Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The 5 most common thoughts for week one of expat life

You shuffle awkwardly out of the airport’s revolving doors, a suitcase in one hand and a hastily printed set of directions in the other. It’s week one of your new expat life and even the air tastes different to home. Excitement, anticipation and dread fill your body in equal measure and a thousand thoughts rush through your head. But what if you could see thought bubbles floating over the heads of your fellow expats – what would they say? Well we listened and you might be surprised…


“I’m lost!”
Expats get lost in a very special way. Anyone can lose their way in a new city whilst visiting friends or on holiday, but only expats know what it’s like to be thoroughly lost in a supermarket or even the local corner shop. With conventions for everything from the way shops are laid out to road signs and public transport, getting your bearings can be an absolute nightmare in that first week. As one expat told us “remember to add in extra time to get lost – no matter where you’re going”.

“I’ve got a friend date – and I’m terrified!”
The friend date. Another uniquely  expat conundrum.  A friend of a friend sets you up with your first pal from outside of work and you quickly find yourself terrified. Should you go for a drink, lunch or a coffee and what if you don’t get on! Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules, but try our guide to making friends abroad to help break the ice…

“Is that even edible?”
A lack of adventure is not a common trait among expats but moving from the Orient to Europe or Central Asia to the Middle East can create some truly taxing culinary conundrums. First time expats in Japan may be surprised to see tuna eyeballs staring back at them from supermarket shelves, whilst in Sweden hungry expats should be wary of Surströmming Рa local delicacy made from fermented fish which is famous for its overwhelmingly foul odour.

Wikimedia Commons / Lapplaender

“Where do I get pencils?”
A very specific thought to convey a much bigger problem. Becoming an expat makes you realise how much of your day to day life can happen on auto-pilot. All of a sudden, expat life makes the simplest of tasks impossible. Where do you buy pencils in Prague and how does the recycling work in Beijing?

“I think I just offended someone…”
 Whether it’s getting paranoid about the local hand gestures or worrying if you’re using the right cutlery, expats  spend a lot of time worrying they might have offended someone. It’s vital to do your research but remember to keep it in perspective. After all, almost half of the expats we spoke to in our 2013 survey strongly associated their new country with friendliness. Let’s hope they’ll cut you some slack! 

Something we missed? Tweet @expatexplorer to let us know the strangest places you got lost?

Monday, 22 September 2014

Three essential tips for making friends abroad



Bags unpacked, accommodation organised and job sorted. Your dreams have come true but standing on an unfamiliar road trying to decipher the local street signs or find your way to the grocery store; it’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed and alone. Once the initial excitement fades, loneliness can set in and make you wish you’d never left home.

Making friends might seem simple enough but only 52% of expats in our 2013 survey say finding friends is easy, so what’s the secret? Here are our tips on how to make your new surroundings as friendly as possible.

Learn to say ‘hello’ 

While it isn’t always feasible to become fluent in your host country’s language, it can be amazing how learning a few words will quickly make you feel more integrated in the community. It might sound simple, but being able to exchange greetings, even in passing, with the locals will make you feel much more at home. 



Image source: Creative Commons / Robert S. Donovan 

Bear in mind cultural differences

In France you may be greeted with two kisses, but in China eye contact is sometimes avoided. Different cultures approaching things such as friendless, respect and physical contact in different ways, so don’t be too quick to form judgements on your host culture. What you may interpret as deep unfriendliness, may be their way of getting to know you. Check out our Expat Hints & Tips tool for some insights from expats on cultural differences, including the below from @WantedAdventure:



Move beyond the expat circle
Although meeting new people in a similar position and from a similar background can be tempting, it is well worth getting to know some locals. Indeed, becoming immersed in the culture, language and local life can be important factors in making you feel like you have come to a friendly destination.  Exploring your local area, neighbours, shops, restaurants and cafes can be one way to embrace this. If you are still struggling for ways to do this, try some of our blogs on making friends abroad and engaging with the culture.

While some destinations are naturally going to feel friendlier than others, the best approach to your new home is that ‘it’s not the place, it’s how you approach it’. So give your neighbour a smile and a wave, try out your new language skills in the local shop and bring the friendliness with you wherever you go. 

