Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Expats voting for the president

did you?
There. Do you feel better now?
Photo by Troye Owens
In a few short days the US will be voting for the next President of the United States. Reuters claims that the close race makes up for waning zeal in expat vote, but frankly, I'm not sure that's all there is to it. Why would a tight race make people less interested in the voting process? I know that I'm a far more political creature than most of my fellow expats, so my perspective may be skewed, but there may be a few other reasons why expats aren't excited about this election.

It might also be that the choice is between a president who kept precisely zero of his campaign promises to expats and Mitt "what do you want to hear today" Romney. If anything, I expect many expat voters will be casting votes against the other guy, not for "their" guy.

For other reasons why expats may not really give a damn: my last US state of residency was Oregon, so that's where my vote will be counted, but as anyone who understands the electoral college knows, neither Romney or Obama give a damn about me because I'm not from a "swing state". Watch Nate Silver's interview on The Daily show if you want to understand this better. The short version: due to the electoral college, my vote can't impact the allocation of electoral votes from Oregon, so my vote doesn't really count. The toss-up swing state voters, however, are very valuable. Presidential candidates thus pander more to them than to "safe" states. The candidates have visited the swing state of Ohio more than any other state and pretty much ignored Illinois, the fifth most-populous state in the nation.

What? You want more reasons? If you live abroad long enough, you get to see how other political systems work. Seeing the amount of bribes private money flowing into US politics is embarrassing, particularly when many countries around the world publicly finance campaigns. By contrast, ex-US president Jimmy Carter didn't have to raise any money money for his campaigns against Ford and Reagan.

More reasons? The voting system in the United States has gotten so bad, with both Republicans and Democrats accusing the other side of voting fraud, that the US elections will be monitored by international observers. Unfortunately, Texas governor Rick Perry has once again embarrassed the United States by threatening criminal actions against the individuals from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

It would be fair to say that many expats are disillusioned with US-style "democracy" where we're given a choice between a right-wing and far-right-wing party. It doesn't help that the only really interesting Republican candidate doomed his campaign by acknowledging that evolution and climate change were real. (Think about that for a long time: Mitt Romney was the best the Republicans could come up with).

Contrast the US electoral process to those of numerous other first-world countries:
  • Public financing of campaigns
  • Multiple political voices getting heard
  • No vicious attack ads (at least not on a US scale)
  • No widespread questions about the honesty of elections
  • Health care taken as a right, not a privilege
Stick around long enough outside the US and your opinions will likely change too. I love America. There are many things about US culture that I love and the American people are generally a caring, friendly people. But the political system is a joke. No wonder many expats are disillusioned.

Your author can't help but wonder how many readers he may be losing for political posts.

Update: The Reuters headline reads "Close race makes up for waning zeal in expat vote". Apparently I missed the word "up" in the headline, thus reversing the sense of it. Now their headline makes sense.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A new wrinkle in the IRS war against expats

Photo by John Morgan
I have to say that while I know nothing about Forbes magazine, the fact that they're banging the drum about FATCA makes me a happy man. In an article entitled Should U.S. Citizens Abroad Pick Streamlined IRS Program Or OVDP?, they mentioned an amusing (cough) fact that I wasn't aware of.

As you know if you've been reading this blog, there are many Americans living abroad who have only just found out that they owe many years of back taxes to the US government. Some are being driven into bankruptcy while others are being driven into hiding while the vast majority of us are just trying to catch up and figure out what the heck is going on.

To deal with this, the United States created the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, or OVDP. At first it sounds like a program to help overseas Americans catch up on their back taxes, but in reality, it's a fairly draconian program which starts, amongst other things, as a criminal process. It's a very long, complicated affair with the potential for massive financial penalties and the possibility of a criminal conviction. You have years of back returns and FBARs (Foreign Bank Account Reporting) to complete, but don't worry, you won't be fined more than $500,000 or spend more than half a year in jail for making a mistake with your FBARs.

So the new reports of an IRS amnesty for expats is welcome. It's a much lighter weight process, doesn't assume you're a criminal, and doesn't contain penalties or fines. However, there's a couple of tiny catches. First, the IRS must assess you as a "low risk" offender, but they don't tell you what "low risk" is, other than to say that you must not have owed much in taxes or shown signs of "sophisticated" tax planning (whatever that is). So you might be eligible for an amnesty, but you have no way of knowing if you are. If you're aren't, you're still eligible for prosecution.

