Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why you might not want to move somewhere

Santiago de Chile
Santiago de Chile. Maybe not so bad?
By ChaTo (Carlos Castillo)
In my informal reader poll, back when I had half the readership I do now, I asked readers where they wanted to move to and aside from the "anywhere" respondents (23%), only two people said they wanted to move to the Americas. One person responded with USA and another responded with Mexico. Nobody voted for an African country. In fact, less than 10% of respondents listed a non-European country.

I can't prove why people overwhelmingly choose Europe, but it's not simply that they want a high standard of living. There are plenty of non-European countries on the planet where you can enjoy a very high standard of living but some aspiring expats seem to not know this. In speaking face-to-face or via email with some would-be expats, I've often found that they change their mind about alternative destinations once they learn a bit about them. It's like sports: I've found that some people who claim they don't like sports actually enjoy them once they learn a bit about the rules and the players.

However, it's still worth doing your homework. In a recent Business Week article entitled China: For Many Expats, It's Not Worth It, there are many links to blogs from expats in China explaining why they're unhappy with the country. Much of it is attributed to institutional racism: you will never be Chinese (I don't know if this is true or not, but it's a comment I've heard often), but some of it is the pollution, corruption, or the food poisoning scandals.

If you're planning on heading abroad, make sure that you're not a starry-eyed dreamer. No, scratch that. A starry-eyed dreamer is fine, but make sure you know what you're really getting into. When I lived in Amsterdam and had a Dutch gentlemen angrily challenge me, demanding to know what I was doing to integrate into Dutch society, I was taken aback but I wasn't surprised. That's not something that would happen to an American in the UK, but certainly can happen in other countries (to be fair, most Dutch people are far too polite to be as blunt as this Dutch person was).

If you want to move abroad, you'll often find that non-European destinations have a lot to offer, but make sure you do your homework. It's a big planet and there's more stuff to see than you would imagine.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Escape from Château de Vincennes

Click on the pictures to see larger versions.

In 1750, one Jean Henri Latude escaped from the Château de Vincennes. This magnificent castle dates back almost 900 years to 1150, where it started life as a hunting lodge for Louis VII, the King of the Franks. Over the years it was built into a proper castle — today the grounds still house the highest medieval keep in Europe — and has a long and illustrious history. Mata Hari was executed there, the Nazis occupied the castle during WWII and yesterday I found myself touring the room in which the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned.

The Château de Vincennes
Of all of the famous history, I find the story of Jean Henri Latude the most interesting. Though not as well-known outside of France, he was a bit of an inept conman, apparently a charming individual and a genius.

The north entrance of the grounds
Latude first managed to be imprisoned when he sent a box of poison to the Marquise de Pompadour, the chief mistress of Louis XV. He "exposed" the plot, hoping to find favor with her, but he was discovered and apparently the Marquise was not amused and he was sent to the Bastille in 1749, but later was transferred to Vincennes, from which he escaped in 1750.

The keep at Vincennes

If Latude's idiocy surprises you, you'll be doubly surprised to learn his cunning plan to stay out of prison: he wrote a letter to the king, trusting his mercy and explaining where he was hiding. Louis XV, like his mistress, was not amused and imprisoned Latude in the Bastille.

Panoramic view of the grounds
Latude, needless to say, wasn't terribly happy about this and decided to escape from this unescapable prison. Which he did, though it took him a considerable amount of time and planning, but rather than bore you with details, you can read about Latude's escape from the Bastille for yourself. He makes MacGyver look like an amateur.

The remnants of the moat around the keep
Latude was captured, again, and sent back to the Bastille, but was later transferred back to Vincennes where Latude escaped again.
Forgive the poor quality of the photos.
My iPhone's update seems to have degraded the camera quality
Latude was, of course, captured again. Later in life he was put in an insane asylum but released after two years on the provision that he return to his home town.

Instead, he remained in Paris and was imprisoned. Again.

The courtyard around the keep
In proving that a life of crime and stupidity pays better than one would think, the heirs of the Marquise de Pompadour were later ordered to pay Latude 60,000 francs in damages for his imprisonment.

