Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Expat Explorer 2016: Achieving Ambitions Abroad

As leaves turn brown in the Northern Hemisphere and spring blooms in the South, nearly a year of research and analysis from the team at HSBC Expat bears first fruit. Our ninth year of the HSBC Expat Explorer survey is our most comprehensive to date, where 26,871 expats from 190 countries have shared their views on life abroad including careers, financial wellbeing, quality of life, and raising children.

For the second year in a row, the city-state of Singapore takes the top spot in HSBC’s Expat Explorer country league table as the best overall destination for expats. Expats in Singapore enjoy some of the world’s best financial rewards and career opportunities, while also benefiting from an excellent quality of life and a safe, family-friendly environment. 

Overall, 66% of expats in Singapore agree that it offers a better quality of life than their home country (compared to 52% of expats globally), while three quarters (75%) say the quality of education in Singapore is better than at home, the highest proportion in the world (global average 43%).

Expat Explorer 2016 overall league table
The best countries for expats to live and work
1.      Singapore
2.      New Zealand
3.      Canada
4.      Czech Republic
5.      Switzerland
6.      Norway
7.      Austria
8.      Sweden
9.      Bahrain
10.  Germany

New Zealand and Canada follow Singapore as the top three expat destinations according to expats, with the Czech Republic leaping 14 places to come fourth this year. Whilst Norway and Austria enter the league tables for the first time, ranking sixth and seventh place respectively.

1. Switzerland
1. New Zealand
1. Sweden
2. Singapore
2. Spain
2. Czech Republic
3. Germany
3. Canada
3. Singapore
4. Norway
4. Singapore
4. New Zealand
5. UAE
5. Australia
5. Canada

#1 for Economics - Switzerland

Switzerland shines for the second year running, offering unrivalled financial wellbeing and a strong economy for expats. Nearly nine in ten (87%) expats living there in Switzerland feel confident about the political stability of the country and four in five (80%) feel confident about its economy. Three quarters (75%) of expats say earning prospects are better in Switzerland than they are in their home country, with an average annual income of USD188,000.

#1 for Experience - New Zealand

 New Zealand leads the way for an unrivalled expat experience. The vast majority (83%) of expats praise the country’s environment as better than in their home country, and nearly three quarters (73%) say their quality of life has improved, compared to 52% of expats globally. Nearly three quarters (72%) of expats in New Zealand say they are integrating well with the local people and culture.

#1 for Family – Sweden

Sweden offers an excellent environment for expat families. Three quarters (75%) of expat parents in Sweden rate their children’s quality of life as better than back home. Nearly half (46%) say the quality of education in Sweden is better and 72% say it is less expensive. A similar proportion (75%) believe the quality of childcare available in Sweden is better than it is at home.

The volume of insights we’ve uncovered through the 2016 Expat Explorer survey is truly astonishing, and we’ll be sharing our favourite insights over the coming months on twitter @expatexplorer– a truly essential follow for anyone thinking about life abroad. You can check out the full survey results, or read more of our key findings.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Before School Starts: A Look at Expat Education

Often, the most important decision a parent makes when moving abroad with their family concerns their children’s education. Which language should they be taught in? Which school should they attend? Which qualifications should they prepare for? In this blog post, we explore some of the key considerations for expat parents to take into account as the new school year begins around the world.

International or local school?

More than two in five (44%) expats in the 2015 Expat Explorer survey said that their children attend international school, whereas almost one third (31%) attend a government funded or state school. This is the first decision many expat parents have to make when it comes to moving abroad.

It’s important to take into account the qualifications your child may need in later life as well as their emotional wellbeing. How will they settle in and which environment can help them to make the transition into a new life abroad?

International schools tend to offer more globally recognised qualifications. This is particularly important if you plan to move around frequently or if your children plan to study abroad as they get older. Typically international school curriculums are modelled on those in place across English, American or Canadian schools. These schools often encourage pupils to work towards internationally recognised qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate, which is highly respected by universities around the world. The International Baccalaureate typically means a wider breadth of study[1] than other qualifications such as A Levels. There tends to be an English speaking focus in most classrooms with a wide mix of different nationalities, cultures and backgrounds. This provides opportunities for your children to meet other expat children who are going through similar experiences.

