Monday, December 31, 2012

Get a work permit job in Germany

Move to Berlin, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Public domain photo
Apologies for the bad posting schedule during the holidays. As you can imagine, life was a bit crazy here. My wife's mother came down from Calais (northern France, on the coast) for Christmas. Despite the mother-in-law stereotypes, she and I get along quite well and we had a blast.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Overseas Exile blog!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas from here in Paris.
Christmas, Champs-Élysées
Christmas on the Champs-Elysées
Photo by Mathieu Marquer

In today's news, we have a Norwegian minister urging the UK not to leave the EU (note to Americans: in European politics, a "minister" often refers to a government official).

Friday, December 21, 2012

Flush French Fleeing France

Pardon the title, but I couldn't resist.

Dear America: this is what
a socialist really looks like.
Photo courtesy Jean-Marc Ayrault
Sadly, some rich French people are fleeing France due to President Hollande. Hollande, who once famously stated that he hates rich people, is pressing ahead with plans to tax rich people at 75% when even Hollande's advisors admit that the millionaire tax is merely symbolic and won't generate substantial revenue.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mailbag: bringing a gay partner to a foreign country

Today's mailbag post is from a reader in France. She's recently moved back home to France after living in the US and she wants to bring her American partner over. As usual, I've anonymized the information and posted with her permission.

Monday, December 17, 2012

An International View on Preventing the Gun Massacres

Constitution in the National Archives
Photo by Mr. T in DC.
The recent tragedy in Connecticut is heartbreaking. As an American parent living in France, I am relieved that France has only 0.06 people per 100,00 murdered by handguns every year, compared to the 2.97 rate in the United States. Guns are popular in France and we have the twelfth highest per capita gun ownership in the world, but the US handgun murder rate is almost 50 times that of France. This and numerous other bits of data show that there's not a clear correlation between the prevalence of guns and the prevalence of murder. This is a complicated problem and there is no clear solution, though doing nothing is also not a solution.

Given how divisive the issues involved are, is there anything we can reasonably do to make the situation better? Yes there is. In fact, I propose two solutions. One is pretty solid, but would likely face serious legal challenges. The other is less solid, but could probably be implemented quickly.

Given the well-known role of media in reporting on the shootings in Aurora, Clackamas, Columbine, and many other areas, it's often argued that much of the violence is copy cat in nature. In fact, the relationship between media and violence is fairly well studied (and controversial) and we definitely know that there are many copy cat murders either planned or committed. Many of us can name the murderers in these shooting sprees, but how many can name the victims? As Morgan Freeman (didn't) point out, a copy cat killer can "be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody." If "death by cop" is your preferred means of suicide, you might just find that compelling. And while we're talking about that, watch this:

So for the media to be truly ethical, one might argue that they shouldn't publicize the names of the killer or make them famous. However, with profit-driven media that's awfully hard to stop. Further, with freedom of speech, that's awfully hard to stop. Even if some news organizations do the right thing, some other news organization is going to publicize the names of the alleged perpetrators and get the ratings and thus the revenue.

France doesn't do media circuses the way the US does because the French courts and media do things a little bit differently. The Code de procédure pénale of French law states:
Toute personne suspectée ou poursuivie est présumée innocente tant que sa culpabilité n'a pas été établie. Les atteintes à sa présomption d'innocence sont prévenues, réparées et réprimées dans les conditions prévues par la loi.
Before I translate, let me just say that it's a pretty shocking concept, one which you may have some time wrapping your head around. French law basically says "you're innocent until proven guilty." Holy merde! Who would have thought that? (Actually it's an oft-repeated canard that in France, you're guilty until proven innocent, but that hasn't been true for centuries.)

Obviously, that text goes on for a bit longer, so what exactly does it say?
Any suspected or accused person is presumed innocent until he is found guilty. Damage to the presumption of innocence is prevented, remedied and punished as provided by law.
"Damage to the presumption of innocence"? What does that mean? While I confess I am not a lawyer, here's a recent news article which might shed some light. It's about the bombing of a kosher supermarket here in Paris. The alleged perpetrators are allegedly linked to "Islamist rebels in Syria."

In short, that scant bit of information is highly suggestive of a terrorist bombing here in Paris. Big, big news. That would be a huge media circus in the US. And who are the suspects? Who knows? The suspects are never named. They're just called "suspects" or "assailants". While the French system isn't perfect, you, as a suspect, won't find your photos on the front pages of papers. It's illegal to publish photos of you in handcuffs or police custody. That would (duh)  damage the presumption of innocence. Thus, there is no prejudicial perp walk coordinated between the police and the media. When it's time for a trial the police bring you discreetly into the court house through a quiet side entrance.

The media circus? We just don't have it over here.

Let's compare and contrast. Do you remember Richard Jewell? I didn't even have to look that name up because the US media burned it into my brain. He discovered a bomb on the 1996 Summer Olympics grounds, alerted police, helped evacuate, and was basically a hero.

And was immediately eviscerated by the press. Here's a snippet from his obituary:
Other media, to varying degrees, also linked Jewell to the investigation and portrayed him as a loser and law-enforcement wannabe who may have planted the bomb so he would look like a hero when he discovered it later. 
The AP, citing an anonymous federal law enforcement source, said after the Journal-Constitution report that Jewell was "a focus" of investigators, but that others had "not yet been ruled out as potential suspects." 
Reporters camped outside Jewell's mother's apartment in the Atlanta area, and his life was dissected for weeks by the media. He was never arrested or charged, although he was questioned and was a subject of search warrants.
We now know that an extremist named Eric Rudolph was guilty of this crime. Jewell's life was destroyed and he sued and settled with multiple media organizations for the damage they did to his reputation.

Or consider the Central Park Five rape case. A woman was raped in Central Park and several black and latino men were rounded up and had confessions coerced out of them by the police. Given the media frenzy before and during the trial, there was simply no way those men could have gotten a fair trial and they spent over a decade in prison before it was discovered that they were innocent: the original perpetrator confessed, the police coercion was unmasked and DNA evidence also helped.

I'll bet most of you know who this is.
How many of his victims would
you recognize?
So not only does identifying alleged perpetrators possibly incite copycat crimes, it has great potential to destroy the innocent via "trial by media". Hell, even if someone is responsible for the crime they're arrested for, don't they have a right to a fair trial? If I were sitting on the jury of the perpetrator of the Aurora massacre, while I, in theory, would think he deserves a free trial, I would also be thinking this bastard deserves to rot in prison for the rest of his life. I don't have much sympathy for murderers and I would never be allowed to be a juror on his trial. I can't imagine who could be an impartial juror in trials like this.

