Monday, 28 January 2013

Quirky cultural habits from around the world

Picture Source: Wikicommons

One of the obvious aspects of becoming an expat is the chance to encounter different cultures and witness the things people in different countries do. With the onset of globalisation, many of the brands, traditions and cultural aspects from your home country are likely to be on offer in your new host country.

However, around the world there are still traditions and cultural rituals that are observed. Here are a few of our favourite and quirkiest cultural habits from across the globe:

  • Thailand is great place to be an expat, ranking 2nd in the our 2012 Expat Explorer survey; it is also a great place to be a monkey – believe it or not! The Monkey Buffet Festival gives the monkey population of the Lobpuri province of Bangkok the chance to feast on over 3,000 kilograms of fruit and vegetables. Although beware if you are a female expat getting married in Thailand, traditional custom is for a honeymoon to last three months and it is up to the bride to cover all expenses!

  • Sport is one thing that has truly spanned the globe with football played in almost every country where expats go. However, some expat destinations have some more peculiar sports than others such as in Turkey where camel wrestling is a popular pastime. Whilst it is unusual for serious injuries to occur, agitated camels are liable to give out milky saliva so stand well back!

  • Somewhat differently, in the UK a strange sport that takes place annually is cheese rolling, where competitors try to chase a cheese down a steep hill. The cheese always wins as it can reach speeds of 112 km/hr but the first human to cross the finish line wins.

  • Eating habits are another aspect of human life that differs from one country to the next. In Japan, it is customary  to eat noodles whilst making a loud slurping noise. Whilst this is sometimes seen as rude by Westerners, it is considered a polite sign of hospitality by the Japanese and shows appreciation of the chef, the louder the slurp, the better the noodles!

  • Continuing with the theme of food, chopsticks are now available worldwide but there is still some chopstick etiquette which is unknown. In China it is considered rude to point or suck on ones chopsticks and it is also considered bad luck to place chopsticks upright in rice!
What quirky cultural habits have you encountered as an expat? Leave us a comment in the box below.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

How films influence your perception of a city

Picture source: Wikicommons

Let’s face it we have all thought about visiting a city based on a film. Some might have even go as far as moving abroad all together, inspired by the excitement, adventure and glitz and glam of a city. In fact some cities such as Salzburg in Austria for example get most of their visitors due to a film (the Sound of Music in this case).

This week, we take a look at a few films that feature various cities around the world that may provide food for thought for those with itchy feet.

Lost in Translation
Set in Japan, this film trails Bob Harris, an American film actor and Charlotte as they look for their “place in life” in a completely foreign and unfamiliar environment. Due to the cultural and language disparities, both characters blunder their way through the dynamic city of Tokyo.

The Beach
This Leonardo Di Caprio classic set in Thailand made it a must-see for any backpacker or adventure-seeking tourist, and who can blame them given the amazing views that Thailand offers. No wonder the country ranked number two in our 2012 HSBC Expat Explorer Survey.

A View to a Kill
Ok, so few films that feature Paris miss out the Eiffel Tower but this 1985 James Bond classic has the unmistakable parachute scene from the top of the tower. This film brought the visitors flocking to this iconic landmark to go up to the top – although they mostly descended in a slightly more mundane way.

Crocodile Dundee
A 1980s comedy set in the Australian outback that went on to become the seconding highest earning film of 1986. Australia with its modern metropolitan cities is a hub for expats seeking good weather. The country ranked 12th in our 2012 HSBC Expat Explorer survey and scored high for learning the local language, making local friends, integrating in the community and local work culture.

We Were Soldiers
Good war films are always big box office hits and We Were Soldiers was one of them. Modern Vietnam, however, is a bustling place of excitement with a booming economy and a whole host of expats heading there to work, study and live. In our survey expats rated Vietnam as the best place to be an expat if you want to travel more.
What cities do you associate with films? Are you a film tourist or know somebody that is? Leave us a comment in the box below.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Planning for your first expat posting

Image source: Creative Commons

As well as being a really exciting adventure, moving abroad can be a great opportunity to develop your career and add another string to your bow. However, it can be quite difficult to know where to start with making that great leap into the unknown. That’s why we’ve decided to create a quick list of things to consider when making the move.

