Monday, February 28, 2011

French In-Laws

Naturally after the birth of a child, everyone wants to come by and visit. Leïla's mother was here last week and her father and his partner made it down over the weekend.

Lilly-Rose's grandfather and his partner. Lilly-Rose is 3 weeks old in this photo.
Leïla's father and partner

It's interesting having in-laws I struggle to communicate with. My French is improving and I can generally follow most of the conversation ... until that one strange word hits and I lose the thread while trying to figure out what was meant. It's much worse when I'm tired: I'll understand every word in a sentence without a clue how they relate to one another.

I'm also getting a touch more used to French culture. Oftimes when the French discuss ideas, they do so strongly. They raise their voices, wave their hands and get impassioned about the topic. To the outsider, this can seem like a strong argument. Years ago, when I met Leïla for our first date, I assumed that it wasn't going well because she was reacting so forcefully to some things I said. Turns out that this wasn't the case at all. She was actually enjoying having a chance to get into a real conversation rather than the dull "where do you like to eat?" sort of first-date drivel.

Speaking of languages, if you really want to learn a new one, tomorrow I'll list some resources for you.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Photo Collection: Libya

As last week I focused on Egypt due to their uprising, this week's photo collection is of Libya. Let us hope their revolution is successful.

Rock Paintings - Tadrart Acacus, Libya
Libyan history goes back 14,000 years.
Photo by Jim Trodel

Theatre, Leptis Magna, Libya
Ruins 130km east of Tripoli, from the 3,000 year old city of Leptis Magna
Photo by Bob Rayner

Dargouth Turkish Bath, detail, Tripoli Medina, Libya, August 2007
Turkish baths in Tripoli look quite comfortable
Photo by R. Barraez D'Lucca

Street in old Tripoli
I love finding the delightful ancient architecture everywhere
Photo by David Stanley

And the ubiquitous street vendor. Perhaps they will now become a symbol of freedom.
Photo by Vincenzo_P

Egyptians demonstrate for Libya
And finally, something to think about ...
Photo by Darla Hueske

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cat and Baby

Due to a colicky baby and a terribly sick cat who must be rushed to the vet today, there will be no post. Sorry for that.

Our sick cat, Valentin.
He's lived in France, Scotland, England and the Netherlands. A real "cat of the world".

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Libya and Adventurous Expats

From an expat point of view, the carnage in Libya is our worst nightmare. I stayed up a bit reading the Al Jazeera¹ live feeds trying to see if Gadaffi was going to flee or try to cling to power. As of this writing, he's still there and multiple countries are now trying to figure out how to rescue their expatriates.

For many would-be expats, "Paris" is the height of adventure for them. I completely understand this point of view as the world is so vast and wonderful that there's plenty of wonderful things to discover everywhere.  But just as there are many Peace Corps volunteers who sadly sneer at other volunteers who have nicer accommodations as being in the Posh Corps (because, you know, electricity is the height of luxury), there are expats for whom it's just not an adventure unless things are harsh.

Eiffel Tower from the Arc De Triomphe
There's enough beauty in the world that
I don't need to risk death to enjoy it.
Photo by Paul Beattie
That's not me. I've gone sky-diving precisely once and I've no intention of repeating this. There's nothing wrong with sky diving, but there are certain levels of perceived risk I'm willing to tolerate and imminent death is not one of them. At the same time, my love of adventure means that while I'm not particularly interested in risking death, I've also shied away from high paying jobs in Dubai because I'm not particularly interested in risking imprisonment. Call me a coward if you will, but so far I've had a pretty damned good life and I have few regrets.

But for the expats in Libya, I feel for them. Many of them are there working for oil companies and claiming a high wage. I confess there's an attraction to that, but for those who think you have to "rough it" to have a real adventure: piss off. Try being a parent.

In other news, I clearly need to write more articles about the French Foreign Legion. There's a small, persistent stream of search engine traffic for them. I suspect the primary demographic there is "young American male". I don't think they would really fancy the 10% mortality rate of Legionnaires, but some will consider anything to "get out".

