Friday, 29 July 2011

Family Finance week part two - Children's Education

Welcome to part two of our Family Finance week to mark the launch of HSBC Bank International’s latest Expat Guide in association with the Guardian.

Today we are looking at the minefield that is planning for your children’s education and the associated costs.

Where to start?!

Firstly it’s worth pointing out that whilst companies will often pay for private schooling as part of an overseas relocation package, it is important to set aside sufficient money to cover school and university costs, after all you never know where you might next move to!

To make things more complicated the costs of education vary across the world and so planning in advance and doing some serious research is a must. For example the cost of a day school place at a private secondary school in the UK is about £15,000 and the cost for an international school is about £20,000, but of course they do vary from country to country. Eg. The cost of a typical day-school place a private school in Abu Dhabi can range from £8,000 - £15,000

For people working in the oil industry, the choice of international schools may be limited and it may be best to check that they are properly accredited by an appropriate education body that provides quality assurance. Boarding schools are of course another option and they tend to be expensive.

One other important consideration to take into account is that often coming back home can also be equally disruptive, especially for older children due to exam schedules and variations between different curriculums. There aren’t many UK schools that offer the international Baccalaureate so it’s best to give as much notice as possible.

The best advice is to ensure you do as much planning and research as possible before taking the plunge. The 2010 Expat Explorer survey sheds some interesting light on moving abroad with children.

As always we’re keen to hear your thoughts and experiences so please do share any top tips.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Introducing Expat family finance week

This week at Expat Explorer we are focusing on all things family finance, to mark the launch of HSBC Bank International’s latest Expat Guide in association with the Guardian.

As an expat, one of biggest worries can be how to manage your families’ finances, and make sure that you are prepared for the future. Amid the excitement that relocating brings, it is also important to put in some solid planning to make sure everything runs smoothly.

So with that in mind we wanted to discuss two major considerations to mull over when planning your families expat living

The House

The first thing to ponder when moving abroad is to make sure that your family feel secure and happy in the place they are living. A common recommendation for this is to rent before you buy, so you get to know the “lay of the land”. This will give you and your family a chance to get to know the culture and environment before making any financial decisions.

Managing Multiple Currencies

Managing multiple currencies can be a major challenge, as currency fluctuations can have a severe impact on the buying power of your income. Chris Saint, a currency analyst with Hargreaves London, says it’s important not to leave foreign exchange until the last minute as currency markets can move very quickly, resulting in wide variations as to how far your home currency will stretch.

It’s worth exploring whether fixing an exchange rate for a period of time to overcome fluctuations, as arrange by currency exchange companies and international banks, could be beneficial to you.

Bridgewater’s Wicks suggest that if you’re leaving your home country for good “it might also be worth considering moving your pension to a qualified recognised overseas pension scheme (QROPS) for great flexibility once you have been working abroad for five or more years”

So there you have it, Expat Explorer’s top two considerations! Whatever part of the world you are relocating to, find a financial adviser who understands the challenges of living in a particular location and can give you regular advice!

As always we’re keen to hear your thoughts and experiences. If you’ve any family finance tips then we’d love to hear them.....

Friday, 22 July 2011

Five ways to top up the expat piggy bank

After reading a survey by NS&I about how an estimated 13% of Britons have no savings whatsoever, it got us thinking.

How good are expats at saving for the future? Findings from our 2010 survey show that living abroad can bring a wide range of financial challenges so here at Expat Explorer we thought we would bring you some top tips on how expats can ease the financial burden and help you make some additional savings!

(Source: Flickr Creative Commons)

Use our top 5 tips below to top up those savings:

1. Use your knowledge

As you have already very successfully moved abroad, and addressed many of the challenges faced by expats, you have a knowledge that others will want to tap into! So why not offer your relocation assistance to others attempting the same move as you. It could be very simple to do, either through word of mouth, or by setting up a website, your knowledge is invaluable!

2. Everyone has a skill

Everyone can speak a language, so why not change that into money by offering your services as a tutor. There may be many people who want to learn your language and are happy to pay for it. Have a look around for other language services offered and see if you can offer to help, or create your own.

3. Utilise that storage room

Many people have one. The one with the closed door with all the boxes and stuff that nobody knows what to do with and is collecting dust.