Where is the friendliest destination you have visited or lived? Tweet us @expatexplorer and join in the conversation.

Friday, 19 September 2014

The 5 point checklist for budding expat landlords



Expat property habits vary wildly around the world. According to our 2013 survey the majority of expats in India spend less on property than they did at home, despite the fact that almost a quarter (22%) own two or more properties in the country. Compare that to the Middle East where tough property restrictions on expats mean that only 16% of expats own a property there. In total 23% of expats said they increased their investment in property since becoming an expat, so if you’re interested in joining their ranks - do you have what it takes to become an expat landlord?

1   Do the numbers stack up?
Property empires aren’t built in a day and the first question expat landlords need to consider is whether it’s worth the investment in time and money. Whether it’s managing tax bills, paying letting agent fees, the risk of keeping an empty house or simply maintenance costs. Expat landlords should keep in mind that it may take some time to get your investment back. Before investing the inheritance then, be realistic, sit down and crunch the numbers.

2   Do you have the patience?
Impatient, impetuous and easily offended? Being a landlord might not be the job for you. The majority of tenants will pay on time, treat your pad like a palace and keep to the rules – but be prepared for someone more troublesome. If you can’t take the odd confrontation with your tenants, perhaps buy to let isn’t the business for you. If your heart is set on becoming a landlord without the hassle, skip to point 4 and look for an agent.consider a letting agent.

3   Where to buy?
Whilst you might be restricted to one country, you’re certainly not restricted to one town or city. Property prices can vary as much within countries as they do between them and if you want to get the most for your money sometimes you need to shop around. Furthermore, some countries are much more likely to have a renting culture than others. Berlin in Germany is famous for attracting a steady stream of long-term tenants for instance but, according to the UK Office of National Statistics, in London only 29.2% of households rent from a private landlord or letting agency.

Consider who will be renting your property, is it single professionals or a young family each tenant has different needs. What are the communication links like, are there good schools nearby and how close are the nearest shops?  It’s important to keep in mind the balance between being able to buy at a fair price now and having demand if you need to sell the property quickly.

4   The agent question
So you’re tough, prepared and know where you want to buy. Even the most steely expat landlord will struggle with all the local details and nuances, especially if you don’t speak the local lingo.  One answer is to employ an agent to manage the tenant relationship for you. Agents can help you collect rent, inspect the property, sort out tax and help manage any upkeep problems the tenant has. If you live a long way from the property, an agent might well be a life saver, but remember to shop around and find someone reliable.

5   Do you know the local rules?
Finally, have you done your research? There’s plenty of information out there so swot up and get reading. Our Buy to Let guide, produced in conjunction with the National Landlords Association, is a great start for budding expat landlords in the UK.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Finding your local cuisine in London



Our latest guest blogger, Steph Hutchinson, shares her tips on finding your local cuisine in London as an expat…

Whilst one of the joys of living in a new country is getting to experience the local food, every now and again it can be very comforting to indulge in a meal that reminds you of home. For expats like me living in London, tracking down somewhere that serves home cuisine is not a particularly challenging task, especially once you know where to look (it’s probably easier than finding a restaurant serving bangers and mash). To help those of you with homesick stomachs, I’ve created a guide to some of many international cuisine hotspots I’ve come across since living in London:

Brixton:
Brixton is particularly known for its Afro-Caribbean food, including the low-key but delicious Eritrean Asmara (famous for its traditional coffee), popular jerk-chicken takeaway Refill and legendary Caribbean restaurant Negril. However, in recent years it has become a haven for all cuisines, with the very popular no-reservations Neapolitan restaurant Franco Manca, Osakan Okan and the cheap and authentic Thai KaoSarn. Wander round Brixton Village and you’ll be spoilt for choice.
 Image source: Flickr/ itsbruce

Brick Lane:
Famous for its Indian restaurants, the difficulty with Brick Lane is often deciding which one to go to! Do some research beforehand or have a wander and see which takes your fancy – however, don’t be pressurised by the people outside the restaurants trying to tempt you in! Also keep an eye out for Beigel Bake which does some of the best bagels in London and, a few minutes’ walk from Brick Lane in Whitechapel, the much-loved Tayyabs (be prepared for a bit of a wait). Finally, as a Canadian, I have to recommend poutine purveyor The Poutinerie for all Canucks missing home – their stall is currently located in Brick Lane Food Market! 