And the other tiny catch? From the Forbes article linked above (emphasis theirs):
Besides, the IRS [amnesty program] does not guarantee immunity from prosecution. What’s more, a taxpayer who applies for this streamlined program becomes ineligible for the OVDP. Suppose you apply for streamlined relief but the IRS examines your case and thinks you are high risk, not low? 
You can’t complete the streamlined program, but are ineligible for the OVDP! What’s left could be a full civil audit and high fines or even prosecution.
Lovely, just lovely. If you're a US expat whose just found out about the US tax system for expats and you want to pay your back taxes, you may have absolutely no safe way to do so. While I'm generally familiar with this area of the US tax law, this was a wrinkle I had no idea about. I actually find myself in the ugly position of thinking that those who innocently got caught up in the mess would be justified (morally, not legally) in hiding from the IRS.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Move to the Cayman Islands?

George Town, Cayman Islands
George Town, Cayman Islands
Photo by Roger Wollstadt
Update: I've had to delete and repost this to generate a new URL and kill some spambot which has been making life a bit miserable.

The government of the Cayman Islands has approved new immigration rules. They won't help most readers, but there are a couple of other things about the Caymans that may be interesting.

Basically, you can now live permanently in the Cayman Islands if you invest $750,000 and earn over $150,000 a year (but without the right to work in the Caymans). I think that leaves most of us out.

There's a second residency category created, that of "substantial business holder."
The new certificate requires that the person own, directly or indirectly, a minimum of 10 per cent of the shares in a business that person has established within the Cayman Islands. That business must fall into an “approved category” of business, to be determined by regulations in the law. Such a certificate, if granted would be valid for 25 years and has the potential to be renewed.
Panorama of Seven Mile Beach in Cayman Islands
Photo by Burtonpe
That could be an interesting way of "buying" your way into the Cayman islands. However, after digging around, I finally came to this interesting article from a Cayman Resident's magazine. The actual work permit process isn't terribly different from most other countries, aside from your employer needing to readvertise the position twice a year.

View Larger Map

What I found particularly interesting was this paragraph:
It is unlikely an employer will be granted a work permit unless a) the applicant is professionally qualified or very well experienced in a relevant field, or b) there is literally no interest in the position from the local workforce (which is actually fairly common). This creates something of a “Catch 22” for those expatriates without a professional qualification. The better the position, the higher the level of interest from the local workforce and the less likely it is that an expatriate will be granted a work permit. 
There are a few Cayman expat blogs (those are three links), so go read them for  inspiration and ask yourself why the hell you're still sitting in your home country. Paradise awaits!

Note that Cayman Islands work permits can only be renewed for up to seven years (unless you are a "key worker"), but you have to live in the Caymans eight years to get permanent residency.

Update: I forgot to mention another immigration category regarding property. You do not need a work permit to work in the Cayman Islands if you are:
a person who is the beneficial owner of up to two units of property whose lawful presence in the Islands is to facilitate rental or lease arrangements in respect of those units and whose spouse does not own, operate or have an interest in those units.
There are a few other exemptions, but they are mostly short-term, such a week-long exemption for conference organizers ... (hint, hint to anyone in the Perl community who wants to go swimming).

Creating a plan to move abroad

Engineer working on plans for Lake Union area, circa 1960s
Maybe I should write some of this shit down.
Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives
Many people talk about wanting to move abroad, but do any of you have a plan to do so? I don't mean "Yeah, I'm planning on it", but a serious, well-thought-out plan. It's time to make one. This can let you understand what you're really facing, and forces you to deal with a hard question: is living abroad just a fantasy?

Clearing the road ahead

The first step is to read Why You'll Say No to Living Abroad. That lays out a thought experiment with one "Count von Europe" offering to let you move abroad ... on the condition that you leave tomorrow. Most of us can't do this (I certainly couldn't), but the idea brings into sharp focus everything that prevents you from moving. So step one is to read that post and make a "Obstacles to moving tomorrow" list. These obstacles should not be "I don't yet have a job abroad" but "assuming I could move, what's stopping me?" Back in 1998, I did not have a passport, so here's what my list might have looked like.

Obstacles To Moving Tomorrow
  • No passport
  • Two cats
  • A girlfriend who doesn't want to live far from her family
  • A lifetime of "stuff" I've accumulated

For each item in the list, you write down the steps needed to overcome that obstacle and the date by which those steps will be taken. If you do not have dates, you have a dream, not a plan. Write down those dates and stick to them. Also, note that no obstacles are insurmountable, but it's perfectly OK to say "that's a price I'm not willing to pay." This step helps clarify some of that.

As for my list above, getting a passport is straightforward. The cats are trickier. You need to understand about relocating your pets and pet passports. Or maybe you can find a friend or relative who will take them. By the time of my second move abroad, I already had my passport, I didn't have pets (since getting them would have impeded my move abroad) and no girlfriend. For virtually all of my worldly goods, I sold them for a very low price to ensure that I wouldn't have to take them with me and complicate my move. That also helped to pay for some of my relocation costs.

