Wednesday, 27 February 2013

What Questions Do you Get Asked as an Expat?

We asked our Expat Explorer followers on Twitter what questions they get asked as an expat. The response was great and showed how the same questions follow expats around the world! Below are some of our favourites:

What questions do you get asked as an expat? Leave us a comment below or send us a tweet if you’ve experienced the same!

Monday, 25 February 2013

Top tips for expat single parents

Image source: Flickr

Being a single parent can be hard enough without the added pressures of moving abroad.  But if you manage to make the move work it can be a really rewarding experience. It’s in that spirit that we’ve listed our three top tips for single parents looking to move overseas.

As a single parent, you’re likely to have a particularly special bond with your children. You should consider this your greatest asset for making the move work. Use the communication skills you’ve picked up over the years to make them feel as comfortable as possible. Listen to their opinions on the move – they’re sure to have some – and make sure they feel heard. Then, simply explain why you’d like to move and describe some of the adventures they could have with all their new friends.

Be prepared
No matter who you are, moving abroad is a big transition and will throw up all sorts of surprises – even more so when you add children into the mix! In order to make sure that nothing puts a spanner in the works, it’s important to be aware of every eventuality. Planning ahead can help to combat any nasty surprises, from general budgeting to finding the right school, so make sure you’ve considered all aspects of your life before you make the move.

From Mexico to China, wherever you move you’re bound to find the initial relocation a bit stressful. It’s important that you make the time to relax and have fun – both with your children and on your own. Maybe treat you and your child to the night at the movies or day out riding bikes or going to the local park. And don’t forget – get out there and enjoy the sights and sounds of your new home city!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Culinary delights for the foodie expat

In the first instalment of our two part series we looked at the some of the healthiest cuisines around the world. This week’s post is a little more indulgent and delves into some of the hottest food festivals on the planet.

Photo: The World’s longest lunch Melborne Food and Wine Festival

Melborne Food and Wine Festival, Australia (March)
Melbourne has been host to this celebration of food and fine wine for 20 years, growing from just 12 events in 1993 to a whopping 200 events annually. Spanning 17 days, this year’s festival is dedicated to Earth and all things natural with events focussing on local artisan producers and old traditions. With a jam packed calendar you’ll be spoilt for choice – we suggest taking part in the world’s longest lunch (pictured above) and eating elbow to elbow with your fellow diners!
Best for: The laid back foodie

Brick Lane Curry Festival, London (May)
Once a year, London’s Brick Lane is transformed into an explosion of colour and exotic aromas. This curry festival has been running for 12 years and every year it’s a huge success with Londoners and outside visitors alike. Celebrations kick off with a procession of music and dancers culminating in live music from one of the several stages. Over 40 restaurants club together to help feed the swarms of people lined up on the street with classic Indian dishes.
Best for: A great party atmosphere and the best curry in town

The World Gourmet Summit, Singapore (April – May)
Singaporeans share a common passion for food and this festival really shows off some of best aspects of the country. The festival itself is held under the roofs of some of the finest restaurants throughout the city. As well as witnessing some of the world’s greatest chefs work their magic The WGS also hosts special workshops for ticket holders, so if you’d like to talk with like-minded individuals and learn some industry secrets be sure to sign up.
Best for: Haute cuisine of the highest quality

La Tomatina, Spain (August)
We first blogged about this wacky festival back in 2011 but we loved it so much that it’s made its way into our top five food festivals – although for slightly different reasons to the other four! La Tomatina takes place each year in Bunyol on the last Wednesday in August. The day begins with the participants trying to climb a greased pole in order to knock a ham off its top. Once that’s done it’s time to throw tomatoes! The fight lasts for about an hour before a shot is fired to signify the end. The streets are then thoroughly washed to remove any acid left by the juice. A wonderfully messy day all round!
Best for: A once in a lifetime experience!

