Friday, December 30, 2011

Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris Photos

More junk to clear off my phone. Various places I've been in the past couple of months. Happy new year!

Click on the photos to see larger details.

A canal in Amsterdam's Jordaan district

Parc de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium

Delicious! An excellent beer from the Tongerlo Abbey

No idea what this is.

Hotel Ravenstein in Brussels

Shops near the Grande Place de Bruxelles

Grande Place de Bruxelles

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Buying Citizenship in Dominica

I'm afraid this one is for those with a bit of spare cash, but a number of countries allow you to buy citizenship. One of the cheapest is Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), a tiny island nation in the Caribbean.

View Larger Map

Dominica is famed for its pristine, natural beauty: its jungles are virtually untouched, its beaches warm and plentiful, and its citizenship is up for sale.

Roseau, capital of Dominica
RufusTeleStrat at en.wikipedia

The cost is $75,000 US for an individual or $100,000 for a family. Yes, that link goes to a commercial firm which offers "assistance" for this service, but the process is quite legal and fairly well known. Simply searching for Dominica Naturalization and Citizenship Act will generate plenty of hits for you to research.

Interior of Dominica
Photo by Ken Bosma

The capital of Dominica, Roseau, has fewer than 15,000 people, compared to less than 75,000 for the entire country. The Dominica per capita GDP is a little over $10,000, though I've had trouble finding reliable figures for the median income (it appears to be around $5,000 per year). If you don't mind poverty, being in the middle of nowhere and gorgeous natural scenery, Dominica offers you that second passport.

For a more human touch, here's an interesting blog on an American who moved to Dominica and subsequently left. Note that the author is pretty upset with the Dominica government and has no plans to return there.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Getting a university job in Korea

Today's guest blog post comes from Sharon de Hinojosa, the author of the excellent She is an Assistant Professor at the Sungkyunkwan University, Sungkyun Language Institute, in Korea. She gives you the ins-and-outs of getting a job teaching English at a Korean university.

Photo by Carey Ciuro
I work at one of the top five universities in Korea and I got the job while overseas, something most people said was impossible to do. I’ve been teaching English for 9 years now, and 6 of those have been at universities. I’m not yet 30 either. University jobs in Korea aren’t what they used to be. Granted most jobs in Korea aren’t what they used to be. The golden days are gone. Most of my friends have been in Korea for over a decade and they say that if you take the cost of living into account and inflation, they make less now than they did when they first came here.

That being said, if you’re looking to teach English, Korea is one of the best places to save. The cushy university jobs offer months of paid vacation. I get 5 months. If I teach classes at my university during the break, I can double my salary. Not bad.

So are you interested in teaching at a university in Korea yet? If so, then read on.

There are two different basic types of university jobs: unigwon and regular university jobs. Unigwons, named for university and hagwon, usually have you teach some kids’ classes. Regular university jobs will have you teaching adults; university students usually between 18 and 24 years old. Regular university jobs can further be divided into two categories: teaching credit courses and teaching non-credit courses. Credit courses often pay more and are regular subjects that are taught in English, such as Science, Business, Writing, Presentation, Literature, and so on. Non-credit courses usually pay less and are usually the 4 skills or conversation classes.

So now I bet you’re thinking, sounds great, sign me up. Now just hang on a second, let’s see if you’re qualified. If you’re going to teach classes in English, you have to have a passport (and they usually require most of your education to have taken place using English) from an English speaking country and those are Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and the US. French Canadians might have difficulties, every university is different. Next you’re going to need a bachelor degree and that also has to be from an English speaking country.

Those are the basic qualifications. If you get an E2 visa, which is an English teacher visa, you’re also going to have to have a current, clean federal background check. Even though you’ll be teaching at a university, most employers will get you an E2 visa rather than the coveted E1 professor visa. For the E1, you’re going to have to have proof of two years teaching experience.

The more qualified you are, the better. If you’ve been to conferences, given workshops, been published, done a masters degree, completed a TEFL course (with at least 120 hours and 6 of teaching practice), written a thesis, then great. Keep in mind that more and more universities are asking for masters degrees and at least two years university experience. With Korea being flooded by English speakers who can’t get work back home, universities can afford to be picky. I’ve seen licensed teachers and people with PhDs working alongside with fresh off the boat graduates and they’re all working at public schools making about the same.

The main hiring season starts October 1st for a March 1st job. The academic year begins on March 1st here in Korea. The other hiring season is in the spring for a September 1st start. Right before the semester starts is another good time to look for jobs because some teachers decide to accept jobs elsewhere at the last minute. This means the university has to scramble to find a replacement. If you haven’t already scanned all your docs, then you should do that. Employers commonly ask for your CV (with photo), cover letter, degree, transcripts, certificates, passport, and reference letters.

Some university jobs are extremely competitive. Those in Seoul are usually more difficult to get than those outside of Seoul. That being said, some universities have two campuses and often pay up to 500,000 won a month (currently $435 US) extra for the teachers who are at the campus that is NOT in Seoul. Cost of living is lower outside of Seoul as well. Korea University, Hongik, and Yonsei university which are part of the SKY universities have campuses outside of Seoul. The SKY (Seoul National, Korea, Yonsei) universities, KAIST, Ewha, Hongik, and Sookmyung are pretty competitive positions, so if you’ve never taught in the Korean university system before it might be difficult to land a job there. However, you’ll never know unless you try.

Age and being outside of Korea will work against you. Most universities have a cutoff age of 50 or 55. Mine won’t hire teachers over the age of 45. If you can’t interview in country, some places won’t consider you. Some may do a Skype interview.

Some universities have a cap for how long you can teach there. Most are capped at 5 years because that’s when the pension contribution for employers goes up, though some are capped at 2 or 4 years.

Salaries vary as do hours. I’ve seen universities pay as little as 1.8 mil won ($1,566US) for 20 hours a week and up to 3.7 mil won ($3,219US) for 12 hours a week. Overtime is also nice and can vary between 20,000 won up to 50,000. I’ve taught a class that even paid 100,000. The great thing about universities is that you can get extra work at the university legally. From teaching other classes, to proofreading, editing, writing books, tutoring professors, teaching camps, or even voiceovers, there are lots of chances to pick up extra hours.