Dealing with a girlfriend is trickier (duh!). As it turns out, she would have been happy to live abroad so long as she could fly home often enough to visit family, so perhaps there was a way to work with that, too. However, if you have a partner who absolutely refuses to consider the idea (I've met a number of people who say they would never dream of living in another country), then the hard choice happens: do you give up your dream or your partner? This is one question I can't answer for you.

Determine your career path

Stumptown barista at the Ace Hotel
Being a talented barista doesn't count as "skilled labor".
Photo by Matt Biddulph
While you're sorting out your obstacles, you need to figure out if you're "skilled" or "unskilled" labor. From the standpoint of countries wanting to import your skills, you're likely skilled if you have a strong background in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering or math). Otherwise, you're probably unskilled. If you're a skilled worker, you need to read through my how to get a work permit series. Otherwise, read the young person's guide to moving abroad as a starting point for understanding your options. Whichever way you go, figuring out your plan, writing it down and setting dates for it is hard (this is often the hardest part), but it's a worthwhile exercise because it really lays the foundation for your move abroad. If you're an unskilled worker, you may very well decide to return to college to increase your chances. Many of the steps in this stage of your plan will benefit you whether you stay or go.

What are you really looking for?

Paradise ? No San Blas
A beach in Panama
Photo by Fathzer
Does salary matter to you? Do you want to live in a big city or rural area? Do you worry about your children's education? Are you willing to learn a new language? Do you have to live in a first-world country? Do you care about politics?

These and similar questions is where things start to get complicated. It's perfectly OK to say "I will move anywhere", but if you're a nightlife-loving single American woman, maybe Saudi Arabia wouldn't work for you.  This point is where you start doing research about different countries and try to figure out what offers you the best opportunities. The HSBC Expat Explorer can help with this, as can,, and other sites. After you get a few target countries, Wikipedia can help you start gathering some more detailed information about them. Many (most, I've found) Americans say they want to move to Europe, but much of that is driven by not knowing much about the other opportunities abroad. Would you really turn down a chance to spend weekends on a Panamanian beach? Keep your mind open and be willing to try the world.

Once you've got some ideas of what you're looking for in a destination, if you've already written your plans for "obstacles" and "career path", you should now be ready to start writing up your plan for the job hunt. Don't second guess whether or not your plan is realistic, just create it and don't forget those dates! If you think "I can't put a date on this", then you've created a plan that you can't put into action. Throw it away and start again. Make sure you sign up for Expat Blog, IslandX, Transitions Abroad,, and any other Web site you think might help you find that first job abroad. And, of course, keep reading this blog.

Share your plan?

Have you written you plan down? Are you willing to share it? I'm sure plenty of others would love to see it. If you have questions about a part of your personal "expatriation plan", drop me a line or comment here and I'll try to answer it for you.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Get the IT Skills You Need to Move Abroad

reflections of sydney
Sydney Harbor Bridge, Australia
Photo by Paul Bica
Today we're going to talk about a very long-term strategy for getting a job abroad. The downside is that it can take years to make it work. The upside is that it will be very fun (for some of you) and even if it doesn't get you a job abroad, it can tremendously increase both your work opportunities at home and your income!

For many people, the main obstacle to getting a job abroad is not finding the right job, it's having the right job. I am going to repeat something I've repeated many times on this blog, but it's worth repeating (and not everyone reads every post): countries want immigrants who generate a net profit.

It should be self-evident, but countries really don't want to bring in people who don't add to the bottom line and so called "low value" immigrants are rejected and the immigrants in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) will be given priority. Or as I like to say, the holy trinity of expatriate jobs is medicine, engineering and IT (information technology). If you have skills in any of these areas you have a much better chance of getting a job abroad, but one of these skills is not like the others.

Harar wonderful street (Ethiopia) 3
Even Harar, Ethiopia will have programmers in it
Photo by Ahron de Leeuw
You can generally forget about working overseas in medicine or engineering if you don't have a university degree. However, countries are desperate for people with IT skills and since many IT people are self-taught, it's one of the easier fields to get into. The main requirement is to convince an employer that you can do the job (this generally requires also having the ability to do the job).

So how do you get into IT? There are several routes, but I'll focus on computer programming as that's the area I know best (large scale database-driven back ends, if you're curious).

