Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Has the Costa del Sol lost its expat charm?

Many locations divide opinion but few as dramatically as the Costa del Sol. As George Orwell once wrote in 1938: "The only way I could get along was to carry everywhere a small dictionary which I whipped out of my pocket at moments of crisis. But I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries. How easy it is to make friends in Spain!"

Source Damejiar

For many years expats and in particular those from Britain have tended to hold the same view, tempted to the region Sol by sun, sangria and a laid back lifestyle. Recently however, this charming coast has been more widely a recognised as the Costa Del Crime due to its reputation as a hotspot for gangsters and crooks. The result of this has been speculation about how welcome the expat population remains in the region with The Guardian suggesting that many make very little attempt to integrate with the local community.

Integration is one of the biggest issues facing expats and is something that we’ve blogged about previously on several occasions. So is it that Spanish locals are just much less willing to embrace expats or is there just a lack of effort on the expat part?

According to the HSBC Expat Explorer survey and its (snazzy new tool) Spain is the 3rd easiest country in the world to integrate especially when compared to some of its European neighbours. What’s more it’s also ranked 9th in the world in terms of ease of making friends which makes the Guardian’s article all the more surprising. Perhaps the issue is that with such a large number of expats living in the region the temptation is to stay within the familiar expat community rather than experience the local culture and traditions.

Undoubtedly the integration hurdle is one of the most challenging for many expats but equally once overcome can lead to lifelong friendships and a more enriched experience of life overseas. Tell us your thoughts!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Thanks For Your Feedback

This week marked the launch of HSBC Bank International’s brand new interactive resource Expat Explorer and since then we have spoken with many of you who have been kind enough to share your thoughts with us.

We were pleased to see how many of you have enjoyed using tool. You have told us that you like the simplicity and that you found it visually interesting and very user-friendly. You have also told us how the personal anecdotes helped personalize the data so it wasn’t just another boring survey.

We have also enjoyed seeing on twitter how you have shared the results of countries where you live and have heard how you have enjoyed making comparisons with the different search criteria.

There have also been some suggestions for improvement. We are always trying to improve the survey to make it as beneficial as possible to expats so hearing directly from you is a great contributor to the learning process.

If you have any further thoughts or comments please let us know because we wouldn’t be experts in expats without your feedback......

Monday, 21 March 2011

Expat Explorer get interactive! The new tool goes live.....

The day has finally come! Today marks the grand unveiling of HSBC Bank International’s brand new interactive resource Expat Explorer. It’s something that we’re very proud and designed with you in mind to provide a truly global picture of expat life. So read on to find out more and remember “if you were looking to move abroad what would you want to know?” Even better why not check out the tool now by clicking here.

So what exactly is the tool and more importantly why should you use it? As you know our annual Expat Explorer survey provides us with a wealth of data and our new resource is set to give you all unprecedented access. Our latest gadget contains the compete 2010 data set from the survey’s three reports; Expat Economics, Expat Experience and Offshore Offspring and gives users the chance to interact with the findings through data visualisations and compare countries across a range of criteria.

The resource provides highly visual results through a variety of graphics and charts including league tables, country comparisons and rankings. Each output generates its own specific URL so you can even share your findings with your expat friends! The data is also accompanied by a number of expat case studies across different locations to provide you with human insight and not just numbers.

We’ve even made a cool little video to give a snapshot of the kind of information you’ll be able to discover.


We know that a move abroad can be a daunting prospect and research on potential destinations can seem an endless task. We hope the new resource will have something for everyone, from those interested simply in where their country ranks to would-be expats and regular movers looking for their next location.

But enough talking about it, we want you to try it and tell us what you think. Click on the link below to view and share with the expat community....

Friday, 18 March 2011

Expat Explorer Gets a Revamp!

Yesterday we told you our exciting news that on Monday 21st March 2011, Expat Explorer will be launching a new interactive tool. To coincide with this new development we are going to get a make-over to match!

From Sunday the Expat Explorer blog will have a new look and feel so don’t forget to check out the tool on on Monday and the new revamped blog!

We value your feedback and comments so get in touch and let us know what you think....

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Coming Soon....