Firstly, why not go through the stuff and anything that you haven’t unpacked in 9 months (or even thought about!) put on eBay! It’s a quick and easy way to make an extra bit of cash. Once this is done, have a think about perhaps renting out the room to other expats who first move the country, you can pass on some of your much needed advice, and they can pay you rent!

4. Re-think the budget

It can be a bit tricky when thinking about budgets in your home country to come up with a truly realistic figure to stay within. Once you have settled and found your feet, go back to your budgets and re do them. You may find that you have over estimated for some things that you can cut and then save the additional money in high interest accounts. This will also allow you to see if there is anything that may cost more than you thought and you have time to re-allocate your budgets.

5. And in at 5, talk to your bank

It can be a very challenging time when moving abroad and with everything to think about over the coming months, things that had been put in place a while ago may be forgotten about. Before you leave, put in a meeting with your bank 5-6 months in advance so that once you are settled you can talk through your budgets to check you are getting the right financial advice in terms of tax, income, rent etc.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Shaking the Expat shimmy: A guide to some of the most popular international music festivals

Here at Expat Explorer HQ, festival season is upon us. For expats in the UK, the festival season can be a bit of a shock. One minute you can be dancing to your favourite bands in glorious sunshine and the next, like the poor folk at Glastonbury this year, you are wading knee deep in mud whilst the wind carries your tent away into the distance...

(Source: Flickr Creative Commons)

As we know from our research expat experiences differ wildly across the globe and festivals are no different. Today’s post delves into the summer calendar to see what’s going on where you are.

Sonar Festival, Barcelona, Spain

Sonar manages to combine advanced, electronic music with multimedia art to make one of the most progressive festivals around. Set in one of Europe's coolest cities, Barcelona, it’s definitely one to visit. The festival usually takes place on the third weekend of June every year.

Fuji Rock Festival, Japan

Fuji Rock Festival is an outdoor music festival which usually occurs on the Naeba Ski resort in the Niigata Prefecture in Japan on the last weekend of July. Known as the cleanest festival in the world the site is set in the mountains in picturesque surroundings. This rock festival draws crowds of more than 100,000 with over 200 music acts.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival/Performing Arts Festival occurs every August for three weeks in Edinburgh, Scotland. It usually begins on the second week and finishes at the start of September. Expect all types of art forms such as theatre, comedy, children's shows, dance and physical theatre.

Boryeong Mud Festival, South Korea

Something a little bit different from your average music festival takes place in South Korea in August! Mud is dug up near Boryeong, brought to the Daecheon beach area where it is dumped at a 'Mud Experience Land'. There are lots of games and training courses set and festival goers can compete in games, cavalry battles and human pyramid & bouncy castles. The mud itself is renowned for being good for your skin and health!

Oktoberfest, Germany

Oktoberfest is a 16–18 day festival held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, running from late September to the first weekend in October. It is one of the most famous events in Germany and is the world's largest fair, with more than 5 million people attending every year. The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since 1810. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations, modelled after the Munich event.

As always, we would love to hear your expat tales of festival life especially if it’s an amusing one! Are there any particular memories, bands or songs that remind you of being an expat?

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The 2011 Expat Explorer Survey is now CLOSED!

Firstly a massive, massive thank you to all of who you filled in, tweeted about and generally pestered your expat friends about this year’s Expat Explorer Survey. We really appreciate all your efforts.

Source Flickr

Now comes the task of looking at all that lovely data you have provided us to give us an insight into what it’s like to be an expat in different parts of the globe. Needless to say we’re really looking forward to the results and also to welcoming in several new countries to our league table!

Just like previous years we will producing 3 reports based on your responses which will all be readily available on our new interactive tool in a couple of months time. These will look at expat economics, expat experiences and finally, what it’s like to raise children abroad.

Why not take a look at last year’s results to refresh your memory and in the meantime stay tuned for our guest blogger this Friday!

Friday, 8 July 2011

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing... Alexandra Lawrence

The Accidental Expat

I never meant to become an expat, it really wasn’t intentional! I sometimes wonder how on earth it all happened and when I look back on the last two years of planning, research and paperwork a lot of it is like a weird surreal dream.

After having a child, our priorities changed. We wanted a bigger house with land and space – no more neighbours living on top of us, (although we did have lovely neighbours), just fresh air and room for our little boy to run riot.