Probably the easiest route (outside of a degree) is to learn the basics of Web development along with programming. While the most popular programming languages today are probably C, C++ and Java, if you've never programmed before, you'll probably find Ruby, Python, PHP or Perl easier languages to get started with. Perhaps the easiest way to get started learning programming is to head over to Udacity and take their CS101 "Introduction to Computer Science" course. All Udacity classes are free of charge and by the time you finish that first course, you'll have a basic understanding of computer science and the Python programming language. More importantly, you'll probably have an idea of whether or not you have both the talent and the inclination to pursue a career as a programmer.

twitter - What are you doing?
The internet isn't just fun: it pays well
Photo by keiyac
Assuming this tickles your fancy, you could then move on to more advanced work, like CS215 "Crunching Social Networks". If you're ambitious and determined, that could give you just enough experience to tackle CS253, Web Development (How to build a blog). For many purposes, the latter class would be the goal here. By the time you're done with that third course (and it will be a lot of hard work), you'd have the basics of:
  • Python — A great first programming language
  • HTML — the language Web pages are written in
  • SQL — a language used to help you store and retrieve data such as blog posts
  • HTTP — how your browser talks to a Web server
  • Scaling — How to let many users use your Web site without killing it
  • Web security — Practical tips to avoid some of the more common Web security issues
In other words, in just three courses you would know as much as many other entry-level Web programmers. These three courses will be difficult if you don't have prior experience to programming, but they're intended for people without prior experience. However, it's going to probably be very hard work. You're going to get stuck on tough questions. To get answers, sign up for a free account with stackoverflow, a popular "geek" site for getting your technical questions answered. You can search for answers to your problems or post your own questions.

Another route for getting answers is to ask a geek friend for help, but be warned: geeks can be very difficult at times. Many, for example, will sneer at you for learning Python (I specialize in Perl and I know some of my friends would sneer at Python), but ignore that. You have a goal and you don't want to get distracted. A better strategy would be finding a local Python User Group and signing up for their mailing list. They often meet once a month for social events or to give technical talks. Go to those events! It's a fantastic way to start networking and land that first programming job.

Pão de Açúcar
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Photo by Digo_Souza 
If you can pass those three courses, you probably have what it takes to be a programmer, though to be fair, it will probably take a lot more work than just these three courses to be skilled enough to get a job. However, if you stuck through all three of them there's a good chance you'd enjoy the work. Also, read the Udacity FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) to better understand how job-focused they are.

This doesn't get you a job overseas but it starts the process. Since you won't (presumably) have a degree in computer science, you'll need experience. Again, finding a local Python user group and meeting up with actual programmers can help. Most of my jobs have come via people telling me a job was available rather than me applying blindly for a position. Since you'll be trying to land your first job, that's probably a good strategy, but hitting web sites and applying for Python job ads can be a good strategy, too. Once you get that first job, you'll want to get a couple of years (five is a good minimum but not always necessary) of experience under your belt and then follow the steps outlined in my "How to get a work permit" series.

This course of action is hard, takes a long time, and isn't suitable for everyone. There are also plenty of details that I've omitted and this is not the only way to an IT career. Instead, I've chosen it because it's a strategy that many have followed and works. If you find that you love programming, this is only the starting point. For many readers, you have jobs as waiters, clerks, or other relatively low-paying positions and getting into IT can easily double or triple your salary. It's also a relatively recession-proof field and can open doors to foreign lands like few other jobs can do. Countries want IT skills. If you have them, you can make your dreams real.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Paris: Île de la Cité and the Latin Quarter

As usual, click on any picture to see a larger version.

A friend has been visiting from the US and we went walking around Île de la Cité and the Latin Quarter. I've been working so much that I've not had much of a chance to be a tourist here. I had an absolute blast walking around. What follows are some of the pictures from our walk. I really wish I had the money to live in this area rather than the outskirts, as this is the Paris I have dreamt of since I was 13. However, I can afford the two-bedrooms with a garden that I currently enjoy. It's a luxury few Parisians have.

The statue of Charlemagne in front of Notre Dame is a fantastic reminder of the history you can find here that you simply won't find in the US. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Charlemagne united France (the "Frankish" kingdom) and other areas as the first European emperor since the Roman collapse. This was in the late 700s, early 800s, well over a thousand years ago. Charlemagne united Western Europe and spread Christianity (by the sword, naturally) throughout.

The statue of Charlemagne
in front of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame. Construction started in 1163. It
allegedly houses Christ's crown of thorns.

Crucifix inside Notre Dame

Many padlocks on bridges have names
and dates, proclaiming a couple's love.

Notre Dame.

A quiet alley in Paris.

A monument celebrating St. Julien le Pauvre

Your author at Shakespeare and Company, one
of the most famous bookstores in the world.

A beautiful street in
the Latin Quarter.

Don't look too closely at
what's for dinner.

Embarrassed to say that I have
forgotten this fountain's name.
Update: Per Rafael (in the comments), the fountain above is Fontaine Saint-Michel.

Institut de France. L'Académie française
is headquartered here.

My friend having a blast outside the Louvre.

Paris: a mixture of old and new.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Freedom of speech is different in Europe

We the People
Don't take this for granted
Image by Chuck Coker
Matthew Woods, a 19-year-old British man, was jailed for making offensive jokes. I'm not exaggerating. A five-year-old girl, April Jones, was murdered and Woods started making disgusting jokes about her murder on Facebook. He received twelve weeks of jail time for this. Even a quick reading of other assaults on liberty in the UK are quite chilling. DNA databases, child databases, national ID databases, CCTV everywhere and yet the alleged trade-off — you give up your privacy and we'll give you security — has never manifested. The crime rate is horrendous and some argue that the UK crime rate is worse than the US.