As many of you will know, our annual Expat Explorer survey is one of our most valuable assets. Since its conception in 2008 it’s grown into the world’s biggest survey of expats detailing almost every aspect of a life abroad. As you can imagine its provided us with some fascinating data which at HSBC Bank International we’ve used to better understand the challenges faced by the expat community and how we can better serve them to make their lives easier.

However, as many of you know, expats can be a notoriously independent bunch and like to make their own informed decision. With this in mind we're extremely excited to tell you that on Monday 21st March 2011, Expat Explorer will be launching a new interactive tool. The resource will contain the complete data from our 2010 survey and its three component reports: Expat Economics, Expat Experience and Offshore Offspring. As you can see by the screenshots below its going to give users the chance to interact with the survey on an unprecedented level.

Make sure that on Monday you’re one of the first to check out the tool and be sure to share it with all your expats friends or those who might be considering a move abroad!

If you moved abroad what would you want to know?


Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Comforts of John Lewis Home

We have often blogged about the things expats miss from food to the familiarities of home and the ways in which businesses and brands are targeting these longings. A growing number of websites now cater for the global community of expats supplying ‘home comforts’ to far flung corners of the world. However whilst previously these companies may have been fairly niche supplying Kiwis Vegemite or Brits Cadbury’s now we’re witnessing a growing number of big businesses getting onboard ensuring that much- loved brands needn’t be forgotten when you leave the country.


Yesterday one famous retailer caught our eye with its plans to extend its high street presence into countries with large numbers of British ex-pats. John Lewis a stalwart of British Retailing plans to invest around £233 million in targeted initiatives to ensure the expat community can benefit from its online site. John Lewis aims to offer e-commerce services in 27 countries including the US, Australia and Singapore within five months.

John Lewis MD Andy Street says that demand for John Lewis products is high enough within the expat community to warrant the expansion perhaps reinforcing the view that no matter how much we assimilate ourselves into our new surrounds we still desire the tastes and aesthetics from our home countries.

With John Lewis expanding the shopping experience to expats how long before others follow suit? Have you spotted any interesting brand engagement with the expat community? If so we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Expat Excellence featuring Nick Snelling

This week author of Culture Spain Nick Snelling shares with us his experiences of Las Fallas one of the most bizarre festivals Spain has to offer. This year’s Las Fallas starts next week, so if you are an expat in Spain make sure you don’t miss out!

Las Fallas one of Spain's most astonishing Fiestas!



Do you like the outrageous, the bizarre - the crazy?

Do you want to experience something wonderful that will so charm and humour you that you will not forget it during your lifetime?

If the answer is yes! (even a cautious yes!) – then you simply have to go to Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain to see one of the greatest fiestas in the world. Certainly, Las Fallas is nothing if not memorable and will, at times, literally take your breath away.



But what is La Fallas, I hear you ask?

Well, that is a tough question to answer simply, given the sheer complexity and scale of the fiesta. But, maybe, it is sufficient to state that it is when the people of Valencia Province erect giant (up to four storeys high!) decorative effigies in their streets and squares – and then set fire to them!

However, that is only part of the story, which can mask the terrific range of activities that occur during the Las Fallas fiesta, which lasts five days (always between the 15th to 19th March each year).



Whilst the burning of the effigies called (ninots) takes place at night on the 19th March, there are days of fabulous parades and processions, accompanied by bands playing deliriously fine music. Everyone is dressed in traditional Valencian costume (nothing like Falmenco) with street parties seemingly on every street corner. Meanwhile, there are nightly firework displays that will astound you with their complexity and sophistication.

Of course, you must not miss one of the oddest events of all, which is the mascaletá. This is a concert of fireworks that occurs at 2pm every day in the main square of Valencia city.

Incredibly, the mascaletá has nothing whatsover to do with the visual effect of fireworks and everything to do with noise - so much so that there is a competition to see which mascaletá is the noisest. Orchestrated like a symphony, the noise during a mascaletá rises to deafening levels that would be condemned within a war zone and that will leave you vibrating like a tuning fork for the rest of the day!



Needless to say, the Valencians love of fireworks (they are great devotees of them) spreads throughout every part of the Province. Everywhere you go during Las Fallas there are cracks and bangs and explosions, from morning to night, as the entire province joins in the riotous celebrations.

For colour and sustained excitement, Las Fallas is exceptional and a wonderful example of Spanish brio at its most extreme and needs to be seen to be believed!