Clarenbridge Oyster Festival, Ireland (September)
This festival is rich in culture and history and dates right back to 1954. It is claimed that the Clarenbridge Oyster in like no other, owing to the perfect conditions of the area including a sheltered bay and a perfect ratio of fresh and salt water. These elements combined with the expert knowledge of the residents help to make Clarenbridge the King of oysters. The festival itself plays host to a wealth of entertainment, music and dancing are everywhere you look and the atmosphere is friendly and fun.
Best for: The freshest local produce against a beautiful backdrop

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Food for thought

This is the first part of our series dedicated to all things food! In it we will explore the best locations for expats led by their taste buds and uncover the best food festivals around the globe. Bon appetite!

Image source: Flickr

Diets. Whether it’s healthy food or junk food we’re always thinking about food. Eating, not only for necessity but pleasure, is an important part of life that often dictates our daily routine. However, some cuisines are better for you than others and provide great health benefits as well as tasting great.

Food may not be the sole factor for choosing to move to a certain country however it undoubtedly plays a huge part in the draw of life abroad. You can’t live somewhere you can’t eat! In this post we take a look at some of the most popular and healthy, cuisines from around the world.

Thai cuisine is one of the healthiest around. Fresh food is always available in Thailand; there are many markets and stalls which offer fresh meals at any time of day.  Meals mainly consist of rice and noodles combined with small pieces of meat or fish and lots of vegetables. This balance of ingredients makes it easy for you to keep up with your five-a-day! What’s more, many of the herbs and spices used in Thai cooking, such as Turmeric, galangal, coriander, lemongrass and fresh chillies, have immune-boosting and disease fighting effects. Thailand was ranked 2nd overall in our 2012 Expat Explorer survey with expats scoring the country highly across all categories – especially food!

The Mediterranean diet has grown in popularity over the years. It’s low in saturated fats but high in monounsaturated fats, which are far better for you. Think olive oil instead of butter! Consumption of red meat tends to be low, whereas fish and poultry - known to be far healthier - are eaten regularly.  Meals generally consist of fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, potatoes, nuts and beans which provide you with a range of vitamins and minerals. So if you can see yourself tucking into a bowl of olives, or perhaps some sardines, why not consider countries, like Spain or Cyprus?

The Japanese have the longest life expectancy rates and the lowest rates of obesity in the developing world so it’s no surprise the Japanese diet is right up there with the best. Japanese meals are predominantly based on fish and tofu rather than meat, which can often be higher in fat. Tofu is made from bean curd and as a result is high in protein but low in fat and its versatility means that it can be served in a variety of dishes, from main meals to deserts. Seafood including octopus, crab, shrimp, lobster and seaweed all form a primary part of many dishes. Rice is also a regular accompaniment and helps to balance out the protein with essential carbohydrates. Fresh fruit and vegetables are eaten daily providing loads of vitamins and nutrients which contribute to good overall health.  Enticed by sushi or steamy noodle soups? Perhaps Japan is the place for you!

Monday, 18 February 2013

How to succeed as an expat partner

Becoming an expat doesn’t always happen by choice and this is no truer than in the case of the expat assignee, sent abroad as part of their job. Whilst opportunities such as these are, more often than not, to be grabbed by both hands it’s vital that everyone involved feels as much a part of the process as the person leading the way. Supporting a loved one is one thing but how do you go about carving out your own niche in a completely new expat community?

Image source: flickr

It’s life, but not as you know it...
If you’ve found yourself in a new country because of a loved one, it’s easy to forget that this move isn’t just an opportunity for them. This is also a new chapter in your life and whilst things may feel strange at first it’s important that you try to make the most of your situation – who knows what adventures you might have in your new home!

Network, network, network
It’s perhaps no surprise that social networking sites are an invaluable tool for expats. They are a cheap and easy way to keep in touch with friends on the other side of the world but it’s also a way to make new friends and talk to other expats in similar situations to you. There’s a wealth of expat communities online so why not sign up to a forum and you might find that your new friends live a little closer than you expected.

New to social media? Why not read this guest post from expat expert, Robin Pascoe, on the use of social media as a training tool for expats to help you get started.

But remember to keep in touch
Your family and friends back home will always be the first place you turn if things are a little bumpy and it’s important to maintain these relationships whilst you are away – especially for short term postings. It’s likely that everyone is really excited about your new life but they will obviously miss you so why not try setting up a blog or photo diary to document your day-today experiences? That way they can see how much you are enjoying yourself as well as being there for you as you try to get settled.

