Friday, 28 May 2010

Test of citizenship

According to the British Home Office, a third of prospective immigrants to the UK fail to pass the citizenship test that is required by all new people seeking to live permanently in the country. The figures show where the highest pass rates are in terms of the country of origin of the individual – including Australia, the US, Canada, and African nations Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Ostensibly, the British government introduced the citizenship test in 2005 to help ensure that new arrivals integrate better into British society. It covers issues such as Britain’s constitution, laws and regulations, practical knowledge of life in the UK, and even where dialects such as Scouse or Cockney come from. In addition, “passing the citizenship test demonstrates the candidate has "a sufficient knowledge" of the English language for the purposes of applying for settlement rights or a British passport”.

The BBC produced a citizenship test of their own based on the questions in the official book Life in the UK, which is required reading for anybody trying to pass the citizenship test. What is interesting is that it may well be the case that born-and-bred British may have difficulty with it! It raises the question of whether expats may actually have better knowledge than existing residents about the country they are moving to as they do not take it for granted. Is this ever true in your experience? Have you ever had to take a citizenship test?

Don’t forget to fill in the Expat Explorer 2010 survey – just one week left and we are looking for as many expats from as many countries as possible. The results may even help you with future relocation plans...

Thursday, 27 May 2010

“Overseas schooling – what would you prefer for your children?”

Looking to the UK, and with the Conservatives this week announcing some considerable changes to the UK’s education system, today we’re discussing the issue of expat schooling. The Academies Bill is likely to drive significant changes to the way many schools are run with greater independence from local authorities and more freedom in the curriculum students are taught. But how does this compare with schools abroad? Are expats happy with type of education their children are receiving?

Indeed many schools in countries such as Sweden, Singapore and the U.S already use such models but the relevant success of these has been somewhat mixed.

Perhaps one of the biggest growing trends over the last decade or so has been the growth of many British schools expanding their offerings overseas, for example the Harrow International School which since being founded in 1998 has 2 schools in Bangkok and Beijing. These schools generally follow an adapted English national curriculum but often include several bespoke subjects such as Thai or Chinese studies. Interestingly, according to a recent report by the Telegraph these schools offer such a strong academic experience that places are highly sought after even from local students.

But do these schools really provide a true expat experience? Do children get more out of attending “British” schools abroad or should they aim to see more of the local culture? Are you happy with the level of education your child experiences whilst being schooled abroad? Tell us how you feel by completing the 2010 Expat Explorer Survey.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Home country nostalgia

A blogger for Expat Telegraph recently gave her view on the “love/hate relationship” that she and many other British expats have with their home country, highlighting how the opportunity for a better life abroad is a one-way journey for most. She says that “it is more often than not those in dire economic circumstances or with family problems back home who are forced to return to Britain”, with the majority of Britons more than content with their lives in a new country and highly unlikely to consider a return home.

Anna Nicholas does, however, point out the effect of nostalgia for the home country amongst expats. Especially for those from a country so steeped in history and heritage as the UK, there may well be a strong feeling that an expat life is distancing you from your roots. For some this feeling will vary and it may or may not be a concern, but Anna points out that often a quick trip back home is enough to satisfy the urge to stay in touch with your original home, and in many cases make you appreciate your expat life all the more.

We asked you about the frequency of your visits back home and the amount of contact you have with friends and family back home last year, and we’re interested again this year. Do you prefer to keep your rose-tinted memories rose-tinted, or do you make an effort to update them? Expat Explorer 2010 is running for just over a week longer and you can let us know here

Monday, 24 May 2010

The expat other half

British heavyweight paper the Sunday Times recently ran an interesting article looking at relationships where one partner’s overseas posting with positive career prospects may dampen the career aspirations of the other. According to an international HR consultancy, more overseas postings are being turned down because of a spouse’s career, with more women getting offered postings but unable to persuade their male partners into an overseas move, and as a result turning down the offer.

