Thursday, June 30, 2011

Expat Yourself

Expat Yourself is your down-to-earth blog to answer the "why" and "how" of becoming an expat.  Especially intended for people who know their lives could be better abroad and would like to work abroad.  Expat Yourself collects and shares resources to help you make those tough decisions and take the first step.

My site is available here:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Which expat are you?

The one great advantage when you exercise is not only getting fit and in shape, but also that it gives your mind time to think.  My thoughts during my last session was on the different types of Expats that you get.  I am not referring to nationalities or cultures but more to the country that you find yourself being an expat in which can determine the type of expat you will be.

I determined that there are 3 types of expat country experiences:

1. When as an expat you move to a country that is similar to your own, but you are still culturally different, e.g. an American moving to Britain.  Fundamentally, you speak the same language, you eat similar foods, you have similar cultural habits and have watched movies or listened to music that is, can I say it again, similar.
However, even with these similarities there are differences too, they are minute but they are there. Whether it is a word that is different but has the same meaning, e.g. Barbeque to the South African Braai, or the way you address someone from a courteous "Hello, how do you do?" to "Hiya doin?" There are differences and you can feel and do experience these within the country. Your accent is also a dead giveaway and sometimes as an expat you are shunned purely due to this basic difference.

2. The country in between two extremes, this would be the expat that moves from e.g. Australia (English being the common language) to the Middle East.  Your official business language is English and most people would be able to speak and understand English, but you cannot do the same for their official language.  There is a commonality that exists as well, this host country has been exposed to Western culture through trade and industry, politics and commerce.  Sometimes these expats are more readily accepted as a foreign guest in their country. You are respectful of your host countries culture and traditions and are willing to emerge yourself into becoming part of the culture. 

3. Moving to a country that is the polar opposite to what you are used to, your nationality is completely and utterly different e.g. Argentinian moving to China.  The official language is one that most people will battle to learn, so when you are standing in a queue you haven't got a clue what is being said around you.  Your culture, traditions and habits are as vast as the Sahara Desert. You really have to acquire new skills and make major adaptations to survive.  As much as this type of expat experience can be rather a challeneg, it can have surprising advantages.  If you cannot understand the local language, it incentivises you to learn and forces you to be more adventurous and social in trying to fit in and develop a commonality with the local population.  Expats also tend to support each other more as everyone can feel the vast divide between locals and expats.  It allows groups of expats to formalize clubs that bind common interests and creates a social infrastructure of support.

There is another type of expat that we should include under number 3, this would be a person moving from e.g. China to America.  Commonly when a Westerner moves to a host country as an expat there are systems set up to support these people, e.g. compounds in which to live, social groups to belong to, etc.  However, this is not necessarily the case for non-Western expats when moving from their countries to e.g. America or the UK. These expats are not living in compounds or introduced to groups that are similar to themselves. They are often left to their own devices and need to find their own survival mechanisms. This type of expat experience could actually be the most difficult of all.

Which expat are you and are there more?

Denise is an Expat, Mom, Wife and Marketing Manager at a website that provides cost of living index information and calculates what you need to earn in a different location to compensate for cost of living, hardship, and exchange rate differences. The complete cost of living rank for all 300 locations for all 13 baskets is available here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What I wish I had known about becoming an expat

After blogging about the questions you should ask before and while you are becoming an expat, here are a few tips on the things you should know about becoming an expat.  You are going to get hundreds of different opinions on moving, sometimes it will feel like when you were pregnant and every other person in existence, even those ones that have never gone through the experience before, are willing to dispense great tips to you.  Take it all with a pinch of salt and select the advice that will best assist you in your decisions.

These are a few realities that I have picked up along my journey :

1. Will your marriage survive.
Let me clarify this statement, our marriage has been tested on many an occasion over the last 20 years.
Having our first child was probably the greatest test for us, going from being independent and care free for over 10 years together to having someone completely and utterly dependent on you was a shock.  I never wanted to be a parent, then one day I woke up and decided that being a parent was all I wanted to be.  I did not realize how much it would affect my husband (or not affect him) he continued through life, work and sport as though I was soley responsible for the little bundle of joy. Which I gladly did until I went back to work, then it had to become a joint partnership of feeding, diapering, cleaning and loving.  We were tested for sure in those first few months and came out of it all with shining colors.
Then came the second bundle of joy, this time baby number 2 was born with physical problems, we went through 2 horrific years of hospitals, doctors, specialists, operations and more of the same.  Our marriage survived all the late nights, the trauma, the emotional turmoil, soul destroying and moments of elation.
Becoming an expat is probably up there amongst those experiences, I remember standing in our kitchen after being in our new country for 4 weeks, hands on hips and shouting at my husband that this was not what I had signed up to do.  Tears streaming down my face with the realization that I had left everything and everybody that I loved thousands of miles away.  How could I possibly have even considered doing such an insane move.
I have in the interim heard of so many marriages that have not survived this type of a move. Wives that have not settled, continuously going home and leaving their husbands behind.  Husbands left behind, who are lonely and found other acquaintances to keep them company, culminating in affairs and divorces.  Children who have to live through unhappy marriages and fights.
Be sure that YOUR marriage can survive.  Our marriage has, it is stronger than ever before and our children are happy, but we have had to work at it.  We continuously share our highlights and disappointments with one another, we are open and honest in our communication and most of all we support each other especially when one of us is down and needs to be perked up.