How can we claim that people are innocent until proven guilty if they're going to get labeled a suspect by the police, arrested, dissected in the media, paraded in a prearranged perp walk and then tried in the newspapers by the prosecutor and sit before a judge who has to worry about being reelected? Is there a possibility that this just might damage their presumption of innocence? That this just might impact their ability to receive a fair trial?

So here are two ways we can not only reduce copycat crimes, but also improve the integrity of the US judicial system at the same time.

First, make it illegal for the media to name suspects.

Before you start yelling "First Amendment", I hasten to remind you that in the US, yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theater is illegal because it represents a "clear and present danger" (the law on this topic has since been refined). In fact, the US limits speech for:
  • Incitement to crime
  • False statements of fact
  • Obscenity
  • Child pornography
  • Fighting words and offensive speech
  • Threats
  • Speech owned by others
Could we have another exception for the case of naming a suspect in a trial? Many of the restrictions on speech are specifically crafted to reduce gross harm to society. I can call you a jerk, but I can't issue a fatwa calling for your death. So what's the gross harm in naming a suspect? (note: gross harm is my term, not a legal one) Let's read part of the text of the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution (emphasis mine):
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed ...
Well, that's interesting. An unrestricted First Amendment creates a potential conflict with the Sixth Amendment. There is no way that the alleged Aurora murderer is going to have an impartial jury. When exercising one right guaranteed by the Constitution destroys another right guaranteed by the Constitution, there's a problem that wouldn't be unreasonable to address.

There's plenty of precedent for restricting the First Amendment when there's clear harm demonstrated. And frankly, I doubt you'd find too many people arguing that it's ok to distribute child pornography or issue fatwas inciting your followers to murder someone. So if an unrestricted First Amendment threatens the rights provided by the Sixth Amendment and it might help to incite the murder of twenty innocent little children and six adults in a small Connecticut town, I think I'm OK with saying that defendants can't be named by the press.

But I mentioned two ways of addressing this problem. The second way is to tell the police they can't name suspects unless failure to do so demonstrably harms their case. Right off the bat, the police would be in an uproar. I'm sure some of them like calling the newspapers and TV stations and telling them when a suspect will be humiliatingly paraded around in handcuffs. Also, if the police can't find a suspect, naming the suspect is probably needed to ensure the suspect is caught.

We could also forbid the perp walk and generally direct the police to avoid any media which might reasonably impact a defendant's Sixth amendment right to a fair trial. Is this perfect? Nope. But perhaps we could at least start changing the culture around how defendants are treated and making it more socially unacceptable to name them. They get a fairer trial and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold don't become household names. It's a win-win situation.

Well, except the media want their sensationalism and the police probably wouldn't enjoy being told how to handle their investigations. Oh, and pitting the First and Sixth amendments together won't win a huge amount of sympathy due to many people thinking "bastard's who get arrested deserve what they get."

But as I pointed out in my personal blog, the right to bear arms is a contentious issue and nobody's doing a damned good job of addressing the problem, but by better protecting the accused, we can perhaps sidestep a debate that we know is probably not going to be won and maybe, just maybe, start chipping away at the culture of violence in the US.

So love 'em or hate 'em, let's borrow une page from the French playbook and skip the media circus.

As an added bonus today, while I've explained that posting photographs of suspects in handcuffs or in police custody is illegal in France, I didn't explain their mechanism for not printing suspect's names.

That's because there isn't one. It's part of French culture. A friend of mine who works for French Television explained it to me this way: "when we cover a story, we ask ourselves what is the minimum amount of information needed to tell the story." She explained that though the culture is changing, the French media generally respect the presumption of innocence and don't name suspects. Obviously that's not going to fly in the US now, but could we try to inject this into US media culture? In the journalist code of ethics it's written "Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed." Journalists already know they're a threat to a suspect's fair trial. Perhaps it's time to have them revise their ethics code.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Travel the world for free (or cheap)

can8602_07, Temple of the Warriors, Chichen Itza, Maya Ruins, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Chichen Itza
Photo by Jim G
Many would-be expats I talk to say they would move "anywhere" and while that's not a bad answer — who am I to argue with a sense of adventure? — it's also a bit of a problem because it's a touch more difficult to plan for "anywhere", so why not plan for "everywhere"? I know that many of my readers have serious ties that they can't (or won't) just give up, but for those of you with an independent lifestyle and an adventurous mindset, why not see it all?

Graham Hughes has traveled the entire world, on a shoestring budget, without using a plane. It took him almost four years to do so and he spent about $100 per week. When I say "the entire world" I mean "every country on the planet". I have friends who have traveled all over South America and Europe on just a handful of money. In fact, if you really have courage, dumpster diving can keep you fed in many of the wealthier nations.

Or you can read about Benny Lewis of Fluent in Three Months, another traveller who explains how to travel the world on a shoestring budget.

The Guardian has a short article on how to travel the world on a budget. The Matador Network carries a similar article. Verge Magazine has yet another. Heck, hit your favorite search engine and look for travel the world for free and you're going to be inundated with different strategies. There's an embarrassment of choice. It's the difference between wishing you could see the world and getting off that chair and doing it. What's stopping you?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Canada's new "skilled trade" immigration program

Downtown Vancouver Sunset
Vancouver, Canada. I've been there and it's lovely.
Photo by Magnus Larsson
If you have at least two years of experience in a skilled trade, such welding, pipe fitting, plumbing, and other trades, Canada wants you to immigrate.

Prior to the economic collapse, many Canadian banks were upset that the Canadian government didn't allow them to pursue the "easy money" that many deregulated banks in the US and other countries were getting. By having a strictly regulated banking industry that was not, amongst other things, allowed to give out tons of loans to people who could not pay them off, Canadian banks missed out on the financial windfall that many world banks were experiencing.

It also means that Canadian banks missed out on the collapse of much of the world banking industry. Canadian unemployment since 1980 has generally been higher than that of the US, but in 2008, the roles were reversed and Canada's unemployment has been much lower than that of the US.

Today, however, many Canadian businesses are facing a shortage of tradespeople for their oil and gas industry and the government has responded. The Web site lists the basic qualifications for the new program:
  1. have an offer of employment in Canada or a certificate of qualification from a province or territory to ensure that applicants are “job ready” upon arrival;
  2. meet a basic language requirement;
  3. have a minimum of two years of work experience as a skilled tradesperson, to ensure that the applicant has recent and relevant practice as a qualified journeyman; and
  4. have the skills and experience that match those set out in the National Occupational Classification (NOC B) system, showing that they have performed the essential duties of the occupation.   In order to manage intake, avoid backlogs and ensure fast processing times, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will accept up to a maximum of 3,000 applications in the first year of the Federal Skilled Trades Program. 
Oh, and Canadian single payer health care is awesome!