1. If you you've not checked them out before, they're an excellent source of news coverage. Their opinion pages are often starkly anti-US, but once you begin to understand where they're coming from, it's not entirely unreasonable.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Europe's Strange Relation to Religion

Today is a bit of an unstructured ramble. Parents of newborns will appreciate that they can soak up quite a bit of time, but maybe if I call this a "stream of consciousness" instead of a ramble, people will be more forgiving.

I'm curious to know how Tony Blair — a man who might have made a great Prime Minister of the United Kingdom if he hadn't been running for Vice President of the United States¹ — feels about converting to Catholicism a few years ago now that the Church is beginning to resemble the largest organized pedophile ring in history. Still, as has been pointed out repeatedly, the spectre of the pro-abortion Blair converting to a religion which opposes his beliefs made a lot of sense if he wanted to become the first president of Europe.

As we all know, he failed in his quest to be first president of Europe, he never recanted (that I recall) his support for abortion, people are leaving the Catholic Church in droves over the widespread pedophilia scandals and Blair is still facing pesky questions about the UK's involvement in the Iraq war, involvement which is getting increasingly harder to explain, particularly in light of the Downing Street Memo. So unless there is more to the inexplicable Blair/Benedict marriage than meets the eye, I suspect Blair's conversion is doing neither of them much good; alleged pedophiles and alleged war criminals don't seem the most natural of allies.²

One of the things I love about Europe is that few get really upset about people with different beliefs, so even the strange conversion of Blair to Catholicism, while appearing cynical, doesn't cause too much of a fuss. As a contrast, I don't believe in God and back in the US I've been physically assaulted twice for this, been verbally abused many times and even my own mother forbade me to speak about my beliefs in her presence. I was taught early on to "keep my mouth shut".  So on a trip to Ireland a few years go, while reading a copy of The God Delusion (which, despite Dawkins' protests, can be a pretty mean-spirited book at times), I found myself taking off the cover lest someone see it and be offended. Then I realized a couple of things.

First, I didn't take the cover off to avoid offending anyone. I took the cover off out of the residual fear I still had of strangers finding out that I am not a Christian. Second, I was being stupid because I had already discovered that even the most devout Christians over here tend to be extremely tolerant about the beliefs of others.

And this all brings me to the real point of my ramble: I feel bad for many of my colleagues. As it turns out, quite a few of them are Catholics. However, this seemed an almost reluctant admission to me and some admitted that they were ashamed and embarrassed by their church. How horrifying must it be to find out that the primary symbol of your faith was working overtime to protect child rapists? I strongly suspect that when your church fails you, you are going to start questioning your own beliefs. That's what led me to realize I don't believe in God and I suspect that others will find the same path. Already there is often a distrust of those who profess their beliefs too strongly; it's a short step to questioning those beliefs.

Another reason not to talk too much about beliefs is because frankly, the US is an embarrassment here. Many in the US are quite proud of being so forcefully "Christian" and they're becoming quite a laughing stock to many around the world. There are things to admire about the US, but they get lost in the wash when stories about Tea Party members introducing bills to overturn all local LGBT rights appear.

But what really prompted today's rant is reading local news about a Dutch Cardinal working hard to protect a pedophile priest and this is only the tip of the iceberg here. It's not surprising that even here in Holland, increasing numbers of people are leaving the Catholic church.

Religion is really not a big deal in much of Europe, but as we move forward, it's looking like the influence of the Catholic Church is on the wane. Of course, the gay Vatican prostitutes didn't help the issue one bit, and the Pope is now widely mocked as Pope Palpatine.

This is not a great time for Catholics in Europe.

1. Don't worry if you didn't get that joke. The British do.
2. Though self-confessed gay male prostitutes and alleged war criminals apparently get along just fine.

Monday, February 21, 2011

More Politics?