My contract calls for 15 class hours, which is 5 classes, and everything over that is overtime. I usually teach 8 classes and of those all are credit classes except one. Six classes meet twice a week and I teach the same lesson to each class, meaning I only have to prep two lessons a week. One class is a conversation class that meets four times a week and one class is a culture class that meets once a week. I’ve created the curriculum for the conversation class and culture class and have applied to teach a current events class next year as well. We have to keep 3 office hours a week, but that’s not too hard.

One thing that has to be said about university jobs is that admin is often hands-off in the sense that you are expected to be an experienced teacher and should know what you’re doing. So they’ll give you the book and tell you how many essays, papers, quizzes, and exams there should be and you’re expected to create a syllabus as well as the topics for the essays and papers and write the quizzes and finals.

As with any job in a foreign country, there are going to be cultural clashes. Keep in mind that losing face is a big deal in Korea, so it’s best to smile and nod, keep your head down, and do your own thing.

If you’re looking to get into the university system in Korea it’s usually difficult to land a plum job outright. What many teachers do is accept any university job, stay for a year or two, and then apply to better universities. Once you’re in the university system, you’re golden. Some teachers aim for the prestigious famous universities, others want few hours, or a high salary, or lots of vacation, or all of the above. Some of the best university jobs are at universities that few have heard of and that’s probably the reason why the job is so good.

Most universities advertise at and it might also be worth checking out The Chronicle,, and HigherEdJobs. There are still a couple months left during the main hiring season, so get your docs together and start applying.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Amsterdam

Merry Christmas to everyone around the globe. I hope the coming year let's you realize your dream of living abroad!

Snow in Amsterdam
Snow in Amsterdam (sadly, it's not really snowing here)
Photo by Tanya Hart

Friday, December 23, 2011

Finland Blue Card

Update, Feb 24, 2012: the Finnish EU Blue Card has been postponed a bit.

Great news for those interested in Finland. They'll be introducing the Finnish Blue Card in 2012. The requirements, though, are pretty steep.
  • The work requires special qualifications or expertise.
  • The applicant has a higher education degree and is committed to a work contract of at least one year for highly qualified employment.
  • The applicant is paid a gross salary of minimum EUR 4,832 per month. This is the salary threshold applicable in Finland in 2012 and reviewed annually.
  • The terms and conditions of employment comply with existing regulations and collective agreements.
  • The applicant fulfils the general requirements outlined in the Aliens Act for the granting of a residence permit. For example, the applicant must have a valid travel document (such as a passport), and must not be the subject of an entry ban.

View Larger Map

You may be a perfect candidate but still find that €4,832 threshold pretty difficult to reach. That's currently around $6,300US a month, or around $75K a year. The World Democracy Audit lists Finland as their number one country. For those of you who value and educated, socially conscious and peaceful society, it's hard to beat Finland.

Combine that with Finland's strong economy and a 6.2% unemployment rate and I would definitely say "check it out". Plus, 63% of the populace speaks English (probably even more in Helsinki), so if you're proficient in English, this will make life easier while you learn Finnish.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Apartment Hunting in Paris

We're in Paris for a few days looking for an apartment. Leila asked what I wanted to do with some spare time so naturally I said "Eiffel Tower". I haven't seen it since 1999 and I was looking forward to seeing it again. Fortunately, though cold, the weather was beautiful.

If you've never seen the Tower in person, it might be surprising to learn how large it is. I know I was certainly surprised the first time I saw it. The base in enormous.

As for the flat hunting, Leila, as is her wont, did a huge amount of research and already knew the flat we wanted. It's a lovely two-bedroom in Les Lilas just a few minutes away from my work. Finding something affordable that close is a huge stroke of luck. We have a bit of paperwork to handle today and, if all goes well  (there is still one tiny hitch we're trying to resolve) then we will have the place and move in the middle of January, about a month and a half earlier than we thought.

Interestingly, we'll be signing a three-year contract. That scared the heck out of me at first, but Leila explained that in France, it simply guarantees that the flat is ours for three years, but we can leave earlier if desired. It's not a "lease" in the sense of what I'm used to in the US.

After wanting to move here for decades, it's finally happening. Wow.

In other great news, Leila's birthday was yesterday, so this makes a lovely present for her.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Horrifying Amsterdam Traffic Accident

In lieu of a post today, here are a bunch of awful camera phone pics.

Terrible Dutch traffic accident
When our daughter is hungry, she's hungry.
My wife feeding her in the courtyard of the Grand-Place de Bruxelles
The architecture at the Grand-Place is amazing
Sometimes I can convince my wife
to smile for the camera
Our bored waiter in Brussels

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

French Guiana a Gateway to Europe?

My friend Michael R. sent me this fascinating story about French Guiana being a gateway to Europe.

French Guiana is a small area on the northwest coast of South America and is legally a département d’outre-mer of France, or "overseas department". Legally it has the same status as any other French department.

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Were you to live and work there long enough and gain permanent residency, you should be able to move to France. Sadly, it doesn't appear any easier to "legally" emigrate there than to emigrate straight to France. Nonetheless, it's interesting to see the people will to do that in hopes of some day getting to Europe.

Of course, you could always go there illegally and marry a native. Then you just wait long enough and your spouse could apply for citizenship on your behalf.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Bad Time to Move to Europe?

(but I'll be damned if I could find it there)
If you're planning on emigrating to Europe, you might be concerned about the financial situation over here, so let's take a quick peek. We often speak of the PIIGS:
  • Portugal
  • Italy
  • Ireland
  • Greece
  • Spain
These are the countries whose economies are performing so poorly and whose debt is so out of control that they threaten to bring down the Euro. How bad is their debt? Well, according to the above infographic:

CountryDebt % of GDP

And the US? Try a projected 100% for 2011 (page 3, PDF), compared to 57.6% when Bush took office. If a country can't manage its debt, creditors get nervous. Most of Europe is doing better than the US in debt management and they're casting a nervous eye towards the US. If the US can't get her house in order, she threatens to take down the world economy, dependent as it is on US dollars.

