Tuesday, May 31, 2011

HSBC Expat Explorer

I've been pretty much a no-show for the past few days because, quite frankly, last week's training was exhausting. Combine that with yard work and housecleaning over the weekend to get ready for Leïla's father arriving and I was simply too tired to write.

For a while now I've been paying attention to HSBC bank and their expat work. They actually have a large section of their Web site dedicated to expats, though much of it is aimed at British expats. With this year's Expat Explorer survey, they have a fantastic tool to help you pick which country to emigrate to:

Choose your criteria and get country suggestions
From three simple drop down, you check the things which are most important to you (anywhere from children's education to owning a yacht) and the tool will recommend which countries, from their survey, best fit your needs. As with any tool, you'll need to use your judgment. For example, these were my top five countries:

  1. Singapore
  2. United Arab Emirates
  3. Qatar
  4. Hong Kong
  5. Canada

If I were to leave the Netherlands, I can't see myself moving to Qatar any time soon.  Also, the USA came in number nine on my list and I can't see myself moving back there, either.

If for nothing else, the tool might give you ideas you hadn't considered before. Try it out and post your results here. I'm curious to know what others get!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

So many nationalities

Globe Sculpture
US Botanic Gardens, Washington DC
Photo by Mr T in DC
No chance to write anything serious today my employer has sent me on a week-long training course. They take this very seriously and fly in people from all over the world. There are only about 14 or 15 people in the course, but the breadth of nationalities is breathtaking. The gentleman I was sitting next to for much of the training was from Greece, I spent a fair amount of time talking to a Hungarian (apparently we have 13 Hungarian translators!) and an Australian women outside, I got sidetracked a few times chatting with folks from the Rome office (including one American who's lived in Rome for a couple of decades), and, of course, there are the ever-present British people from our Cambridge office.

Even my daily work is like this. Our team lead is Dutch, the product owner is British, I'm an American and Ævar (have fun learning how to type the 'Æ'), the other programmer on the team, is from Iceland. The world, frankly, is amazing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Peru is worth a second look

Peru , Cusco
Cusco, Peru
Photo by Ian Armstrong
The poll results suggested that I continue maintaining a focus on Europe and while I'll write more about lifestyle and opportunities (again, less so now that I have a baby), South America keeps fascinating the heck out of me. Today I've been reading about Peru.

Initially I read a poorly written piece claiming that you could gain permanent residency in Ecuador only showing a $800/month income — similar to how you can gain permanent residency in Uruguay — but the article cited no sources. In the process of trying to verify that claim (send me info if you have it), I got sidetracked onto Peru.

You'll probably want to speak Spanish or Quecha, but Peru is now liberalizing their immigration policies and foreigners can now apply for a residence permit while in Peru. This gives you the advantage of being able to travel there, stay there for several months (you can live quite comfortably on $500/US a month) and decide if you wish to stay.

It also turns out that Peru has a thriving expat community, and under President Alan García, appears to be doing much better economically, though there's still crushing poverty for much of the country. Teaching English is a viable option there, and despite the strong economic growth and the housing boom, the average house price in Lima, their capital, is still just over $100,000. Outside of the capital, I'm reading about nice houses around $40,000 and under.

Photo by Malojavio El Saucejo
I don't know (yet) about opportunities to work remotely from Peru, but some anecdotal comments suggest that remote work is possible and given the low cost of living, you may be able to live quite well there.

If you're like me, you hear "Peru" and immediately think Sendero Luminoso. While this terrorist organization is ceased to be much of a factor since the arrest of their leader in 1992, there have still been occasional problems such as the 2009 political crisis.

Peru, like much of South America, is truly an option for the adventurous, if you're willing to accept a bit of risk (probably not much, to be honest) in exchange for a an inexpensive and exotic lifestyle. South America appears to be having a bit of renaissance economically and those who are willing to take advantage of it may be very well off in the next couple of decades.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A day in the life

In lieue of an actual post today, I'll just point you to A day in the life of an expat in Bangkok. It's well-written and does, just a bit, make me long for taking some of the more "exotic" options available to me, but with a wife and a new daughter, I'm happy to pass those by.