Monday, December 10, 2012

US Congress Again Going After Expats

Hammer365: 087/278 Taxes Are Done!
US Tax Forms photo by David Reber
US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is one of the people pushing FATCA, the onerous law which is, in theory, designed to catch overseas tax cheats. In a Treasure Department press release regarding FATCA, Geithner is quoted as saying (emphasis mine):
Today’s announcement is an important milestone in our joint efforts to combat offshore tax evasion and make our tax systems more efficient and fair. This agreement implements FATCA in a way that is targeted and effective, while also providing a foundation for further international coordination.
So, FATCA is about catching tax cheats, right? How many people remember that in Geither's 2009 Senate testimony on his confirmation hearing, Geithner apologized for not paying $34,000 in taxes. Apparently forgetting $34,000 in taxes was a "careless mistake" (his words, not mine).

And then there's Senator John Kerry, the former Democratic presidential candidate, who was one of the senators who introduced FATCA. Seems he owns a 76-foot New Zealand-built Friendship sloop with an Edwardian-style, glossy varnished teak interior, two VIP main cabins and a pilothouse fitted with a wet bar and cold wine storage. However, he berths this yacht in a state he doesn't live in and, as a result, dodged almost half a million in sales tax and about $70,000 a year in excise taxes. Meanwhile this multi-millionaire tax dodger is going after alleged offshore tax dodgers.

Or you may remember Representative John Tierney, a man who has tried to bankrupt US expatriates living abroad by forcing them to pay full taxes to both the US and their country of residence. He may be clean, but John Tierney's wife was convicted of tax fraud. Millions of dollars were involved and both the Representative and his wife deny knowing about the alleged fraud (though she pleaded guilty). She got a mere 30 days in jail for this.

While it's mildly interesting that so many tax dodgers are so gung ho about going after alleged foreign tax dodgers, why bring this up again? Because there's another bill before Congress to remove the Foreign Earned Income Exemption. If the bill passes, the FEIE would be phased out over five years. Removing the FEIE would bankrupt many Americans and force them to move back to the US. Do Americans at home really want a bunch of bankrupt, unemployed Americans moving back and competing for already scarce jobs? (I could talk about fairness, but it doesn't appear to be an issue that resonates with many homelanders when it comes to expats).

Given that most expats abroad didn't even know about the US's unique practice of taxing her citizens abroad, you might think that the IRS would offer some sort of program to help people straighten out this mess. Unfortunately, they haven't. The Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative, or OVDI, was an attempt by the IRS to help expats, but OVDI, like its successor, OVDP, starts as a criminal process and you, the hapless expat, have to prove your innocence (and pay $8,000 to $16,000 for the cost of preparing eight years of tax returns). Or you could pick the new, streamlined process where the IRS offers a true amnesty: but only if you meet vaguely defined criteria. If you don't, you're not even eligible for the OVDI programs.

In short, the IRS has never offered a true amnesty for the millions of Americans abroad who are caught in this mess.

Oh wait! That's not quite true. The IRS has, once, offered a true and full amnesty to US tax payers with assets abroad. In 2009, wealthy Americans who were knowingly hiding money in Swiss banks were offered the opportunity to declare their Swiss assets and face no criminal prosecution.

Now think about that very carefully: FBAR, FATCA, the Ex-PATRIOT act and the repeated attempts to destroy the FEIE are all attempts by the US Congress to go after the alleged hordes of wealthy Americans abroad. Yet the only amnesty offered to the people caught up in this mess specifically targeted those the US Congress was going after.

Why yes, I do have a problem with that.

Update: How could I forget Representative Charlie Rangel, the sponsor of FATCA? How does Charlie Rangel keep his job when he repeatedly gets caught not paying his taxes?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Top Ten Expat Myths

Egypt-5B-023 - Approaching Aswan
Nile River, Egypt
Photo by Dennis Jarvis
There's a huge amount of misinformation about expats and expat lifestyle. This list is a bit US-centric, but hopefully it will clear up a few things.
  1. Expats are rich

    If there is any expat myth that I despise, this is the one. Thanks to plenty of articles out there insinuating that we're just a bunch of greedy rich buggers renouncing our citizenship to protect our wealth, there's often a powerfully-expressed hatred about us. We're labeled traitors with more than a tinge of envy coming across in the accusations. In reality, we're teachers, waiters, programmers, husbands, wives, taxi drivers, bankers, construction workers. In short, we're as diverse as you'll find back home and, like you, we're often struggling to make ends meet.
  2. Expats hate America

    Really? I can't find many who do. In fact, in one study of Americans living in Europe (disclaimer: I was a participant in this study), researcher Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels found that only 4.5% of Americans living abroad cited dissatisfaction with the political system back in the US. Like many Americans, we have a diversity of political views, but unlike most Americans, we get to see first-hand what the rest of the world is like and it turns out that it's quite a bit different from how the US news likes to describe it. For example, the health care "debate" in the US was a joke and even conservative Americans I've met living in Europe acknowledge that things are far better here than what you'd read about in the US media.
  3. You have to have a college degree to move abroad

    Nope. Nope, nope, nope. For most STEM (science, technology, engineering, medicine) fields, yes, you need a college degree ... just as you would if you stayed in the US. However, there are plenty of expats who have traveled the world with only a high school education or a GED. Get a TEFL certificate and teach English. Check out couch surfing. Read about wwoof. Some people just buy a ticket and go (reckless if you don't know what you're getting into).
  4. English is fine

    While I expect this from tourists, I also see this in some expats. Because English has effectively become the world language, people think they can use it everywhere. Now imagine living in Burundi and trying to make an emergency call to a doctor on a Saturday night. Imagine living in Sri Lanka and getting all of your bills in a Sinhala or Tamil. Even if you can get by as a tourist by pointing and miming, living somewhere is a whole different ball game, even in countries where the majority of the population speak English as a second language.
  5. I'll learn the local language

    So you know English isn't enough and are determined to learn the local language. Hah! For some reason, plenty of expats don't bother. Maybe they think they'll be temporary residents. Maybe they just don't care.  Or maybe they just don't try hard enough of find they don't have much time. I have to confess that while I can get by in French, having a full-time job and being a father makes it hard to apply myself to learning French. However, for a country which does not have English as the first language, learning the local language is the best thing you can do to integrate.
  6. It's a dangerous world out there

    Actually, it's not. There's a saying that the news reports the planes that crash and not the planes that land safely. Thus, people who only get their information from watching the news get a very distorted idea of air safety. (Heck, this entire post could be about "how the news gets everything wrong about expats", but that's not always true) The reality is that even in some of the most dangerous places of the world, you're pretty safe (and yes, that largely means Mexico, too. Listen to the news too much and you'll think there are maybe three people left alive in Mexico city, stumbling around and trying to hide).
  7. People in country X are rude/friendly/some other stereotype

    People in the Netherlands have a stereotype of being cold and unfriendly. I can promise you from first-hand experience that this is not true. People in Paris have a reputation for being snobs and refusing to speak English even if they can. In reality, many of them speak broken English and are embarrassed about it. People in the UK have a reputation of drinking 24/7. Well, that one might be true.