Still, France is looking at losing her AAA credit rating and I routinely hear people ask "why move to Europe now?"

It's a tough question, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, this is cyclical. All economies have ups and downs. It's unfortunate that world financial systems have been so poorly regulated that they've helped to collapse our economies (history will identify the causes of this financial crisis far easier than those of the Great Depression). It's also unfortunate that the problem is dragging on so long. Given that this happened relatively shortly after much of Europe switched to the Euro, it's fair to say that this is spectacularly bad timing. Of course, the Euro has always been rather poorly managed, but this is a serious crisis.

So should you reconsider your move to Europe? Maybe. Europe isn't worse off than the US, but as an immigrant, you won't be able to take advantage of many of the social services over here. European countries take care of their citizens when they're down on their luck, but as an immigrant, you won't have paid into the system and it's understandable that you won't get the same benefits. However, if you have a good position in a strong sector, Europe is still a fine choice.

The World is Round!

However, I keep telling people the world is round and they shouldn't forget that. Learn about other places! The main reason most people want to go to Europe is because that's what they know. But if you're worried about the economy, much of South America's economy is doing great!
China wows the world with double-digit economic growth, but Brazil has suddenly become the world's seventh largest economy, on its way to displace the U.K. as the sixth. Brazil's Gross Domestic Product grew 7.5% last year. Argentina's soared 9.2%. Others expanded just as fast. Paraguay's GDP climbed a stunning 15% and Uruguay's more than 8%.
From that same article: Brazil is on track to become the world's sixth largest economy, overtaking the UK and it's easy to emigrate to Uruguay. Don't overlook other great opportunities just because you've become fixated on one continent. It's a beautiful world out there!

Friday, December 9, 2011

More Americans plan to leave the US

First, we have this Zogby poll of 115,000 Americans showing that up to 20% of American households are considering living outside the US, at least part time. That article is four years old, but it turns out that Bob Adams, the gentleman whose company conducted the survey, is continuing to conduct surveys. As it turns out, the number of young people who want to leave the US has increased quite a bit.

One number is particularly striking to me:
Younger Americans seem even keener to look abroad, with 40 percent of those 18-24 expressing interest in foreign relocation, which is up from 15 percent two years ago.

Some of this is adventurism. Some of this is disenchantment with US politics. Some of this is fear for the US economic future. All of this is interesting. Something significant is happening, but unless Americans can figure out how to get out, there won't be much change. Still, it looks like I should be writing an "Expat Howto" book now, instead of another programming book.

You can read more at the American Wave web site. It has a lot of fascinating information.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

French Workplace Culture

Ubuntu-be Tshirt 2
Geek formal wear
Photo by Wouter Vandenneucker
When working at one company in the UK, I was surprised to find all of the geeks in slacks and nice shirts. Of course, I say "nice", but the truth is that they were long-sleeved, button-down shirts which invariably looked like they had been wadded up and stuffed in corner for a few weeks. In this case, the dress code definitely made things worse. When it was finally lifted, most of the geeks showed up in t-shirts and it was definitely an improvement. Geeks wear t-shirts. It's practically a requirement, but one that I ignore. Sometimes I stand out a bit because though I wear jeans, I do try to wear nice shirts.

I no longer stand out. My French colleagues actually give a damn about their appearance. They're geeks and some of them are damned good ones, but they're not wearing t-shirts. I thought maybe it was a dress code, but no, it's not. They're French.

The other odd aspect is walking in to the office and shaking hands with your colleagues. I wasn't surprised the first day when a couple of people shook my hand, but when they were shaking everyone else's hands and this happened on the second and third day, I realized that this is just the French way of doing things. It's going to take some getting used to, but already I'm enjoying the heck out of Paris.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Explaining America to Europeans

Here's an interesting experiment: the next time you're discussing politics with someone, try to do two things:

  • Assume they know nothing about the subject you're talking about
  • Try to be fair to all sides

For example, when a European asks me "why do Americans like guns?", there's a huge amount of background there and aside from a polite nod to the Second Amendment, I doubt there are many Americans who have an interest in politics who can either discuss the history and meaning of the Amendment or are willing to try to be fair in explaining the point of view of those who disagree with them on this topic.

As I'll be moving to France soon, I'm girding myself for the inevitable "defending the homeland" talks. The USA has a lot of problems but when all is said and done, it's a much nicer country than many people give it credit for. That being said, sometimes it gets really, really difficult for me to find any way to put a positive spin on some things. Witness the Republican presidential primary.

Presidential Debates for Morons
Photo by Mike Licht
In a upcoming Presidential debate where we have a Michelle Bachmann, who can most politely be described as as "odd", Herman Cain¹, a politically inexperienced businessman who won't allow Muslims in his cabinet or government because there's a "creeping intent" to introduce Sharia law into the US government, Rick Santorum, a homophobe who wants to let states criminalize gay sex and compares it to "man on dog" sex, we have Ron Paul being excluded from the same debate for his "extreme views." Seems he wants to end US foreign aid. That includes aid to Israel. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the debate in question is hosted by a Jewish group which apparently doesn't see "man on dog" conversations as being extreme enough to exclude someone.

We have a later "Presidential Debate" being hosted by a real estate billionaire and reality TV star and the press worry that candidate John Huntsman is unelectable because ... drumroll please ... he acknowledges both climate change and evolution. Meanwhile, the front runner, Mitt Romney, perhaps the platonic ideal of Republican "family values", has never been entirely trusted for reasons I can't quite grasp (psst ... he's Mormon) and it now appears that Newt Gingrich, the thrice-married adulterer who led the charge against Clinton for his affair, may be anointed the standard bearer of this increasingly right-wing Christian party.

While I disagree with many of Ron Paul's views, shouldn't the voters be the people who decide whether or not someone is has "extreme views"? And honestly, Donald Trump hosting a debate? This is simply embarrassing. So much of US politics appears to be a dog and pony show while the need of the US people to have intelligent, informed discussion is simply being ignored.