There are a couple of times I try to avoid discussing religion and politics.
  • Around people I don't know
  • In this blog
Not a popular conversation topic
Photo by Glen Van Etten
The latter might seem ridiculous as this post rather puts the lie to that, but for those who know me, it makes sense. I blog relentlessly about politics (and sometimes religion) because it's an important topic to me. However, I deliberately tried to avoid topics like this in this blog because this is more of a "how to", but as I've mentioned before, my wife has pointed out to me that people will want to know why they want to move somewhere as much as they want to know how. Thus, without some discussion of culture, this blog would be rather limited. Plus, I like religion and politics, so there you go. From now on, I'll be dipping my toes into the political waters a bit more often. You've been warned.

As mentioned, I try to avoid discussion religion and politics around people I don't know simply because I don't want to offend and — unlike the computer enthusiast who assumes random stranger X is going to be fascinated by a particular bash script said enthusiast wrote — I don't assume people have my interests (sadly, this often leaves me in a position with little to say). However, lunch at my workplace is fascinating. Last I heard, we have over 90 nationalities working there and with just over 2,000 employees, that's a remarkable number. It also leads to fascinating conversations at work — well, when people of different languages don't split off to their own groups as sometimes happens. Thus, when the topic turned to Catholicism, my internal voice said "danger, Will Robinson!", but I was astonished at the response. Several people there were Catholic. All of them stated they were ashamed of their church.

I actually have more to say on this topic, but my daughter woke up and must be fed and changed and she's more important than this blog :) Thus, my discussion of Catholicism in Europe must wait for another day.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Photo Collection: Egypt

In light of recent events in Egypt, I thought a photo collection from around Egypt would be nice, to remind the world that there's a lot more to Egypt than Mubarak and a square full of protesters.

Karnak Temple, Luxor, Egypt
Photo by Dennis Jarvis

Photo by Simona Scolari

Cairo street scenes, Dec 2008 - 25
Photo by Ed Yourdon

Montazah Bay
Photo by Dennis Jarvis

Dahab, Egypt
Dahab, Egypt
Photo by Igor Klisov

شرم الشيخ مصر sharm el sheik Egypt
شرم الشيخ مصر Sharm el Sheik
Photo by Dr. Mohammad Bahareth

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Dangers of Working Abroad

It's possible at some point that you've heard of the Mean World Syndrome. This is a tendency for people to overestimate the dangers of the world due to excessive exposure to violence in media. The world is actually a pretty safe place, but as the old adage goes, "planes which crash make the news; planes which land don't".

I mention this merely as a preface to my writing about the dangers of working abroad because I don't want you to think this is inherently risky. On the other hand, if you're a young woman with no particular skills, you might ask yourself why someone in another country is willing to hire you as a nightclub hostess "sight unseen", but after you've been sold as a sexual slave, you'll probably understand that things which are too good to be true are usually not true, but by then it's too late. Slavery is still rampant around the world, though despite what this video might imply, it's not limited to "poor workers heading to rich countries".

The lower the skill required for a position, the more wary you should be. Nanny/au pair positions are often extremely problematic with the victim having little to no recourse should things go poorly.

Slavery is probably the most severe consequence you're likely to face and fortunately it's not likely to happen to you, particularly if you just use common sense.

There are a number of other things to watch out for, though. Sadly, the TEFL Blacklist is no longer being maintained. It was a resource for people to share their experiences with unethical schools (both hiring teachers and training teachers) so that others could find out if a given school was known for dodgy practices. One school, for example, was widely reported for paying people late, requiring unpaid overtime, providing shabby accommodations and not securing needed work permits. The blog has not been updated since 2008, but it can do a good job in explaining many of the dangers you're likely to face teaching English.

Golden Gate Bridge
Not the only product scammers offer ...
Photo by Salim Virji
Other issues are many "expat" blogs which are actually trying to sell you land ("buy this beachfront property and automatically acquire residency in a country you've never heard of!"), useless work permit services, substandard training or eBooks with little to no value. There are several I could name, but they should be obvious after a while and I have no desire to get sued.

Even assuming you make it to your country of choice and land a decent job, you'll still find that many are quite happy to prey on your lack of knowledge of local customs and language. In fact, one of my first experiences in the UK was a landlord who preferred to rent to immigrants. Seems he wasn't keen on following housing laws and immigrants were less likely to know them.