    Stop listening to the stereotypes and start paying attention to reality. It turns out that people are, well, people! Yes, there are cultural differences that one can note, but within any given culture there's a huge diversity of people and trying to lump all of them together under one banner is not only silly, it's offensive.
  8. It's like a 24/7 holiday!

    The French have a saying, métro, boulot, dodo. It means "subway, work, sleep". That's how they describe their day to day life. And unless you're one of the vanishingly small number of "rich" expats, that will be your life, too, just as it is back in the US. You'll look forward to having time off to be with friends or to travel a bit, but your life won't magically turn into a fairy tale.
  9. Life is better/worse in country X (I'd never want to live anywhere else!)

    I always want to scream when I hear people I went to school with in Texas say "I'd never want to live anywhere but the good ol' US of A!" All I can think to say is "how would you know?" These are often awesome, intelligent, kind-hearted people who nonetheless have no idea what the rest of the world is like or what it is to live in it. Though I will grant them one thing: if you start with the assumption that you'd hate the rest of the world, it's more likely to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    That being said, there are those who are convinced that the grass is greener everywhere but where they are standing. In reality, whether a country is "better" often comes down to two things for most people: their personal value system and whether they've made the effort to build a life there (surprisingly, many expats have not). When that first bout of homesickness kicks in, you may quickly re-evaluate whether or not the grass is greener where you've moved to.
  10. My kids will love it

    This one is dangerous and many expat parents don't treat this problem with the seriousness it deserves. Does your child speak the language of where you're going? Are they old enough that their friends and social structure are more important to them than your need for adventure? It's one thing to take your five year old with you to Chile. It's another thing entirely to take your fifteen year old away from his friends. Particularly by the time your children are entering puberty, think very carefully about this decision and involve them in it!
Being an expat is a wonderful thing and I (obviously) encourage everyone to consider it. There were few things in life more wonderful than sitting on the bank of a Dutch canal, eating bitterballen, drinking Grolsch and debating politics with my Dutch friends. Of course, meeting a lovely woman in London, getting engaged to her in Lisbon and getting married in Tower Bridge would qualify as one of those things.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Learn a new language in a day (sort of)

If you want to be an expat, there's a good chance that learning a new language is going to be important. Rather than pay for overpriced, overhyped language tools, you can have a far lower budget and get better results by knowing where to look on the internet (there's at least one language software package out there which is famous, expensive, absolute rubbish and will suck you in due to the sheer force of its advertising budget. Do some digging and you'll find it).

il y a mille et une façons de grandir / many ways to grow up -2-
I'll bet English is not their first language
Photo by Christine Vaufrey
Lingala, for example, is an obscure (outside of Africa) African language. Joshua Foer learned Lingala in 22 hours. Now, before you cry foul, read the article. In short, Joshua used a site called memrise and spent a few minutes a day over a span of about three months. Though hardly fluent, he learned Lingala well enough to communicate with native speakers.

Joshua claims to not be skilled with languages, but memrise uses a technique called spaced repetition (along with bizarre memory associations) to help you memorize things. Serious language students have been heading to the site in droves. There's a huge amount of research out there on what helps people learn and memorize things better and while our school systems are largely ignoring much of this research, the Web is not and that's to your advantage.

Due to the nature of spaced repetition, when using memrise you can't "cram" for a language and are forced to spread out your learning over time. Fortunately, this means that you don't burn out too quickly. So far, I've already found myself in a French conversation where my studying on memrise has paid off. memrise is a relatively new site and they're still improving it, but so far it's great.

You still don't believe me? Try the Guardian Challenge. In 10 short steps, you'll learn how to order off of a Chinese menu ... in Chinese! You'll be able to order 鸡蛋炒饭 without a second thought and can decide for yourself whether or not memrise is for you.

Another new site, one I've not tried but which is also popular amongst language geeks, is Duolingo. Sign up for your free account there and you will be tasked with translating Web pages. You'll only be shown text at your level and as you improve, you'll get progressively more complicated texts. Instead of learning individual words, you'll be burning the grammar into your brain and really learning how to read.

While I'm not a fan of Lifehacker (mainly due to its being part of the Gawker network), they do have some interesting articles about language learning. One is I learned to speak four languages in a few years. The author claims his method has gotten him to C1 (advanced speaker) language proficiency in five months (that's stretching credulity a bit). Just about everything he says seems to ring true, but I'd be tempted to replace the Anki deck with memrise.

Another great article is How I learned a language in 90 days. It also has plenty of great advice. The author does not claim that you'll be anywhere close to fluent in three months, but following his advice, you should know about 3,000 words in the target language. Depending on the language you choose, 3,000 words is going to cover about 75% to 85% of the words in common use for a given language. That should allow you to at least get by in most situations.

But so what? You're moving to Rotterdam and you're told everyone speaks English. Or your going to teach English in South Korea and you're told that you don't need to learn Korean.


Never is not a word I like to use casually (unlike "bullshit", apparently), but if the native language isn't English, you can never truly integrate unless you understand that language. How do you handle that recorded voice on the phone? What do you do if your bank's Web site isn't translated to your language? How do you feel when you're at a party and your local friends break out Youtube and are all laughing at something that you can't understand? You're sick in the middle of the night, it's an emergency, but you don't know how to call a doctor. What then?

Learning the language not only makes your life easier, but it also makes it easier to understand the culture. There are plenty of things in both English and French which don't translate well into the other language, but once you learn them, you'll gain a better insight into your new world.

If you decide to get serious about learning a new language, start hanging around the language learning community (Reddit's /r/languagelearning is a good start) and pay attention to what's going on. You'll quickly learn that serious learners find spaced repetition invaluable. Using that to master that first two to three thousand words will give you a great start. I would recommend starting with Pimsleur courses to get a good handle on pronunciation and grammar (it uses a variant of spaced repetition), along with memrise to supplement some of the writing and vocabulary deficiencies of Pimsleur. Stick with this approach and you'll be up and running in no time!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Raising a bilingual child

My wife and daughter, floating down the Seine in Paris
For parents planning on being expats, raising a bilingual child is often one of the benefits. In today's world, speaking more than one language is often the key to getting that opportunity you wanted. Contrary to what many people think, though, speaking a foreign language probably won't get you a job (plenty of people probably speak whatever language you've bothered to learn), but not speaking that language may be the deal breaker.