So, if you are not doing anything really special next week then come to Valencia and prepare to be amazed....

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Debtors Deserted

In previous blog posts we have discussed some of the potential pitfalls of living abroad. From the currency swings in South Africa, to the property bubble in Spain, the fortunes of expats are often subject to many external influences. But among the factors we can consider before embarking on the search for a life abroad is something we might not usually account for: debt.

A recent Guardian article exposed the harsh realities of living with debt and the associated regulation in some parts of the world – in this instance, Bahrain. Caught between contradictory laws, a number of British debtors living in the Gulf nation, as a result of their debt, found themselves unable to work to service their financial obligations. Why not return to the UK? Because they are prohibited to travel, and under Bahraini law, those with a travel ban cannot renew their work permits.


The catch-22 situation has led to many UK expats finding themselves stuck in the region facing homelessness, depression, and in some circumstances imprisonment. Father-of-two, Tony O’Connor was made redundant from his job in Bahrain, in September 2008. In the darkest hour of the financial crisis, Tony was unable to find a new job. Owing 30,000 Bahraini dinars to three different banks, Tony had a travel ban imposed on him in December 2008. Since then, he has missed his sister’s funeral, been imprisoned, and is now living on 20 dinars a week.

With large numbers of foreign workers in the Arab Gulf, Tony’s case highlights the need for expats to do their research before moving so that they understand the regulatory environment into which they’re relocating and how they might be impacted should their situation change. Undoubtedly a life abroad can open up fantastic opportunities both culturally and financially but being aware of specific expat legislations is vital.

Have you got a story like Tony’s? If you have had a similar experience or know of someone who has, we would love to hear from you. Or if you would like to share some travel tips or any particular regulatory nuances you’ve come across, they would certainly be valued by other readers.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

When the Expat Plan goes down the Pan

We have often discussed planning a move abroad on this blog and have heard from guest bloggers about their tips for a successful expat assignment. But sometimes no amount of preparation can prepare you for the hardships you will encounter in another country, so what happens when things don't go according to plan?

A recent article on The Daily Mail Online looked into the lives of four expats who moved to Spain in search of a better life. However despite their careful plans the collapse of the Spanish property market has meant villa prices crashed, pensions have halved and they are now trapped in a foreign country and keen to return home. Their story is not an unusual one; the Spanish government estimates that there are 700,000 unsold new-build houses across the country providing an insight into just how much the property market has nosedived.


The Spanish enjoyed the 10 year property boom throughout the ninety’s and early noughties with demand from British expats a consistent theme. However, with the housing market now on its knees both prices and demand have tumbled with 100,000 villas already declared illegal and demolished.

And it’s not just the property market that has been hit, the rest of the Spanish economy is also suffering. The situation is just as bad for British expats who hit by the weakness of the pound have seen their savings and pensions drastically reduced. It is no wonder then that there has been a rise in repatriations as expats abandon their dreams of a place in the sun. But it’s not just Spain that has been hit by the credit crunch it has affected all of us at home and in expat communities the world over. However this shared experience will be little consolation to those facing a future in a foreign land with a diminishing nest egg.

Have you a got a story of how the expat dream turned sour? Or perhaps you and your family overcame adversity and stayed in your new home? Let us know your experiences or any top tips and advice you might have....







Friday, 4 March 2011

Expat Excellence with Tanya Crossman

Following last month’s blog post Offshore Offspring- Third Culture Kids or Expat Brats? we began talking to Tanya Crossman who works closely with TCKs in China. Tanya is an Australian citizen who has lived in Beijing, China, for 7 years. She is a youth worker focussed on the children of expats and contributes to Youth in Asia blog Here Tanya shares her insights into what it’s like growing up across cultures.

Third Culture Kids


Tanya with TCKs from USA, Canada, New Zealand and Hong Kong at a TCK camp in Beijing (October 2010)
I have been mentoring teenagers for over 11 years. I started out in my home country, Australia, but since moving to Beijing, China, 7 years ago I have come into contact with a special group of youth: TCKs. I’ve been working with TCKs since 2005, both in Beijing and on several visits to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I wouldn’t trade my time with them for anything.