HSBC Expat has launched a new Hints & Tips site for to help first time and experienced expats get to grips with their new surroundings. You can take a look at the new site by clicking on the link below. Feel free to share your own pearls of wisdom by adding individual tips or creating a list of five.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing…Lana Penrose

This week’s guest blogger, Lana Penrose, talks us through the intricacies of learning Greek and shares her tips for getting up to speed with mastering a second language.

It’s all Greek to me

As Laurie Anderson once said, ‘Language is a virus’. You may not remember the song or, if you’re anything like me, you may not understand it. If Laurie meant language is a virus in a contagious way, I’m afraid I must disagree. If she meant learning a foreign language can see you bedridden and clambering for a bucket, then I do believe she’s right.

I say this because I lived as an expat in Greece for 5 years, during which time I struggled to learn words like, ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘pencil’. I endured hundreds of hours of lessons, devoted much of my spare time to it, bought picture books written for children aged 2-4 and still… nothing.

At this point you may be concluding that I’m a bit of a thicky. Well, I’m not. Not a complete thicky, anyway. It’s just that the language section of my brain had obviously been welded shut during an alien abduction. I therefore despondently watched on as those in my language class picked up Greek as effortlessly as retrieving dirty laundry from the floor. Why? Well, I heard somewhere along the line that if you already have a second language under your belt, you’re inclined to more easily learn another and start talking in tongues and healing the sick.

See, my fellow-pupils already possessed that certain je ne sais quoi, but for me, English is and was my one and only idiom. And of course, Greek isn’t the easiest language to learn in the first place. There’s a whole new alphabet to contend with and syllable output tends to sextuple. (For example, ‘cake shop’ in Greek is ‘zack-a-ro-plas-ti-o’. Cake shop: two syllables. Zackaroplastio: six. I rest my case, Your Honour.)

I therefore had my fair share of absurd conversations over the years. With my limited vocabulary, in Greek I’d attempt to say things like, ‘Political corruption is a highly charged subject right now and I would dearly love to partake in this exchange.’ With my low level of fluency, however, I would instead say something like: ‘Beautiful child upon a rock please my table mister.’

So to ensure you don’t suffer similar humiliation, I hereby bequeath …


1.                   Really, really try to learn the language.
Even though you may not possess the ability to say, ‘Are those sausages fresh?’ nobody can ever berate you for not trying. At the very least, try.
2.                   Observe body language.
Sometimes all you’ve got to go on is another’s expression. If somebody is shaking his or her fist at you, you can safely assume that you shouldn’t have driven through his or her plate-glass window. But different expressions mean different things in different countries. It can take a while to figure out if somebody truly dislikes you.
3.                   Study mime artistry.
Who knew that walking against the wind would be the perfect way to communicate that you’re having problems communicating?
4.                   Adopt a new persona.
When attending local soirees, affect a state of wistfulness and stare off into the distance. In that way, locals will presume you’re an interesting poet and revere you, rather than trying to engage you in conversation.
5.                   Take a vow of silence and pass it off as religious observance.

 Lana Penrose

Lana Penrose is a bestselling author of ‘to hellas and back’ and ‘Kickstart my heart’. She is a former record company promotions manager, music journalist and television producer.

Visit for more details.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Top tips to organise expat life

As some expats will testify, organising and making sure things go according to plan suddenly becomes much harder and complicated the moment you decide to move abroad. Here, we thought we’d share some top tips for organising expat lives.

Picture Source: Wikicommons

·         Use the Cloud. Everything is available online nowadays, so why not make use of this extra storage and make use of the cloud to store and share photos, making it easier to share large files with friends and family when overseas.
·         Schedule in fun time. Some of us are guilty of having too much, others don’t take enough time out but regardless it is an essential part of life – and a chance for you to re-charge your batteries. Whether you are a party go-er or prefer to have a steaming green tea and curl up with a good book, schedule in the time. Don’t overrun and don’t make any excuse not to do it.