And next week, assuming I remember, I plan to post a brief description of my parents and siblings. Why? Well, if you think your family is a bit odd, there's a good chance you have nothing on our family.

Speaking of which, my daughter's hungry, so if you'll excuse me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Not so Fat American

I didn't post yesterday, despite my generally keeping this as a "five days a week" blog, because I'm just too tired. Handling a baby is incredibly rewarding, but I'm going to have to be a bit more realistic about my posting schedule. Oh, and I'm going to try and get back on track researching overseas job opportunities for people.

21 - Leidseplein - Næsten alle er orange
Photo by Jacob Poul Skoubo
In the Fat Americans, Thin Europeans? post, persephone asked if I would keep people apprised of my progress and I foolishly agreed. Though I had written that I was 87.5 kilos (193 pounds), I had actually started last week at exactly 88 kilos. So after a week and a half of not eating the way I did in the US and watching portion sizes, I am now at 85.8 kilos (189 pounds). Not too shabby a start. However, I tend to start out with rapid weight loss and then slow down quite a bit. I don't know if that's my metabolism or I just don't stick well to dieting.

Naturally, having Heineken and bitterballen in Leidseplein last night didn't help matters.

If you wonder what bitterballen taste and look like, here's a great blog with lovely photos which takes you through one recipe for this tasty dutch snack.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My niece as an au pair

Sorry for the lack of a post last Friday. Blogger was down and the blog was in "read-only" mode.

Obviously I've said many times that I want to help people live and work in other countries and in the "putting my money where my mouth is" department, my wife and I have offered my niece Kiara an au pair position here in the Netherlands. She's only able to do this for a month before she returns to college. We'll be giving her room and board, a small amount of money every week, a tram pass for the month, a pay as you go phone and three days a week to do as she will. On her side, she has to do a bit of light housework, babysit occasionally, and, because she is studying to be a linguist (she already speaks Japanese), I've also said she has to study either French or Dutch for a half hour a day, five days a week (I'm such a jerk, eh?).

I've also been talking to folks and trying to see if there are any local folks her own age who have time to hang out with her and show her Amsterdam. Looking forward to seeing her again and hope she has a great with her first trip to Europe (note, this and similar offers have been available to other nieces (I have a few), but time constraints have made it impossible for them).

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Land of Opportunity?

It's not the US. There has been quite a bit of research in this area and I repeatedly read about the US college graduation rates dropping, income disparities rising, medical bankruptcies rising, and so on. But when economic opportunity is measured as "how well you can escape poverty if you're born poor", The Brookings Institute has a pretty disturbing report surveying recent research in this area (pdf). For example, they site one study by Markus Jäntti which found that in a comparison of six countries, the US had the lowest upward mobility rate for those raised in poverty (read the report: there's a lot more than this one example). So in a comparison of Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Denmark came out on top, with only 25% of those born in the bottom fifth of income remaining there, but with the United States retaining a whopping 42% of poor people staying poor. The UK came in second from the bottom, but it's interesting to note that while correlation isn't causation, the countries with stronger safety nets show that taking care of your citizens doesn't preclude upward mobility. This is interesting because it also gives the lie to the widely held US belief that government helping poor people is always a bad economic idea.

Another thing I find fascinating is that the International Monetary Fund, long the stalwart champion of free markets, admits that total market deregulation isn't the solution to every problem. Just as countries rapidly abandoned "Communism" after the collapse of the USSR, it seems that more and more countries are looking for alternatives to the US-style free market economics. Though there's a lot of value in many of the US's economic practices, there's so much rhetoric and dogma in economics that it's hard to separate the good from the bad.

If stuff like this interests you, you might want to read about religionomics, a post I wrote a long time ago explaining the tendency of people to adhere to economic fantasies while ignoring the real world.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Fat Americans, Thin Europeans?