But back to children. Quite a number of studies have shown that children who are raised bilingual tend to outperform their peers in school, are better at multi-tasking and being bilingual may help protect against Alheimer's. Expat parents are giving their children an immeasurable gift with multiple languages.

Part of the downside of this is that bilingual children tend to acquire vocabulary later than their peers, largely due to having to split their vocabulary between languages. There is, however, one aspect I notice that others tend not to talk about as much: being the parent of a bilingual child. It's a fact that for many couples, the child is going to be better at speaking the primary language of the other parent. I am that other parent.

Our daughter's first "word", if you will, was "thank you". We have been very careful to be appropriate role models for our daughter and it was very rewarding having her learn to say "thank you" when we would hand her something. She's since mostly forgotten that, but we hope to continue with this.

She also often says "please" if she really wants something (though often with prompting), but this is mostly the extent of her English vocabulary. We live in France and our daughter spends a lot of time with a French child minder, so it's natural that French is going to be the first language. I confess that this makes me a touch nervous. Is my daughter going to learn to speak the language better than I? Well, probably, but I have a some time on this one.

The other day she was running from room to room, chasing after a cat and waving a piece of sausage at it, while yelling tiens, tiens (take, take). It was super adorable. She also recently made her first sentence. When she realized that her mother and I weren't going to get her a pretty ball she saw in the store, she pointed at the ball and said ça moi (that me). That pretty ball is now at home.

I've no idea how well her English will progress. We speak to her in English every evening and many of her books are in English, but we're in France. Her relatives here are all French. She adores watching Petit Ours Brun, a French children's show (each episode is only 3 minutes long. We don't let her watch much). Even though we live in France, somehow it never quite entered my mind that mine would be the minority language.

Update: Ever since I arrived home from work, my wife has been pointing out every English word that our daughter knows. There are quite a few more than I thought!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

US Renunciation Numbers Aren't Adding Up

I've been tracking US renunciation rates for a while but lately I've been seeing numbers that don't make any sense. The Federal Register lists 1,009 Americans who have renounced their citizenship this year. Even though we still have to wait for another quarter's figures, this is still a sharp drop from last year's 1,781 total. However, the US Embassy in Switzerland claims it has processed 411 renunciation requests in that that time period. As near as I can estimate, Switzerland has somewhere between 2% to 5% of the US expat population. To imagine that they comprise over 40% of total renunciations is quite a stretch. However, it turns out that we might actually be able to reconcile these numbers.

Hope is a belief in a positive outcome...
Photo by Vince Alongi
We have an article from Fox News with the ridiculous title Americans Renouncing Citizenship at Record Levels to Protect Wealth. I won't go into detail as I've covered this in many posts before, but I've been following this issue for a long time and it's not greed driving Americans abroad, but the word "greed" makes for great headlines at the expense of expats.

So while the Fox News article has a sensationalized title, it also has one very intriguing tidbit:
As many as 8,000 US citizens are projected by immigration officials to renounce in 2012, or about 154 a week, versus 3,805 in 2011, or about 73 per week.
I want to know who those "immigration officials" are. Those renunciation numbers are far greater than the official renunciation numbers, but they're much closer to my estimate (er, guess) of four to six thousand Americans annually renouncing their citizenship. In short, the current year's renunciation data published in the Federal Register seems much lower than it should be and with only one quarter of reporting left, we have to see a threefold increase in renunciations for that quarter to beat last year's renunciation figures. This is confusing because every indicator I've come across — except for the Federal Register — suggests that renunciations are increasing.

Naturally this makes me suspicious of the Federal Register numbers. Americans abroad with whom I've spoken who've told me they're trying to renounce their US citizenship have also told me about waiting weeks and months to get appointments to do so. Consulates are claiming a backlog of renunciants jamming the system and one financial firm reports handling a 22 percent increase in this year's renunciation requests. That's rather odd given the Federal Register's reported drop in this year's renunciations. Something isn't adding up here. However, if the 8,000 renunciation number reported by Fox News is correct, than Switzerland's reported renunciations drop to around 5% — roughly proportional to the number of US expats living in Switzerland. That makes a lot more sense.

For a slightly more balanced view of the situation with US renunciants, I recommend reading this article, along with its comments.

Or to see a first-hand account of the damage US law is causing US expats, read about how Victoria found herself paying $9,000 in taxes this year to the US government, despite not having lived there in over 20 years, having no assets in the US, receiving no benefits from the US government, but being taxed by the US on her French unemployment benefits.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Life in Panama as an Expat

Today's guest post is from Elizabeth Vance and she talks about what it's really like to live in Panama.

My name is Elizabeth Vance, and I’ve lived in the Republic of Panama now for five years.  My family and I relocated here when my company transferred me here, to open their Latin American headquarters office.  We live in Panama, which is the only big city in the country (pop. 1.5 million), and my husband and I both work in the city, as well.  (Panama City is like New York City – you only refer to it as Panama, Panama and don’t actually use the word ‘city’.)

Panama City Skyline
Panama City Skyline
Photo by Marissa Strniste
We are U.S. citizens, and we maintain our citizenship, though we are now working on getting our permanent residency in Panama too.  When we originally came to Panama, we thought of this opportunity as an adventure.  We thought we’d stay for two to three years.  We’ve stayed beyond that partly of the professional success we’ve enjoyed here, and partly because we have grown to love this tiny country.

The professional opportunities we’ve found here are almost unlimited.  Because this is a developing nation, many of the industries and services you get accustomed to in the U.S. do not exist yet.  Or they are coming, but there’s little competition.  That’s the reason Panama has begun to emerge in the minds of so many multinational companies in the past five years – because of that opportunity.  And, of course, it’s the gateway for global commerce with the Panama Canal.  The Canal is currently undergoing a $5.2 million expansion, which when complete will triple its current capacity.  This means even more possibilities exist for commerce and business in the next few years, and beyond.

The photos you’ll find of Panama (the city) show the impressive skyline, and the Canal.  Promotional websites laud the international banking system, affordable real estate and flashy hotels.  You may recall that a whole season of the popular U.S. TV series Survivor was filmed in Panama in Bocas del Toro, on the Caribbean side, several years ago.  Or that the world got a glimpse of Panama in 2002 when she hosted the Miss Universe about ten years ago, showcasing lovely ladies in bikinis on virgin beachfronts.

That’s all well and good, but what’s it like to really live here as an expat?  Of course, the answer to that can’t be summed up in one article, but I’ll outline a few things here, which most expats want to know when they’re considering Panama for their new home.


The official language in Panama is Spanish.  About 15% of the native population speak English in some way, shape or form.  Which means that the rest of the population does not.  In Panama (city) and in the touristy areas – the hotels and the touristy restaurants – you’ll find you can get along without any Spanish.  But in the rest of your life (if you move to Panama), you’ll find you need it.  It’s that simple.  (I talk more about this in my book which was recently published on Amazon Kindle, titled The Gringo Guide to Panama: What to Know Before You Go.)