It's also interesting to note that in Europe, libel can extend to groups. For example, in the US if I write that a particular priest is a child molester, I can be charged with libel, but if I were to write that all priests were child molesters, it's probably protected speech. Many Americans would be aghast at many European laws which extend libel protection to groups, but six million dead jews makes a powerful rebuttal. These laws are not just a silly historical accident.

Well, that's not entirely true. In the UK, unlike the US, truth is not a defense in a libel case and British libel laws have made a mockery of free speech claims in the UK. If you're wanting to move abroad and you care about issues like this, you may be in a for a rude shock. Fortunately, I've found that when I move to a new country, I'm less likely to have the same emotional investment in the political situation, allowing me to distance myself from the most egregious problems, though some cultures (Saudi Arabia, for example) are so at odds with my own that I think I would struggle to live there.

Are you an American? Do you think that only the US conception of free speech is appropriate?

Monday, October 15, 2012

A slice of Italy

As mentioned last Wednesday, I spent a bit of time in Bologna, Italy. Sadly, due to the nature of the visit, I didn't have a chance to do much sightseeing, but I did get to enjoy some fantastic food.

Italy's always been a bit of a frustration for me. I've visited it twice before and found the people friendly, the country beautiful, but the economy a wreck. Italian infrastructure is incomplete, with many projects derailed by corruption. Traveling through Italy shows many abandoned buildings and poorly maintained rail stations and that's in the relatively rich north. I've not been to southern Italy, which I'm told is in even worse shape. It's bad enough that there is a separatist movement in Northern Italy.

None of that changes the fact that Italy is beautiful and the food is wonderful, though I made a mistake and ordered a pepperoni pizza. I've had this happen before that I've ordered pepperoni pizza here in Europe and wound up with bell peppers instead of the spicy salami we all love.

Yes, this is a real pepperoni pizza.
To say I was disappointed when I received my pizza would be about right, particularly since I am not a fan of bell peppers. But damn if that wasn't one of the best pizzas I've ever had, bell peppers or no. I've generally preferred Chicago-style pizza, but now I realize why people say Italian style is the best. When a cheese pizza with bell peppers tastes this good, I think I've finally begun to understand.

On Thursday we had dinner at Le Golosità di Nonna Aurora, a local restaurant which specializes in Bolognese food. That made me happy because quite often I go to conferences and we get taken to an "ethnic" restaurant which is completely unrelated to the local food. If I'm going to be somewhere, I want to experience as much of there as I can.

The starter was a lovely soup with ham tortellini in a clear chicken broth.

Nice and light. A great start.
This was followed by the primo course. In this case, it was two types of hand-made pasta. Both were incredibly delicious (all of the pasta I had in Bologna was very good). I particularly enjoyed a green and yellow pasta with ground beef that was unlike any pasta I've quite had before. Yummy.

Both were great, but that pasta on the left was superb!
What really surprised me was the secondo, which is main dish. This is the course where you typically get meat or fish. Nope, not here. They served what I would have called antipasto (literally "before meat"), something which is usually served before the primo. Instead, it was served with these light, puffy pieces of fried dough that you split open, slather on some delicious cream cheese (which was more like yoghurt, to be honest), perhaps add some meat and wolf down. They brought out plates and plates and plates of this stuff for the main course. It was delicious.

A surprising main course.
Dessert was a lemon custard pie. It was a bit on the sweet side, but then, I've never been a huge fan of sweets, so I'm probably not the best judge.

Lemon custard pie for dessert.
While I've been to Italy twice before, this was far and away my best food experience. I'm spoiled due to all of the delicious food here in Paris, but this trip gave Paris a run for the money.

The rest of my stay in Bologna involved me giving a couple of talks at the conference and wandering around Bologna a bit. Sadly, I never really got any good photos of the city. It's mostly an industrial town and like most Italian architecture, it's red, yellow or orange brick and stucco buildings. It's not very large and easy to walk through. Many of the residential areas we were in were very beautiful and I kept thinking, once again, that it's a shame about the state of the Italian economy. I could easily live there.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Off to Italy

Sitting at Charles de Gaulle airport making a quick post. I'm afraid my posting schedule may be off for a few days while I'm in Italy speaking at the Italian Perl Workshop. Meanwhile, here are a few photos to keep your dreams alive.

Faithful Path
Bologna, Italy
Photo by Donato Accogli
Fontana di Trevi
Trevi Fountain, Rome
Photo by Zero One
Venice HDR
Venice, Italy
Photo by Tanbako the Jaguar
Milan Cathedral from Piazza del Duomo
Milan, Italy
Photo by Jiuguang Wang
Padova, fog, it's Christmas
Padua, Italy
Photo by Miles Heller
Naples, Italy
Photo by Francesco Sgroi

Monday, October 8, 2012

US immigration policy blunting its high-tech edge?

