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.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The election is over and numbers mean something

And the winner is ...
Today, for obvious reasons, we're taking a bit of a detour. I trust you'll indulge me in a bit of a personal entry today.

Well, the election is over and Obama has won. Though the popular vote was close, Obama won decisively, thanks to the anachronism known as th electoral college.

Four years ago I was working for the BBC and living in London. When Obama was elected I walked into my office and many people were congratulating me. The exultation over Obama's win was overpowering. I don't think it's much of a secret to reader's of the blog that I preferred Obama to Romney for this electio but I must confess that I don't think much is likely to change in the US. There will still be a right-wing and far-right-wing party. Money will still dominate politics. The structural problems which led to the financial collapse largely remain.

After many years abroad it's harder for me to get excited about US elections. It's not that I don't care, but the election fever which swept the US didn't sweep France. Thus, I wasn't constantly inundated with news, though I kept track. Unlike many in the US, though, I wasn't terribly worried about the outcome because from my point of view, there was one bright spot: Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog.

I suppose it's possible that you've been living in a cave (but how would you be reading this?), but Nate Silver's blog is dynamite. He burst onto the scene back in 2008 and used statistics to predict who was going to win the presidential election. Not only did he correctly predict 49 out of 50 state's Presidential election results, he also correctly predicted every Senate race that year. He's also written The Signal and the Noise, a book explaining how he makes these amazing predictions.

This year Nate Silver has done it again. He not only correctly predicted the presidential election (and has been fairly consistent in explaining why Obama was going to win), but it looks like he nailed the Senate races, too. What I find frustrating, though, is that he's not doing anything particularly remarkable. Many others have used the same methodology to make similar predictions: he's just managed to get noticed doing it. While I'm happy that people are paying more attention, it's frustrating that it's taking so long for people to wake up the fact that data works better than hunches.

If you're not interested in Nate Silver's book, I recommend reading Super Crunchers. Published back in 2007, this book breaks down exactly how many fields can use statistics to make accurate predictions about things that people assumed "experts" were needed for. It's a perfect follow up to Freakanomics. It's not math-heavy but, like Nate Silver's blog, the subject matter angers a lot of people by showing that math can trump intuition. In fact, many conservatives lashed out at Nate Silver, often claiming that he's partisan, or that that he doesn't understand how polling really works.

Given that he has, again, proven so successful, I wonder if the media might start cottoning on to the fact that numbers actually mean something. I doubt it, but it would be nice to see.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Multiple ways into Panama

panama city from the sky
Panama City
Photo by dsasso
I'm amazed by Panama. The more I read, the more ways I find into the country. I've already written about their Executive Decree #343 which, while vague, is designed to let people who would benefit the country financially gain permanent residency with little hassle. However, the details of the law are practically void for vagueness. That being said, Panama seems to be using multiple strategies to attract skilled workers and investment.

One which might interest you is the Panama Reforestation Visa Program. Panama, like many central and south American countries has been experiencing some issues with deforestation, so they decided to institute a special visa that will allow you to gain residency if you invest in their reforestation program. The upside is that this is a legitimate investment and not some shady "give us money for a visa" program. The downside is that this is a very risky investment with no guarantees that you'll get your money back. However, the lower priced version of this visa is only $40,000 US. In theory, you'll get a nice payoff after a couple of decades, but theory and practice are often at odds with one another. This visa program may be cancelled, so you might want to move quickly.

Hat vendor
Hat vendor. Probably not the
business you want to invest in.
Photo by Geoff Gallice

Panama also offers Investor Visas starting at $40,000, so this is another way in. In this program, you invest a minimum of $40K US into a Panamanian business which employs at least three Panamanians. You'll need to spend an extra $4,000US per dependent and unlike the reforestation program, the investor visa looks rather stable and if you choose wisely, you may actually see a return on your investment, or at least less of a loss.

So far this and other strategies have led to strong economic growth in Panama, though there's severe income inequality. One of my correspondents recently visited Panama City and he assured me that, no matter what you might here, it's still a third-world country, albeit growing rapidly. So far much of Central and South America appears to have been relatively immune to the global financial collapse. Maybe it's time to take a look?

Friday, November 2, 2012

What's the European economy really like?

Pair of "real" vintage beauties
Heidelberg, Germany
Photo by Todd Baker
While the article itself is rather gushing, one Remi Adekoya writes that Europe is still pretty close to paradise. His point isn't really that Europe is paradise on earth, but relative to most other areas of the planet, it is.

I'm always amazed at the number of Americans who think Europe is some kind of socialist hell where people are struggling under the weight of burdensome taxes. In fact, I just checked and at my current income level, my taxes here in France are only 3% higher than than what I would pay in Federal taxes back in the US. If you add in state and local taxes plus health care costs, at my current salary I'd take home less in the US than here in France. In reality, most Europeans do pay more in taxes than Americans and yes, they complain about it, but Europeans are happier than Americans. Despite the complaints, I don't know many Europeans who would make substantial changes to their way of life.

Of course, as the article makes clear, six out of the ten most competitive nations in the world are here in Europe and plenty of investment money flows our way. It should also be noted that while some claim that here in Europe you'll make a lower salary, they like to ignore all of the benefits we get for that salary. Wouldn't it be nice to graduate from university with no debt? What would you do with five weeks of vacation per year? Wouldn't it be a relief to know that you'll never face a medical bankruptcy or die from lack of health care?

But you know what? Despite the claims about US salaries, I'm not even that certain that the American does earn more money than his European counterpart. I know that I would (I've seen the salaries companies in the US keep waving in my direction), but given what I do for a living, I'm not a typical example. Instead, we can consider that the average American took home about $41,000 in 2011, but that's a gross distortion. If Bill Gates sits next to you, the two of you, on average, are multi-billionaires. Instead, consider the median (in the middle) wage of most Americans for 2011: about $27,000. That's a whopping huge difference. The latter, more accurate, statistic helps to explain how half of Americans are low income or live in poverty. Obviously we can't make a claim of "socialist hell" to explain the troubles in the US.

I think what sums everything up is when Adekoya writes:
The US offers more opportunity to the gifted, the entrepreneurial and the rich than Europe does. But those who don't fall into those categories are better off here. Were the average American blue-collar worker to see how his German, Dutch or British peers live, and the quality of healthcare and education accessible to them, he might start wondering if his country is indeed "the greatest nation on earth", as American politicians love to say. And let's not forget that US national debt is more than 100% of its GDP compared to the 83% for the EU, even with its often derided "welfare state".
So his only real caveat is that for certain sectors of society, the US offers more opportunity. But even this isn't really true. We've known for a long time that social mobility in the US is lower than in many European nations: the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. However, the constant talk of the "American dream" likes to overlook this inconvenient truth.

Yes, Europe, like most developed areas of the planet is struggling right now, but we're doing pretty damned good. I often get email from people asking if it's a good time to move to Europe and it's true that there are problems, but I'm hard-pressed to imagine how things could be much better in the US. The main issue facing Europe now is a structural one dealing with monetary union without a fiscal union. This is a hard problem to solve and if it's not dealt with, things could go very badly here. It's bad enough that even respectable publications speculate on the breakup of Europe.

If there's one thing to know about Europe: it's capitalist through-and-through (surprise!), with voters having decided on various means of correcting some of the worst social problems. Despite the economic issues, life is still pretty good here, relative to many other countries.

Update: And I just stumbled across this little gem. The Euro-bashing needs to stop.