“As a result of my time at an international school, I have a network of close friends around the world – from Boston to Munich to Singapore. Learning alongside such an eclectic mix of kids creates an incredibly accommodating environment you don’t find anywhere else, as well as so many different opportunities. American Football became a huge passion of mine thanks to my schooling. The breadth of the qualification and all of the extra-curricular activities I was able to get involved in prepared me for both university and the working world better than even I expected.” - Matt, an English expat schooled in Nairobi, Prague and London.

If you’re expecting to stay in a country for a long time, or if you’d like your children to attend university in your host country, you may want to consider a local school which raises a different set of advantages and challenges.

A local education provides expat children with the opportunity to experience the local culture and country, to develop their language skills and make new friends outside of the expat bubble. Your children may also find more opportunities to develop longer-term friendships as international schools can be somewhat transient – with up to half[2] of the student population changing each year.

“Enrolling your children in a public school, if they are between 4-7, helps children to learn language easily, and makes them feel connected to the community. And it instantly connects you with the community as well.”     – Expat Explorer 2015 respondent in Germany

Be wary, however, of enrolling your children in a local school without a strong grasp of the language. Although children tend to be much quicker than adults to learn languages, it’s important to provide support to help your children build their confidence. This might involve engaging a local tutor or taking some language lessons before you arrive.

Learning styles

Whichever schooling system you choose for your children, it’s important to appreciate how much learning styles can vary between countries. Just as culture shapes your experience at work, it also influences your children’s experience in education.

One area where these differences may be particularly apparent is within the Chinese education system. Whilst western students are encouraged to be curious and question information, in China teachers tend to expect more discipline and diligence from their pupils. School days are often longer[3], starting as early as 7AM and sometimes going on into the evening. Classes are not graded on achievement but on ability in comparison to the rest of the class, which can often inspire competitiveness in pupils[4].

Conversely, the Montessori approach of peer-tutoring is more common in European, American and international schools. This typically applies to younger age groups and involves a more collaborative learning style[5] which brings together children of different ages in a single classroom, aiming to foster an environment in which children learn from and teach their peers.

Researching the educational styles of your new host country is an essential part of your move. Seek advice from your contacts, visit the area before you move and make the most of online resources – but don’t underestimate the importance of having a conversation with your children to understand what they’d prefer.

Planning ahead

It’s important to plan ahead for the financial costs of childcare and education, and ensure you are prepared for any fees. In our 2015 Expat Explorer survey, over a third (38%) of expat parents rated the quality of their children’s education as better than their home country - but more than half (58%) said it is more expensive.

Singapore in particular stands out above the crowd for its fantastic quality of education; where 66% of expat parents report an improvement on the quality of education their children receive (compared to a global average of 38%). However, education in Singapore is also reported as being more expensive, with 85% of parents agreeing that education costs more than at home (compared to a global average of 58%) – so it’s a good thing that expats in the island nation also reported relatively high average salaries of USD158,705, significantly above the global average of USD104,000.

“Be sure you get allowances for schooling and housing as the cost of these two are very prohibitive.”     - Expat Explorer 2015 respondent in Singapore

Our 2015 Expat Explorer survey also revealed that 14% of expats received a contribution towards their children’s schooling, but that might not be the only way your employer can help you with your children’s education. HR departments are often well versed in co-ordinating every aspect of a relocation including schooling, so it’s worth checking if they can offer any support with the decisions you need to make for your family.

For more information about planning your children’s education as part of your move abroad, visit our website:


Thursday, 9 June 2016

An Appetite for Adventure: Expat Foodie Hotspots

When it comes to a move abroad, getting to grips with the local food is one factor which could influence how well you settle in. The 2015 Expat Explorer survey revealed that most expats embrace the change and throw themselves into a new culinary adventure when they move abroad, with over half (58%) agreeing that they enjoy eating or cooking the local cuisine.

Europe emerges as one of the key regions where expats are most likely to broaden their foodie horizons, with those living in Italy (91%), Portugal (81%) and Spain (81%) being the most likely to agree that they enjoy cooking and eating the local cuisine. Outside of Europe, Japan factors highly, with well over three quarters (84%) saying the same thing.

% of expats who say they enjoy cooking and eating the local cuisine

But what is it that defines these destinations as culinary hotspots? We’ve looked into the most interesting food trends and traditions from these countries, to whet your appetite.