The Chemist
High-tech is high-value
Photo by Jamesongravity
TechCrunch has an interesting article entitled For The First Time In Decades, US Is Bleeding High-Skilled Immigrants. The situation is very complicated, but much of it boils down to a Byzantine legal system for immigration. It's hard to get a work visa for the US and easy to lose it. On top of that, Republicans attempted to shift 55,000 US visas for immigrants from lesser-developed nations to foreign-born graduates of US universities. The idea being to ensure that high-skilled talent that studies in the US stays in the US. This makes sense as they're already likely to be more integrated into US culture.

Democrats have objected, claiming that Republicans are trying to shift visas from immigrants the Republicans don't want to immigrants they do want.

While I agree with the Democratic reasoning here, I'm unsure of how this is an indictment against Republicans. All developed nations control immigration tightly because they have to. Unrestricted immigration would overload the the social services of states and "low value" (in economic terms) immigrants are more likely to cost the state more money than they generate. Thus, "high value" immigrants are not only desired, but sought after. After all, they benefit an economy. The US, however, appears to be ignoring the benefits and focusing only on the costs.

Part of the problem is probably due to the anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping across much of the US. As a politician, it can be tough tackling immigration reform when many people would be happy to stop immigration. I've explained why importing workers in a bad economy is still often a good idea, but I doubt policy makers read this site. Further, given the current combative nature of US politics, I don't see a compromise happening any time soon.

There are other issues which are going to play into this long-term. The US PATRIOT Act has made US-based cloud services less popular outside of the US, hurting the ability of US cloud businesses to compete. Thanks to FATCA, "US persons" are now losing banking services abroad which, in turn, means that foreign businesses are now more reluctant to operate in the US market, a potential long-term drain on the US economy. It's going to be harder to attract high-tech talent when your economy is struggling and the cost of being a US person can mean lack of access to banking services in your home country.

And then we have the charming case of an immigrant to the US being imprisoned in Leavenworth for sending money home to this family. Regardless of whether or not you feel imprisoning him was justified, it's hard to argue that this will not have a chilling effect on other would-be immigrants to the US.

On top of that, EU countries are launching their European Blue Card programs in an attempt to attract more high-value immigrants. Though I initially speculated that it wasn't going to help the EU much, seeing the actual implementations has changed my mind. It's going to be much easier for many high-value workers to move to Europe. I've written before about how 5% of high-value workers go to Europe and 55% go to the US and I expect the combination of many factors is starting to shift the numbers to the EU. In this case, the US's loss will likely be the EU's gain.

Long-term it's even worse. The US cost of education has risen so dramatically that young Americans have gone from #1 worldwide in terms of having university degrees to #12. Thus, the US is not only less likely to import high-value workers, she's getting less likely to produce them. Of course, with almost half of Americans believing in the decidedly anti-science Creationist viewpoint, it's perhaps an uphill battle to promote the sciences in the US.

It seems that the deck is stacked against the US, but for the most part, the US has done the stacking.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Malaysia has a work permit with your name on it

Batu Caves
Detail from Malaysian Batu Caves
Photo by carolynconner
Unlike anything you will likely experience in Western culture, the 400 million year old Batu Caves today is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. Dedicated to the Hindu god Murugan, with numerous caves and shrines, the Batu Caves attracts both worshippers and tourists.

Eight miles south of the caves is the city of Kuala Lumpur, the federal capital of Malaysia. Kuala Lumper is a large, vibrant, modern city that is surprisingly young, having been founded in the 1850s. Malaysia, meanwhile, is one of the fastest growing economies in Asia and is quickly becoming a high-tech wonder. Part of what fuels this is the city of Cyberjaya, a city about 18 miles (30 kilometers) south of Kuala Lumpur. Cyberjaya is a planned city that was designed to be the Silicon Valley of Malaysia, hence the name. Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few high-tech companies there and one of them, BetOnMarkets, is waving a work permit and relocation package in your general direction. Here's what they have to say about themselves:

Petronus Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur
Photo by Shiva Kumar Khanal

Who we are

RMG Technology (M) Sdn. Bhd. is a MSC status company based in Cyberjaya, Malaysia. RMG Technology has been operating in Malaysia since 2006 and has a technical team of diverse nationalities, including people working in Malaysia as well as commuters in different parts of the world.

What we do

Our company provides IT and quant (financial mathematics) services to a major and pioneering financial platforms. We use Perl and lots of Perl-related technologies extensively. We use other technologies too such as Apache, nginx, mod_perl, PostgreSQL, Javascript, Git, Puppet, Selenium, Jenkins, OpenVZ and AWS. We use Linux for all our infrastructure and desktops. Our daily routine involves maintaining the business operations as well as developing and deploying new solutions to make life easier for ourselves and our customers.