No matter how savvy you think you are, be aware that there are many ways of taking advantage of you in your desire to emigrate. In general, you should have few problems and I don't want to scare you, but you should be aware of some of the basic issues.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Country Profile: Australia

Country profiles are simply overviews of how to get into a country and some obstacles you'll face. They are not intended to be in-depth discussions of the country.

BBC, Wikipedia and CIA World Factbook articles on Australia.

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Work permits

Australia wants you. In fact, they have a Visa Wizard to help you figure out the easiest way to get to Australia. For those reading this blog, you probably want to read their Skilled Occupation Lists (SOL) and see if you are on there. Unlike many other countries, Australia has a lot of labor shortages and these lists are extensive. They have accountants, surveyors, engineers, HR managers, general managers, acupuncturists and so on. They really, really want to import people.

If you don't think you're particularly skilled, they also offer work and holiday visas for those under 30.


If you wish to live there, they have an extensive section on their immigration Web site dedicated to living in Australia. There are many pathways to residency in Australia, but for many skilled workers, you can apply for permanent residency after only two years living there, with one year working.


Again, Australia wants you. If you are unsure of how to become a citizen, they have a handy Citizenship Wizard to help you figure that out. For workers, you generally need to have been a legal resident of Australia for at least four years, making it one of the shorter eligibility times I've seen for countries.


As you may have guessed by now, Australia welcomes retirees also, but unlike workers, retirees tend not to contribute as much to the economy, so the barriers to entry are much higher.

You would generally apply for a investor retirement visa. You basically need to have a lot of money to invest in Australia ($750,000 AUD, or $500,000 AUD if in a low-growth area) and a $65,000 AUD annual income ($50,000 if in a low-growth area). This visa is good for four years and may be extended.

In other words, if you want to retire in Australia, move there to work first or have plenty of money in the bank. There are, however, numerous options if you have relatives already in Australia. offers a good summary of the options, but again, they boil down to "have an Australian relative or be rich".

1. Strine, a.k.a., strine.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Dynamics of European Immigration

Yesterday I wrote about the European Blue Card. Since this is a "how to" blog, today's post will be a little off-topic, but I really want to take a closer look at the dynamics of European immigration. Specifically, why don't we have enough highly skilled workers?

Just to give an example, this Dutch article refers to 3,800 Dutch job seeks in IT trying to fill over 15,000 vacancies (Google translation to English). So here in the Netherlands, we have almost four jobs available for every person in IT. It's no wonder that the Netherlands has created very favorable tax conditions to attract foreign workers.

So there are really two issues to examine here: why domestic workers aren't taking these jobs and why there are still obstacles for immigrants to fill the labor gap.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The European Blue Card

Regardless of whether or not you live in the US, you've probably heard about the Green Card. This is the highly-coveted immigration document which allows foreign nationals to permanently live and work in the United States.

Kalypso Nikolaidis - EU
European Union Flag
Photo by openDemocracy
Europe has long-struggled to attract many highly skilled migrants, many of whom head to the United States. Much of the issue stems from the fact that the European Economic Area is comprised of the 27 European Union countries plus 3 others. Thus, anyone seeking work in the "EEA" (as opposed to a specific country) has 30 sets of immigration laws to contend with. To rectify this, the European Commission has created the Blue Card, a European version of the Green Card. This card allows highly skilled professionals to live and work in any participating country so long as they have the Blue Card. It is designed to eventually lead to permanent residency in Europe.

Naturally, there are problems.  Denmark, Ireland and the UK (of course) have elected not to participate, the latter two limiting the benefits of speaking English. Also, some lesser-developed nations, particularly in Africa, have blasted the scheme, including some branding it a new form of "colonialism", claiming they will suffer a "brain drain" to Europe, thus losing them many of their best and brightest. EEA countries which have agreed to participate in the Blue Card have expressed sympathy with this issue and are also concerned with assimilating a new wave of immigrants who use less "desirable" countries as an entry point to Europe. As a result, participating countries are permitted to limit or exclude workers entering their country under the Blue Card scheme. Sadly, this means that the "unified" labor market the Blue Card was designed to create will still not be unified.

