Posted at 02:05 AM | Permalink
Becoming an expat certainly isn't about heading off to where the streets are paved with gold. For one thing, gold isn't a practical surface for pedestrian thoroughfares - hazardously slippy in rain, and also being a soft metal it doesn't have the durability of plain old concrete. But that's practicailities for you. And if you've ever lived abroad, you'll know all about practicalities. Because while being an expat is a lovely dream to have, achieving expatriate status requires adaptability, gumption, and the ability to stick at things.
One important - and often not that simple - area of expat life is money. And it's not just that exchange rates can have a pretty big effect on purchasing power. On top of that there's the very real differences in cost of living from one place to the next. It's all extremely appealing if a city like Tokyo or London offers a fat wage packet. Not quit so great if property prices and rental rates are eye-wateringly high.
All of which makes things potentially quite difficult to assess for prosective expats. Do I take big paying job X in expensive city Y - or move somewhere that even champagne's as cheap as chips?
With the issue of expat finance in mind, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) last month issued a checklist for prospective expats - with some important things to think about before joining the estimated 6 million UK nationals already living abroad. The FCO's ten tips for moving abroad include:
There are loads of really great expat blogs out there, and I think the expatriate writing in the blogosphere is definitely one of the strongest areas of it. For one thing, expats are interesting, cultured, clever folk - and for another, they nearly all have interesting stories to tell. Even if the expatriate in question has only moved a short distance, say from England to France (or vice versa) there is still a whole new world to discover.
So let me share with you a few of the best blogs I've encountered lately, I hope you like them as much as I do...
First up we have American Girl in Germany. This blog ticks a lot of my boxes for what makes a blog interesting. Loads of pictures - always a good thing in a blog. And humorous too. If like me you love Germany but have never been to the southern city of Kaiserslautern, it's a great read.
Moving further east, another superb blog I've bookmarked is belgradestreets, which features the photography of photoblogger Andy Townend. There's so much photography on the web, and so much instagramming going on, that it takes real talent to stand out. But belgradestreets does just that. Big, often monochrome shots of places and people, this stuff wouldn't look out of place in a large format art hardback alongside other volumes by the likes of Anton Corbijn or Luc Delahaye. Yes, it really is that good!
Today I'd aslo like to introduce you to Johnny Africa, who moved to Johannesburg from NYC and does an exceptionally good job of sharing his expat experiences with high quality writing and good, explicatory photographs all housed in a very nicely designed blog.
Johnny Africa's 'about' page states that he
...always wanted to document my adventures better than doing the Facebook “ZOMG, look at where I am and how jealous all of you are reading this!” post followed by the uploading of my camera’s entire memory card. I really wanted to tell a story, talk about the food as I am a HUGE foodie, talk about the destination as I saw it through my eyes...
And it's fair to say that he's achieved that aim with ease.
Smartphones are changing the world in terms of how we connect and communicate, and while the app store is brimming with useful little apps that can do anything including tell you how many calories you've burned during an exercise session, measure the quality of you night's sleep and so on, there are also a lot of apps that seem to be obscure due to the sheer amount of stuff that's in the app store.
In terms of apps for expats, there are one or two apps that are dedicate to the expat but I haven;t dowloaded any myself. This one looks quite good - and appears to have quite wide ranging functionality according to its app store listing.
But in general I think most apps that are good for expats are likely to be the ones that are useful no matter where you are in the world. Facebook for those all important friend updates. BBC weather is also handy if you're somewhere like Moscow or Toronto where the winter weather can have a pretty significant impact on your day - good to know when heavy snow is forecast. And Skyscanner is a long-time fave of mine. So very simple and yet so useful. Even if you're not a frequen flyer it's still very much a go-to app for finding the right air fare.
For American expats abroad, the United States government has a handy find your embassy app - allowing you to do just that. Worth downloading and having the peace of mind knowing that the info will be there should you need it.
Other useful types of app that are worth thinking about getting if you're an expat would include
If you're heading abroad on holiday getting health cover is extremely easy and very inexpensive. And as long as you're registered with a GP, theres really nothing to it. And having health cover also means that if there was a requirement for medical repatriation it is generally covered in most policies that I've seen. There are some horror stories about people being flown back to the UK and having to pay for it - and the expense easily runs into thousands, or tens thereof. There is the EHIC of course, but it doesn't replace insurance, as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office site states.
There seems to be some confusion about which policies are needed for which kind of stay. And there was even a survey done by one of the global HR companies a while back that indicated that many bosses of staff away on international assignments were unsure of the type of policy needed, or that travel cover was sufficient.
Basically how it works is that if you're off abroad to live, then you need an international health insurance policy. Not a travel one. Another important point to note is that some countries demand that those entering be fully insured - and there have even been reports of people being turned away at the airport for not having valid medical cover. One of the places mentioned where this has happened is Abu Dhabi - the emirate legally requires people to have valid health insurance. As for the rest of the UAE I'm not entirely sure. But hey, who'd go abroad uninsured?
According to a new survey by the Global Visas relocation consultancy, over 40 per cent of those leaving the UK are doing so in search of better job prospects, with a large percentage of survey respondents being from the middle earning economic category.
Its always been the case that a large percentage of expats leave home in search of career advancement - and of course there are entire countries that have been pretty much founded by expat communities.
Blogging on the subject of the 'strivers' leaving the country in hopes of earning more than they would at home, the MP Dominic Raab makes an important point in an article he has published on the Conservative Home blog (link here).