As the world becomes an ever smaller place, it is also pointed out that “expat packages are not as generous as they used to be”. With there being more options and more flexibility now than there used to be, people are given more opportunity to seriously consider all likely implications of an overseas move, including implications for quality of life. As an expat, have your had to factor a partner into your plans when initially taking the step overseas, or since then? Have you been led overseas in such a way? Have you ever had experience from both sides of the relationship? Let us know your experiences here

Friday, 21 May 2010

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing... Miriam Berger

We're featuring another guest expat blogger this Friday - Miriam Berger - which we were able to relate to. It's an interesting read:

Why I love being an Expat!

Tales of a travelling professional

Exploring the world while doing what you love most – who wouldn’t love being an expat?

I was exposed to the world of working while travelling early on in my marketing career. About a year after I started working professionally in Canada, I was given a role that required me to spend about 2-3 weeks per month in California – this amazing experience lasted about a year. Needless to say, even though my apartment was in Toronto most of my life was spent in hotels across the state.

After that first experience, I knew I was hooked. In 2006, I made the move from the big city to a small island – going from Toronto to Jersey (Channel Islands, UK). I’ve never looked back!
The people I’ve met, the cultural challenges I’ve endured and the career opportunities I’ve had, all form the reason of why I love being an expat.

Living and working on an island with a population of fewer than 100,000, was a life changing experience for me. I saw a different side to my profession – the reality that I could do what I love but not have to deal with long commutes or be attached to my phone. It made me realize how much I value simplicity in life and a good work/life balance.

Now, coming to Israel at the end of 2009, a place with a very different culture, work dynamic and even language, has extended my love for expat life even more. While looking for marketing work in Israel, I started to dread the day I would find a job as I would have to deal with the long commute on a daily basis. Those values I learned in Jersey resurfaced and I realized how important they were to me, even here in Israel. This “expat moment” was the main driver for me to stop looking for work and to put all my energy into continuing the development of my own business.

Being an expat has made me realize what’s important to me, proven that I’m adaptable to many different environments and shown me that my values can transcend borders. All really important life lessons – for me at least.

Sure – expat life isn’t easy – but I know deep in my heart that the challenges I encounter today will be the life lessons and stories I have to share in the future.

So, where’s my next expat adventure going to take me? – Who knows? That’s a part of the fun!

About the author

Miriam Berger is the Owner/Consultant of AppleCrisp Marketing Solutions. She has been a marketer since 2001, working for some of the largest organizations worldwide. A true expat at heart, Miriam is originally from Toronto, Canada and has worked across North America, the UK and now Israel. At the end of 2009, she made the move to the consulting world offering her marketing expertise to clients across international markets. In addition to her wide range of marketing projects, she is also the blogger behind Travelling Starfish - a travel blog with an expat edge!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Is expat life all about the money?

Expatriates could be facing significant changes to their salary and benefits packages according to the latest survey by HR consultancy ECA International as foreign employers seek to adjust their compensation schemes in response to the economic downturn.

Historically, many expats have been paid based on a “home based compensation” scheme in which salaries are reflective of current market rates of their home country with around 60% of all expats globally rewarded on this basis. However, recent research has suggested a growing trend of “host-based compensation” in which expats are paid relative to local rates or what other expats in the region receive. Such changes may effectively lead to many expat employees experiencing an equivalent pay cut.

In Singapore, for example, research shows that just over a fifth of expats said that they were based on packages relative to the Singapore market which equates to around 80% of what the equivalent “home based compensation” model would provide. What’s more, these figures show a six per cent rise from last year’s statistics with a similar sized increase seen in Hong Kong providing evidence of a trend that looks set to continue. Perhaps one explanation for this is the fact that many businesses looking to expand are actually seeking to secure staff on more permanent contracts which means that paying above market rate is simply no longer economically viable.