I've been watching this very carefully, but the news about and implementation of this law have been spotty at best. There's also quite a bit of conflicting information about exactly what is proposed, so I checked what the European Parliament has to say about the Blue Card, though I suspect this information is out of date too.
[A blue card] applicant must have found a job in the EU, and have at least five years' experience in the sector concerned or a university qualification recognised by the Member State. The applicant's contract must guarantee an income of at least 1.7 times the average gross salary in the Member State of residence ...

The "blue card" would enable holders who have spent three years in a first EU country of residence to access other Member States thereafter. The card would therefore normally be valid for three years, renewable for a further two years. If a worker's contract is for a shorter duration, then the card should be granted for the duration of the contract plus six months, say MEPs.
Of course, the Blue Card doesn't mean you can simply move to Europe. You still have to get that first job, but you now can have much greater flexibility in where you want to go and why. For example, Bulgaria has now implemented the scheme and you will be able to work there starting June 1, 2011, assuming a suitable offer is made to you. Other participating EEA countries are required to enact Blue Card legislation by June of this year. It will be very interesting to see how this changes immigration in Europe. However, since it does little to facilitate the initial entry into Europe, I suspect it won't have a significant impact. (Update: boy was I wrong about that one! So far it's looking good.)

We have a list of European Blue Cards and their requirements for you to consider.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Photo Collection: Singapore

I keep meaning to write something up about Singapore. This tiny island houses about 5 million people of which 40% are foreigners. English is widely spoken and there are decent job opportunities for expats there. And yes, I like HDR photos. Sue me.

Singapore skyline
Singapore Skyline
Photo by Nicolas Lannuzel

Singapore Botanic Garden
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Photo by Edwin Lee

Chinatown, Singapore
Chinatown in Singapore
Photo by Khalzuri Yazid

Singapore/Chinese family reunion dinner
Photo by Bernard Oh

What people do on the train
Singapore Train
Photo by Jason D'Great

Singapore 3
Singapore Temple Interior
Photo by James Evans

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dave's ESL Café - Teach English Abroad!

I've mentioned teaching English abroad before, but I would be amiss in not mentioning Dave's ESL Café. It's been around since at least 1996 (that link takes you to the Internet archive. It might be slow), and whenever serious discussions about teaching English in foreign countries happen on the Web, Dave's is always mentioned. To be fair, not everyone is a fan of the Café and whether you agree with the criticism or not, it's always a good idea to be sure that you understand the laws of the country you're going to, whether or not position you're accepting complies with that law and what your options are if they do not. That being said ...

Dave's offers what is likely the largest collection of teaching English job advertisements around the world. Many new jobs are posted every day and the job links section lists many other sites with job offers (72 in Europe alone, but with some dead links).  He also has extensive sections for teacher, students, and "everyone".

Or you can just look at the photo gallery of his life in Thailand and wonder what you've been missing out on.

There are really plenty of opportunities out there for just about anyone. The only person holding you back is you.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I'm still bloody exhausted. Of course, a new born baby can do that to you. Today I'll just ramble.

After a lot of careful though, we've decided to go ahead and get US citizenship for our daughter. A lot can happen before she's 18 and I'll probably try to write to my congressman at some point (though expatriates have notoriously little influence on US politics) to try to sort out the mess.

Also, I had to delete someone's comment. I haven't had to do that before on this blog and I've already contacted the author of that comment to let them know what happened and why. I am not a fan of censoring discussion but it had to be done in this case and I'm pretty sure the person involved will understand immediately why (I know them).

bunny with pancake
Bunny says "Ovid is tired"
Photo by Patrick Berry
And in order to keep this blog post vaguely relevant to expatriate issues, I noticed that the Expat Market Place has launched. Primarily targeting British expats in Europe, their press release bills them as sort of an alternative to Amazon and Argos. Unlike the latter two, the Expat Market place will ship large goods outside of the UK and that's important because many of those large goods are more expensive on the European mainland.