Our daughter had a fabulous, but tiring time.
Walking the grounds of this ancient castle was fascinating and the history was lovely. It's also about ten minutes from our flat. I could spend the rest of my life just exploring French history first-hand.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The World is Watching the US Elections

A special note before today's entry: if you like this blog, use the social media buttons below the blog to share these stories. Tell people about it on Facebook, share tweets, tell people how to land that first foreign job or how to live in foreign country if you have no skills. While I get a fair amount of traffic on this blog, I'm never going to earn a living doing this. I do this to try and help people live the dream that I'm enjoying. Help share this dream with others who who might dream of fishing on the Rio Negro or wishing they were in Windhoek.

Earth - Illustration
Image by DonkeyHotey
The clock is running down on the US elections and while the US generally doesn't give a damn about the elections in the rest of the world, the rest of the world certainly gives a damn about elections in the US. After all, despite the decline, the US is still the most powerful country in the world and is likely to remain that way for quite some time. Everyone seems to be watching the US presidential elections quite closely and while foreign countries generally have a policy of trying to stay out of the elections of other countries, that line is being trod on quite frequently this time around.

For example, here's a video of the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia warning of the dangers of the "Cranks and Crazies" in the US Republican party.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing fierce criticism at home for allegedly interfering in the US election, a claim he denies, even though Netanyahu clearly is trying to help the Republicans.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom allegedly said that Romney has the unique distinction of "uniting all of England against him" (after Romney's disastrous trip to Europe).

Meanwhile, Obama's experienced a significant drop in world public approval since he took office.

So, why should the US care? Because there's a huge, beautiful world out there and just as capitalism provides a ready-made laboratory for testing out different business models, so does having different countries provide a ready-made laboratory for trying out different economic and political models. However, it's difficult to interpret the results of these experiments if we never look at them. The world learns from the US. The US should learn from the world.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Easy Move to Austria — For Some

Vienna in Winter
Photo by Martin Ortner
I'm always amazed at the ways various countries have of importing citizens. For example, Victoria Ferauge (you really should read her blog if you like this one) writes about how to buy your way into both the US and France. As it turns out, Austria also allows this, but in a slightly different manner.

The Austrian government has created the Settlement Permit — Gainful Employment Excepted. The short version: if you have a permanent, provable income and have basic language skills, you can live in Austria. There is a quota on immigrants via this method and you're not allowed to take work in Austria. The main obstacle for most will be the following:
[The applicant must] have a regular monthly income (e.g. Austrian or foreign pensions, profits from enterprises abroad, income from assets, savings or company shares) equalling twice the amount of the standard rates of the General Social Insurance Act (ASVG):
General Social Insurance Act - standard rates for the year 2012

Standard rate Twice the rate
Single €814,82 €1.629,64
Married couples or partnerships €1.221,68 €2.443,36
additionally for each child €125,72 €251,44

In other words, you can't be a remote worker and take this opportunity unless you can still demonstrate a separate, permanent income source.

Having been to Vienna twice, I can tell you that this is a tempting proposition. The people are friendly and the country is lovely. Just try not to run into David Duke while you're in Austria.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Will a felony stop you from moving abroad?

Angkor Wat, Cambodia's top tourist attraction
Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Photo Wikimedia Commons
I've previously posted about a gentleman who wanted to move to South America, but had a felony on his record. In subsequent correspondence with him about his attempts, I've found that some countries are quite happy to let you in if the criminal offense is not threatening to them. I've also blogged about the Chilean loophole, whereby a felony will bar you from getting getting residency in Chile, but not if you apply for residency while already inside of the country (because it goes through a different government organization that doesn't do a criminal background check).

In response to these posts, I'm getting more and more inquiries (usually from Americans) both in email and on this blog about how to move to another country if you have a criminal record. I would dearly love to get more feedback from other readers about this issue.

I've heard (but have not yet verified) that some nations, such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Venezuela and some African countries, don't ask about your criminal background, but I have only found anecdotal support for this. It's far easier to find information about what a county does do than what they don't do.