How it is to work with us

Relaxing in the office
We have a very casual work environment and culture, from dress code to the way we communicate and work. Our technical teams are people who are deeply concerned about the quality of their work and have a passion for it. We try to improve the way things are done constantly. We don’t have a very big team so our staff have to deal with a variety of interesting tasks on a daily basis.

How it is to live in Cyberjaya and Malaysia

Malaysia is a uniquely multi-ethnic society. It is one of the most exciting places to live in Asia, providing expats with a vast cultural experience as well as natural attractions such as beaches, jungles, and mountains. Cyberjaya is Malaysia's fast-growing e-commerce hub, located equidistant between the capital Kuala Lumpur and the international airport, from which you can explore a multitude of other Asian countries with the low-cost airline AirAsia.

What we are looking for

Want to live here?
Cyberview Gardens apartments
Right now we have vacancies for two types of positions: Developers and Sysadmin/DevOps. As a part of our technical team, you will be involved in our daily operations to make our infrastructure and products closer to what our customers need. Development is ongoing and we deploy regularly. We really care about testing and fault-proofing our code before it goes live so there’s a great deal of QA involved. We use virtualization extensively and rely on third party cloud services for parts of our operation. We are always on the lookout for new technologies that can add value to our portfolio of tools and services. You might be a good match for our company if:

  • You are knowledgeable and passionate about Linux and its nuts and bolts;
  • You are comfortable with Perl code or know another scripting language that can help you pick it up. Take our word - there’s no escape from Perl here;
  • You are familiar with technologies such as Apache, nginx, Git, Debian packaging, monitoring solutions and are comfortable learning new ones when needed;
  • You can work as a part of a team of people as good as or better than you. You can take and provide criticism and build on the experience to build better solutions in the future;
  • You are an independent thinker and can surprise yourself and the others with the new stuff you come up with;
  • As a developer, you are familiar with the concepts of software quality assurance and can test your own and other’s code against best-practice standards.

What you are looking for

So after what we expect from you, here’s a list of the things you can expect from us:

  • You can expect a competitive compensation package, including a range of benefits;
  • A multi-national team of talented and passionate engineers;
  • Friendly and casual working environment;
  • Flexible working hours;
  • We provide the option to provide you with housing or equal pay for you to get your own place;
  • Canteen with refreshments for those times when you really need some;
  • Working from home option on certain occasions/positions (not telecommuting).

For expats, we also offer relocation assistance, work permits, and dependency permits for family members.

Please visit for further information.

How to apply

If you think you can be a good match for our company, drop us a line along with your resume by emailing Paul LeVarge at and let them know you read about this at the Overseas Exile blog.

While not mandatory here’s a list of the things we might be really interested in:
  • Projects you have been involved in;
  • If you have any public repositories on places such as github, please provide a link to them;
  • Contributions you might have made to open-source projects such as providing patches, new features, …
  • Anything that gives us a better picture of who you are and what you do.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Dear Blog Spammers

Photo by Don O'Brien
You may be surprised to note that I've actually approved one or two blog spam comments because they really were very damned relevant. They were also reasonably well-written, but they're the exception.

The vast majority of spam on this blog is deleted immediately because you insist upon repeatedly posting crap spam, though the content would actually be useful to my readers. In fact, in visiting some of the sites you're flogging, I've actually found some of them to be interesting and further digging suggests that you're legitimate.

Do you want to get your message across? I actually accept guest posts, but they have to be relevant, moderately well-written and not a huge spam-fest of links. I don't even charge for them because I want relevant information for my readers. Oh, but that means you're going to have to put some effort into this and I guess you're not going to do that.

So I'll keep deleting your spam, but if you ever want to step up and provide real content that would actually help people move abroad, I'll be waiting. Until then, I'll be deleting away and no one will ever see your message.

This message brought to you by the "exercise in futility" department.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Buying Citizenship in Europe (Latvia)

Kolotilovka, a Latvian Spa
Photo by Ricardo Liberato
A bit of research will reveal that there are an astonishing large number of countries you can buy your way into. However, they're either not in Europe or, like Austria's 3,000,000 Euro investment program, prohibitively expensive.

Enter Latvia. Latvia is a small country on the Western border of Russia and it's a member of the European Union. As a way to help boost their economy, the Latvian government passed a law in 2010 to allow people to gain residency for a real estate purchase or investment in business. I'll focus on the former as that gives you a place to live along with residency.