For some people, any discussion of weight and weight-related issues is offensive, so if the title of this post didn't scare you off, let this be a warning: I will be discussing body weight issues and if you don't like that, stop reading. But in an unfortunately apt turn of phrase, ignoring this topic is ignoring the elephant in the room.

Years ago I lived in Hawaii for a brief period of time. Fortunately, it didn't last long as I was homeless, but when I got out of that situation and moved back to the Pacific Northwest, I couldn't believe my eyes; everyone looked sick. They were so incredibly pale in July that it took me some time to adjust to it. Only having been in Hawaii for a short while, I had nonetheless developed a very deep tan, just like the other Hawaiians. It wasn't that people in the Pacific Northwest were particularly pale, it's that I quickly became used to everyone having a deep tan.

Whenever I return to the US, I immediately notice that Americans are far larger than their European counterparts and it's a subject I've heard a number of my European friends bring up: why are Americans so obese?
The latter article notes that "the average weight for a U.S. male is 194.7 (89 kilos) pounds and 164.7 pounds (75 kilos) for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control".

To compare, for the British, generally considered the most overweight people in Europe, are considerably smaller than Americans. According to this BBC article, "on average, British men weigh 79.75 kilos (175 pounds) and women 66.7 kilos (147 pounds)."

Think about that: the British are the most overweight people in Europe and many Americans would love to weigh that little. Then there's this MSNBC article talking about how French women are getting larger and topping the scales at an average of 137.6 pounds (63 kilos).

So the average French woman weighs almost 10 pounds (4.5 kilos) less than the average British woman and almost 30 pounds (13.5 kilos) less than the average American woman.


Food. Sure, there's all this talk about "sedentary lifestyles" and things like that, but it's the food. Sit down and do the math and you'll find out that a hard workout will let you eat a larger dinner that day, but it's the food you eat which makes all the difference (particularly when you consider how often you're likely to work out).

 Lahmacun, or "turkse pizza".
Photo by Kenneth Jorgensen
Many stores here offer ingredients, not meals. If you have a bunch of ready-meals on hand, it's far easier to eat something than if you have to cook.

Similarly, our work offers free snacks to employees: grapes, clementines, apples, pears and bananas along with a few instant soup packets. No candy bars. No crisps. You can pay for a can of Coke or have some juice for free. There are no McDonalds or Burger King "restaurants" in easy walking distance of where I live (that I know of). If I want something quick, I can pop to a shop and order a lahmacun ("turkse pizza" as their called here) and if I feel really hungry, I can get chicken on it, but it's still far fewer calories than a Big Mac and a damned sight tastier.

Europeans had better not feel too smug, though. When I lived here 10 years ago, it was hard to find microwave dinners but today it's easy. More fast food restaurants are showing up and all over (Western) Europe, waistlines are increasing and though it will take a while, Europe will find that it's more than their economic clout which is catching up to the US.

Update: naturally I forgot to mention portion sizes. For my first meal in Europe, I was eating the appetizer with a growing sense of unease as I realized I hadn't ordered an appetizer: I was eating the main course. Not only do Europeans eat healthier food, they eat far less of it. So it's not just quality, it's quantity. I might have some fruit and cereal for breakfast, but I miss the "chicken fried steak breakfast" with hash browns smothered in gravy and buttered toast. And for the record: I'm at 87.5 kilos today (193 pounds) and definitely well above the European average, though less than the American. Time to start counting calories.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Travel Etiquette

My wife sent me a lovely article about travel etiquette. It's well worth a read and an excellent reminder that cultures are vastly different and it's important to know and understand different ones. Me? I'm used to hugging people. That doesn't happen much here, but there are three kisses to alternating cheeks when you greet someone, as opposed to the two to four in France. Takes some getting used to, but I don't mind. When I lived in Portland, it was customary to greet many of my friends, male and female, with a hug and a kiss on the lips, but part of that was just the friends I knew and not the Pacific Northwest in general.