Importantly though, we need to consider what impact if any such changes will have on the long term appeal of the expat life. Is money the be all and end all and one of the prime drivers for moving abroad and will local labour markets be strong enough if the number of expats weaken? Why not tell us your thoughts by completing the 2010 Expat Explorer survey at http://www1.gfk-wi.com/wix/p76220993.aspx. Make sure you register your details at the end of the survey and we will send you a copy of the survey reports when they are produced later this year.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Expat Info Desk

Another good and informative site out there on expat life in general and specific advice for those considering or having completed a move overseas is Expat Info Desk. It contains information about a range of cities in countries around the world contributed by expats that have spent time there. As evidenced by our Expat Explorer survey, we firmly believe that the expat perspective is quite unique and it takes an expat to really advise on what it is like relocating to an area.

The guides are presented in such a way that you can get an idea of the city just from the information on the website, with much more detail available in the city guides. The Expat Manual, available for free on the website, contains advice on everything from health to moving in with your partner and selling your property in your home country.

As well as providing practical advice and information, it is nice to know that there are approaches that others have taken before to perhaps overcome the same challenges or discover similar pleasures as an expat. An events calendar may prove useful should you be looking for networking events in your city, and their news feed and blog make for interesting reading.

Given our recent blog on life in the city, it is testament to the different urban and rural lifestyles that many more guides exist for popular expatriate city destinations than just general advice on a country. You may be one of those people that are simply drawn to the bright lights and ‘buzz’ of a city without knowing exactly what you’re getting yourself into. If you choose the countryside it may be because you know you exactly why this is an area that you want to be in – in other words, it is more of a considered choice. Would you tend to agree with this? Let us know!

Monday, 17 May 2010

The politics of expat life

It's clear that over the past few weeks there have been some dramatic political events throughout the world that will undoubtedly have an impact on expat life in the affected country.

The UK is obviously one of these, where residents have seen a new Coalition Government formed - the first since the Second World War. No doubt there will be a number of expats in the UK keeping a close eye on how things pan out with the new leadership in order to see what it will mean for them. Ernst & Young, for example, has revealed that for some entrepreneurs (probably a few in the expat community), uncertainty over reforms on capital gains tax will prompt them to rush through the sale of their businesses.

Turning our attention East now and we look set for another week of political unrest in Thailand, which will again have some sort of impact on the expat population living there. Interestingly, however, the site Phuket Wan talks about the impact of the events in Bankgok, what it means for the rest of the country and how what is needed most now is a concerted effort to help continue to attract foreign visitors and help the country get back on its feet. It says that this turnaround "may have its beginnings among the expat community this Friday through the coincidental timing of an extraordinary meeting of four key groups at The Watermark at The Boat Lagoon. The British Business Association of Phuket, the International Business Association of Phuket, the Australian-Thai business group AustCham and the Lighthouse Club Phuket Branch are to join forces for the first time to hold a combined networking event." It goes on to say that if people from Thailand's tourism industry and key resort brands were also persuaded to attend, the meeting could well become the starting point to revitalise recovery for Phuket and Thailand.

It's great to see that there are still beacons of light throughout the world and that the expat community in countries such as Thailand are pulling together to ensure that their adopted home can come out of situations like the one it currently faces. It's often the case to find occurrences like this as the expat life can be such a personal experience and can generate such a strong sense of belonging. With our Expat Explorer 2010 currently still recruiting for respondents, we'd be keen to know if you feel the same way about your country and how you have found the experience of integrating in. Click here to take part.

Friday, 14 May 2010

City ≠ Quality of Life?

Most expats will have had the chance to visit at least one major international city in their lifetimes and many will spend a considerable amount of their time in and around cities as they develop their careers. You may find that you can relax perfectly well in a city, or that you can’t relax at all, and that the pace of life in the country is more in line with your preferred lifestyle.