Italy is famous for its traditional dishes passed down from generation to generation. Whilst most locals are quite comfortable with their nation’s staple dishes; some have been spreading their wings and exercising creativity by introducing new ingredients to shake up traditional platters. Guanciale[1], a cured meat taken from pork cheek, is making its way onto the palate of cuisine connoisseurs as an alternative to pancetta. The way the fat melts away as you fry it allows the flavours to blend masterfully with a spaghetti carbonara.

Expat Tips: Most expats in Italy (69%) say they’re integrating well with their new hosts. One key piece of advice is to make sure you do not eat pizza with a knife and fork – Italians are firm believers that a good pizza has to be felt, as well as tasted. And be sure to try a ‘Spaghetti cake’; crispy on the outside but beautifully soft on the inside, cooked in a gorgeous tomato sauce.

Japanese cuisine tends to follow a fairly strict regime that continues to be a driving force behind healthy living and eating. In fact 50% of expats in Japan said they feel as though they have become physically healthier since moving there. The increasingly popular and now world famous ‘Matcha Tea’[2] makes for a fantastic green tea packed full of antioxidants, whilst the powder can also be used for dips, breads, porridge and grain based dishes.


Expat Tip: Good manners over meals are incredibly important. It’s said that the Japanese language has far more words to indicate etiquette, humility and honour than any other language. Try saying “Itadakimasu” (the Japanese equivalent to saying let’s eat or Bon Appetit) at the start of a meal, your host should then respond with “Dozo” (Please go ahead).

With fiery flavours from small street stalls spreading in popularity across the globe, it’s unsurprising that 82% of expats in Mexico said they enjoy the local cuisine. It’s said that Mexicans consume more grains of corn per capita than anywhere else in the world[3]. Tortillas feature in a lot of meals, filled with mixtures of beans, rice, tomatoes, chilies and chorizo, providing the opportunity to add whatever your taste buds crave.

Expat Tip: Head down to a street market to truly experience the authentic Mexican food culture. Get creative in the kitchen with empanadas – fill the little handheld pastry pockets with as many flavours as possible. Mexicans tend to see the lengthy food preparation process as a way to maintain social relationships – be accepting of meal invitations and use the opportunity to form new friendships.

In Spain it’s all about lunch, or ‘Almuerzo’ as they call it. In some places breaks will last up to two hours and take place around 2pm rather than midday. The best way to experience Spanish cuisine is to travel from bar to bar, sampling their best tapas over the counter before moving on to the next place. The cuisine experience is as much about the social aspect as it is the food itself – so be prepared for plenty of great conversation and sharing.

Expat tip: Don’t underestimate the power of ‘Sombremesa’ – this love of good conversations after a meal may be why two-thirds of expats living in Spain told us in our 2015 Expat Explorer survey that they have found it easy to form new friendships.

In Thailand, dishes often revolve around rice. Curries combine fiery spices and seasonings but it is crucial that they do not intrude on the overall flavours of the dish – it’s about striking the perfect balance. Many recipes draw on the more unusual flavours of fish sauce, dried shrimp paste and lemon grass. Coconuts also play a vital role in a number of Thai dishes, whether it’s the milk for providing thickness to a curry, or shreddings to give desserts a bit of edge.

Expat tip: Snacking is a big deal in Thailand. You’ll notice large food stalls in many public spaces, offering hundreds of different bites to eat. Use these stalls to explore a huge variety of traditional Thai dishes including fish cakes, egg rolls and noodles served with a wealth of different seasonings.
What’s the most interesting local dish you’ve ever tried? We want to hear all about it, share your stories and images with us on Twitter: @ExpatExplorer

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Road to Local: Nine Nearly-Native Expat Moments

Settling into a new life abroad is one thing, but for some it’s a case of shedding the expat label altogether and making like a true local. In our 2015 Expat Explorer survey, almost one third (31%) say they felt at home within six months of moving. For others the transition takes a little more time, or may never come: one fifth (20%) say they think they will always feel like an expat.

Bahrain tops the list of places where expats are most likely to settle fastest, with 47% of expats reporting that they felt at home within six months, followed by Malaysia (43%), Mexico (42%), Russia (41%) and Thailand (38%). Expats agreed that certain milestones such as forging new friendships, getting involved with the local community and knowing that their families were enjoying life abroad all played a key role in helping them feel a strong connection with their new home.

