Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Debtors Deserted

In previous blog posts we have discussed some of the potential pitfalls of living abroad. From the currency swings in South Africa, to the property bubble in Spain, the fortunes of expats are often subject to many external influences. But among the factors we can consider before embarking on the search for a life abroad is something we might not usually account for: debt.

A recent Guardian article exposed the harsh realities of living with debt and the associated regulation in some parts of the world – in this instance, Bahrain. Caught between contradictory laws, a number of British debtors living in the Gulf nation, as a result of their debt, found themselves unable to work to service their financial obligations. Why not return to the UK? Because they are prohibited to travel, and under Bahraini law, those with a travel ban cannot renew their work permits.

The catch-22 situation has led to many UK expats finding themselves stuck in the region facing homelessness, depression, and in some circumstances imprisonment. Father-of-two, Tony O’Connor was made redundant from his job in Bahrain, in September 2008. In the darkest hour of the financial crisis, Tony was unable to find a new job. Owing 30,000 Bahraini dinars to three different banks, Tony had a travel ban imposed on him in December 2008. Since then, he has missed his sister’s funeral, been imprisoned, and is now living on 20 dinars a week.

With large numbers of foreign workers in the Arab Gulf, Tony’s case highlights the need for expats to do their research before moving so that they understand the regulatory environment into which they’re relocating and how they might be impacted should their situation change. Undoubtedly a life abroad can open up fantastic opportunities both culturally and financially but being aware of specific expat legislations is vital.

Have you got a story like Tony’s? If you have had a similar experience or know of someone who has, we would love to hear from you. Or if you would like to share some travel tips or any particular regulatory nuances you’ve come across, they would certainly be valued by other readers.

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