So can someone tell me how to spin that in a way that doesn't make the US sound absolutely ridiculous? I can't figure it out.

1. I wrote this before Herman Cain announced he was quitting. Voters had no problem with his idiotic tax plan of the fact that he had no idea that China had nuclear weapons. It was the accusations of sexual impropriety which derailed his campaign.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Working in Paris

Azerty keyboard
Photo by Alexandre Duret-Lutz

Yesterday was my first day working in Paris and the company handed me a laptop ... with the operating system in French and an Azerty keyboard. I can deal with a French operating system, but after 30 years of a Qwerty keyboard, Azerty is very frustrating. It seems like a programmer's nightmare: you have to shift to type a number or even many of the most common punctuation symbols. I can see why it would be better for writing a letter in French, but that's about it.

I had dinner at a sushi restaurant last night and waitress heard my accent and seemed almost irritated when I refused to switch to English. I thought maybe it was physically impossible for her to smile until she saw that I left a small pourboire (tip) on the table. I should have left extra for the fruit flies.

I'll work in Paris again today and leaving tonight. No photos yet, but I should be traveling regularly to Paris over the next two to three months.

In other news; the Eiffel Tower is going to be turned into the world's largest planter. Hopefully I'll get to see it again before this happens.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

French OFII Language Test (and a One-Year Anniversary)

Monday was actually the one-year anniversary of my first post to this blog but I was so busy putting together the Young Person's Guide to Living Abroad (though it should have read "moving abroad") that I totally overlooked the anniversary.

As my wife and I are moving to Paris, I had to jump through some hoops to apply for a « visa de long séjour » (long stay visa). This is the first time I'll be using the fact that I'm married to an EU national to facilitate a move to a new country.

First, we had to go to Brussels, Belgium, to apply for the visa at the French consulate because, apparently, the one in Amsterdam does not handle this process (grr ...). After a quick chat to verify that we were really married, I was asked six questions to assess my understanding of French culture. These were basic questions like "can a woman vote?", "does a woman need her husband's permission to open a bank account?" and so on. These questions, as far as I can tell, are mostly targeting those from cultures where women do not have the same rights as men.

Brussels Central Station memorial to railway
workers who died during WWI and WWII.
I answered all of these questions correctly, which led to the scheduling of my OFII language test. OFII is « Office Français de l'Immigration et de l'Intégration ». The test is to ensure that I have the basic language skills necessary to live in France. Many French do not speak any other language (if you know the "trilingual", "bilingual", "monolingual" joke, the French apply it to themselves!), so not speaking French is a serious impediment.

As we left, we took the train from Bruxelles Central and saw the "Aux 3012 cheminots mort" memorial you see the image. I can't help but wonder how Germans feel, traveling all over Europe and getting a constant reminder of how many people have died because of their country. Though it's not spoken of as much as it used to be, it's a common theme which one gets reminded of in Europe: the continent is integrating to ensure these wars do not happen again.

Yesterday I was in Brussels at L'Academie française de Bruxelles Europe for the French language test. To be honest, I was worried. Intellectually I knew that it probably wasn't a problem, but all I had to do was choke a few times and I could fail it. From what I understand, if I had failed it, my visa would be delayed and I'd have to take 40 hours of French to brush up my knowledge. If I failed it again, my visa would still be approved (under EU law, it's very hard to deny it if I'm married to an EU national), but I'd have to take 400 hours of French classes once in France. Fortunately, those classes would be paid for by the French government, but almost all of my free time is spent writing my book, so having to attend 400 hours of French classes would make it impossible to fulfill my book contract. I could not risk failing this test.

Once I got to their offices, I was asking my way to the registration desk when, to my surprise, the lady I was asking directions from asked me to switch to English because she didn't speak French very well. Once I arrived at the proper place, I  sat down to read Les trois mousquetaires (en français facile) while nervously waiting for a test which could make my life very difficult.

I received 100 out of 100 points. If you've spoken French with me before, you may be surprised by that, but this is how easy the French OFII language test is. It's not a barrier the French have erected to keep people out; it's an honest assessment of the minimum French you need to know to survive.

The process: after having the test explained to me (in French, of course), I was asked to just speak for a while in French. I explained I was nervous because the test was important for my family, that I already had a job in Paris, when I learned French, and so on.

After speaking well enough to satisfy my examiner, she fanned out many versions of the written test face down. I picked one at random. The top part just had me filling in my name, date of birth, current date, and so on. Then I had to complete some sentences with five words they supplied, list 5 to 10 items I could buy in a clothing shop and one other easy task which escapes me right now.

Sorry Germany, Belgian beers are the best
Honestly, that's how easy the test was. I was so relieved that I passed that when I left, I sat down to a lovely Tongerlo beer from the Tongerlo monastery in Belgium. Passing that test makes my life so much easier.

Before I left Brussels, I decided to have lunch. That's when tragedy struck. I made a mistake I have made several times before in Europe: I decided to try a Tex-Mex restaurant.

For me, eating at a European Mexican or Tex-Mex restaurant is the gustatorial equivalent of picking a scab. Once I get it in my mind, I just have to do it, even though I know I'll probably regret it. The Chi-Chi's Tex-Mex restaurant in Belgium was no exception. I had their €11 lunch buffet. Buffets are never as good as a properly prepared, but they give you a variety and I wanted to see if anything they offered was tasty.

It was crap. All of it was crap. In all of my time in Europe, I've only eaten at two decent "Mexican" restaurants. One was the Arizona restaurant in Camden Town (since closed down and even then it wasn't authentic) and the other is central London. When Europeans say they don't like Mexican food, it's because they've never had it. The food was so incredibly awful that I actually felt bad for the people walking in. I wanted to walk around to different tables and explain that I was from Texas and please don't judge us on the basis of the slop on their plate. The food was, in short, embarrassing.