In Bahrain for example, over half (51%) of the expats we spoke to say that making friends or developing their social lives plays the biggest part in helping them to feel a like a local. Whereas two in five (43%) expats in Malaysia say that it’s starting to understand the local culture and etiquette.

We’ve asked our expat network to share with us the times when they felt as though they were on the road to becoming a local - here are our favourite nearly-native moments:

  1. You’re fluent in the local language
The first time that you manage to hold a conversation or realise that you’ve been dreaming in the local language is an important first step. Almost one third (28%) of expats in the Expat Explorer survey say that successfully using the local language made them feel a strong connection with their new country.

“Insist others speak to you in Dutch when you're learning the language. Most are fluent in English and they love to talk to you in your own language rather than drop the level of communication to your learning level.” – UK expat in the Netherlands

  1. You’re becoming a foodie in your new country
Over half (58%) of expats in the 2015 Expat Explorer survey said that they enjoy eating and cooking the local cuisine in their new country. While it might have taken you a while to try some of the more adventurous dishes – you’re now finally there. And the comfort food you craved from home has been replaced by local delicacies.

  1. Cultural quirks start to feel normal
Two in five (38%) said that understanding the local culture and etiquette played the biggest part in helping them to feel like they belonged. These little quirks will vary wherever you are but a little research can go a long way; whether that’s understanding exactly when to use the ‘bisous’ greeting in France, or knowing that a burp during a meal in Hong Kong is considered by locals to be a sign of appreciation.

“Immerse yourself in the culture and don't be afraid to step out of the expat corner - enjoy sharing your experience with locals.” – UK expat in China

  1. You know exactly how to navigate the local transport
The metro arrives and it’s completely packed. Rather than wait for the next train you get on without a second thought. Becoming a local is more than just managing to find a space; it’s knowing where to stand on the platform or being able to navigate your new home without having to read the signs.

“Take advantage of the excellent public transit to see the whole of the UK. It's teeny tiny compared to Canada; you can do it! In particular, Scotland is amazingly beautiful the farther north you go. The Isle of Skye is a big favourite.” – Canadian expat in the UK

  1. You can give as good as you get with the locals
You have no hesitation bantering with the locals and being able to order a coffee using the same casual shorthand as the natives means that you fit right in. This can lead to making new friends too: over half (51%) of expats we spoke to in our survey said that making friends and/or developing their social life played a key role in helping them to feel settled.

“When you get there, accept every invitation even if it's for something you would never normally do. It helps you get a social life as quickly as possible, and also get the most out of moving to a new country.” – UK expat in Bermuda

  1. You know what to do when the unexpected happens
The ability to deal with whatever comes your way is a definite sign that you’re well on your way to becoming native; be it your social plans going unexpectedly awry or a communication victory during a meeting. In our survey, one fifth (20%) of expats said performing well in a strange or unusual situation at work was when they started to feel like a local.

  1. You defend the things that annoyed you to start with
Sometimes these little things can grow on us: whether that’s getting used to eating an unusual breakfast, like tofu in Japan, or having to walk a really long way to change tubes on the London Underground. And once we’ve understood and embraced them, they can play a big part in helping us feel as though we belong.

  1. You really know your way around
One in five (19%) expats said that when someone asked them for directions and they could help, it was a defining moment which helped them to feel a connection with their new country. And when you take out-of-town friends to see the local gems rather than the tourist hotspots, you realise you know the place far better than you think.

“Park your car somewhere and start to walk. You will be amazed at what you'll discover.” – New Zealand expat in Jersey

  1. When you go home, and you’re homesick
You return to visit your native country and feel homesick for your new country. Each time you go back, your family and friends comment that you’ve ‘picked up an accent’; and sitting on the plane flying back after the visit you find yourself looking forward to getting ‘home’.

When did you first start to feel like a local? Share your nearly native moments with us on Twitter (@expatexplorer) or on Facebook (HSBC Expat).

Discover more shortcuts to becoming a true local with the HSBC Expat Explorer Country Guides and Hints & Tips. Visit the Expat Explorer hub to find out more:

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Five things for expats to consider when buying a property to let in the UK

Becoming an expat opens up many new avenues but one way that life is almost certain to change is from a financial perspective. A move abroad therefore often means a whole new approach to managing your personal finances. In our 2015 Expat Explorer survey, over half (52%) of those surveyed say that they are now able to save more money than they did at home. We know that people save for a variety of different reasons and, for many it’s often about raising the funds to secure a property.