2. What circumstances are you moving from and to
What are your circumstances at the moment, are you working 12 hours a day with 3 weeks of holiday a year, traveling 2 hours to and from work?  Are you living in a large home with a maid and gardener, with 6 weeks of holiday a year, 2 cars and very few worries? Are you moving because you are being transferred, relocated, promoted or because you are looking for a better job from the one you are in.  Perhaps you are leaving due to country circumstances, political or economic.
Consider all these factors and then look at your new set of circumstances and compare the two.  Make sure that you are going to be as comfortable as you were in your old circumstances.
We moved from a big 6 bedroomed home, with a maid who lived in her own cottage, a gardener and all the other luxuries you can imagine.  Every school holiday was spent on the road exploring new places (within our own country), my husband worked from home and could spend time with us, he could also go to school functions during the day, making the children's lives as important as our own.
As expat's we live in a much smaller villa than our old home, acquiring a maid took patience, time and it was a costly experience.

Our expat experience was fueled by the need to leave a country with a volatile political situation, where murdering someone is a common day occurrence and thought very little of.  We had decided to persevere more for our children's future than for our own.
We are happy with our decision and quite frankly a smaller home is a lot easier to maintain and makes me more vigilant in keeping the house tidy and eliminating unnecessary junk.  Recapping on the reason you have made your move can also help you during those times when you want to pack it all in and just go home.

3. Education
This was a tough one. You really need to find that school that suites your child, if you move to a remote town in the middle of Africa you may not have a choice, but if you have choices take your time and find the right school.
Our children were in private schooling back at home, the sport fields were immense, lush and green with views of the city, the classrooms were kitted out with the best of everything and the children were educated for University exemption.  Before we left we started the process of applying to schools, we had 6 weeks to pack and sell our belongings and move.  Our applications started in the June, a month before summer holidays were to begin.  Schools were filled to the hilt and there were no available spaces for our children to be slotted into at any of the schools we had applied to.  We took 10th best, and this was to ours and our children's detriment. The children lost out on a full years worth of education, as the school was not of a very high standard and it took us that long to find a better school for them to move to.  The schools in comparison to our schools at home are 2nd rate, very few have decent sporting, computer, music or science facilities.  Extra sport needs to be taken outside of the normal school curriculum, I was and am still not happy with the standard that they are receiving.  It was not the ideal situation and in retrospect we should have taken our time with the move. Keeping the children in the school that they were in back at home and having the non working partner remaining behind to look after them.
Boarding school in these circumstances could well be a better solution when the schooling is not of a high standard.

4. Logistics
Where you live in the new country is of the utmost importance.  After selecting the school, check on the distance your partner's work is from here, then find your accommodation.  It does not help if either of you are spending most of your day traveling, it is exhausting and results in a grumpy family.  Children also take strain when they are either in a bus or car for hours on end, just getting to and from school. Then they still have to do homework and after school activities.
Initially we moved into a villa that was on the outskirts of the city.  The school run was a 2 hour round trip, which meant 4 hours on the road for me, excluding after school activities which took place at other facilities which meant more travel time.  Now, include housework, homework and cooking into the equation and by the end of each day I was exhausted and had no energy to spend fun time with the family.
Route your daily travels and find a location that will suite all family members, and remember to keep a shopping center close at hand for those last minute shops you may need to do.
Relocation companies in your new location are experienced in helping you with the logistics of your move.

5. Finding friends
It is always tough to find new friends, unless you are the extravert type that can walk into a room and know everyone by the end of the evening.  Often you are faced with people from different cultures, languages and backgrounds to your own.  A good start is to find an expat group that is from your own country or in a similar situation to yourself, e.g. Being a New mom, there are always Mommy expat groups to join.  Then you could look at joining gyms, sport clubs or groups that have similar interests to yourself such as quilting, art, scrap booking, etc.
Find the groups that are going to interest you and your friendships will blossom, you need friends to help you through this new situation, to welcome you into a safe environment, to teach you the ropes.  Friends that can direct you to the hardware store or the best doctor in the area.