·         Set achievable targets. One of the big factors of expat life is the uncertainty it can bring or the feeling of being lost due to new and unfamiliar environments. It’s important, especially for those who first move abroad to set yourselves small and achievable targets that will help you ease in and take control of your life.
·         De-clutter.  Expats are a mobile bunch, and often that means picking up items and excess baggage (literal or otherwise) that you might not need along the way. One way to be more organised is to put yourself in the de-cluttering frame of mind and make it a daily habit. Organise your expat life by keeping desks and rooms tidy and clutter-free. That means when you move again you will limit the stress of deciding what to throw away.

How do you organise your expat life? What is the biggest organisational challenge as an expat? Leave us a comment in the box below.

Monday, 11 February 2013

The question of ‘what next?’

As the sun sets on your expat adventure it can often be hard to answer one simple question: what next? Though you may be feeling some excitement about returning home, the end of one chapter of your life inevitably leads to the need to work out where to take your story from here.

Image source: Flickr

If you’ve been abroad for work, a lot can hinge on whether or not you’ve got a job waiting for you back home. The transition will probably be easier if you can slot into a familiar role in the same company – especially if you’ve worked in this office before. However, if you don’t have such luxuries then the return home can be another adventure in itself. Just as when you first moved, coming home can give you a chance for a fresh start doing something new.

Where you go next will probably hinge on your relationships. We don’t just mean romantically – though a move like this can be a great opportunity to take the next step – but with your friends, too. It can often be a bit of a culture shock moving home as your relationships with the people in your life may have changed quite a bit. It might feel like you’ve never left but sometimes  it might take a bit of adjustment and you might meet some new friends altogether.

In order to make the transition back home a bit easier, we’ve curated a list of tips on our Hints & Tips Tool that might help. However when the time comes to leave your host country,  you might decide not to return home at all but instead, you decide to jump straight back into another adventure!

Have you already moved back home after a placement? How did you find the experience? Let us know in the comment box below.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Chinese red envelopes: Dos and Don’ts

Image Source: WikiCommons

January 1st may seem like a long time ago now and 2013 is in full swing, however, for those that follow the lunar calendar, the New Year is yet to begin. As we enter the year of the snake on the 10th of February we explore the dos and don’ts around the tradition of giving red envelopes.

Red envelopes are used in Chinese and Asian societies for the giving of money on special occasions such as New Year, birthdays and weddings. The envelopes are red for a reason - symbolising good luck and is meant to ward off evil spirits. Envelopes can be accented with gold, which is a sign of wealth and prosperity though the colour varies throughout Asia with white envelopes given in Korea and amongst some Malay Chinese Muslims, green envelopes are used instead.

It is tradition that the amount of money given is in an even number and never amounts with the number four as in Chinese the number sounds similar to the word “death”. Money is normally given in notes to avoid the noise of coins and to make it harder for the receiver to guess the amount!
The amount given in a red envelope can differ, however US$10 is seen as a reasonable amount to give to a child.

There are also customs which dictate who gives and who receives envelopes although these differ slightly throughout Asia. Generally, within most Chinese families unmarried adults and children receive red envelopes from their parents although in some cases this is reversed and adults give envelopes to their parents.

There are other significant occasions which call on the giving of red envelopes such as weddings or a child winning a place at university.  When attending a wedding it is normally polite to include enough to cover your attendance as well as another small amount as a gift. The equivalent of Western Christmas bonuses is often given around the Chinese New Year to employees, again in red envelopes.
According to our Expat Explorer survey, rich cultural festivities and celebrations in Asia such as Chinese New Year is one of the things that make the region a fascinating place to be an expat. 64% of expats in China have a more interesting life since relocating, similarly 76% of expats in Hong Kong, 72% in Singapore and 70% of expats in Vietnam have a more interesting life than before they became an expat.

Do you celebrate Chinese New Year? What are your customs for giving red envelopes? Leave us a comment in the box below

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Country in review: Brazil

Image credit: Flickr

What springs to mind when you think of Brazil? Football? Sandy beaches? The country has even produced some top-notch movies. Everyone always thinks of Brazil as being a land full of people with soul, and it really lives up to the hype. But there’s one time of year when Brazil shows the world exactly why you’d love to live there: Carnival!