Standard of Living

Real Estate

If you move here from the U.S. or from Europe, or a more developed country, you’ll likely be pretty taken aback at the available real estate.  Yes, the photos you will find on websites are lovely and taken from the best angles and so forth.  They are promotional, after all.  However, the quality of construction in this country is very different from any of those places.  The methods of building here can assure that the structural capability may be safe to live in; however, Panama struggles when it comes to sophisticated finishes – both interiors and exteriors.  When you find really nice finishes, or nicer construction, you can expect that it will come at a premium, because it’s a limited commodity.

This means two things for expats when they rent or buy a place to live here:
  1. You can definitely find affordable real estate, but it’s important to visit before you purchase.  Take time to get every bit of information you can about the developer, the construction of the home or condominium, the neighborhood, the home itself, and the warranty.    Look at what the offer is to make sure that what you are getting is worth the price you’ll be asked to pay.
  2. You can expect that when something is really nice – the price will also be much higher.

Now, at the same time, where else can you live – in an urban city, in the Tropics – and have a high-rise, spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean?  Right.  So, there’s a trade-off.

Food and Services

Your food bill will run about the same.  That’s because processed foods or anything packaged has to be shipped in – nothing is manufactured in Panama.  But, your fresh fruits, vegetables and all kinds of fish and chicken are all grown locally and those will be cheap.  We’ve found it balances out, and our grocery bill is about the same as it was in the U.S.

For services, you’re in luck.  Labor is cheap in Panama at the moment.  Which means you can afford luxuries you couldn’t back home – a full-time maid, a driver, a gardener, weekly massages, $15 haircuts, and so on.  This alone makes Panama really attractive for a lot of people, and it’s one of the lifestyle advantages the culture offers.

Safety & Security

Is Panama safe?  Yes, it is.  It is an adjustment for most expats to see uniformed officers on the street with rifles, bulletproof vests and machine guns, but this is the norm here, and not to be feared.  The levels of security are different from other places, but overall, Panama is very safe.


Most expats that move to Panama find that overall their daily habits are similar to wherever they came from.  For those that work, you still get up and go to an office five days a week.  But, maybe on the weekends, instead of doing whatever you did at home, you now have access to two oceans within a two-hour drive for relaxation.

Eating out in Panama is less expensive than most cities in the U.S. and in Europe, so that for some, that adds a nice differential.   Water is safe to drink from the tap.  You’ll shop for your food at a supermarket when you live in the city.  The roadway infrastructure as a whole is much more sophisticated than anywhere else in Central America.  Most condominium buildings (and many homes) come with swimming pools.  Shopping options include the choice of four malls in the city.  Much of the day-to-day life is the same as in other places, and these things add up to an attractive offering for many people.


With the Atlantic Ocean on the north side of the country, Panama has had significant Caribbean influence over the years.  The culture shows this.  The pace of life is much slower than in developed nations.  Processes are slower.  Things take longer.  This is often a big cultural adjustment for many expats, but with time, they learn to enjoy it.

Is Panama right for you?

There are many, many things to evaluate when you’re evaluating Panama as a potential place to live.  It’s an interesting, unique little place, which has a lot to offer, but it’s not for everyone.  Much of your success in finding your new life in Panama has to do with managing your expectations about your life here will be.

I cover that topic, as well as the others I’ve touched on here, and many other relevant aspects about the country in my new book, The Gringo Guide to Panama: What to Know Before You Go.   Now available on Amazon Kindle, it covers all the nuances of living in Panama that I wish someone had outlined for me, as an expat, before we chose to move here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Buying Citizenship in Hungary

Fisherman's Bastion
Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary
Photo by Eduardo Fonseca Arraes
Last Wednesday we talked about Spain offering residency for house buyers, but would-be expats may want to take a look at Hungary. Hungary may go a step further. Hungary might offer citizenship for those buy €250,000 in government bonds. That's right — citizenship, not residency.

Mind you, if Hungary's economy holds, you (theoretically) won't even lose your money! Like the Spanish opportunity, this potential expat haven is happening because Hungary is struggling financially and trying to figure out how to deal with the financial mess that it's in. Unlike the Spanish opportunity, would-be expats wouldn't have to fear the locals getting too upset because you wouldn't be kicking anyone out of their homes. However, the European Union is not happy with Hungary. That's because gaining citizenship in one EEA (European Economic Area) country pretty much means you can live and work in any of them. Can't have those pesky rich Chinese moving next door, eh? Oh, and did I mention that, like the Spanish option, it's designed to attract the Chinese? Nobody seems to want to attract American investors any more. It's the Chinese who are the up and coming people and while the US may not be paying attention, Europe is.

Before you buy a Hungarian guidebook, read a bit about the Hungarian economic problems. Things may not be going so well for them right now.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wild Turkey strut
Photo by Steve Voght
As an American expat, Thanksgiving is the one holiday which tends to make me a bit homesick. The gathering of friends and family and having a great time over a huge turkey dinner is wonderful and Thanksgiving is a uniquely American (and Canadian) holiday; moreso, I would argue, than the 4th of July as many cultures celebrate some form of independence day. A few other countries celebrate Thanksgiving, but it's not quite the same thing.

My wife will be driving around Paris today, handling last-minute errands before tonight's dinner. It will be a traditional Thanksgiving meal and for some of the French who will be there, it will be their first Thanksgiving. For me, it will be a small chance to reconnect with my culture. I'm happy here in Europe, but culturally I'm still an American.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone from Overseas Exile.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Spain: buy a house, get a residency permit

Gran Vía (Madrid)
Madrid, Spain
Photo by Felipe Gabaldón
Despite the fact that Spain has had a struggling economy for years, it's still a popular expat destination (particularly for the British). With 25% unemployment and no ability to exercise independent monetary policy,  Spain is struggling to figure out a way out of their current financial crisis. In particular, their housing situation is bad and it's not likely to get better in the forseaable future. Thus, Spain has an ambitious plan to offer residency to foreigners who buy houses in Spain. Spend at least €160,000 (around $200,000 US) on a home, and you'll get a Spanish residency permit.

Historically, Spanish laws surrounding residency and citizenship have targeted the Latin population in Central and South America, but this plan, according to the article, is targeting the Russians and Chinese! Presumably this is because they have many citizens who are both financially solvent and wanting to take up residency in another country.

There are a few things you should be aware of, though. First, it usually takes 10 years of residency before you can apply to be naturalized as a citizen. Second, most foreigners are not allowed to retain their original citizenship unless they can prove Spanish descent or hail from certain Latin American countries. Third, there could well be a political problem here. On one hand, maybe the Spanish people would be grateful if a bunch of foreigners rushed in to buy their land and help the economy. On the other hand, maybe world peace will spontaneously break out tomorrow.