The one interesting thing about the restaurant, though, was a sight I've seen several times before in various European countries. A young black guy walked in and he was dressed, for lack of a better word, "gangsta". He had his thick jacket, sagging jeans, unlaced running shoes, baseball cap askew, plenty of bling. And he politely asked for a table for one in perfect French.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Young Person's Guide to Moving Abroad

Adventure or Bust!
Public Domain Image
Constantly on Reddit's IWantOut communityYahoo! Answers or, if they're a bit clued in, in expat forms, I see variations of the following question:
I would mainly like to move to germany but I am wanting to move to Europe and learn fashion design. I don't know what sort of job I can get over there being so young and not speaking another language. I don't feel at home in the USA and finaly did in europe and I have to go back ! what should I do?
I call these fairy tale posts.

To figure out how to move to another country, you have to take stock of what you skills you possess which might help to make this happen. Here's the typical profile of people making fairy tale posts:
  • No life experience
  • No work experience
  • No education
  • No language skills
  • No money
This does not bode well for your chances, but you might, just might have the one skill necessary to pull this off: determination.

To start with, read Why you'll say "no" to living abroad. I consider this the foundation post of this blog because it's critical to understanding the process. You have to make sure that you can seize any opportunity which comes along (this doesn't mean you should take any opportunity).

The very first thing you need to do is apply for your passport. If you don't have a passport, you're not serious about moving abroad. If you can't be bothered to get a passport, you may as well stop reading.

The second thing you need to do is take stock of your life and stop doing anything which might land you in legal trouble. Of course, that's a very personal decision, but if you wind up with a criminal record, your limited chances of living abroad are approaching zero. Maybe you don't think the government should outlaw drugs, but your personal beliefs are meaningless when another country sees you have a drug conviction. You need to decide what's more important to you.

The third thing you need to do is set your life up so you can leave as soon as is feasible. Long-term leases or owning pets might be an obstacle. However, working towards a college degree is a benefit, even if you don't get to leave tomorrow. Always ask yourself, "what's stopping me from leaving now?" As agonizing as this may sound, it also means considering your partner, if you have one. Would you leave a girlfriend/boyfriend for a chance to move to New Zealand? You have to understand your motivations here and you should be prepared for tough choices.

If you do have serious work skills, and by "serious" I mean "highly skilled labor", you should start by reading my five part "How to get a work permit" series, but if you're young and unskilled, you probably don't have a chance at a work permit. So what do you have?

Forget Europe

I don't really mean that, but if you think "where can I move" instead of "I want to move to Europe", you'll have many more opportunities. The biggest mistake I see many would-be expatriates make is forgetting that the world is round. For example, Montevideo is a large, cosmopolitan city and Uruguay is relatively easy to emigrate to, basically requiring around $600US a month income and a lot of paperwork. Can you find a remote job that pays more than $600 a month? Maybe you can get to Uruguay. However, one person who could have done this told me "I don't want to live in the sticks" (US slang for "middle of nowhere"). Montevideo is not "the sticks", but if you don't do your research, how would you know?

Working Holidays

For young people, you might want to consider working holiday schemes. Australia and New Zealand offer them and while they aren't designed to allow you to permanently live there, once you're there, your options will open up tremendously.

Teaching English

Many young people complain that they don't want to teach English abroad. Too bad. It's one of the most popular ways that young, unskilled workers can move to another country. Many people report heading to countries with a strong demand for English teachers and finding work under the table, but this is very risky. You might not find work and, if you do, you're probably an illegal immigrant and risk deportation. Being deported from a country means you probably can't get back in for many years. In fact, some countries won't let you in if they find out that you've been deported from another country.

Volunteer Work

Many people are surprised to find out that volunteer positions around the world often require you to pay for the privilege of being a volunteer. Sadly, this is not a scam. Many volunteer organizations are poor and simply can't afford to fly you to Paris, put you up in a flat and feed you while you work for two hours a day baby sitting someone. Do your research as some "volunteer" organizations are scams, but if you find a reputable volunteer organization, you can at least have a short time in another country and gain valuable life and work skills. Plus, it looks great on your résumé/CV.

Au Pair

An au pair is basically a young person (usually a woman) who travels to a new country, stays with a host family and looks after the children for a time. It's usually a short-stay trip and an au pair is not a nanny. Families do this to expose their children to other cultures and, sometimes, because they enjoy giving people from other countries an opportunity to see the world. Be careful, though. While it's rare, some au pairs find themselves horribly abused by their host families. Work through a reputable agency and be safe.

Studying Abroad

Studying abroad offers you not only the chance to live in another country, it allows you to earn a degree which makes staying abroad much easier. In fact, many countries give preferential immigration treatment to students who have graduated from that country's universities.

Many foreign universities are eligible for US federal financial aid. Other countries, such as Germany and Norway, have free university programs which foreigners are eligible for. This probably means staying in the US for a couple of years, going to university and earning good enough grades to qualify for foreign universities. If you can do this, it's one of the best ways of getting out and staying out.

Joining the Military

This one is controversial, but yes, the military will often send you abroad. It's one of the easiest ways of gaining life skills, work experience, seeing the world and saving money for college. Of course, you might have to kill the foreigners you meet. Your own values/political beliefs will have to be examined strongly before you consider this.

French Foreign Legion

Sorry ladies, this one is for the men only.

Every week, searches for "French Foreign Legion" show up in the list of most popular searches on this site. You can read some background on them and I highly recommend that you consider some of the myths surrounding the French Foreign Legion.

Basically, you need to be a young man, in good health, and buy a plane ticket to France. And be willing to kill people.

Foreign Service Exam

This is not as widely discussed and I should write more about it, but if you are interested in the US Foreign Service, the qualifications are:
  • U.S. citizens on the date they submit their registration package
  • At least 20 years old and no older than 59 years of age on the day you submit your registration
  • At least 21 years old and not yet 60 on the day you are appointed as a Foreign Service Officer
Note that neither foreign language skills nor a college degree are required. However, very few people pass their selection criteria. Prepare to do a lot of reading about being a foreign service officer and know that very few people pass the entrance exam. It takes a lot of study and discipline, but it's one of many strategies available to you.