Do your research
Before you decide to move abroad, it’s essential that you get as much information as possible. You should find out how your employers feel about expat postings, as well as working out which of their offices you’d be able to move to. When you find somewhere you’d like to live, make sure to find out the essentials; where to live; how long you can stay; what vaccinations you might need; health and education provisions; etc.

Speak to your boss
That’s right – as with most things at work, your boss will need to okay your move to another office. It’s worth putting the idea in their head early so your request won’t come as a total shock. When you do sit down and talk about it, highlight the positive benefits a new experience could bring you and how you could use this to help the business as a whole.

Talk with your spouse
Distance can really put a strain on a relationship. If you do decide to move, you and your partner will need to answer some pretty fundamental questions. Will you both move together? If your partner stays behind, will you stay together? How often will you visit each other? It’s best to have all of these questions answered before you go.

Make an advance visit
One of the tips on our new Hints & Tips Tool suggests staying in the country for a while before deciding whether or not to make the move permanent. Taking the plunge into an entirely new environment can be quite a shock to the system and unless you’re really adventurous it’s best to take some time to acclimatise first, and to make sure it’s the right place for you.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Five things I wish I knew before becoming an expat

Image source: Creative Commons

By now, I’m sure you’ve all seen our new Hints & Tips Tool. We’re really proud of this new community resource, where expats can share tips to help each other along their respective overseas adventures. One feature the tool offers is a bank of “Top 5 Tips lists. Seeing this in action inspired us to write our own top 5 list for today’s blog post. Let us know what you think in the comments, and try the tool out for yourself here. 

1. Local customs and faux pas
It can be sometimes be tricky getting the local customs right when you move to a new area, and it’s inevitable that you’ll put your foot in it from time to time. We’re sure you would've been saved some minor embarrassments along the way had people perhaps told you that it’s rude to tip in Japan, or that you should avoid wrapping birthday presents in green, black or blue in Thailand.

2. The rules of the road
Driving in a new country can be one of the biggest culture shocks of all. From which side of the road to drive on to rights of way. Different countries can have very different rules and attitudes to getting around and it can take a bit of time to get used to it all.

3. Attitudes to work
You’d expect people’s attitudes to work will be pretty similar wherever you go. In fact this can be among the most dramatic differences you come across. While senior executives around the world are always on, it may come as a surprise to American expats just how seriously Europeans take their leave – and not just with regard to the Spanish tradition of taking siestas. If you’re one to send your work emails on a Saturday, you may need to get used to waiting until Monday for a reply.

4. Balancing old and new friends
Your friendships may be really strong, but sometimes it can be pretty difficult to get out there and make new friends without neglecting your pals back home. Fortunately, with all of the social networking services available to us, it’s never been easier to keep in contact with those you’ve left behind – just make sure you don’t spend all of your time tied to your laptop.

5. The local language
This last one is perhaps obvious, but it’s always easier to get on when you can speak to the people around you. No matter, the best thing to do when you can’t understand a word is to be outgoing. Enroll in language classes and then get out there and practice, practice, practice!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

New HSBC Expat Hints & Tips launches today!

We’ve got some exciting news to start the New Year for all our Expat Explorer readers and followers.

Today, we’ve launched a brand new online resource called HSBC Expat Hints & Tips written by expats for expats. The site has been curated from almost 20,000 individual tips from expats who took part in our annual Expat Explorer survey and expat bloggers over the past five years and features hundreds of helpful hints and tips about living and working abroad in over 50 countries.

Whether you’re after places to visit in the UAE or accommodation in Singapore, it’s easy to find the tips that are most relevant to you, as the tool allows you to filter and browse the tips by country, expat life stage and topics. You can pick and choose the ones that are most relevant to you, share them across your social networks and even download them and print them to make your own handy expat guide. The new site even allows you to add your own individual hints or list of tips to help other expats be as well equipped for their move as possible.

Why not take a look and have a look around yourself? If you have a little gem or list of gems to share with other expats, then don’t forget to add them onto the site at

Friday, 11 January 2013

Are you a Boomerang Brit?

Image source: Creative Commons

For regular readers of the blog, you may have come across one of our posts on Boomerang Brits – the trend of moving away and then returning to ones’ country of origin – and in this case, the UK.

If you’ve just returned to the UK after a spell in China or Hong Kong, Thailand, VietnamIndia, Brazil, or Latin America then the Guardian would like to hear from you. The publication is currently looking to speak to some former British expats about what life in these emerging countries and the dynamic cities within them.

