you move to a new country, routine is what will help you ease into life in a new place. However, try not to get too lulled by the boring rhythm of the coffee mornings, school pick-up if you have kids, stop ‘n shop, mani-pedi type routine. You’ve got to shake it up once in a while.

Now that we’ve been in Thailand for a couple of years, we’re into a nice routine. I’ve started a writers’ group that meets once a month and I also help out once a week at a local school. Then I work on whatever writing project I have under way the rest of the time. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I live in a different (even exotic) country and exploring beyond the local grocery store once in a while is highly advisable to have the most enriching experience possible.

I have a friend (also an expat) who has come to visit a couple of times and spurs this philosophy on. Last time she came we did a side trip to Phi Phi Island. This time, before she came she asked “What remote island shall we visit this time?” I had to put my thinking cap on.

We are blessed with being surrounded by natural beauty in our immediate vicinity but also with a veritable feast of options for places to explore, including hundreds of islands in Chalong and Phang Nga Bays. This time I chose the very remote, not touristy, peaceful island of Koh Yao Yai.

There are a few words of advice I’d like to share when planning to explore those ‘outskirts’ wherever you live...

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Winter Comes To The Dominican Republic

Lindsay de Feliz
by Lindsay de Feliz

When you think of a Caribbean island the whole idea of winter does not enter your mind. This year, for the first time in my 12 years here, I am living in the mountains and the change of the seasons seems a lot more pronounced than on the coast.

The change in temperature and humidity has always been sudden, not a slow change as it used to be in the UK. On November 1st or a day before or after every year, suddenly the wind is cooler and the humidity less. In the mountains the temperature dropped sharply from around 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime to 80 degrees.

Night time temperatures dropped from the mid seventies to the mid sixties. The sun is lower in the sky, it used to wake me between 5.30 and 6.00 as it streamed through the bedroom window, but now it doesn’t even make it into the bedroom. Nights draw in quickly and it is pitch black before 6.30...

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Tales From A Spanish Village: Two Old Fools And A Delivery

Victoria Twead
by Victoria Twead

It's an uncomfortable feeling being without passports. We applied a month ago, and paid a hefty fee to have them delivered by courier. Had we filled out the forms correctly? Were our photographs acceptable? Had the passports got lost in the Christmas mail? Were they destroyed in the terrible floods that the UK suffered recently? Receiving mail has always been a bit of a problem in El Hoyo, as it often arrives on the Fish Van or needs collecting from the Repsol garage at the bottom of the mountain.

One cold, but sunny morning, we heard a commotion in the village.

"What's going on?" asked Joe.

We could hear shouts, and a large engine revving.

"I've no idea," I said, shaking my head.

Curious, we went out into the street to investigate.

El Hoyo's streets are extremely narrow, and the corners are all sharp right angles. Cars negotiate them with difficulty. Only pedestrians, uncle Felix's mule and motorcycles sail around the corners with ease...

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Expat Writing – A Veritable Minefield

Toni Hargis
by Toni Hargis

I’m been writing about US/UK stuff for about ten years now, so what have I learned? (My spellcheck is American, by the way.)

You can make fun of your home country almost ad nauseam and you won’t get much of a backlash as long as it’s well informed. Being a British expat makes it easier because of our well-known self-deprecating sense of humor – most Brits chime in with me. Viewing the UK from afar as I do these days, I can see the strengths and the weaknesses possibly more clearly than I did when I lived there. I can also voice my opinion on the weaknesses without fear of insults, obviously as long as I’m not implying “I’m so glad I’m out of there” as some expats do. That must get irritating to read if you’re actually living in that terrible place.

However, the assumption, unless otherwise stated, is that even though you’ve left your country of origin, you think of it fondly and any criticism is either well-intentioned or just gentle ribbing.

But - No matter how long you’ve lived in your host country, and even if you’ve become a citizen, it’s not as acceptable to criticize it...

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Winter in Canada - We Hunkered Down And Pressed On...

Aisha Isabel Ashraf
by Aisha Isabel Ashraf


2014 has blasted in with extreme cold weather here in Ontario, Canada. Windchill is in the minus thirties/forties and you risk frostbite if you’re out for any length of time with skin exposed.

This is our fourth winter in Canada and we’re better equipped to endure it now than ever. The children all have snowpants, snowboots and frost-protective coats and gloves – a far cry from our first year here when we scraped by with no car and the bare minimum.

Our First Canadian Winter

I remember how the snow began falling in earnest on the first of December, cleaving to some indiscernible timetable, and we didn’t see the ground again until April.