Fantasy versus Reality

When people as me what it's like to be an expat, I often reply "how do you feel about immigrants"? It's hard being an expat. Don't underestimate homesickness. Many people want to be expats so they can tell their friends what wonderful and exciting lives they have but their friends are thousands of miles away. And the expat life is not glamorous. The French have a saying, metro, boulot, dodo. That means "subway, work, sleep". It's a typical "day in the life". Being an expat means that you'll get up, go to work, go home, have dinner, and sleep. That's the majority of your existence at home and that will be the majority of your existence abroad. It's the things outside of metro, boulot, dodo which make being an expat so rewarding, but those aren't the bulk of your existence.

It's not a magical, fairy-tale world out there, but it's an incredible one. Immersing yourself in other cultures and understanding how other people see the world is one of the most wonderful things you can do in life.


If you're young and determined, you have multiple avenues to live abroad, either permanently or temporarily. I would strongly recommend that you pursue several at the same time, maximizing your flexibility. Living in another country is not a right, it's a privilege that you have to earn. If you're determined enough, you can do it.

And keep reading this blog. As I research more ways to get out, I'll post them here, along with my personal experiences. I've helped others leave their countries and I want to help you, too.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Can You Move to Europe?

Kalypso Nikolaidis - EU
Photo by openDemocracy
The European Union has set up a EU Immigration Portal to let you quickly look up the laws for your immigration role and desired country. It appears to be relatively new and I somehow doubt that they're going to make all of this a model of clarity, but if it were done right, it would make much of Overseas Exile useless.

The immigration profiles are:

  • Family Member
  • Researcher
  • Student
  • Worker

Select the one you want, the

  • Employed worker
  • Highly qualified worker
  • Other
  • Seasonal worker
  • Self-employed worker

And then you select the country for which the above applies. For example, I moved to the UK in 2006 as a highly-skilled worker and in selected that, I get a page with "Conditions" (do you qualify?), "Procedures" (how to qualify), "Rights" (what qualification gives you) and "Links" (where to go for more information).

It's an information gold mine. It appears to be relatively new (I couldn't find it in the Internet Archive) and I'm curious to know if they're going to improve it. Some sections, such as the "Family Member" portions, were a bit disappointing, but if you want to move to Europe, it's fantastic.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving turkey
Turkey 'n delicious, delicious stuffing
Photo by antonellomusina
It's the one day of the year I really get homesick. I miss Thanksgiving dinner with my friends back in Portland.

My wife doesn't know much about Thanksgiving, so last night a an American friend of ours brought over Thanksgiving dinner. It was chicken instead of turkey (turkey's not as common over here), but it was delicious nonetheless.

And I think it was the first time I've eaten stuffing in years. I forgot how delicious stuffing is. As the years go by, I'm sure our daughter might think it a touch odd to be celebrating an American holiday, but I can't imagine her complaining. Extra holidays are always great, right?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No Republicans in Europe?

I have a deadline of December 1st for the first 25% of my new book, so I've not been posting as much as I could have.

I mentioned this about a year ago in this blog, but I have, in my entire time living in Europe, met precisely two Americans living over here who call themselves Republicans. Both of them stated that they hate the current Republican party in the US. So where the hell are the Republicans?

Republican Elephant - 3D Icon
Where are the US Republicans in Europe?
Photo by DonkeyHotey
I've again done an informal poll and while I'm told that there are a few Republicans running about in the foreign service and I know that there are some Republican business people who've been sent to Europe by their companies, but what I'm trying to figure out is how many Republicans might be over here who:
  • Came here of their own accord
  • Stayed
I just can't find them. US Republicans, as a species, are on the endangered list over here in Europe.

Interestingly, I've met American expats of many other political stripes over here: Democrats, Libertarians, Socialists, independents (is that a stripe?), far-right wing nuts who refuse to call themselves Republican. You name it, we got. Just not Republicans.

Of course, this might have something to do with the US being the furthest to the right of the major nations. Republicans could be branded a "far-right extremists" over here (even the Libertarians wouldn't earn such a branding because they're socially tolerant).

I suspect that has something to do with why they're pretty thin on the ground over here, but at least one friend of mine suggested that it's because they're convinced that the US must be better than everywhere else, so why leave?

What are your thoughts on this? Do you know any long-term US Republican expats who didn't leave the US just because they were transferred by their company?

Friday, November 18, 2011

What is going wrong in the USA?

I don't think it's unreasonable to ask if there's a double standard here.

A tip o' the keyboard to Reddit for that line.

Employment for Foreigners in France

Photo by Taxiarchos228
In the post Foreigners in France: Fewer Opportunities for Employment, the author describes how France is trying to limit foreigners taking jobs away from French people. Technically, an employer cannot discriminate against you for not being French, but if you don't yet have a work permit, the government's made it a bit harder to acquire one. What's really interesting is how this is clearly a political move and not a realistic one: only 0.03% of residents in France are seeking a work permit. Clearly a grave threat to the Republic!

Naturally I'll be upgrading this blog with with more information about France now, including tips on working here, but it looks like it's going to be a harder task. Make it easy on yourself and just find someone French to marry (Leïla's taken, sorry guys!).

Update: I should make it clear that the new rules seem to largely apply to foreigners already living in France trying to switch to a work permit rather than a residence or student-based visa. That's why the 0.03% number is important. It's not about the number of people wanting to get into France.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We're Moving to Paris

Paris - Faubourg Saint Antoine
Rue de Fabourg Saint-Antoine, Paris
Photo by Phillipe Payart
Leïla and I both love Amsterdam and I have a great job, but for various reasons we've decided to move to Paris. The difficulty of Leïla finding good work here is a major contributing factor. She's lived and worked in Paris for years and was ready to return to France, so we think this is the right decision for us and our family. It will also be much easier raising our daughter in a school system where French or English is the first language.

I already have a fantastic job lined up and will be starting the first of December. We'll be staying in Amsterdam for two or three months before the actual move, but I'll be regularly travelling to Paris. I suspect a few readers of this blog might find Paris more compelling than Amsterdam.