 For expats it can be more difficult to secure a mortgage while living overseas. However, that shouldn’t mean getting onto the property ladder is out of the question. Buy-to-let is one option for expats but there is a lot to consider. From costs to location and the practicalities of managing the property, plus the taxes and fees you will need to navigate. Buying a property is one of the most significant financial commitments you’re likely to make so it’s important to be as informed as possible.

1. Why buy to let?

Buy-to-let could be an option for many expats to get a foot on the UK property ladder. 

“It can be worth keeping your UK house in case the expat lifestyle doesn't turn out the way you’d expected.” – UK expat in Cyprus
The UK has seen gradual growth in buy-to-let over the last ten years, which has coincided with house price growth outpacing income growth, and an evolving mortgage market. This has gathered pace in recent months, with the Council of Mortgage Lenders reporting a 22% year-on-year increase in the number of loans taken out by landlords in January 2016[1], ahead of tax changes. From April 1 2016, people buying second properties above £40,000 will face a three percentage point stamp duty increase on current rates. Getting up to speed on the rental landscape and understanding key developments in law and regulation is vital for would-be landlords.

2. Do your research
Start with some thought about what’s right for you, research on the rental landscape, and the type of property you may want to buy. The National Landlords Association is a good place to start to find out more about the different things you’ll need to consider.
You’ll also need to think about the sort of tenant you may want to attract and what their requirements will be. For example, if you’re planning to rent a property to students, they will have a different set of needs to professionals. Think ahead so that you can shape your property search accordingly.

“Pay attention to property: it can be worth keeping a home of your own in both your home and host countries. Only sell in the UK if you feel you have to, or if the house prices in your area are on a downward trend. It could be worth employing a management company for your rented home in the UK.” – UK expat in Spain
3. Location, location, location

Finding the right buy-to-let property is different to choosing a new home for yourself. Try to avoid letting personal taste cloud your judgement, and look instead at the market requirements .

Spend some time looking at the local area for recent or planned developments which could impact on the property. Think about other elements that could be attractive to renters such as proximity to shops, leisure facilities and transport links.

“It’s important to focus on locations where rents have outpaced house prices,” says Tracie Pearce, head of mortgages at HSBC. “This means not just looking at large towns and cities, but also at commuter areas, and those with high rental demand and concentrated employment nearby.” 

 4. Navigating costs, taxes and fees

There are many financial implications of becoming a landlord but it is important to be aware upfront of the costs you will encounter, and to consider whether these will be offset by the financial return that you are likely to see.

A 2015 study put the average total cost of a UK buy-to-let property at £8,359, including the cost of fees, maintenance, letting agents and repairs. The same study showed that many landlords were significantly underestimating this cost, with more than half failing to factor in any sort of repair costs to their budget[2].  

In addition to running costs for the property, you will also need to be aware of the different sorts of taxes you’re likely to encounter. In the UK, this will include Stamp Duty Land Tax, Income Tax and Capital Gains Tax.

There’s also the question of property value and fluctuation in the market which could impact house prices in the region that you buy. Consult property websites for information on how prices change across different locations or recent trends in price rises or drops.

5. Becoming a landlord

Managing a property from overseas can be complicated so you could consider using a third party letting agent. For a fee (usually between 5 and 15% of rental income), agents can handle things like tenant selection and referencing, rent collection and property management.

In the UK, landlords are required by law to keep the property safe, meet reasonable tenant requests like occasional redecoration, maintenance and improvements to energy efficiency. Tenants will need to pay agreed rent and bills, allow access for repairs and to ensure the property is properly cared for.

Organisations such as the Association of Residential Letting Agents and the UK Association of Letting Agents can provide more information about the accreditation or licences you may need to secure.  

You should always think carefully before purchasing a buy-to-let property. The value of a property can fluctuate, and not all properties will grow in value or provide sufficient income to cover all your associated costs. You will be responsible for your costs even if you do not have a tenant. Property can also be difficult to sell quickly if you need to do so.

The content for this article has been inspired by HSBC Expat’s guide on buying to let in the UK which was written by a team of contributors with experience in property and finance. If you’re looking for more information, you can find more detail in HSBC Expat’s guide to buying to let in the UK



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