If you have a criminal record and are reading this, want to move abroad for a "fresh start" and don't have high-demand skills consider getting a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification. For example, Cambodia still has a demand for TEFL instructors and nothing I've read about getting work permits or business visas mentions anything about having to provide criminal records. For example, for a temporary work permit in Cambodia:
  • 3 sets of Application Form as issued by the Ministry of Interior.
  • Attached with passports or any equivalent documents with proper visa.
  • 3 Photographs (4x6), taken in the front without hat and glasses.
  • Certificate of Health from a physician of the immigrant country, and written work contract.
  • Insurance policy issued by employer or any insurance companies.
  • Fees for temporary work permit.
(The permanent work permit paperwork is similar, but you also need a Cambodian bank statement).

I'll try to dig up more information about this topic as many people want a fresh start.

Be aware that just about every country has laws allowing them to deport foreigners who are "undesirable" or a "threat". If something like this works for you, never admit your criminal record. All you need is for one person to find out and say the wrong thing to the wrong person.

Friday, September 14, 2012

America Versus the World

US Flag
By PS-OV-ART Patty Sue O'Hair-Vicknair, Artist
Disclaimer: this an opinion piece which won't help you find a new country to live in. Feel free to disregard.

America is a fantastic country. Despite the naysayers, America does have a strong, proud culture. We're individualists. We experiment. We have a very "can do" attitude. We believe passionately in the freedom of speech. Hollywood, despite those who like to criticize it, does a smashing job of putting out fantastic films along with the crap. There's a reason why American films are so popular around the world and it's not just because everyone is pining to move to America.

On the other hand, there are some other aspects of American culture which aren't that great. Perhaps the most pernicious is people who know nothing about the rest of the world who nonetheless insist that we're better than the rest. I have heard all of the following canards at one time or another:
  • People in Europe are struggling under the weight of crushing taxes
  • Europe is becoming a Soviet super-state
  • Socialized medicine rations care and effectively leaves people without health care
  • People in South America live in tin shacks on a few dollars a day
  • Everybody in the world wants to live in the USA
  • US expats are all rich and greedy
There's plenty more and I would assume that most readers of this blog have a somewhat more knowledgeable worldview, but there's really no way I'm going to be able to convince the rest of America that the world isn't exactly as they imagine it to be. When you have an America where some Republicans feel Governor Romney deserves more credit for killing Osama bin Laden than President Obama, you're just not going to get through to some people. There's a concept called "motivated reasoning" whereby some people only assimilate information in relation to a goal or belief and don't reassess the belief, regardless of said information. From the article linked above:
Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth and Jason Reifler of Georgia State ran experiments measuring whether partisans who read news articles with correct information that ran against their ideological views were likelier to hold the right factual beliefs. They found the opposite effect — correcting people, in other words, doesn’t inform them, it creates a backlash.
(To be clear, the article stresses that both conservatives and liberals fall prey to this)

While musing about this, I stumbled across an article with a very provocative headline: To Make America Great Again, We Need to Leave the Country. The article makes two points very clear, both of which I can personally attest to. First, non-Americans are turning away from the US, being far less likely to point to the US as a model for how to run the world. Second, Americans have no idea what's going on outside her borders. Many Americans can't understand the rest of the world because they've never been to the rest of the world. The assumption is that as bad as things are in America, it's as bad or worse everywhere else.

The reality is that for the rest of the world, sometimes it's as bad, sometimes it's worse, and sometimes it's better. "Better", of course, is a terribly subjective term. For many Americans, living in a country with five weeks of vacation time, universal access to health care, and shorter work weeks would be an abomination because the unemployment rate is marginally higher than that of the US, or because the president of that country is a Socialist.

Just as the rest of the world shouldn't engage in the knee-jerk reaction that all of American culture is bad, neither should Americans assume that the rest of the world is worse than America. However, watching the health care "debate" in the US puts everything into perspective: by no objective standard could it be argued that any other major industrialized nation has a worse health care system than the US, yet that was the argument often made. Further, the Republicans made the individual mandate the centerpiece of their health care reform for two decades (after all, it's a giveaway to insurance companies), before the Republicans turned rabidly against the individual mandate when it was included in Obama's health care reform in an attempt to compromise with them.