Meaux, France
Photo by Daniel Marinaud
I've been warned repeatedly that Paris is more expensive than Amsterdam, but there's not a huge amount of difference. However, we're probably going to live outside of Paris and I'll commute. We're considering several options, one of which is Meaux. It's further away than we would like, but it's a lovely town and not very expensive. If you know the Paris area and can recommend anything (or have a cheap flat to rent), drop me a line!

It's going to be tough leaving Amsterdam. We've been making a lot of good friends here and have managed to avoid the isolation which so many expats experience. We were planning on staying here for quite some time and were looking forward to it. It's really one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, but my family has to come first.

What really amazes me is that this is going to be country number five for me! It's also going to be my first country (I'm too young to really remember Japan)  where English is not commonly spoken. English is actually the working language at my new job, but other than that, it's French all the way. I expect my French is going to improve rapidly.

And before you ask, we made this decision long before we learned of the proposed changes to the 30% ruling (the government is already backing down on some of that) and has a lot to do with recent trips to Paris and Brussels. Paris was for the job interview and Brussels was to start the paperwork for the marriage visa. Fortunately, I aced the French Culture part of the test and I'm waiting for the Alliance Française to schedule my French language test. I should be fine as it's a basic test, but who knows? If I don't pass it, I'll still get the marriage visa but will have mandatory (and free) French classes.

On a personal note: I knew when I was 13 years old that I wanted to move to France. It's hard to imagine that 30 years later, it's finally happening. This is possibly going to be the biggest adventure I've undertaken.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Losing the Expat Gamble

As of this writing, we don't know exactly what's going to happen, but from my discussions with people, it looks like the government is reconsidering what I describe below. We still don't know what's going to happen.

When you decide to become an expat, you gamble. Some of us gamble and lose. In this case, the Dutch government is considering new tax rule regarding expats. The short version: many of us earning under €73,000 a year will be losing the 30% ruling if these rules go through. I'll explain a bit more about the 30% ruling to give you an idea of what's going on here. What's worse, they government has considered making the new rules retroactively apply to every expat who has arrived in the past five years.

Dutch Parliament in Den Haag (The Hague)
Photo from the Wikimedia Commons
The 30% ruling is a law which allows companies to (sort of) reduce our salaries by 30%, but then we get that 30% back tax free. For most immigrants who qualify, it means that your taxes are around 25% to 30% of your income. Given that the top marginal rate in the Netherlands is 52%, that's a huge tax savings. If you're a well-paid professional, the Netherlands is not be attractive for you if you don't get the 30% ruling.

Why does the Dutch government offer such a useful deal? The Netherlands has very high taxes and when the Dutch government is struggling to attract highly skilled labor, companies simply can't afford to pay that labor an equivalent amount as a country with lower tax rates. For example, the top marginal tax rate in the UK is 50%, but you don't don't pay that until you hit £150,000. Your top marginal rate is probably 20% or 40%, much less than the Dutch 52% which kicks in at €54,367. Plus, since you you have pay at least €90 a month per person for medical insurance in the Netherlands (it's included in the cost of your taxes in the UK), the Netherlands winds up being far too expensive for a typical expat to move to.

For example, using an arbitrarily chosen salary of 60K (comparing pounds stirling to Euro, so it's not entirely fair), you'll pay £16,520 in taxes in the UK compared to €24,198 in the Netherlands. Add in the costs of medical insurance for a couple and you're paying well over €26K a year! With the 30% ruling, you'd be paying a tax rate roughly what you'd pay in the UK, with the exception of the extra costs for medical insurance.

One of the reasons I was motivated to leave the UK was that they kept changing the laws regarding expats and people I knew who moved to the UK under their old laws were being told they had to leave. Now, because the Dutch government is considering applying these rules apply to all expats who've arrived in the past five years, you have people who have given up their lives to emigrate to the Netherlands, only to find out that the government has decided to effectively give them a huge pay cut.

So how can the government just take this away? Easy. Everyone likes to beat up the immigrants. We have no political power and populist politicians find us easy targets for people's anger. Now, while the Dutch government, like many, is struggling financially, they've found another source of revenue. If the Dutch government had simply said "this change effects new workers," people and businesses would have time to adjust. But by threatening to apply this to all skilled expats who've arrived in the past five years, they've created a mess, but probably appeased a bunch of locals who don't care about the financial hardship they're causing. What's worse, this is a short term fix which causes long term problems. Had the 30% ruling not been in effect, it's very unlikely I would have moved to the Netherlands. I've heard many other expats say the same thing.

So if you're thinking about moving to another country (and if you read this blog, there's a good chance you are), keep this in mind. It's a wonderful gamble, but it's still a gamble. You will probably have no political voice in your country and are at the mercy of politicians.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Prague, Paris, and Brussels

A couple of weeks ago I was in Prague. The week afterwards I was in Paris. Then a couple of days ago I had to take an emergency trip to Brussels (long story, but I'll explain in a few days). Needless to say, I've been falling behind in my posting. Oh, and the first deadline for my book is looming, so I'm struggling to stay on top of this blog. My sincere apologies for this.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eurozone to break up?

Kalypso Nikolaidis - EU
Photo by openDemocracy
For those of you considering a move to Europe, be aware that the world financial crisis is still impacting us pretty damned hard. Basically, the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) are in such financial distress with the global collapse that they're threatening the stability of the Euro currency. That, in turn, threatens the stability of the Eurozone. Italy's problem is now reaching a tipping point and has led to public acknowledgement of talks between Germany and France to break up the Eurozone.

It's simply not possible to guess what's going to happen now. Will the EU break up? No, it's not going to happen. Will it lose a few members? Maybe. Will the Schengen Agreement allowing passport-free travel be revoked? Who knows?

Most importantly: will the ability of EU citizens to effectively live and work anywhere in Europe be curtailed? I expect we're going to see some changes here. Immigration is one the thorniest topics for nations and when the economy gets bad, lots of politicians play the "blame the foreigner" game. Never mind that Europe is still struggling like mad to fill their skilled labor gap; if we don't solve our financial woes, I expect some significant changes around here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Want to teach English in France?