Latvian immigration law allows non-Europeans to purchase Latvian property worth 72000 Latvian lats (~103,400 euro or 133,400 USD) outside of major cities, or 150,000 lats (215,400 euro or 277,800 USD) inside of Riga and other major cities. With that and a background check (immigration authorities are keen on keeping out criminals), you can get a residency permit for five years. I've read the Latvian nationality law (English PDF) and it appears that most people will then be able to apply for citizenship in Latvia, though you'll need to speak the language, know the history, etc.

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In short: if you have some spare cash, Europe is waiting for you.

This Latvian immigration scheme is unpopular with some Latvians, though most of my research suggests that this unpopularity is aimed at Russian immigrants due to a rather understandable fear of Russian influence in Latvia. Others are concerned about those who are heading to Latvia solely as a means to enter Europe and have no interest in the country itself.  There are fears that this will drive up Latvian housing prices to an unaffordable level, though the market was moribund prior to this law.  Here's a BBC video about the topic:

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Having lived in multiple countries, I am very familiar with this concern about those who do not integrate, but it's often an abstract concern: once you start to learn the language and get to know your neighbors, people everywhere tend to be friendly.

A word of caution: like any international move, this one has some major caveats. The Latvian economy is struggling and this residency scheme does not give you the right to work in Latvia (though you can bring your spouse and children). It also has the unfortunate habit of being a crossroads for various wars between neighboring countries. That being said, Lonely Planet seems quite keen on Latvia and, truth be told, if they're far enough down, perhaps the only way they can go is up?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Having an overseas escape route

Free Art License
Copyright © Frederic Guimont
Ordinarily I try to stick to a "moderate" line on Overseas Exile, but it's impossible in researching this topic to avoid one subject which comes up repeatedly: where to go if there's a global economic collapse. Or a global police state. Or a global nuclear war. Or some other global catastrophe. I certainly don't want to sound alarmist or come off like many of the conspiracy theorists out there,¹ but I would be amiss in not addressing this topic because it's so damned popular.

There are many who talk about moving abroad to find a "safety route". The Web site Escape From America regularly publishes articles about the coming economic collapse and how to prepare yourself. They point out obvious things like learning to grow your own food, buying land, and going "off the grid" — a popular phrase which might anything from "being self-sufficient" to "leaving no electronic trace by which governments can track you." Reading through such Web sites is, I must confess, entering a strange and fascinating world.

I won't name names as I'd rather not deal with legal action, but some of these Web sites are little more than scams. First, they get you scared, then they offer salvation: buy gold coins from us! Buy land from us! Buy radiation detectors from us! That last, of course, was the variant we saw back in the 70s (and still sometimes see today), where people were warned of the impending global nuclear war, or the imminent onset of the brutal police state that would trample your rights in the name of "security". Of course, the latter, many say, is already here. Alex Jones' Infowars Web site, for example, has an article about the TSA Gestapo (and hitting your favorite search engine will overwhelm you with information about this).

Gordon Barlow's Web site about life in the Cayman Islands has a bit of a gentler take on this, in his articles "Looking for bolt-holes", part one and part two (for those not familiar with the writings in this area, trust me, Barlow's writing is indeed gentler than many you will read). He and his wife of 45 years have been living in the Cayman islands for decades and while being over 70, they're still eyeing places in Central and South America that they think would be "safe" if they need an escape route.

If you start reading through this material, keep in mind that people who write on these topics are often quite rational. While some have no problem with Obama's ordering of the assassination of  Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen, it's still astonishing that we're at the point where it's mainstream news that the President of the United States can order the assassination of US citizens . The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 allows those accused of "belligerent acts" against the US to be held indefinitely without trial and H.R. 5949: FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012 extends the US government's right to continue spying on US citizens without a warrant. And don't forget the bi-partisan amendment to allow the US to direct propaganda against US citizens.

There are many people who support these laws, stating that desperate times require desperate measures. Others are aghast at these laws, claiming that if we allow our basic freedoms to be stripped, the terrorists have already won. Each side often claims that the other side is the irrational one, but I claim that neither is: merely having a different set of core values is not irrational in the slightest.

Many people are now pointing to these and other issues to justify wanting an "escape route" from their home country (I've noticed that these writings are usually from the perspective of escaping the US). Regardless of why you want to move to another country, I'll keep supplying tips and tricks, uncovering loopholes, or ways to buy citizenship abroad.

Interestingly, I've noticed that those who talk about leaving the US for political (or "conspiracy") reasons usually are still in the US.  Dr. Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels, a researcher at the University of Kent at Brussels did a survey of US expatriates (PDF) (disclaimer: I participated in this survey) and found that less than 5% of them left for political reasons. Though there are exceptions, I find it interesting that those warning we should flee the sinking ship seem rather unlikely to flee.

1. Note that conspiracy "theorists" aren't always complete nutters. There was a time when claiming that the CIA overthrew the democratically elected government in Iran in the 1950s was a whacked-out conspiracy theory, but today the CIA openly admits their role in the coup.