In a telling quote from the "Leave the Country" article:
According to a recent Rasmussen poll, only 17 percent of Americans believe our national government possesses the consent of the governed. These numbers may not seem shocking, because they've been low for so long. But not always. In 1964, Pew found 77 percent of Americans expected their government to do "the right thing" most of the time.
I won't write my thoughts on that because, like a koan, you need to contemplate that for yourself.

At the end of the day, so many outside the US have strong opinions about the America, usually based on the political mess back home. But like Americans who have no ideas what the rest of the world is like, too many non-Americans are quick to pass judgment on America. It's worth reminding them that when natural disasters strike around the world, the US is one of the first to come forward, offering to help, often with large amounts of aid.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pardon my meme

Image of Borimir from Lord of the Rings movie, saying "one does not simply walk into another country and stay permanently"

And here's the /r/IWantOut discussion thread about this. That subreddit (a "section" of the Reddit web site) is an resource for those who want to live in another country. More than a few of my posts have originated from discussion there. The overall quality of information has been improving over time as people learn more about the legal issues surrounding moving to other countries.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Will the French start taxing their citizens abroad?

Eduardo Saverin with a French accent
Bernard Arnault, richest man in Europe
Photo by nicogenin
Regular readers will be familiar with the saga of Eduardo Saverin, the Brazilian living in Singapore who cause a national uproar in the US when he gave up his US citizenship. Though it appears that only a handful of rich Americans renounce their citizenship, the US was outraged enough to try and pass laws to punish them severely. Panem and circenses and all that ...

France, sadly, is not immune to this idiocy. Bernard Arnault, the richest man in Europe, the 4th richest man in the world, and a Frenchman living in Paris, has generated howls of outrage (from the left) over Arnault's plans to take Belgian nationality. The communist newspaper  l’Humanité had the headline France, love it or leave it (American rednecks and French communists should have a party or something).

Why? Well, it seems the current president, François Gérard Georges Nicolas Hollande, who famously stated that he doesn't like rich people (and apparently owns over a million euro in property on the French Riviera), has decided to impose a 75% tax on people in France earning over one million euros a year. This has been a bit scandalous (on the right) because it generates virtually no revenue, is widely seen as symbolic, and has led to speculation of the rich fleeing France.

Many news sources, both French and US, get some details wrong, but most US news sources have really missed the subtleties here while the Guardian has pointed out what should be obvious:
Furthermore, let's be clear, in Europe tax residence has nothing to do with citizenship. It has in the US, where having the passport means paying tax as the membership fee, but elsewhere that's not the case.
Remember that aside from Eritrea, the US is the only country in the world which demands that citizens living in other countries send taxes back to the US. Thus, all Arnault needs to do to escape these punitive taxes is move out of France. That's it.

The press have been having a field day ripping Arnault to shreds and there's a lot of nonsense out there. Taking Belgian nationality to escape taxes is killing mosquitos with hand grenades, so there's likely something else going on. Of course, the previous president, Sarkozy, announced plans to collect taxes from French "tax exiles", so maybe Arnault is just hedging his bets. In today's Le, we have the following proposal to solve certain tax issues:
Avec la création d'un impôt lié à la nationalité, comme aux USA, qui a fait consensus entre François Hollande et Nicolas Sarkozy pendant la présidentielle - donc, en théorie, il pourrait être voté sans problème ! Et pour que l'impôt soit réellement un élément de la citoyenneté, il faut que tous les Français le payent, même de façon purement symbolique (la moitié aujourd'hui ne le paient pas). Les USA ajoutent une "taxe de sortie" pour ceux qui abandonnent la nationalité américaine pour échapper à l'impôt. Ça ferait passer le goût du voyage même à certains fabricants de bagages...
And in English:
With the creation of a US-style tax linked to nationality, which both François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy agreed on during the presidential election - in theory it could be voted on without a problem! And that the tax is actually an element of citizenship, all French must pay, even if it's purely symbolic (half today do not pay). The USA adds an "exit tax" for those who renounce U.S. citizenship to escape taxation [note: this claim is misleading]. It would increase the desire for travel even some luggage manufacturers ...
That last line is a reference to Arnault himself, implying that he might be laying the grounds for escaping France entirely. Getting Belgian citizenship means he could drop his French citizenship if Hollande makes the unlikely decision to tax rich French people living abroad. It's been such a nightmare for the US that surely France won't make the same mistake, will they?