It's can be crucial to business and personal success to not get things like this wrong, but many people I know don't really bother to find out until they wonder why people are staring at them. Plus, it's just fun to find out about the strange customs some cultures have (shaking hands throughout an entire conversation?).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Friendly Amsterdam

I have, so far, lived in Texas, Louisiana, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska, Japan, the United Kingdom and now the Netherlands. In the process of all of this I have moved around 33 times, though I suspect I have forgotten a couple of moves. In addition to those moves, I have also travelled very extensively and have friends in  a quite a few countries. In short, I think it's fair to say that I have a bit of experience in different places and cultures and I have to say that so far, the Dutch have been the friendliest, most outgoing people I have encountered. This has been a pleasant surprise given how many times I have read that the Dutch are "reserved" and that "it's tough to get to know them."

Shortly after moving in, my wife and I had already met out neighbors on either side, strangers came by with gifts for our soon-to-be daughter, and we had been invited to New Year's dinner with another couple further down the street. Last Saturday, though my wife and I had not planned to go anywhere, we took a brief stroll through Rembrandtpark. On our way back, the neighbors on the corner, Rim and Dorine, invited us to sit outside with them. They were sitting on chairs out front, chatting with other neighbors and as the evening wore on, we were joined by quite a crowd of interesting people. Though unexpected, it was a great evening.

Amsterdam Canal
Not sure, but I think I took this at the Leidsegracht in the Jordaan area of Amsterdam

The next day we took a stroll down a lovely tree-lined canal, with warm weather and a slight breeze and again, I'm amazed at the beauty of this city. Combine that with how incredibly friendly everyone has been and both my wife and and really falling in love with this city.

Friday, May 6, 2011


My brother Greg, seen
in his natural habitat.
Today has been a 27 things going wrong sort of day, so not much to say. I'm also sad that my brother Greg had to cancel his visit due to being ill. Fortunately, even though he lives in another country, it's only a half-hour flight. That's one of the many wonderful things about living over here: it's inexpensive and fast to fly to many foreign countries.

The photo to the right is one I took of Greg when we visited Milan.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Overseas Exile Feedback

The final question on the poll was asking people about other things they would like to see on the blog. Here are their responses (with one edited to remove an identifying bit, though I think I know the respondent in question and he won't care).

(United States of America) stories of how to go about making the move. planning. contacts. etc.

(United States of America) Skilled or unskilled, I think if a person demonstrates a willingness to work and not be a burden on the state/country of choice they should at least be given a chance to prove themselves over a period of time, say 5 years or less that they will not live off the social system, then they should have a chance to move where they please. A chance to prove they are honest, productive members of society. I love my country but I love traveling and learning new things, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures.

(United States of America) I would like to see more information on rules governing working in/studying in/immigrating to EU countries.

Criticism of one of the poll questions: I had no idea how to answer the question on social issues, because it seemed worded very oddly. The sentence "government should support the culture" is so nebulous as to be meaningless. For example, the "government should support the culture" could apply either to the way that Canadians handle their 'salad bowl' model of diversity, or the way that the Saudi religious police physically hit people on the streets for infractions of religious law. Very few people would support both policies, but the question as worded seems to not distinguish between the two.

(United States of America) As far as opinion posts I think they're fine as long as you present them as your opinion, which I have no doubt you would do. I would like to see some of the reasoning behind why you hold these opinions. I might not agree but I would be curious to see how you came to your conclusions.

Other than that I think this is a fine resource for those of use thinking about moving. If I didn't have a specific destination country in mind for a specific reason you would have swayed me with your information about lesser known but great places to live.

(Brazil) I really like the blog. I believe most of the issues that rise on moving to another country are:

  • prejudice to foreigners;
  • actual integration to the "system", if at all (how long 'til one can really feel at home and call it "his/her" country, treat (and be treated) by locals as one of them, help in social causes, demand rights, vote, etc);
  • cultural shock issues.