What's interesting is that there are enough British expats spread throughout Europe that a company is willing to build their business around this demographic. It would be nice if this were offered for American expats also. The estimates I've read (and am too tired to research right now), are that there are anywhere between 4 to 7 million Americans living abroad — with six million the most heavily quoted figure — and 200,000 in London alone. Those would be enough to have London just miss being in the 100 most populous US cities if only their US population was counted.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Dilemma of our Daughter's Citizenship

A question for parents: imagine for your newborn child you're informed that you have the right to choose a potential of lifetime debt for your child in order to give her some benefits she may never enjoy. Would you do this? Would you do this if you found out that she can choose that lifetime of debt for herself when she's 18? Phrased like this, of course you wouldn't, but it's exactly the dilemma I'm facing now and it's the sort of dilemma parent's should never have to face.

As you no doubt know (assuming you read this blog), I am an American, my wife is French, and our daughter was born Saturday morning here in Amsterdam. Yesterday I registered our daughter's birth with Statsdeel West and our daughter now has an international birth certificate. If we remain in the Netherlands until she's 18, she may choose Dutch citizenship if she wishes. She automatically has French citizenship (via my wife) and I was told I have to register her birth with the US consulate and this registration will automatically give her US citizenship. That's where the problem arises. Update: it turns out that under US law, my daughter is automatically a US citizen. The question is actually whether or not I should register her and alert the US authorities to her existence.

The US is in dubious company here
Photo by
As I've pointed out previously in this blog, the practice of taxing citizens abroad is rare. In fact, it's rare enough that I've yet to see evidence that any country other than the United States does this. I hear conflicting reports of which countries do and do not tax citizens abroad. Aside from the US, the only country which is consistently mentioned is North Korea, but there is never a source. In fact, I cannot find any information linking back to source material to prove which countries do and do not tax citizens abroad. The short list of possible candidates appear to be:
  • North Korea
  • Libya
  • Eritrea
  • The Philippines
  • The former USSR
All things considered, that's a pretty sad list of countries to be in bed with. Not that I expect international tax experts to read this blog, but if anyone can provide any confirmation regarding which countries do and do not tax citizens abroad, I'd be most grateful. The closest authoritative source I've seen is an article from the Economist which states "Along with citizens of North Korea and a few other countries, Americans are taxed based on their citizenship, rather than where they live." Of course, they offer no source, either.

But getting back to the issue at hand, I've been reading quite a bit to find out if IRS international tax requirements apply to my daughter. Given that I can find no exemption whatsoever for my daughter's situation, should I choose her citizenship for her or should I let her choose it when she's 18? I live in Europe now and have no intention of moving back to the US, so that's not an issue while she's living with us, but by the time she's an adult, I've no idea how the law might change.

Tax Forms
She didn't ask for this
Photo by KOMUnews
Further, it turns out that the financial exemptions that citizens abroad receive on their US taxes only applies to earned income. Any "unearned" income can be taxed at the full rate, unless the US has a tax treaty with the country she resides in. She may be even be able to escape this by retaining her French citizenship and relinquishing her US citizenship because the US claims the right to potentially tax her for up to 10 years after giving up her citizenship the expatriation tax. As far as I know, the US is the only country which tries to impose income tax on foreigners living in other countries.

For those who think I'm worrying about nothing, not only did I previously mention a UK gentleman I know who discovered that he owes a huge amount of money to the US government because he happens to be a US citizen (apparently his father registered him at the US embassy after he was born, the same situation I'm facing). I'm also discovering that others are finding themselves in the same predicament.

Of course I want my daughter to have US citizenship, but do I really want to burden her with a tax obligation to a country she won't be raised in and may never live or work in?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Our Daughter is Born

On Saturday morning, at 1 AM, our daughter, Lilly-Rose was born.