If every country in the world started to tax their expats abroad, this could easily shut down international migration. It would be a disaster and I'm sure many politicians understand this, but when you need bread and circuses to appease the unhappy masses, it's a popular move.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Italian Blue Card

Venice canals
Photo by Erick Gonzalez
Italy introduced their version of the European Blue Card on August 8th. According to the Italian government's press release on this topic, applicants for the Blue Card must register and sign in at and this will give the applicants access to Richiesta moduli (application forms) and the applicant will need to fill out form BC.

In order to get a Blue Card, the applicant must:
  • Have a job offer or work contract
  • Have at least a 3 year university degree or relevant work experience in their field
Blue Card holders from other countries who have held their Blue Card for at least 18 months automatically qualify and all Blue Card applicants are exempt from Italy's work permit quota system. Other than this, the requirements seem ridiculously low, but there's a good chance you'll need to speak Italian to get an offer.

Full Italian text of the legislation is on the government's Web site. Interestingly, it doesn't appear to say anything about minimum salary, a departure for most country's Blue Card laws. As this minimum salary is often based on the average salary of the country, I wonder if the famous Italian North/South Divide may be the cause of a lack of minimum salary. The south's GDP is roughly half that of the north and listing an "average salary" for Blue Card workers could be a very delicate matter.

Read the complete list of Overseas Exile European Blue Card summaries here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The EU Blue Card in Spain

Since Spain was apparently the first European country to implement the Blue Card, I probably should have mentioned it a long time ago.  The EU Blue Card in Spain has the following requirements:
Tirando piedras
 San Felipe Neri, Cadiz, Andalusia, Spain
Photo by Sidi Guariach
  • You must have a job offer of at least €2,750 per month
  • Have a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in your field or at least five years of experience
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Not be a "threat" to the EU (no criminals or people with highly infectious and dangerous diseases, please)
The application process is done through your employer. There's a variety of simple paperwork you'll need to provide your employer with. Your employer will be notified if you were accepted into the program and they are responsible for notifying you.

Toledo, Spain
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
Regarding Spain, did you know that while they're a parliamentary democracy, they still have a king, Juan Carlos I? You might also be surprised that in some areas of Spain, such as Catalonia, the first language is Catalan,  not Spanish (though Spanish is widely understood. Moving to Barcelona, where Catalan is widely spoken, would be a far different experience from moving to Madrid,  where Spanish is the dominant language.

Like most European countries, Spain has a very rich culture and history, though when people are asking for advice moving abroad, it appears to be one of those countries that people don't speak to me much about. As far as I can tell, this is usually due to people simply not knowing much about it, rather than any undesirable qualities of the country.

Read the complete list of Overseas Exile European Blue Card summaries here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Portuguese Blue Card

The Portugal Blue Card program starts on September 9th, 2012! If you're not familiar with Portugal, you should check it out as it's lovely. I proposed to my fiancée, now wife, at the Castle of São Jorge overlooking Lisbon, so naturally I have a soft spot for this place.

To qualify for the Portuguese Blue Card, you must:

Rua Augusta Lisboa (I've been there and it's lovely)
Photo by Osvaldo Gago

  • Have a minimum one-year employment offer or contract
  • Have a university degree of five years experience in your field
  • Be offered a salary of at least one and a half times the national average (around €2000 per month)
  • Have health insurance or be registered in their national health system
  • Must not be registered with the Portuguese Social Security system
  • Have a diploma or other proof of qualifications if it's an unregulated profession
  • Provide proof of certification if it is a regulated profession

In other words, the barrier's fairly low.