Carnival is an annual festival held across Brazil in the days immediately before Lent. In much the same way that some countries celebrate Pancake Day, Carnival is a way of letting loose before a period of holding back a bit. Almost the entire country takes the week off for one of the biggest parties in the world.

Carnival really shows off all of the best aspects about life in Brazil. For a start, the music is amazing. Samba’s great even in small bars but it really comes to life at a Carnival parade, where the explosive drum beats provide a fantastic rhythm nobody can resist dancing to.

The pageantry at Carnival is truly astounding. As the picture above shows, the parade is a really bright and vivid treat for your senses. We’re sure you’re all aware of the parade outfits which are so famous throughout the world and we really can’t think of any more exciting costumes, anywhere! The party’s different wherever you go, be it Rio, Sao Paulo, or even some of the smaller towns.

Away from Carnival, Brazilian food is another of the country’s great strengths. As one of the contributors to our Hints & Tips Tool says, Brazilian food could well be the best in the world. Like much of Brazil’s culture, the food is a result of a real mix of influences. There are elements of native, European, African and Asian cooking in there, so there’s really something for everybody.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Expat Entrepreneur: Kyle Patrick Long and Jamie Barys, founders of UnTour Shanghai

In the latest of our Expat Entrepreneur series, Kyle Patrick Long gives us an overview of his life as an Expat Entrepreneur running food tours in Shanghai, China.

1.  Why did you decide to become an expat entrepreneur?
After studying abroad in Beijing in 2005, I knew that a semester abroad just wasn’t enough, especially in a country as diverse and large as China. After graduating from university, then doing a stint as an English teacher in Shanghai, I knew it was time to pursue an actual passion if I was going to stay in China. Thus, with my business partner Jamie, the idea came together to design a job around something we loved to do: eat.

We had always loved exploring Shanghai through its delicious cuisine and sharing our finds with friends and family. The next logical step was sharing the same amazing experiences with the city’s tourists, so we set up a food tour company. Now, we lead culinary tours for travellers and expats alike who want to know more about the local food scene. I also took my passion for running, and have an offshoot service guiding jogging sightseeing tours of the city. After running on my own for several years, I had accumulated a good bit of knowledge on the best places to run in the city.

2. If you could give one piece of advice to other expats setting up their own businesses, what would it be?
Stop talking about doing it and just start. It may take a while to catch on and really make money from it, but you’ll only be able to truly gauge the market by getting out there and starting somewhere. Also, keep an open flexible mind.

3What challenges did you encounter when setting up your business and how did you overcome these?
For many companies, especially in the tourism industry, reputation is a key factor. Nowadays with online reviews, people have access to a wealth of feedback on your services. With a good service, that only works to your advantage, but it does take time to build up. Therefore, Jamie and I were lucky to have other part-time and flexible jobs that supported us while we got UnTour Shanghai off the ground.

4. What common mistakes do expats, in general, make when setting up their business?
It’s funny how many times I’ve talked to people about their ideas for a new company, and how they’ve already got a business card made up for it. Somehow in business planning, the card seems like the most important factor, but I think it’s often just something easy to do that feels like you’re actually accomplishing something. Even in China, where you exchange “name cards” with just about everyone, focus on the legitimate core business before dealing with the accessories.

5. What resources did you find useful or tapped into to get your business off the ground?
Even in a city as large as Shanghai, the expat community is relatively tight-knit and willing to help out to a great extent. As long as you’re not stepping on someone else’s toes, I think fellow entrepreneurs, even in the same industry, are probably the best source for information.

About Kyle Long
Kyle is the co-founder of UnTour Shanghai which offers tours to sample Shanghai cuisine. UnTour Shanghai leads you through a culinary world that is nearly impossible to navigate without a Mandarin speaking guide at your side. While you’re experiencing the city’s food scene, you’ll also walk through the city’s traditional streets, parks and neighborhoods and see how the locals live. Find out more at or follow him at @UnTourShanghai



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