If you got a cracking story to tell and would like to share some of your experiences as a former British expat in one of these countries, then get in touch now. The successful case study may even feature on the website for others thinking of moving abroad – and perhaps even in a short video too!

If you’re interested, then please contact us at expatexplorer(at) with ‘I’m a Boomerang Brit’ in the subject line and we’ll put you in touch. Closing date 25 January 2013.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Expat Entrepreneur: Diana Jimenez, founder of Cuatro Patas

To kick start the new year, Diana Jimenez gives us an overview of her life as an Expat Entrepreneur running a gourmet pet shop in Medellin, Colombia.
Why did you decide to become an expat entrepreneur?
My husband and I have always been expats.  I am originally from Costa Rica and he is from Colombia.  Both of our dads worked for the United Nations while we were children so we left our native countries when we were one and four (respectively).  For the past six years we had been living in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn.  We came here to Medellin to visit my in-laws in April and fell in love with the city.  For the next couple of months we unhappily went to work thinking what can we do to move to Colombia? Juan took a month off work and looked into what was missing in the market in Colombia.  He noticed the pet products and pet food were not readily available online and the quality of the products was pretty bad.  So we decided to create an online store and a physical store here in Medellin where we can sell gourmet products.
If you could give one piece of advice to other expats setting up their own businesses, what would it be?
We talked to my brother’s roommate, who has been an entrepreneur for over a decade, and he gave us really good advice before we left.  He said it is going to take double the amount of time, effort, and money to get where you want to go… but it is worth it.  For us this has been true. I also think it took a bit longer than what we expected because we moved to another country and are learning about the cultural differences, which we hadn’t anticipated.  We both speak Spanish (Juan was born and lived here for four years) and we still think the cultural changes are hard to adjust to!
What challenges did you encounter when setting up your business and how did you overcome these?
We encountered tons of bureaucratic road blocks along the way.  Legislation that contradicted each other caused us to shift the focus more from importing to the online/physical store. The best way to overcome these types of problems is to adapt and change.  My husband read some books on startups which suggest that you have to test, test, and test and then change to what the market demands to what is actually feasible. This is what we have been doing… now we are in the process of making a grooming salon in our store.  If you had asked me two weeks ago if I thought this was what we would be doing I would have told you NO WAY! This might change after we open the store this week!
What common mistakes do expats, in general, make when setting up their business?
I think that we as expats expect everything to work the way they did where we used to live. We, personally, keep thinking that we are in the US and that people work during Christmas/New Years. In Colombia, and in Costa Rica/Brazil, it is really hard to get anything done in December and January.  This is a nice benefit once you live here, but DO NOT start your business during this time.
What resources did you find useful or tapped into to get your business off the ground?
Talking to neighbours, people with pets, family and acquaintances have been really helpful.  The people who have lived here longer really understand the culture here and have helped us develop a strategy that works for where we live. I also have asked entrepreneurs I know about their business.  Our friend that is a physical therapist told us about hiring and firing people and the financial and emotional toll that takes if you do not find the right person. I highly recommend talking to everyone you can to find out more strategies that you can apply to your business.
What would you do differently if you could do it again?
We have only just started but right now the biggest problem is that we moved here in December, I would have moved here in May instead.  The vacations have really slowed down our business.
About Diana Jimenez
Diana Jimenez is the co-founder of Cuatro Patas S.A.S is a gourmet pet shop in Medellin, Columbia. Find out more at or follow @cuatropatasco

Monday, 7 January 2013

New Year, New Beginnings?

Picture source: Wikicommons

As per usual Sydney started the procession of fireworks displays around the world signalling the start of a new year. This is a great time for expats to think about setting New Year’s resolutions to make the most of their time abroad, be it to take up a new hobby, make new friends, learn the language or make a plan to move to a different country all together. According to our Expat Explorer survey, half (52%) of expats would consider another expat posting, although only one in ten (13%) of expats actively look to move home or to another country.

The best resolutions are those with an achievable objective that is SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely), so don’t aim to be 100% fluent in a new language within one month! Take small steps to achieve your end goal, reward yourself when you reach certain milestones and maybe even involve a friend so you can motivate each other along the way. Most importantly have fun!

What are you doing to make sure you stick to your New Year’s resolutions? Leave us a comment below.



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