Image source: Flickr/ James Cridland
Soho:
There are few cuisines you can’t find in higgledy-piggledy streets of Soho: goulash galore at the Hungarian restaurant The Gay Hussar, Lebanese street food at Yalla Yalla, udon noodles at Japanese Koya and Italian restaurants left, right and centre. The stalls at Berwick Street Market serve a world of street food and you’ll also find an overflow of Chinese restaurants from nearby Chinatown. However, as an expat I have developed a taste for British cuisine and perhaps my favourite restaurant in London is 10 Greek Street for classic British fare done right.

Image source: Wikimedia/Spolloman
These are just a smattering of the many restaurants, cafes and street food stalls serving international food in London. 

About the author:
Steph Hutchinson has lived in London for nearly three years but is originally from Toronto, Canada. She misses her family, friends and the outdoor lifestyle and pursuits back home, but certainly doesn’t miss the winter weather.  London is a hotspot of activity and Steph never fails to find something fun to do – day or night, Monday or Saturday.  Often found eating her way through Brixton Village, it’s hard to imagine returning to the great north anytime soon (except for visits of course!).

Are you an expat living in London? Let us know your favourite places in London serving your home cuisine by tweeting us @expatexplorer 

The content of this post is the opinion of the guest blogger and not of HSBC. We cannot check and verify any information contained in the blog post, nor accept any responsibility for it.

Friday, 12 September 2014

“I’m off!” – How to tell people that you’re moving abroad

So… you’ve decided that you are going to make the move abroad. You’ve been thinking about it for a while, but now you’re actually going, and that means you have to tell everybody…

While every situation is different, and should be approached as such, there are some key points that everyone should bear in mind when breaking the news.

Image source: Flickr/ Latente

Plant the seed

Don’t just drop the ‘I’m moving’ bomb two days before you head to the airport. As soon as you start thinking about moving abroad, tell your family and friends. Keep them updated on where you are with the planning process, and get them involved wherever possible so that they don’t feel cut off. Having someone to help you do the research and planning will be useful too, so ask for their input wherever you can! 

You’re coming with us

This isn’t just something to bear in mind for those you are leaving behind, and in fact, it is even more important for those you are taking with you. If you are moving with a family, breaking the news to children can be difficult, so keeping them involved and excited is crucial. With young children, get them to think about how they would like to decorate their new room and plan some fun excursions for them to look forward to. For older children who are more settled, encourage them to talk to you about any concerns they might have, and ask them for their input on schooling. These small gestures will show them that you care and are considering their future, as well as your own.

I’ll be back…

Although you never know what the future holds, the idea of ‘forever’ can be a bit too daunting for those close to you. Unless you’re certain you’ll never move back, it may be worth presenting your move as something a little less permanent. Say that you will keep in touch and vow to do so – put a recurring invite in the diary for you both to catch up and tell them when you next expect to be coming home so they have something to look forward to.  

It’s not you…it’s me

You may not be breaking up with everyone you tell, but you’ll be surprised at how emotional some people will get. Ensure that they know your decision to move abroad is about you, not them, and that you will miss them. The reality is – you will.  Ensuring that they know how much they mean to you and keeping your support network close will be crucial as you make the transition.

Stay positive

While your friends and family will be happy for you, they might also be concerned. Remember that if they seem slightly less than ecstatic, it is just because they care. Make sure you stay positive when telling them and let them see how excited you are about the opportunity. Have answers to all the questions they might ask ready (the “Why nows?” and “What ifs?”) and make it clear that you are not jumping the gun and have really thought about the implications of moving abroad.


Do you have any top tips for breaking the news that you’re moving? Let us know – by commenting below or tweeting @expatexplorer!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The highs and lows of expat life

Moving abroad is a huge change, and with this change will come ups and downs. Yes – moving abroad is likely to be one of the most enriching experiences you will ever have, but it can be difficult too, and as an expat you must be prepared for the bad times, as well as the good.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Being treated like a foreigner
Initially, the idea of being a foreigner can seem quite fun – you feel exotic, different, and people are interested in you…but after a while the novelty can wear off. It can become tiresome when people assume you don’t know what you are doing, charge you the tourist prices, and ask you to pronounce words for them (and then laugh when you do). But…as you get more and more settled in your new home – prove to yourself that you are no longer a tourist by knowing the shortcuts through the city, being able to cook the local dishes, and embracing locals as old friends. If you think of yourself as a local, soon other people will too.