(United States of America) French habits that are confusing to Americans. (closing bathroom door when leaving etc). Tendency to be friends with other expatriates. Irish and Finns as friends. What to do with the feeling when your return to 'home' and home has changed too much so you feel not at home. Why foreign friends think 'you will like him - he is American!' - keep it up you are doing a good job!

(United States of America) Our crazy plans for moving to Mexico would involve starting a small business, a bicycle shop. I don't think that financing would be an issue, but I have no idea how to start navigating local business laws and such. I would love to hear more of anything you can come up with about trying to start a business abroad.

(United States of America) I am not actually interested in going "anywhere", rather I have several destinations in mind.

I'd like to spend several years in southern Europe (preferably France) and several years in northern Europe/Scandinavia. Or maybe combine those with time in Belgium or The Netherlands. So getting more information about daily life would be very useful in making a final decision.

I'd also like to spend some time in southern Africa (Botswana or South Africa) and a few years in China (Shanghai or possibly Hong Kong).

If time allows maybe a few years in Perth, Australia and some time in Central America (maybe Costa Rica).

I would be willing to spend more or less than a few years in each place but am not interested in a permanent move.

On a different note: Writing about opportunities to live and travel abroad is what makes your blog unique. If you start writing about politics or economics you become just another guy in a sea of blogs. I don't have time to read that and would unsubscribe. I don't mean this as a threat, obviously there are many other readers who may feel differently, and ultimately this is your blog and must contribute positively to your life for it to make sense.

ps: Some people would regard government intervention in the social arena as necessarily against the culture (if the culture actually supports a position, it wouldn't need additional government action) so 1 & 5 would be equivalent to them.

(United States of America) I'm loving the information and the process. It is good to know where it is hard to move to, what challenges there are, and all the different options.

I'm /hoping/ to move, but I am also willing to stay put, depending on how dire the political situation gets here. I like the idea of the quality of life there, and you forgot to mention healthcare as a real concern. That is my top concern: retiring in America is a death sentence under the current healthcare regime.

So far, I'm considering Holland and Spain. Holland has the jobs, Spain has the weather (and lacks many jobs).

(United States of America) Nb. by "Germany" in the selector I meant "one of the German-speaking countries", may as well put those language classes from high school to work :)

In general, I'd like to see some content related to planned-temporary stays (I'd be interested in living abroad for perhaps 3 years, but would want to settle down back at home for a whole host of reasons)

(United States of America) I enjoy your information on student opportunities. Information for people who want to travel indefinitely (i.e. not working/self-employed as opposed to 'get job get visa') would be excellent. That's how IWantOut myself (/r/epresent!).

(United States of America) Love the blog, could not think of anything to add beyond maybe tips on moving, such as services on how to set things up once you arrive.

(United States of America) Great blog! Thanks

(United States of America) Perhaps interviews with other expats, talking about their specific strategy to attain residency/work permit.

Also, some practical advice such as apartment/house finding methods, processes, paperwork requirements, etc... Other transitional/moving related posts such as transporting personal effects overseas, or do you leave it all behind? The five part series on landing a job fits in this category, and it would be nice to see other practical posts on topics not related to jobs or legal entry.

(United States of America) Maybe more descriptions on your daily life talking about your interactions with others.. it would be nice to see a fuller picture of the life of an expat.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Overseas Exile Poll Interpretation

I've posted the results, this is how I view them.

The good news: nothing's really going to change about this blog. People are generally very happy with the format and they feel it's useful. I'm not going to disappoint them. That being said, over 70% of you said you would like to see more opinion posts from me. I'll start dropping them in every once in a while, but I won't be changing the general format. This blog will remain a howto blog for would-be expats (or maybe I should just call it "the expat travel blog"?).

Next, almost 60% of you said you wanted to move to "Europe" or a specific European country. I'll try to make a decent focus here and respond to the more, but the world is round and I will treat it as such. Bali is beautiful; why shouldn't I tell you about it?