The novelty of this meteorological test of endurance thrilled us. We marveled at the efficiency of snow-plows, especially the mini ones that cleared the footpaths. We loved them all the more when we discovered it’s near impossible to push a stroller through snow.

And so began the heroic quests that live on as cherished family memories, tales of our ‘pioneer period’ told with a wistful smile and knowing glances when someone asks “What’s winter like in Canada?”

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Top 5 German Reality TV Shows

Courtney Martin
by Courtney Martin

Since I need to pass a German fluency test in exactly one month, I am trying to go on an all-German diet. This includes only watching German movies and TV shows. While there are several popular action, drama, and comedy TV series in Germany, many of these are difficult for me to understand. I have tried watching “Tatort,” which is like German CSI, but between the police lingo and varying dialects, I can’t always keep up. But do you know what I can understand? Reality TV shows!

I loathe American reality TV shows, but for some reason, when it comes to their German counterpart, I just can’t get enough. So if you are looking to learn German yourself or want to brush on your Deutsch by watching some mindless television, here is my list of the top 5 German reality TV shows.

5. Goodbye Deutschland (Goodbye Germany)

As an expat, I find this show pretty interesting. It follows Germans that choose to move abroad for varying reasons from work to weather. Some of them end up having a very successful life. They find a great job, fall in love with a native, the whole shebang. Others realize that they can’t actually speak the language, have no practical skills, and end up moving back home. Unfortunately it is a cheesy reality/drama where everything is quite scripted, but it’s still okay to watch when nothing from higher on this list is on...

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Christmas Day As A Costa Rican Expat

Shannon Enete
My Christmas morning was not spent unwrapping gifts. Nor was there a traditional Christmas tree. I didn’t fight any holiday traffic, or wrap a single gift! There was no holiday stress, or rush. There was, however, abundant joy!

It can be a bit difficult to get into the mood of the season without a chill in the air and never-ending Christmas music played in every retail store. In an attempt to rectify this, my wife and I decorated a small palm tree, just outside of our house, with lights and ornaments. We also played our favorite Christmas music while relaxing at home. Since we moved abroad, Cammy and I have decided to exchange experiences rather than gifts. This new tradition works better for us in two ways. First, it helps us keep our life “travel-sized.” Secondly, we seek out experiences more than objects, understanding that we can cherish them for a lifetime.

Christmas day began with coffee on our terrace overlooking the largest lake in Costa Rica, Lake Arenal. The 26 mile-long lake boasts sapphire blue water that contrasts magically with the surrounding vibrant green hills. After soaking in the sights and sipping our coffee, we set out for our first caving adventure. Calvernas el Venado is located approximately 45 minutes from La Fortuna and one hour down a dirt road from Nuevo Arenal. On the way we met a friendly local, Helen, and offered her a ride. She was on her way from her house to her dad’s farm for the holiday celebrations. Walking would have taken her an hour and a half, so I guess there were presents after all!

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Applying For Residency In Panama

Susanna PerkinsWe’ve been living in Panama for almost two years now. Even though we’re here full time, year round, officially we are tourists. We’ve made no effort to “regularize” our status, as they say in the immigration biz, because we weren’t ready to commit to staying here.

When we arrived, a tourist visa let you stay in the country for six months at a time. Renewing it was easy – you made a border run. It was a simple, straightforward process that took us 5+ hours of driving each way, but only had us at the Panama/Costa Rica border crossing for about an hour.

A pain, but not a problem.

Now, though, Panama is making it much more difficult. So much more difficult, in fact, that we’re preparing to apply for residency rather than have to deal with the border issues...

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Why Expats Love Hong Kong

Joella HawleyHaving been an expat in Hong Kong now for 16 months, I am already planning where to visit next. That’s the thing about being an expat, every new destination has the potential to be your new home. When arriving in the country of choice, the first thing many of us will do, is see if it has the potential to be our new home. Does it have an English supermarket? What is the tax rates and transport options? But once you have seen how easy it is and how well you can adapt to the likes of Hong Kong and Thailand, the next move won’t be so stressful. You will already know what to expect.

For many westerners Hong Kong is a popular choice to move. Expats love it for its accessible transport service, diverse food and close proximity to other countries. Most weekends can be taken up with a quick trip to Taiwan and the Philippines or just a short boat ride to a surrounding island.

If you enjoy change, a fast pace lifestyle and a place that has many western influences as well as Chinese, Hong Kong is the place to be. The city is fun, exciting and on many occasions captures the heart...

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