We searched and searched and soon realised that we simply couldn’t make this happen in the UK. Land was so very expensive and in areas where it was cheaper there wasn’t any work so at this point we started to look further afield.

After months of research looking at economies, education, healthcare and climate our dream took us to Canada, Atlantic Canada to be more precise and Nova Scotia to be exact. It all seemed to fall into place without any great effort on our parts so I figure it must have been destiny. Not that the immigration and work permit paperwork wasn’t a huge headache, but on the whole it was a very smooth process. The hardest part was telling my parents that we were leaving as we saw them all the time, but I have made them promise to visit and we can chat online.

I have personally found the internet to be an incredibly valuable resource. I have made so many connections and friends through the likes of Twitter and Facebook – far more than I would ever have made otherwise. I’ve joined some Expat sites too as I would love to be able to offer help and advice to others following the same path.

Lots of our friends and family wanted to keep in touch with us and follow our adventures so I decided to start a blog and that decision has been like an epiphany! I suddenly discovered that I loved to write and people were enjoying my posts. I had always had a hankering for writing a book, but had never had the time to try. Now that we have moved half way round the world and I don’t actually need to work I have finally got started on something I’d only dreamt about since childhood. Who would have thought that becoming an expat in beautiful Canada would open so many doors and give me the confidence to try something completely new. I have also discovered that writing soothes me, it’s good for my soul and my sanity and much cheaper than therapy! Whenever I get worked up about something I write it all down and feel so much better, and I’m getting great material for when I start my book!

I’ve only been an expat, all be it an accidental one, for 10 weeks so there is still a long road ahead with many challenges, but so far it’s been great. We’ve had some ups, downs and sideways moments plus some cultural misunderstandings, but I guess that is to be expected. For the most part all the Canadians we’ve met have been lovely and even the staff in shops are so incredibly polite and friendly – it’s like a breath of fresh air.

We’ve had a lot of adventures in a short space of time including rescuing a motorhome that had driven off the road, going to our very first rock concert, experiencing our first Canada Day, hiking in the wilderness, canoeing and just popping off to the beach. I consider us the luckiest family alive to have the opportunity to experience all these new things and what a great education for our son. We did a lot of travelling around Atlantic Canada whilst doing our research trips – 18,000kms in 16 weeks and saw some amazing sights. Canada is such a vast and beautiful country that I’m sure we could spend the rest of our lives travelling and not see even a fraction of it, but we will try our best whenever we get the chance. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, clean, wild and friendly – what more could anyone want?

Alexandra and her family have been living in Nova Scotia, Canada since April this year having made the decision to leave the UK for a life overseas. Alexandra was a teacher in the UK whilst her partner had his own business designing electronics for promotional campaigns for companies like Nintento, Sony Ericsson and Audi. Follow their adventures on Alexandra's blog

Monday, 4 July 2011

Calling all expats in the Philippines!

It’s the final week of this year’s Expat Explorer Survey and as our recruitment draws to a close we take a look back at the countries that made a splash in last year’s survey findings and those who still need to qualify for the 2011 report.

Last year expats in the Philippines made the headlines ranking the 8th wealthiest country in the World with over 30% saying they had more disposable income since moving. Expats based there were also the most likely to have domestic help with 90% of respondents employing staff at home. Expats were also able to buy more luxuries with 38% owning more than one property, 43% owning a property with a swimming pool and 67% taking more exotic holidays.

In terms of expat experience the Philippines was ranked 15th. Finding accommodation and quality of accommodation was ranked particularly high. Expats also enjoyed a fulfilling social life participating in a range of entertainment and finding it easy to integrate and make new friends.

Here is how some of last year’s respondents described their lives in the Philippines:

“Highly privileged and enriching. Lucrative yet humbling and a very special way of seeing and experiencing what the world has to offer.”

“We all enjoy living the expat lifestyle as company pays for healthcare, schooling, and utilities therefore allowing us to save money to enjoy earlier retirement.”

“It has been the most rewarding & most challenging experience of my career!”

This year we still need more respondents for the Philippines to qualify so we are encouraging all expats in the country to complete the survey to make sure they are represented in 2011. The findings of the study are a valuable resource for expats and would be expats across the globe so now you’ve been reminded of the findings from last year let us know how 2011 compares and remember, if you were looking to move abroad, what would you want to know?