Our daughter's first meal

She's going to have a world full of possibilities ahead of her. With an American father, a French mother and being born in Amsterdam, she'll be able to live and travel throughout much of the world if she wishes. Fortunately, unlike some children of expats, her legal status should be perfectly clear. This morning I'll be heading down to register her birth with the Dutch authorities.

We're also in the very fortunate position that the Netherlands has a very interesting concept called the kraamverzorgende, which is sort of a combination maternity nurse and personal maid for the first 8 days of the baby's life. While in most countries the new parents are often exhausted and floundering, trying to understand the best way to change diapers or bathe the child — and facing a wealth of often conflicting advice on how they "should" be doing it — the kraamzorgende comes to your house and helps you learn all of these things. He or she also watches the child for you, giving you time to sleep, cleans the house, takes care of laundry, and even does shopping if need be.

As this is the first, and probably only, child for my wife and myself, our kraamzogende has been a huge help. She's friendly, resourceful and has made everything so much easier than it would otherwise be. Our neighbors have also been wonderful, several of whom have newborns and have showered us with many extra supplies for our daughter. Of particular help have been Jillali and Yvonne, two wonderful people who've really gone out of their way to welcome us and our daughter. This is a great country with great people.

Update: needless to say, this might impact the posting schedule for a bit :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Retire Overseas

When I posted the country profile for Thailand, thedr9wningman asked about retirement there. Boy, do I feel stupid. Obviously retirement is very important to people and with this being so important to people, it's obvious that I should start writing about this. I've updated all of my country profiles with a retirement section and I've also updated my country profile template with a retirement section to ensure that all future country profiles will include this information.

Retirement information is important for a variety of reasons. Many countries which don't want you living and working there — and thus taking work away from natives — are happy to have you retire there and spend your pension. Thus, for many people, retirement is an easy way to live abroad. At that point, though, why would you want to? You've probably lived in your country all of your life and your family and friends are there.  However, if your pension doesn't go far enough, you face either not being able to retire or retiring in poverty. If you're adventurous enough, you can actually retire with an excellent lifestyle.

As a case in point, when I was researching Thailand retirement, I was shocked. You only need to be 50 years of age and though there are a few other minor requirements (which you will probably meet by default), the financial requirements are easy. You pretty much just need 800,000 Thai baht in the bank or a guaranteed income of 65,000 Thai baht a month. Reading around quite a bit suggests that in Bangkok, the following information seems quite accurate:
One can rent a well equipped (TV, airconditioning, installed kitchen, washing machine etc) 2-bedroom apartment or condominium for 25-40,000 baht. This will also include facilities such as a swimming pool, sauna, exercise room. Electricity costs (includes airconditioning on in one room most of the time) about 3,000-4,000 baht a month. Single rooms with airconditioning are available in the 5,000-8,000 range, but will not appeal to all.
Reidar og Liva
How do you want to spend your retirement?
Photo by Ernst Vikne
And paying 70 baht for dinner in a restaurant? That's $2.25US. Mind you, that's in Bangkok. If you want to live further out, you'll save even more money. Not a bad deal! If you have more money, I've seen 4 bedroom houses with maid service, private gardens and swimming pool for 55,000 baht/month ($1,780 US).

You will need to be careful doing your own research as it's evident there are many sites out there with people willing to "help" you, but there are plenty of retirement options, many of which are even less expensive than Thailand. So do you want to be poor in your home country or live well in another country?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Where do you want to go?

For those who don't want to read all of this, that's fine. However, I would love a short response explaining which country or countries you would like to move to and why.

Machu Pichu
Machu Pichu, Peru
Photo by Chang'r
Yesterday I asked Why do you want to leave? Today I'd like to know "Where do you want to go?"  Yesterday was about the "push" factors and today is about the "pull" factors. While I've heard stories about people throwing darts at a map, they remain stories. Everyone I've met I gone some place in particular, though not all were at the place they thought they were going. Different people seem to leave for different reasons, though "job opportunities" is one of the largest motivators. I left for a variety of reasons, though adventure was pretty high on the list.