I hope my tips have helped you just a little bit, I know I would have liked to have someone guide and support me on this first expat experience.

Denise is an Expat, Mom, Wife and Marketing Manager at a website that provides cost of living index information and calculates what you need to earn in a different location to compensate for cost of living, hardship, and exchange rate differences. The complete cost of living rank for all 300 locations for all 13 baskets is available here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Seasoned Expat continued......

While you are preparing to make your move, find an expatriate website or bloggers that you can communicate with and help answer your questions about life in the new country and city.  These are essential support systems that you may find can help you to settle in when you arrive.  Many new expats find that they become good friends with some of the bloggers they come in contact with before arriving in the country.

You may also want to consider finding an expatriate company that can offer to assist you on your arrival, these companies will help you to find schools, accommodation, medical and health facilities, and give you a general idea of the layout of the land.  Many of these companies will facilitate you in obtaining Work Permits, Driver’s Licenses, Medical Cards, School applications, Spousal Work Applications, etc.  The more questions you ask and requirements you find, the more they can help you.  Certain companies offer this as a benefit, and it is worthwhile asking your new company to provide this for you.

We should have asked the following questions:
What extra benefits does the company provide, over and above the contract?
What paperwork should you bring with for official requirements?
Do you need work permits, visas, etc and what paperwork will the family require?
What can you bring into the country, e.g. you would not be allowed to bring alcohol and pork into a Muslim country, or certain foodstuffs or animals into e.g. Australia or the USA. 

Accommodation and School
What accommodation is available?  
Will the company provide accommodation?
If the company does provide accommodation, can we decide to choose our own instead?
What are the better areas to live in?
What are the rentals in these areas?
How far is work and school from the accommodation?
Which are the best International Schools?
What programs do the schools offer?
What will education cost? 
What after school activities are there and does the school provide these?
When are the schools holidays and how long are they?
Does the company have any agreements with any of the schools for their employees?
What are the universities like and can the children go to these?

What is the transport system like in the country, are their buses, trains, trams, etc that you can use to get to and from work and school?
If not is there a transport / car benefit?
Does the company help provide transport to and from work?
Do you require an international driver's license, or will you have to take a driving test?  How does this work?

What is there to do on a weekend?
What social and sport groups can you belong to?
Is there satellite television, and how much will it cost?

Hired Help
Is there hired help, e.g. house maids, gardeners, etc?
How much will it cost to have help at home?
How easy is it to hire help and what are the processes you need to follow?

How easy will it be for your partner to obtain work?
What recruitment agencies are there or websites can be used in the country to obtain work?

What will work provide
Will work help you to open a bank account or will you have to do this on your own, what is required?
Will work provide local medical aid, international medical aid, or managed health care?
How will this system work and what medical benefits are covered?
Will work provide life or other insurance cover?
Will work pay for education for the children and up until what age?
Will the company pay for the accommodation, water, electricity, rates, etc?
Will the accommodation be furnished or unfurnished?
Will work provide a furnishing benefit or loan?
Will the company pay for furniture to be brought over from your home country and if so how much?
Will the company provide a car allowance?
Will the company pay for tickets home once a year?
What is the cost of an air ticket back home?
How many days holiday will you get a year?

When is the best time to actually come over to start the assignment, e.g. starting work during the summer holidays in the northern hemisphere can be frustrating as many people take leave and you are left as the new person at work who needs guidance but there is no one around to provide this.  Also the children may find that there is no one to play with as everyone has gone away.

Will you be able to afford the move, will your salary cover the costs that you will incur in the new country?

Will your standard of living be the same as the country you have moved from?

The expats you make contact with before you leave will have the knowledge and experience of the country and will be able to answer most of the above questions. It is good to make sure you are happy with your intended move, company benefits, cost of living and new country.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Seasoned Expat

An image of a juicy piece of sirloin comes to mind that is ever so lightly seasoned and seared lightly on the outside but still rare inside and so it should be for the seasoned expat, moving from one country to another should be like a trip to your favorite restaurant with the finest meal placed before you without having to be in the kitchen to cook it.

However, as any expat can tell you from the outset becoming a nomad takes a considerable amount of expertise, experience and well earned years on the road.  Our travels as proficient expats still needs much to be desired, but we have encountered those that have been down this path many times and for many years. They divulge information regarding their travels with the knowledge that us novices wish we had when we first set out on our adventures.