All things considered, I am happy with the results of the poll and I think they'll help me better focus on what folks need. There are clearly legal/logistic issues which need to be addressed.

One question which I forgot to ask: do people want to see the personal posts where I talk about my family and life in another country? I don't think I post them overly much, but I also don't know how people feel about them.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Overseas Exile Poll Results

The poll results are in (but I'll leave it open for a while if other folks want to answer). As I work with the Web for a living, I can make a few definite statements about online polls:
  • Response rates vary dramatically
  • Designing an effective poll is very hard
  • You don't want to make financially-critical decisions based on the results
  • Even if you trust the results, they're hard to interpret
  • They're fun
I deliberately didn't push the poll very hard as I wanted to ensure that mostly regular readers would take it. Response rates on polls are often very low, particularly when the poll is longer. I received 64 poll responses which, while not a large number, is enough for me to feel comfortable taking a few decisions about the future of this blog (if you're curious, as of last month I'm averaging 300 hits a day which isn't too bad for a brand new blog). As this is not a money-making venture (though if a TV producer wants to make a travel show people really want to watch, they should drop me a line), I'm not overly worried about making mistakes here. I'm just worried about proving information that people would really find relevant regarding regarding a plan to move abroad.
So without further ado, here are the poll results. Make of them what you will.

What country do you currently live in?
Answer# answered%
United States of America3961%
United Kingdom69%

Where would you like to go?
Answer# answered%
United States of America12%
New Zealand23%
United Kingdom23%

How serious are you about moving to another country?
Answer# answered%
1- Wishful thinking00%
5 - Dead Serious1625%

Why do you want to move to another country?
Answer# answered%
Economic opportunities abroad2438%
Unemployment at home813%
Political/religious oppression69%
Want a better political atmosphere3047%
Worried for your country's future2742%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.

How soon would you like to leave?
Answer# answered%
As soon as possible914%
Within six months711%
Within a year1016%
Within five years3250%
After five years58%
When you retire12%

How old are you?
Answer# answered%
Less than 18 years old35%
18 to 251422%
26 to 352539%
36 to 451320%
45 to 55711%
56 or older23%

Are you "skilled" or "unskilled" labor?
Answer# answered%

How should government be involved in social issues?
Answer# answered%
1- Government has no role here1219%
5- Government should support the culture711%

How should government be involved in economic issues?
Answer# answered%
1 - Governments should regulate1016%
5 - Markets should regulate46%

Would you like more "opinion" posts on the Overseas Exile blog?
Answer# answered%

Since I generated these results, two more people took the poll and voted "Yes" for opinion posts.

In a later post, I'll describe how I interpret this in light of this blog. Also, for any of you Web design geeks who are wondering about the tables: I am an HTML 3 god. It ranks right up there with my mad COBOL chops. If you're not a Web design geek, that was a joke you can safely ignore.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Queensday in Amsterdam

Today I was planning on posting the poll results but with Saturday being Koninginnedag — Queensday in English — here in the Netherlands, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to post a few photos of this event.

If I had to sum up Queensday in one photo, it would be this one:

Canal and crowds
The Queensday crowds are unbelievable

Queensday is officially a celebration of the birth of the Queen of the Netherlands. Though the flag of the Netherlands is red, white and blue (and the oldest national tricolor flag still in use), the color orange is widely seen on Queensday, honoring the House of Orange-Nassau, the Queen's family. This city of less than a million people doubles in population for a day when people come to Amsterdam to celebrate, dance, drink (and smoke) and enjoy their role in a country-wide celebration.

Wearing Orange to honor their queen

Not every place in Amsterdam is a complete madhouse, but even those places have orange-clad revelers lining the streets. When you need a break, it's nice to find one of these spots to relax.

Amsterdam Canal
Canal in north Amsterdam

Amsterdam police reported that there were very few problems on Queensday, but I'm not surprised. There are sometimes incidents, but Amsterdam is a very peaceful, friendly city.

If you'd like to see more, I have a larger photo set on Flickr.