TCK stands for Third Culture Kid. It is a term that refers to kids who spend a significant amount of their growing-up years in a country outside their “home” country. The phrase “home country” can be a bit misleading – better to say “passport country”. Although many of my kids have more than one of those, too.

Stefan has dual citizenship - from the US, his mother’s country, and Singapore, his father’s country - but his entire childhood was spent in Beijing. He was homeschooled in English and while he speaks conversational Chinese he is not fluent. When he started compulsory National Service in Singapore his family moved to the US; his possessions are now in a home he has never seen.

His is just one of many stories I could tell of kids living between countries, languages, races, and citizenships. The term “third culture” applies to this place in between – it is the blended culture these kids inhabit, somewhere between where they’re from and where they are. It’s no wonder they have more in common with each other than with teens in the countries they live in or the countries they’re “from”.

TCKs are different to the children of immigrants in that they have no expectation of settling – they will one day repatriate, often to a country they have spent very little time in. Their experience is very different to that of their expat parents, in that the parents have developed an identity in the home culture before venturing out into the world. TCKs spend the years they are developing their identity living between worlds.

One of the most distinctive features of TCKs is an uneven maturity. Most of the TCKs I’ve known can fit in wherever they need to – with adults, with teens, in different countries and settings. They acquire external behaviours as they do languages. Body language is just another language to add to their repertoire, with different dialects for different countries. Many TCKs can mimic maturity on the outside – they know what words to use, the facial expressions required, subtle gestures of confidence or submission or interest... whatever will project the image required in a specific situation.

In most monocultural teens, these external behaviours are acquired gradually, over time, as they grow in emotional maturity. In TCKs, these external behaviours are NOT signs of internal emotional maturity. The internal and the external are quite separate. This gulf between internal life and external behaviour creates a great loneliness in many TCKs. Many say that they feel no one understands them – except, perhaps, other TCKs. This makes the pain of the frequent goodbyes to close friends that much more painful.

I feel that one of my “jobs” in working with TCKs is to help them become aware of the areas where they are lacking, where they don’t have answers, where they feel hurt or sad or lonely inside. I try to create a safe space for them to express their internal life. I try to convince them of the importance of growing on the inside, not just looking good on the outside. One way I do this is by being vulnerable before them about my own hurts – exposing my own inner life.

TCKs have great potential. I truly believe their strengths outweigh their disadvantages. With some guidance from caring adults, to help them integrate their inner and outer worlds, TCKs are poised to do great things. I for one cannot wait to see all the wonderful things the hundreds of TCKs I’ve worked with will do in coming years.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Death of the Letter

Last month we posted a mini poll asking expats to tell us how they stay in touch with loved ones. This followed a recent blog post about expats prolific use of social media Social media a cure for loneliness? so we weren’t surprised to find that our thoughts were echoed in the results of the poll with the majority of you favouring Skype (26%) and Facebook (34%).

After including ‘letters’ as an option in our mini poll we spotted the tongue in cheek tweet from @culturebroker ‘wow, no one writes letters anymore’ which got us thinking, letters may not be a necessary form of communication in this digital world but does anyone still write them or for that matter hand write anything?

Technological advances since the advent of the telephone mean that we are now able to communicate instantaneously with people across the globe through a multitude of channels. So with Granny on Skype and your Great Aunty on email handwriting letters can seem anachronistic. Whether or not the written word still holds value seems like the perfect question to pose to the expat blogger community who all regularly commit thoughts to blog but does anyone still keep a diary? In a world where we don’t have to wait anymore to receive replies is there still a place for handwritten letters?

Looking in to this we came across an article on the BBC website about the Slow Death of Handwriting. Apparently the written word is becoming a rare commodity with the exceptions of a diligent few who mail out Christmas cards whilst the rest of us only put pen to paper to scribble notes to ourselves about collecting the kids from swimming practice.

It seems however that despite the predictions of the death of the written word it is something we still hold it dear. What house doesn’t contain a drawer or box somewhere filled with postcards from friends, love notes crumpled from re reading and those letters from that French penpal you had when you were 15?

So whilst we certainly won’t be relinquishing instant communication for a message in a bottle perhaps as expats we should look to set an example and write a diary entry as well as a blog now and then and if we get the time, post a letter, because nothing quite beats receiving one that isn’t another bill.

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