All things considered, it could be a great investment ... in the long run. In the short run, you'd want to think this one through very carefully. Spain's beautiful, but I think I'd give this opportunity a miss unless I really understood what I was getting into.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Overseas Exile Facebook Page

Self Snitch
Photo by Poster Boy
I write this blog because I'm passionate about helping people realize their dreams. I love the world and I want to help people move anywhere in the world they want. Whether that's moving overseas or becoming an expat in the country next door, I don't care. I just know that living in multiple countries has been wonderful for me, so I want to help others do the same thing, but finding out about the opportunities is hard. Did you know about the Czech Green Card? Are you aware that many people teach English in foreign countries? Or that you might qualify for a year-long working holiday in Australia or New Zealand?

For a couple of years now, I've been diligently posting updates, telling people how they can become an expat. Though I get email from people telling me that they've just discovered the site and have spent hours reading everything about moving abroad (this happens more than I would have thought), there's still a ways to go before everyone can find out how easy being an expat is. That's when I decided to get a Facebook Page for Overseas Exile. People forget blogs, but they don't forget Facebook. They log into Facebook every day and with an estimated billion plus users, that's quite a market to tap into.

As it turns out, you can help. Go to the Overseas Exile Facebook Page and click "Like". Share it with your friends who may not have heard about it but may be curious about living abroad. When something new is posted to Facebook, consider sharing that, too. Everyone should have the opportunity to move abroad and be an expat and I want to help them make that happen.

For those who prefer Google, we have a page on Google Plus, too, but Google+ hasn't been very useful. After only a couple of hours, the Facebook page had as many "likes" as the Google+ page has garnered for its entire existence.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Foreign Exchange Considerations Before You Move Abroad

Today's guest post comes courtesy Peter Lavelle at foreign exchange broker Pure FX.

Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves
Moving abroad is fun, but there are practical matters, too.
Photo by Tristan Martin
Are you thinking of moving abroad, perhaps to buy a second home? Then among the many considerations to take into account (including the language difference, finding a job and so on) is the business of transferring money abroad.

After all, if you intend to buy a foreign home, you’ll likely be making regular transfers from a domestic bank account to a foreign one. If, on the other hand, you simply intend to move without buying a place, you may want to transfer enough money to see you alright for the first few weeks, until you’re settled in.

Given all that, what should you be thinking about from a foreign exchange perspective?

What service should you use?

Generally speaking, there are three factors to consider when deciding what service to use to transfer your money abroad. These are: the quality of the service, its security credentials, and the exchange rates on offer.

  1. Service. When you transfer money abroad, you’ll likely be assigned an individual dealer to help you through the process. Given this, it’s important to ask: are you happy with the person you’re talking to? Does it seem like they know what they’re talking about? If not, you may wish to go elsewhere.
  2. Security credentials. Is the service licensed and registered to transfer money abroad? In most countries, there’s a government authority responsible for regulating money transfer services. If your service doesn’t belong to and adhere to its legal requirements, you could be putting your money at risk.
  3. Exchange rates. What exchange rate does your service provide? To make sure it’s the best it can be, it’s worth comparing the rates available from different providers. High street banks, for instance, are notorious for providing rates up to 4.0% worse than those from dedicated dealers.
How do you maximise your exchange rate?

Where your exchange rate is concerned, there are two things you should keep in mind. The first, as I’ve already mentioned, is the rate available from your provider. However, you also need to look at what’s happening on the foreign exchange market itself.
  1. Consult Google for the exchange rate. To use Google to find the current exchange rate, just enter the currency codes of the currencies you want to exchange. If that’s US dollars to UK pounds for instance, enter USDGBP. Google will then deliver the latest rate.
  2. Look as far in advance as you can. Once you’ve decided to move abroad, look at transferring your money at the earliest  opportunity. This is because, the more time you give yourself, the more time you have to examine the rates, instead of being stuck with whatever’s available at the last moment.
  3. Set reasonable expectations. If you’ve not looked at the exchange rates in a long time, chances are they’ve changed a lot. However, instead of waiting for them to change back, look at where they’ve been the last three months, and set your expectations based on that. You’re less likely to be disappointed.
With these tips in mind, you should be able to locate both the best foreign exchange service, and the best available rate. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Conversations with other expats

Whoops! I wrote this a few weeks ago and forgot to post it. Also, if you like this post, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other sites.

Update: Apparently I did post this. Not sure how this software reported this as a "pending" post.

I've been in Germany all this week (note: 3rd week of August, 2012), first speaking at a conference and then visiting my father in Idstein, where I've been introducing my father to his granddaughter.

YAPC::Europe 2012. Frankfurt, Germany
Your author giving a keynote speech at YAPC::Europe 2012
Photo by Claudio Ramirez
One of the things I love about my profession is that I get to travel to conferences all over the world. At this conference, I was surprised to speak with several readers of my blog and I've learned a few things:
  • One reader is thinking about renouncing their US citizenship.
  • One reader is in the process of renouncing US citizenship.
  • Another reader is afraid to respond to my blog posts unless they can do so anonymously.
For those who wish to renounce their citizenship, it all boils down to one thing: the US is demanding they pay taxes but offering nothing in return. It's a common refrain I hear. Many Americans back home are unaware of the US witch hunt against expatriates so they don't understand why so many Americans are giving up their citizenship. The word "traitor" is frequently used by those who fail to understand that it's not a political argument, it's an economic one. Hell, we even have Congressman Tierney trying to bankrupt US expats (but let's not talk about the irony of Tierney's international tax fraud scandal).

Photo by Alan Cleaver
The anonymous comment issue really surprised me. I don't allow anonymous comments because I already have enough troubles fighting spam. People also complain about the captcha's used on this site to fight spam. Now a reader pointed out an interesting dilemma: they might want to chime in about their tax situation but are afraid of the US finding them.

If you wish to comment anonymously, one of your best options is to download the free Tor Browser Bundle. From their Web site:
The Tor software protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location, and it lets you access sites which are blocked.
Tor is somewhat controversial outside of "geek" circles because it's software that some people use to search for and distribute illegal content. Tor really offends a lot of people due to the high level of privacy it provides. However, human rights activists all over the world use it to communicate with each other and press for democracy. The US military uses Tor to protect its information. Journalists, law enforcement and business whistleblowers use Tor. Like anything, it has both good uses and bad, but unlike many other things, the good uses are really good and the bad uses are really bad.

If you use Tor, be sure to read through their Web site carefully so you can understand both how to use it and why. There are a few caveats you should understand that I'll omit here (caveat emptor!), but be aware that Tor is slow. Very slow. It has to encrypt and redistribute all of your internet traffic in such a way that you'll feel like you're on a dial-up modem.