Missing friends and feeling
Leaving family and friends behind is always going to be part and parcel of moving abroad – but this doesn’t make it any easier. You have to come to terms with the fact that you will not be there for some birthdays, graduations and weddings and that life back home will have to go on without you. When you are having a bad day all you will want is to see a familiar face, and even in some of your best moments you might find yourself saddened by the fact that your loved ones are not there to share in the experience. But in these moments, find other ways to connect with them. Take photos or write a blog about your experiences for those at home to read. And remember, distance really isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be. Your family and friends are only a flight away, and nowadays you can hear their voices and see their faces at the push of a button.

 “No comprendo…”
If you move to a country where they speak a different language, and you are not fluent, then you can feel quite isolated. You will find it difficult to have genuine conversations and feel close to anyone if your vocabulary is limited to asking for the bill, and there is nothing more frustrating than being unable to communicate even the simplest things. But  when you make mistakes try to see the funny side, and use your frustration as positive motivation to learn more of the local language.

It’s worth it!
Any expat should expect to have some bad days, and this is totally normal, but settling in takes time. Soon the highs (the travel! the people! the memories!) will far outweigh the lows. Think of expat life as having a spring clean of your wardrobe – it has to get worse for it to get better. Yes, expat life can be chaotic, disorganised and difficult, but the more you commit to it and the more time goes on, the better it gets!


What have been your highs and lows of expat life? Let us know – by commenting below or tweeting @expatexplorer!

Friday, 5 September 2014

“Food is a religion” - top tips for getting used to the American way of life

Planning a move to the United States? There's a lot to think about before you go but what about when you arrive? Getting used to a new culture and way of life can be daunting so read up as much as you can and try to make a few visits before the move. We've talked to a few of our expat friends who did exactly that - here are their best tips for landing on your feet and becoming accustomed to the American way of life.

Food is a religion
Although this isn't in any way exclusive to the States, it's fair to say that eating well (and often being faced with larger portions) is a big part of day to day life. Whether you're after Chinese, vegetarian or traditional American fare, the odds are that you'll be able to get your hands on it. If you're heading to a larger city, we’d recommend sussing out your local deli, which could turn out to be one of your new best friends - often serving fresh food in generous quantities at a good price and often open 24 hours, or at least till late. The variety on offer means that there’s only really one option: to tuck in and enjoy - just be aware that some American hosts may be affronted if you completely clear your plate, as it's considered good manners to leave a little food to show appreciation!

Image source: Creative Commons / Kostia

Get ready for work
Broadly speaking, work culture in the States is often perceived by expats (particularly those hailing for the UK) as being a little more formal than elsewhere. You may find that hierarchies are more clearly defined than what you're used to, and that there are more levels of seniority – which is good to be aware of, particularly if you’re coming from somewhere which has a flatter structure. It's also worth thinking about how this sort of culture translates to how you communicate and also how you dress for work. Some expats have told us that they found Americans much more assertive and straight-talking than their colleagues at home, but don't let it be intimidating. In the states it’s also worth sounding out the office dress code before you arrive to avoid any style faux pas. Check out more suggestions here.

Get to grips with small talk
One expat told us that one of his steepest learning curves was that people tend to talk politics and personal finance a lot - everyone has an opinion and it's a common topic of small talk. Politics, money and even culture can be uncomfortable topics in other parts of the world so remember – it takes two to be offended! Ease your way in and if you feel uncomfortable, you can always take a back seat by pleading ‘expat’..!

And one last tip...
Don't forget to leave one! Tipping is big in the States and you'll generally be regarded with disdain if you don't jump on the bandwagon. Tips form an important part of wages in the US, leaving anything less than 15% for a bartender, cab driver or even a manicurist will get you short shrift and they will often assume that you’re unhappy with the service that they’ve provided.

Are you an expat living in the United States? Share your best tips for settling in with other expats here: https://expatexplorer.hsbc.com/hintsandtips/

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