Friday, 1 July 2011

Expat Excellence with Pierre Waters

Pierre is a 26 year old French and British expat entrepreneur behind the relocation company in Madrid. He has lived in Paris, London, Barcelona, Beijing and Toronto, but still prefers Madrid. He loves discovering new things, tapas and wine, writing for a blog for expats in Madrid, reading and rugby. But why Madrid ? Here's his answer !

Did you ever think about living in Spain? Let me tell you why I believe Madrid could the best place for you.

I’ve been living in Madrid for nearly 3 years now. And as in many relationships, three years is the key moment to look back and think about why I love to live in Madrid. Of course, every expat in Madrid has their own reasons, but I hope my “why I love Madrid” post will help you find out if Madrid is the city for you.

A view of Madrid's old quarter at sunset

A view of Madrid's old quarter at sunset

A "village" capital city vibrant with the local Spanish way of living

To start with, Madrid is a capital city but it still feels personal and human-sized. Having lived in London, Paris, Beijing and Toronto, I believe other developed country capital cities do not feel the same. They are gigantic worlds where you seldom get a personal connection for your everyday chores for instance. In Madrid, within the first year I already had my favorite places where people recognise me, and this is true for my local supermarket, favorite bar, favorite tapas place, favorite restaurant and sports activity. There’s always locals happy to have a chat and to make you feel you belong to the place.

Strongly rooted in its traditions and still international and diverse

Madrid is still authentically Spanish and Castilian but international at the same time. First example: the Spanish coast is famous for being so full of expats at times that local fiestas are advertised in English. Even Barcelona, for instance, is maybe too international now, to the extent that it is really difficult to find a restaurant with “typical catalonian food” in the city centre. The best cal├žots, typical catalonian recipe, has to be found out of the city. Madrid however has a good old taverna with cocido madrileno in every neighbourhood. And at the same time, it has all the international food you want: Lavapies is there with its great Indian restaurants, and I have also tasted Russian, Ethiopian, Colombian, Ecuatorian and authentic Mexican food (not tex-mex) for the first time in Madrid.

Just the right size

All in all, Madrid is small and has everything you need at the same time. I live near the city centre, and I can say I usually walk to all places I go to, apart from work. The centre is quite small, and has an impressive number of tapas places, international restaurants, theatres, operas, pubs, shops and universities… Of course, the suburban sprawl and the spanish real estate craze means most of the 3 million people living around Madrid live further out than before. But still, if you live in the city centre, you sometimes still feel like you are in a town or a village. See my favorite square, Plaza Olavide, just 100 yards from my place and feel the village side of Madrid.

My local square, traditionally Madrid - Plaza Olavide

My local square, traditionally Madrid - Plaza Olavide

Another thing I love that makes Madrid so small and easy to navigate is that the public transport system is one the best in the world (world #2 in number of stations per capita).

Furthermore, at any time of the night you can find an official taxi in a minute, and there are always people in the streets so you always feel secure coming back home alone and I always feel secure when I know my girlfriend is walking back home, compared to other capital cities where this is sometimes not the case.

The place where you're most likely to get a job as an expat

I believe you have more opportunities as a foreigner to find a job in Madrid than in any other city in Spain. Madrid has been growing faster than Barcelona over the last 10 years, and my feeling is that the Madrid job market needs more international profiles than it has right now. Madrid until the 90s had few foreigners compared to other capital cities. So it’s catching up, and it is still the richest region in Spain! For instance, I landed a job in Madrid in the largest management consulting company, and guess what? I was the only employee who did not speak Spanish as its mother tongue. So I was then the expat, and everyone in the company knew I was the French and British guy.

So is Madrid the city for you ?

If you feel a bit overwhelmed with sprawling cities such as Paris, NYC, London, LA, love to have a great weather, and you are looking to move to a typical Spanish speaking city with the right amount of open-mindedness and traditional mix and the best job opportunities as well, then Madrid is the city for you.

If you're really interested in Madrid and want more specific advice on moving to Madrid, such as which neighbourhood is best for expats like you, have a look at my blog on my Madrid relocation site to prepare your move and my expats in Madrid blog to have a taste of what it will be like !

If you have any questions, or if I can help you in any way, please leave a comment or just contact me at !

Yours madridly, Pierre



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