I chose the UK back in 2006 because I speak English, I had companies willing to hire me there and I have two brothers and a sister living there. For me it was an easy choice. Today after seeing much more of the world and writing this blog, I think I might look at Asia or South America.

For those looking at a better social safety net, Europe is an obvious destination, whereas those merely looking for more money or jobs (not bad motivations at all!), will often cast there eye on the US or Australia. Inexpensive property, particularly to retire, often leads to Asia or Central and South America.

Whatever your reasoning, there's a huge world out there and if you could take a bit of time to tell me where you want to go and why, I can do a better job of trying to research some of those answers for this blog.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why do you want to leave?

For those who don't want to read all of this, that's fine. However, I would love a short response explaining which country you currently live in, whether or not you wish to leave and why.

Yesterday's "United Kingdom profile" took just a few short hours to enter the "top ten list" of most popular posts in the past month, despite not having much information there. Part of this is due to the fact that it's an English speaking country and viewed as accessible and part of this is because many grow up with "romantic" ideals of what Europe is like. As I've mentioned before, when people tell me they want to live abroad, they usually mean "I want to live in Europe", though I've found that if I start asking questions, there's often only a vague sense of why they want to go there.

110118 Tunisia unity government unravels 08 | تشكيل حكومة الوحدة الوطنية في تونس | Echec du gouvernement d'unité nationale en Tunisie
Tunisian 2011 Revolution
Photo by magherebia
But Europe is a huge immigration target, often sought out by those with no cultural ties to Europe. Why would they want to leave their home countries? There are both "pull" — why go to country X? — and "push" factors — why leave country X? — in these decisions. While the pull factors are often complex, the push factors tend to be relatively simple: your home is pushing you away. It can be any of a number of factors, including political oppression, suppression of your religion, war, famine, drought, or any of a number of things. However, when there are push factors involved, the one thing the the emigrants don't want is to wind up in another country like the one they've come from. This is why England and the rest of Europe are so damned popular. Would you really want to be an emigré in Tunisia right now? Or how about Egypt? Expat oil workers are having their families evacuated and the US State Department has warned Americans already in Egypt to "defer non-essential movement and exercise caution".

Then there are people like Arthur C. Clarke who emigrated to beautiful, peaceful Sri Lanka and spent the rest of his life there, the last 25 years of which were in a country engaged in a civil war withe Tamil Tiger terrorists.¹ If you are, for example, an American who desperately wishes to leave your home country for a "better life", keep in mind that you'd probably find your home country pretty damned attractive if you were sitting in Cairo right now. That's why people in the US who say they want "asylum" in another country should probably consider that asylum is something which should be offered to those truly in need. Compared to political refugees like gays from IranChristians in Afghanistan, or Somali refugees now being harassed by Kenyan police and soldiers, most people don't really have much room to complain. The "push" factor for most reading this blog is pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

That being said, Americans still want to leave. Lots of them are desperate to leave. Bob Adam's broke this down in a story for Barron's where he commissioned a survey of US households and found the following (note that these are households, not individuals):
  • 1.6 million U.S. households have already made the decision to relocate. That figure has remained stable over the year and a half during which seven surveys were conducted.
  • Another 1.8 million households are seriously considering relocation and are likely to do it.
  • 7.7 million households are "somewhat seriously" considering relocation and "may" do it.
  • Nearly 3 million households are seriously considering the purchase of a vacation home or other property outside the U.S., and another 10 million are "somewhat" seriously considering it.
In other words, 10% of US households would like to emigrate with another 10% considering living outside the US "part time". If these numbers are true, this is astonishing. I knew many of my US friends wanted to emigrate, but I assumed sample bias. Finding out that much of the US feels the same way leaves me astonished. There is no war, famine or pestilence driving them out, nor is there serious political oppression. Is everyone just looking for adventure or is this normal for a country's population? I have no idea.

1. To those familiar with the situation and who object to the term "terrorist", I use the term in the strictest sense of "the threat or use of violence against non-combatants to effect political change".  There is no judgment there, only description. See Louise Richardson's excellent book What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat if you wish to know more about this fascinating subject (and understand some of my point of view here).