Generally our conversations with other expats goes along the following lines: How long have you been here for?  Eliciting remarks of “Oooohhhhh, shame you will get used to it, it takes a bit of time”.  Little smiles of understanding lilt other expats lips as we all know what the new recruits are going through and just how they are feeling. 
Everyone takes their own time to settle and in their own way.

I know we would have made several different choices knowing what we know now from leaving our home to where we would stay on our arrival. Here are some of the questions that I have come across over the years, that can perhaps help those that endeavor to go on this voyage of expatriation.

I have broken this blog up into a series of questions that you need to ask yourself each step of the way, I will post each section of questions throughout the week.

Before you accept the assignment and are at home ask yourself the following:

1. Why do I want to become an expat, what is making me make this move?
Is this due to a career advancement, career move, or to move from a personal situation or country politics.  Make sure you are moving for the right reasons.

2. Will this be a good move for me and my family?
3. Will my marriage survive this move?
4. Will the family be happy?
5. Have I discussed all the details with them and what their needs are?
6. Have I included the children in the conversations?
7. Who is this going to benefit?

Initially, we discussed every detail about the move between ourselves, we went through the pros and cons, both financially and emotionally for the family.  Then included the children in our discussions and found a way for them to feel that they had made the decision, a smart move on my husband’s part. (If the children are too small then they cannot be part of this decision but if they understand how their lives will change then they should be included in the discussions).

Once each member of the family is in agreement with the move, then start asking the following questions:

Is the assignment an open one or a specific contract that will last for 2 or 3 years? 

This will help answer questions the following questions -
1. Should I sell my home or rent it out?
2. Can the animals come with, what are the laws regarding this?
3. What relocation company is the best to use for international assignments?
4. What furniture, clothes, personal belongings should we take with us?
5. Where is the country and city we are moving to, i.e. on a map? 
6. What do we know about this country?
7. What is the population, culture, religion, political situation and economy?
8. Is there a dress requirement e.g. having to wear an Abaya in Saudi Arabia, suite to work, etc?
9. What is the weather like?
10. What are the local people like?
11. How many hours will it take to get home (back to our own country) if we need to?
12. Is there a consulate for my country there?
13. How safe is it?
14. How many other expatriates live there and which countries do they come from?

Then consider your next plan of action, set dates for each of your objectives.
1. Selling / Renting house out
2. Finding a relocation / removal company
3. Finding an animal relocation company, if you are taking the animals with
4. Buying airline tickets
5. Settling any debts that may arise while you are away
6. Setting up a way to pay for any debts that may arise
7. Saying goodbye to family and friends
8. Selecting a family member or friend to deal with any business / banking issues that may arise

Answer these and I will post more for you to consider tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

From Paris with Love

Paris the "City of Love". Who has not wished to live in Paris once in their lives? There is a line in a Baz Luhrmann song called Sunscreen that goes "Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft." I think this applies to Paris too, perhaps the saying should be "Live in Paris once but leave before it makes you too French," unless you are French of course.

Paris has a magic about it that draws people. What is it about this city that is so special? Is it the notion that French people are undeniably romantic? Couples walking hand in hand along the Seine, sharing bread, wine and cheese in the gorgeous green parks, snuggling up on park benches in winter, whispering to each other in cafes! Or is it just that the French sound so unbelievably sexy when they speak?

I am not sure, but whatever it is I would love to live in Paris just once in my life. Paris has all the romantic attractions for me, I could imagine myself as an expat walking the streets, shopping at Galleries Lafeyette or Avenue Montaigne and Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré for the crème de la crème. Left bank or right bank you will have a ball.
Then there are the museums from The Louvre  (which could take your entire stay in Paris to get through), Musee D'Orsay and the Centre Pompidou.  The beautifully manicured parks will take your breath away and you could spend hours sunning yourself in deck chairs while life passes you by, from the elegant Luxembourg Gardens or Place des Vosges which is in the fashionable Marais quarter, and most importantly the Château de Versailles, which is opulent, fanciful and luxurious, the gardens cover more than 800 hectares - with woodland, ponds, fountains and statues. Picnicking is certainly one of the best Parisian past times that I have ever experienced.

Then there are the flea markets to browse, cafes and tearooms to experience, street markets, and last but not least the architectural wonders of the Eiffel Tower, The Opera House, Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre, Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, and Notre Dame Cathedral to name a few.  Oh Paris, you are calling.

This is certainly not where it stops, as living in Paris gives you access to the rest of the France and well, Paris may well take you a year or two to get through, and then there is the rest of the country to experience.
Certainly enough good reasons to want to be an Expat in Paris!

But what will Paris cost you if you decided to make a career move here? What are you earning and what would you need to earn to live it up in Paris and her night clubs?