Riquewihr, France
Riquewihr, France
Photo by Russ Bowling
I really like the Jenny n'est plus en France (Jenny is no longer in France) blog. Not only does she have great material about the French language, she also offers a lot of interesting cultural tidbits and sometimes job advice.

Recently she posted about the Teaching Assistant Program in France for 2012-2013 School Year. Basically you need:
  • To speak English
  • To speak French at an intermediate level (B1)
  • At least two years of University
  • Be under 30 years of age
Not exactly onerous requirements!

The pay is low, so housing assistance is available (not guaranteed) and you can opt for a second job, if desired. Not a bad addition to one's résumé or life experience!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

In 2003, American expats were almost destroyed financially

I can't believe I just read this. Fortunately, it looks like the provision didn't get much support, but in 2003, Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley supported a bill to revoke Tax Code Section 911. That's the section of the tax code which gives expats one of their (few) legal benefits by allowing us to deduct some money off of our income for tax calculation purposes.

American expats would have been returning to the US in droves or renouncing their citizenship. There really wouldn't be a financial choice in the matter. Imagine having to pay full taxes on your income in both the US and your country of residence! Already we have plenty of problems abroad.

  • The earned income exemption is not indexed to inflation, thus being an effective tax increase every year.
  • The devalued dollar artificially inflates our wages abroad, thus being an effective tax increase again!.
  • Most people claiming the earned income exclusion still paid US taxes ($4.2 billion in 2006 is a huge amount of double taxation)
  • We pay Medicare but we're not allowed to claim it
  • Because we've moved abroad, we're no longer allowed to deduct pension contributions
  • If I take a foreign pension instead of a US pension, my social security will be cut, even though I've paid for it.

There are many benefits to living abroad and if you earn under the earned income threshold, you won't be impacted by most of this, but finding out that they've already gone after one of my few legal benefits is horrifying.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Getting into the US: buy a house?

Very Honest For Sale By Owner Sign
Photo by Casey Serin
I've mostly talked about strategies for getting to various non-US countries. I honestly don't much about US immigration (and I'd welcome a guest post). It looks a bit confusing, though no more so than many other countries. The main advantage the US has is that we have the same set of laws across all 50 states. This gives the US a significant immigration advantage over Europe, including the fact that the hard to obtain Green Card means permanent residency and a path to citizenship, if desired.

I did note, however, a bill which would allow foreigners to buy U.S. homes for residency. It hasn't passed yet, but if it does, it would allow foreigners who spend at least $500,000 on residential property to live in the US. There are a few caveats, but basically, it would require you to buy at least one house to live in for $250,000 and other residential property totaling another $250,000 or more. You can rent out the extra property.

Personally, I'm all for this idea. I want to see barriers to immigration lowered, but honestly, given that the US now has %4.6 of homes empty and awaiting sale or rent, who actually thought this bill was a good idea now? Banks are foreclosing on people's homes left and right and this bill would allow them to be sold off to foreigners who can then rent a bunch of them back to the Americans who were foreclosed on? I can see this blowing up badly in some politician's faces if it passes.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Liberal whingers are wrong – we should shut our libraries

The British Library
The British Library
Photo by Steve Cadman
Americans take heart! Mean-spirited conservatism is not a "US only" phenomenon. Conservatives in the UK have decided that public libraries have got to go. After all, as this article in the Telegraph points out, almost 60% of people in the UK don't use libraries! And why would anyone? Today we have powerful computers and smart phones which let us look up information any time we want to!

The move to shut down the libraries has been a UK conservative issue for a while now. I can't figure out why the Tories are so keen on such an unpopular and stupid and idea, but I do note that it strikes a blow at the very poorest of society, those who likely won't vote Tory at all.

Except that it's Labour politicians who've been pushing this. Even the author of the above article (which I honestly thought was satire), is a well-known Labour strategist.

My friend Piers has written a protest song about this.

Child of the Library by pdcawley

If you think libraries are important, share the song. I understand that the UK is struggling financially right now, but saving money now by sacrificing the future of many poor children doesn't sound like a sound long-term strategy. For example, does the UK really need the third-highest military expenditures in the world? The cost of saving the libraries is a drop in the bucket of their spending on weapons.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hungary introduces European Union blue card scheme

Hunyad Castle, Hungary
Photo by Alex.bikfalvi
Hungary offers a European Union blue card. I'm slowly compiling a list of European Blue Card implementations to allow job seekers to a convenient resource for understanding basic requirements. Unfortunately, I'm having a lot of trouble finding better information on the Blue Card implementation in Hungary. It appears that they rushed the legislation to beat the EU deadline (and they're not the only country).

As it stands now, you need to be:
  • A "highly qualified" applicant
  • Have a job offer
The Blue Card will:
  • Be valid from 1 to 4 years
  • Make you eligible for permanent residency after only three years
  • Allow you to seek employment elsewhere in EU after two year
You can read Hungary's CIA world factbook entry to get a good overview of the country.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Working in Prague

I've been impressed with the quality of this conference so far, but as usual, I have little time to see the city. I'm pretty wiped out from the long days, but it's been fun and I think we've found some good candidates who might relocate to Amsterdam. This is a short video of the view from the restaurant last night's VIP dinner was at, but I've not much else to say.

I wish I could see more of this city as it looks beautiful. The prices are also incredibly cheap. I had a plate of pork ribs for about €7 and a huge, tasty noodle lunch for €3 to €4. It's astonishing how inexspensive everything is, though it would be nice not hearing the conference attendees talking in front of locals about how cheap and run down they think the city is. What makes people think this is appropriate?

I'm also amazed at how many Czech people speak English. This is good news for readers interested in the Czech Green Card or the Czech Blue Card.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In Prague

I'm in Prague all week working so I won't have as much time to update my blog. I'll try to write more about it when I get back. The accompanying photo is a poor camera photo taken from a tower in the Prague city center.