It was nice to meet fellow expats and readers of my blog and discuss their situation. Not one of them at the German conference who talked about renouncing was happy about the situation. They felt like they were trapped and had no other way out. I can offer people a lot of advice about how to become an expat, but I've no advice to give here. It's a matter of your personal conscience and how bad US law is directly hurting you.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The New Confederate States of America?

Paris Manga - Samedi - 2011-10-01- P1250775
This is in a park a few minutes from Versailles,
so it's a totally appropriate picture.
Photo by Yves Tennevin
Update: apparently the Obama reelection has generated multiple petitions for states wanting to secede from the union.

Today is an amusing detour for me. Sue me.

I was absolutely delighted yesterday to finally meet up with Victoria Ferauge, author of the Franco-American Flophouse. To a large extent she writes the blog I would like to write as her articles are very well-researched. I wish I had the time to do a better job here.

Victoria lives in Versailles and greeted my wife and I with cinnamon rolls and coffee. Versailles, for those who don't know, is the city which houses the palace you're probably thinking about. Victoria lives in the city, not the palace. She's and her family are moving into a smaller flat and giving away many books, so I'm sitting next to a large collection of them. It's hard to think of a nicer way of meeting someone than stealing their books.

Of all of them, my favorite is the book Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Succession. So far the book is hilarious, though I suspect that quite a few Americans would be irritated by it as it tears into Southern Culture viciously. I find the book fascinating because the South has tried to secede before and numerous Southern states still talk about this today, including Governor Rick "I'm not gay" Perry of Texas raising the possibility (more than once!) of Texas seceding from the Union. There's also this delightful "law" from Georgia which states that if the government of the US pisses off Georgia too much, the US government is null and void and Georgia can go their own way. The Georgia State Senate passed that law in 2009 by a 43 to 1 vote.

Can you imagine a world where the US is rent in two? Is it likely to happen? No. Would it be fascinating? You betcha! And for those not familiar with the North/South divide in the US, I point you to the honorable Representative Paul Broun of Georgia, who has previously called President Obama a would-be dictator and compared him to Hitler and who referred to the US Civil War as the Great War of Yankee Aggression. Got that? Over 150 years after the South started the war by attacking the United States at Fort Sumter, it's still a war of "Yankee aggression". Talk about sore losers. Having grown up in Texas, the "tail end of the South", if you will, I didn't see these rampant "anti-Yankee" feelings as strongly as one finds in the Deep South, but I was lucky enough to experience a cultural icon of the Southern US: the joys of Evangelical Christian Hate. You really can't appreciate the fervor unless you see it first-hand. Here in Europe, nobody really gives a damn what you believe so long as you're a good person. It's often the other way around in the Deep South.

If the US ever did split, my first question would be whether or not the Southern states would be honorable enough to assume their portion of the Federal debt. Victoria asked "who gets the aircraft carriers?" There's also interesting questions about the freedom of movement between the US and the Confederate states. If you were a Virginian serving in the US army, would you be kicked out? Would you be allowed to stay in the Yankee states, assuming you wanted to? Would the Confederate States of America start hounding expats for tax dollars? Presumably "Yes" because these states take in more money from the Federal government than they pay in taxes and they're likely to be a bit short on pocket money. Apparently it's not OK to tax a Southerner and use this money to help your fellow man, but it's perfectly OK to tax the North and send this money to the Southernor.

All I can say is that if this ever happened, I'd grab some popcorn, buy a television and be glued to the news channels. This would make European political squabbling look like kids fighting over the last piece of candy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Moving to Malaysia

No, I'm not moving to Malaysia, but you might. A recurring theme in this blog is that countries seek immigrants who will add to the bottom line or otherwise offer a clear benefit their country or citizens. If you're a low-skilled worker, teaching English or volunteering abroad are two options, however, money talks and can open up doors. In this case, Malaysia has created a program called Malaysia, My Second Home.

View Larger Map

The "My Second Home" program gets you a "Social Visit Pass" that's basically a residence permit. It's good for ten years and is renewable. The conditions are pretty relaxed, assuming you have the money:
  1. Applicants aged below 50 years are required to show proof of liquid assets worth a minimum of RM500,000 ($163,000 US/€128,000) and offshore income of RM10,000 ($3,265US/€2,560) per month. For certified copy(s) of Current Account submitted as financial proof, applicants must provide the latest 3 months’ statement with each month’s credit balance of RM 500,000.
  2. Applicants aged 50 and above may comply with the financial proof of RM350,000 ($114,000US/€89,000) in liquid assets and off shore income of RM10,000 ($3,265US/€2,560) per month.  For certified copy(s) of Current Account submitted as financial proof, applicants must provide the latest 3 months’ statement with each month’s credit balance of RM 350,000. For those who have retired, they are required to show proof of receiving pension from government approved funds of RM 10,000 per month.
  3. New applicants who have purchased properties worth at least RM 1 million ($327,000US/€256,000) qualify to place a lower fixed deposit amount upon approval.
If you meet their conditions, you have a few more hoops to jump through, but it's pretty easy to get in.

So why would you want to move there? Well, Forbes ranks Malaysia the 10th most friendly country in the world and their capital, Kuala Lumpur, was ranked the number 2 spot in Asia for shopping. The latter, actually, is a very important consideration for many Western folks, even though you might think that it should not be. Simply put: the more foreign a culture is to your own, the less likely you are to succeed as an expat. Having a wide variety of goods and services available can ease some of the transition difficulties.

As an added bonus, English is widely spoken in Malaysia (it's their second language), or you could just watch some of their promo videos from other expats:

In short, Malaysia is a beautiful, friendly, low-crime, inexpensive country with a strong economy.

Why would you not want to move to Malaysia? It depends on your lifestyle and tolerance for other cultures.

Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Photo by Haifeez
USA Today has a nice summary of the important Malaysian laws you should know about. First, keep in mind that Malaysia is officially a Muslim country and Sharia law has been implemented, though that's usually reserved for Muslims (yes, Muslims will find a stricter set of laws than non-Muslims). If you have a taste for illegal drugs or difficulty with alcohol, Malaysia is not a good option. Drug traffickers face the death penalty and driving while intoxicated will land you in prison very quickly. Using illegal drugs can result in a large fine, deportation or imprisonment.

Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, but I've read from multiple sources that there's a thriving gay scene in Kuala Lumpur. This one is particularly troubling for me as I despise such discrimination, but I can't think of a single country which agrees with my views on everything.

If Malaysia tickles your sense of adventure but you don't have a ready supply of cash on hand, I've written previously about a company willing to sponsor your work permit. In that post, I tell you about the positions they're looking for and a bit more about Malaysia.