Traditionally, the ex-pat lifestyle was viewed as the preserve of diplomats, and those working for big multinationals or in financial services.
And indeed this was definitely the case in the majority of instances of expatriation in the years prior to the European Union, as well as various big changes in China, India and elsewhere - where large numbers of skilled workers are required. And he also points aout that many new expats aren't big earners, with 87 per cent on less than 50, 000 GBP per annum.
The questions that arise from this aren't necessarily easy to come up with a simple answer to. As the world continues to globalise, and as technology continues its exponential development, so more and more people will become globally mobile.
Sure, every country must do what it has to do in order to look after the wealth, health and general wellbeing of its populace - but in an increasingly globalised economic set of circumastances, people leaving the country isn't always going to be down to simply to salaries - many go abroad simply for the experience. And, of course, being an expat for many isn't a permanent state of affairs.
If you're living in the area around Valencia in Spain - or happen to be nearby at the end of August, then you may hear about strange goings on in the town of Buñol. Basically, every year around this time in August they hold what's known as La Tomatina - a very slightly bizarre festival that bills itself as 'the world's biggest food fight', where 'more than one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets'.
Equalling the Pamplona Bull Run for sheer exuberance (although without the danger), La Tomatina has been held regularly since the mid 1940s and has developed into a strong tradition, with the local authorities now ticketing the event to control the numbers of people who want to join in the madness.
The origins of the event are unclear, with a number of different stories as to how this small town became the venue for an unruly annual tomato fight. Some of the possible origins of La Tomatina that have been suggested include:
There's a host of crazy festivities during the festival, including a greasy pole with a ham on top as prize for whichever intrepid pole climber can reach it, as wellas a paella cooking contest, parades, and fireworks.
Check out La Tomatina on the official website here.
Recently, one of those annual quality of life for expats type surveys was released - and, as ever, made interesting reading.
The survey - published by the international arm of a UK bank, found that while Australia remains the most popular choice for UK expats, Dubai has risen to third place in terms of how respondents rate its quality of life.
A couple of things that this survey underlines for me are as follows
The UAE is climbing the table, and it's been an expat hub for a long time now. But during the downturn there were some fairly dramatic stories in the press - sports cars abandoned at the airport as newly bankrupt folks fled Dubai, and also doom and gloom talk of the Dubai party being over. But it's not only survived - and the UAE as a whole seems to be pretty buoyant economically with tourism an retail both doing alright.
Dubai's populace is well known for being majority expat - depending on which figures you read the number of non-Emiratis who reside there is between three quartres and nine-tenths. This could well be a factor in the country's popularity with UK expats - anywhere that has som any residents from around the world is likely to have certain cosmopolitan flair as well as a dynamic cultural mix. In fact, when you think back over the last century - what is the one city ou think of that's founded on the spirit of expatriation? Yep - New York.
So, all positive news for expat Dubai (apart from some recent blogs about how scary it is to drive there). On the northern tip of the Gulf, Kuwait seems to be going through a different phase right now - with tales of the country's planned massive reduction in expat numbers including measures restricting even access time for hospitals.
What do you think when you hear the name Detroit?
Depending on the age and the interests of who you ask, you're likely to get a range of answers, including some of the following
One thing you perhaps wouldn't hear, though, on mentioning Detroit is expats. Sure, there are likely to be a good few expats a couple of miles south of Detroit, over the Canadian border in Windsor, Ontario.
But Detroit - what with its recent tribulations is maybe somewhere that you'd not expect many expats to head for these days. Sure in the days of the automotive boom it would have been something of an expat hotspat - and indeed, I myself have relations there from across the other side of the Atlantic due to the industry that used to power the motor city.
However as with anything, there are ups and downs - and with the cost of housing being what it is, along with continued downward pressure on earnings, it's no surprise to hear of regeneration in Detroit. Lately there have been stories of a downtown renaissance, a welcome beam of light amid the darkness of the much talked about city bakruptcy.
Part of the reason of course is house prices - when there's massive demand for real estate in a city - like there is in Hing Kong right now, you look at what people are getting for their money, and you can't help but think that the bricks and mortar as such are overvalued, with most of the price being of course down to location. When it works the other way, and house prices collapse, essentially what's left is a lot of bargain real estate. And not necessarily from a beady-eyed property developer point of view either - just ordinary people looking for somewhere to live. And so recently- as reported in the Telegraph, expats are buying up homes in the city and investment seems to be flowing back in - and as one realtor is quoted in the article as saying:
" the key thing to remember here is that [Detroit] is only the city that has filed for bankruptcy and the only way from here is up".
I've had a look for expat blogs out of Detroit, but there didn't seem to be an overload of them. I did however find the delightful Dear Ms Leigh - "a blog capturing a British transplant named Rachael dwelling in the urban sprawl of Metro Detroit". Enjoy.
Posted at 02:53 AM | Permalink
Tags: detroit, expat, expat detroit, expatriates USA
Following on from my post a short while ago about British food abroad, I thought I'd point you in the direction of an excellent article in The Guardian today by @rosieniven on a range of UK companies providing expat food to people overseas whose palates are missing those often unique tastes of home.
In one notable example, we have the very clever solution of the DIY scotch pie. This ingenious idea involves sending the scotch pie cases over the border to England along with a recipe for filling it - and thus being sure that the contents of your traditional Scottish savoury dish are 100% authentic.
As is often the case with a Guardian post, the comments following the article are a good read too, so if you're a haggis addict and planning to go and live in New Zealand, I suggest you pop over there and read the thread first.