Use's SPPP calculator which calculates how much you need to earn in Paris to compensate for cost of living, hardship, and exchange rate differences, in order to have the same relative spending power and as a result have a similar standard of living as you have where you live now. If, for example, you live in New York and earn 100,000 USD, what would you need to earn in Paris to have the same spending power?

Salary Purchasing Power Parity
Applying the cost of living difference based on what will be paid from salary, together with the hardship difference, and arbitrage exchange rate, the Xpatulator calculation is as follows:
Home/Current location salary100,000.00US Dollar (USD )
+ Cost of living difference 4.9121%4,912.08 US Dollar (USD )
+ Hardship Difference 0%0.00 US Dollar (USD )
Total104,912.08US Dollar (USD )
x Exchange Rate 0.7186

Salary in Host/New location75,389.82Euro (EUR )
This means, based on all the above factors, that you would require a salary of 75,389.82 Euro (EUR ) in France, Paris to have the same standard of living as currently enjoyed in USA, New York NY on a salary of 100,000.00 US Dollar (USD ). This salary compensates for the overall cost of living difference of 4.9121%, the hardship difference of 0%, and the exchange rate. 

Cost of living with

And to end off with Baz again:
Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life.....the most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don't.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

As an Expat how do you communicate?

As expats we are far away from the ones we love (maybe distance does make the heart grow fonder), our communication systems of today however do make our loved ones within our grasp even across the miles.

Having left home 3 years ago to follow the road of the expat for the very first time, those first few weeks away from home were the worst of my life.  We had sold almost everything, the beautiful home that I had spent 3 years renovating, our investment flats, our weekend home at the dam with our speed boat, the new plot at a much bigger dam that was meant to be our retirement home, and bits and pieces of furniture that we were not taking with us.  Everything gone in less than 6 weeks, our lives sold up and never to be returned to.  We were not only becoming expats but we were moving our family out of a country that we felt had no future for them.  We packed up our container with the bits and pieces we felt we had to hold onto, said our final goodbyes to our family and friends at the airport and boarded the plane to our new lives.

Little did I realize how lonely those first few months were going to be, we were in the midst of summer vacation, everyone had taken their leave and gone home to visit their families and we were sitting in 45 – 50C degree heat.  The kids had no one to play with, other than themselves and their 30 odd year old mother, we had no car, no clue where to go and have fun, no initial internet connection, no household help, and heat that was suffocating.  To say we were not very happy campers would be under estimating  the situation.  Imagine a polar bear at the equator, and that is probably half of how awful the experience was for us.

Then suddenly we were given a lifeline, the internet was installed in our villa, we were like children in a candy store, the possibilities were endless. My laptop became my communication tool out to the world.  Skype, Facebook, gmail, (email, call phone and chat), msn, yahoo, (email, phone and chat), then what about the Blackberry (where once you have a BB account you can text anyone anywhere in the world for no cost), then there is just the normal texting where there is a cost via your cell phone (these are only a few ways of communicating), all of these became my friends.  I skyped my best friend every day to get a piece of normality into my daily life.   My friend who I had gone to gym with every day  and shared a coffee chat with afterwards was gone, and now once again we could chat with a coffee in hand across the miles. She was my godsend for those first few weeks.  

Although my parents were not on Skype, we ensured that on our next visit home they were connected and up and running so that we could have visual contact with them whenever we could, which was also a godsend when my mother was diagnosed with cancer.  My ritual is to sms my mother and say, I am on skype tonight, 7pm your time 8pm mine…. Be there and we can have  a nice long chat.  All my sisters and friends are connected too and if we don’t get to skype we sure get to catch up via Facebook, be it with photos of what has been happening in their lives or merely a status update.  Little happens without me knowing about it the same day.

I sometimes think of those people who are on their adventures as expats in the Congo, or the Amazon or a remote island in the Pacific, where the internet has no connection, cell phones are foreign and satellite phones are the most likely way to communicate.  That connection to the outside world is of such importance to keep your sanity intact, it is interesting to imagine not having some form or communication around to have contact with your loved ones.

And let’s be clear, it is not only for expats but for people who find themselves living in another part of the country to those of their loved ones.  The East Coast USA versus the West Coast USA, North Australia vs South Australia, the miles are vast and the need for communication with loved ones will never fade. 

So what is your form of communication across the miles?? 

Denise is an Expat, Mom, Wife and Marketing Manager at a website that provides cost of living index information and calculates what you need to earn in a different location to compensate for cost of living, hardship, and exchange rate differences. The complete cost of living rank for all 300 locations for all 13 baskets is available here.