Beijing is one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas but as well as being hectic, crowded, and polluted it features some of China’s most historic landmarks. In this respect, and to quote Daniel Garst writing for China Daily, it “provides foreign residents with excellent windows into both China's ancient past and rapid and amazing ongoing modernization”. For this particular expat, at least, this is one of the factors that makes Beijing “hands-down China’s best city for expats”.

It makes sense that the Chinese capital contains a wealth of business opportunities and a lively cultural and literary scene too, which all contribute to a unique offer for expats. However, Daniel concedes that it is not the most liveable city in China. This shows a recognition that quality of life or liveability of a place is not the be-all-and-end-all – it really depends what you’re after.

Last year expats pointed out in the Expat Explorer survey that while the quality of life in UK ranked poorly compared to many countries, the entertainment scene was top-notch. This makes sense given that much of the expat population is centred around London. Have your say again this year and lets go into more detail on what attracts you to the cities, or the countryside, where you live.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Benefits in Qrops?

British retirees abroad have had quite a rough time of it recently with the turbulence of the pound playing havoc with relative worth and income from UK-based assets. It has made the expat dream of retiring in the sun a little less dream-like; and a little more of a financial headache.

The Financial Times recently reported some potentially good news for these expats, highlighting how British expats abroad are able to benefit from the increasing number of qualifying recognised overseas pension schemes (Qrops) appearing on the market. These were introduced in 2006 and allow retirees to transfer their pension abroad more easily – as long as pensioners have been non-UK residents for at least 5 consecutive years they are able to withdraw funds from international pensions schemes based in tax-efficient jurisdictions such as Guernsey.

How your finances fare overseas is one area that we are looking at in the Expat Explorer survey, which is live now. Given the turmoil over the past couple of years, we’re expecting some interesting findings. Emerging markets came out strongly in Expat Economics in 2009, dominating the rankings. Will this be repeated this year and is it a sign of a significant shift in the world economy? The survey takes 10 minutes to fill out and your insight goes into helping us create an insightful picture of the expat population.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Currency benefits of expatriatism

Where there are losers, there are also usually winners.

Fluctuating currency markets have resulted in a serious number of expats with income paid from sterling or euro-based assets lose relative income. On the flip side, many European expats living in the Middle East are profiting from the falling value of the euro and sterling against the dollar – which is the currency that most Middle Eastern countries peg their own currencies. This has resulted in an increase in the relative value of expatriate salaries.

According to Maktoob Business, there has been a relative value increase of some 10 per cent so far this year, as the Greek debt crisis has weighed on the Euro. At this stage analysts forecast further falls for the euro and sterling but a rebound in August. There has been a sharp rise in remittances back to Europe as expats based in the Middle East bank some of the change.

Currency rates are fickle and as we have found out through recent events, it can be a case of being in the right place at the right time. It is not easy to chase favourable currency rates but it is interesting to see how effectively some expats take advantage of them! How have currency rates affected you? Take part in the Expat Explorer 2010 survey and let us know your story.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Confidence returning in Dubai

Telegraph Expat blogger Annabel Kantaria, who writes the blog Desert Fox from Dubai, has written about how optimism is picking up again following a torrid couple of years for residents of Dubai. With house prices and employment back on the rise, the future is looking brighter, but Annabel highlights two factors that Dubai-based expats must continue to consider – namely the law and the fact that if you do end up without a job, it is difficult to stay in Dubai.

On the former point, recent high-profile legal cases at least mean that westerners no longer expect the authorities to turn a blind eye to transgressions – no matter how harmless a certain act is considered back home, expats must be aware that different countries carry different cultures and as such foreigners must respect these in turn. On the latter, individuals that had moved to Dubai for jobs and were left without them at the height of the financial crisis woke up to a very harsh reality of having to conclude their affairs in the country within 30 days, before their visa expired.