Note that the Portuguese Blue Card is not available for family members of EU citizens.

Remember that the EU Blue Card will eventually give you permanent residency in Europe. Read up on the Blue Card and find out what it can do for you.

Read the complete list of Overseas Exile European Blue Card summaries here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

"We Don't Pay for Relocation"

In last Friday's post, I wrote about dealing with the dreaded "We Don't Sponsor Work Permits" objection. However, I mentioned that this is actually one of two of the most common objections. The other is: we don't pay relocation costs. This is a killer for many potential employees. If the foreign firm is very experienced in recruiting internationally, then yes, they'll have some sort of relocation package. Otherwise, you might be looking at spending thousands of dollars/euros/whatever just to take a job. So how do you get over this hurdle?

In part 5 of my work permit series, Salary Negotiation, I wrote:
If you get this far, the actual employment contract will need some form of relocation assistance. To guarantee my job in Nottingham, while I did receive a very nice salary, I also offered to pay for my own transportation to the UK. Generally, the employer will pay for your flight and the cost (if any) of moving your goods. If you've offered to pay to secure the job, so be it (don't offer to pay unless you absolutely have to).
The short-stay apartment the
Nottingham company put me up in
Got that? As you saw from my last post, I told my new company how to hire me. With today's post, I explain that I even offered to help cover some of the relocation costs. Fortunately, the company in Nottingham put me up in a short stay apartment while I looked for a place to live.

So how to overcome the "we won't pay" hurdle. First, you need to be sure to isolate the objection. This is a technique from sales designed to help you understand what the potential customers is really saying. In this case, we'll hope you have a slightly less adversarial position than in a sales call, but it's still possible that the other person on the end of the line is making an excuse and doesn't want to tell you they think you'll ask for too much money, or they're unsure that you really have they skills they need. By isolating the objection what you're looking for is an agreement that if relocation costs were not an issue, you would have a job offer. It makes no sense to try to solve this problem if there are others lurking.

So how do we solve this problem? First, go back and read Count von Europe (yes, again!). Clear anything out of your way which might make moving abroad more difficult or expensive. If you've come this far in the interview process, you don't want to fall down now.

Now that you've established that "we don't pay for relocation" is the only obstacle, your appropriate follow up question is "why?"

There are a variety of reason why they may not offer to pay relocation. The simplest is that they've never thought of it: a company that is not used to sponsoring foreign workers may not have considered how difficult it is for you to just pick up and move thousands of miles away. Once they think about that, if you've paired your worldly goods down to a couple of suitcases instead of an entire household full of stuff, you're going to be a lot less expensive to move over.

The kitchen from my first flat in the UK.
Keep in mind that companies have budgets and just because the company as a whole can afford to pay your way doesn't mean that your potential boss has the budget to pay for your relocation, so the hiring manager may not be keen to blow his department budget paying for your dreams. So ask for a loan. Seriously, some companies will consider something like this. The money would be deducted from your paychecks over time, minimizing the company's costs. If they really want you, this is an option that just might work.

If they still can't/won't pay, it could be that they can't afford it. Smaller companies work on tight budgets and yes, that's scary for you if you're moving abroad, but you didn't come this far to turn away at the slightest risk, right? You might simply offer to pay your own way. If you do this, explain to them that you'll still need logistical supports when you land in their country. More to the point: you'll need a place to live. One gentleman I knew who was moving to London had a friend he could stay with, but you may not have that option.

So that's the basics of what we're looking at:

  • Find out if "we don't pay for relocation" is the real objection
  • If it is, find out the reason they don't pay
  • Think of creative solutions to the problem

Getting a job in a foreign country is hard for most of us and creativity may be required here. Don't take "no" for an answer: find out what their real problem is and try to solve it for them. If you show determination, that might even get them thinking about about more than "no".

Do you have any creative solutions? I'm sure plenty of people would love to hear them.