As Dubai begins a recovery many will remember lessons that were learnt the harsh way. Have any of our readers got first-hand experience or know of anybody based in Dubai who endured the financial crisis? Have your perceptions of the city, and of its societal institutions and culture, changed over the last couple of years? If you’re based there, even better to let us know your thoughts by filling in the Expat Explorer 2010 survey here.

Friday, 7 May 2010

The Expat Election Fallout

So the polling stations have closed, the votes have been counted through the night and after months of campaigning it looks like the first hung parliament since 1974 is now a reality. While the UK looks set for an uncomfortable couple of weeks as the ensuing details are sorted out, we’re asking what the impact will be for the expat community.

What is clear is that the economic impact predicted from the current election does seem very real. A recent survey from Currencies Direct highlights the fact that 41% of Spanish expats think the disarray at Downing Street will dent the pound regardless of who emerges as the eventual Prime Minister with a further 76% citing the economy as the most pressing issue.

Many expats have felt the impact of the credit crunch on their savings and pensions and with the Eurozone set for more economic turmoil this pain may well continue over the coming months. Understanding the best way to handle your finances whilst living abroad can be a tricky subject for many expats as many have to deal with managing money in different currencies and different jurisdictions. Is this something that sounds familiar to you? Take part in Expat Explorer 2010 today by visiting http://www1.gfk-wi.com/wix/p76220993.aspx and share your views on expat life and the issues that matter to you.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

How full is the expat ballot box?

As election fever grips the UK and polling stations up and down the country are inundated with voters, we ask how engaged is the expat community? Have you voted? Are you eligible to vote or do you know how to register whilst living outside the country?

The criteria for being eligible to vote are actually pretty simple. Firstly you need to have been registered to vote in the UK at any time in the past 15 years and secondly been living abroad for less than 15 years. As you can imagine a large percentage of the expat community would tick both of these boxes yet its estimated that of the 2.5 million British citizens living abroad and eligible to vote, only 13,987 were registered by the end of 2009. Indeed the Wall Street Journal recently suggested that this expat voter apathy may have a vital role to play in perhaps the most closely fought election in modern history.

But is it really voter apathy........? Is it that British expat’s are no longer worried about what happens in the UK political system because it won’t impact them or instead does this lack of engagement stem from an overcomplicated process that just makes getting ones voice heard far too difficult? Currently expats can vote in two ways, either through a postal vote with its obvious problems of delivery and delays or by proxy where a UK resident votes on your behalf. Voting by proxy requires registration which again means deadlines and paperwork that can turn many potential expat voters off.

Yet what’s interesting is the fact that other countries don’t seem to suffer the same problem. For example, in the latest election 69% of overseas American’s cast their votes. With the election campaign finally drawing to a close, only time will tell what the impact of the expat vote will be.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Where can you accelerate your career?

For many expats, career is an obvious driver of a move abroad. New markets and new opportunities often pave the way for higher salaries, greater challenges and enriching experiences.

Take India, for example, where according to the Business Standard, the automotive industry is perfect for expats who want to shift their career up a gear. The article says that expat CEOs of Indian automobile companies consider India "a lucrative assignment and a step to move up the corporate ladder". Many, including Ford India's President and Managing Director, GM India's CEO and Managing Director of Toyota's Indian subsidiary, all attest to the attraction of the country, using phrases such as "incredible" or "I would not want to be anywhere else in the world".

Clearly, career enhancing moves in international markets are there if you are willing to pursue them and for many expats, they do just that. Something we are looking at in the Expat Explorer 2010 survey (which is currently in its second week) is identifying where the job hotspots are and which locations can give expats the opportunity to grow their career. Which other countries provide similar opportunities to India? Traditionally (and before the global financial crisis) many expats flocked to London or New York, however we have seen this shift to the emerging markets in recent times, with the Middle East an obvious choice for vibrant lifestyles and new and rewarding challenges. Now, with China's increasing importance, an ever growing number of expats are choosing this country as their next location. Where is best for your career? Take part in Expat Explorer 2010 now.

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