Monday, 29 April 2013

Settling in to your new place of work

It could be argued that taking on a new post abroad with an existing employer or moving out to another country with a job already in place gives you that much needed feeling of comfort. Of course, removing that element of uncertainty from your mind can do wonders for a smooth transition. However, a country’s culture will inevitably spread to its workplace so how do you prepare for the daily grind when you don’t know what it might entail?

Source: Flikr

The findings of our 2012 Expat Explorer survey revealed some of the best places to work around the world taking into account five of the main factors of a happy working life:

  •  Local work culture
  • Work / life balance
  • Feeling welcome at work
  • Working environment
  • Commuting

As you can see from the chart below there were some obvious all round winners. Number one being the Cayman Islands which, according to expats living there, provided the best working climate with friendly colleagues, a great work life balance and an easy commute. Similarly, Spain scored particularly well on the work life balance front, helping to rank it a close second.

If it’s a good local work culture you’re after then Switzerland may just be the place for you. Coupled with an easy commute it projects a laid-back atmosphere, ideal for finding your feet.

 Source: Expat Explorer 2012

All that aside, some countries have very specific work routines or cultures that it’s good to understand before you get your feet under the desk. Here are a few of our favourites.

Tea rounds – UK
If you know the UK then you will know that tea is taken very seriously. We mean VERY seriously. During the day, workers consume 3.5 cups a day on average. It’s likely your new work mates will take their tea differently so learn quickly if it’s milky with one sugar or ‘builder’s tea’ (nice and strong) and win them over with a nice brew.

Shorter work week - France
If you’re used to burning the midnight oil and working all hours that are given then a move to France will give you the chance to take your foot off the pedal. In France, the average working week is 35 hours long, much shorter than the 40-45 hours that customary in most of the western world.

Bonding time – Sweden
It’s customary for Swedes to get away from their desks for a quick cup of coffee and chat up to three times a day; this is called a ‘fika’. However, it’s not an excuse for an extra-long lunch break! Punctuality is of high importance in Swedish work culture so make sure to team up with a work buddy to help you get a feel for when to take your breaks and how long for.

Indian Standard Time (IST) - India
In India, a meeting at 3pm or a dinner party at 7.30pm inevitably ends up being at least 30 minutes late – sometimes even hours. Owing to the hectic traffic and time to get from A to B, this particular cultural quirk is simply unique to India and the locals are used to working on IST. Just don’t forget to clarify what time they actually mean when organising a meet up – and be patient if you turn up to a meeting and no one has arrived yet!

Wednesday’s the new Friday – Middle East
Don’t be surprised if you’re expected to turn up to work on a Sunday. In the Middle East, the working week tends to begin on a Sunday and end on a Thursday. However in some countries, it begins on a Saturday and ends on a Wednesday. Check with your employer so you can plan your weekends accordingly.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

What’s on your expat bucket list?

Bucket List: ‘A number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.’

A couple of weeks ago, we asked our expat followers what was on their ‘Bucket List’ and we had some fantastic responses – so thanks to you all! We’ve taken inspiration from some of our favourites to draw up an ‘Expat Bucket List’ of our very own.

Image source: Flickr

#1 Learn a new word everyday (in another language!)
@EmptyNestExpat, “Learn a new language: Turkish”

As an expat, language will play a huge part in your life. Whether you speak one or five, living abroad gives you the chance to immerse yourself in language, body language and tone – something that a textbook just can’t provide you with. If you’re totally new to the country you’ll be amazed at the response.

#2 Visit a famous landmark
@JamesHardcastle, “Circumnavigate Australia with a trip to Ayres Rock – all on motorbike”
@AndriasBoone, “See the polar light”
@essentialerin, “I want to take a VW camper van all across Europe.”

#3 …or visit them all!
@TheExpatChap, “Travel to every country at least once. I’ve been to 89 so far.”

Embrace the limitless bucket list! Why stop yourself at just one landmark and one country when you can include them all? Try hanging a map of the world in you room you can then take pleasure in spending the rest of your life marking the places that you have visited.

#4 Take advantage of what your host country has to offer
@Spainforpleasure, “Watch FC Barcelona live, simply must do it before I leave Spain”
@louie113133, “I will have a pint in each of the 32 counties of Ireland.”

It’s notoriously hard to remain a tourist once you are settled in your host country; try not to lose sight of the wonderful things it has to offer. It might seem cliché but these are the things that make your host country great! If you’re moving to London make sure to go and see Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London. If it’s Paris climb the Eiffel Tower and take a stroll down the Champs-Élysées.

#5 Set yourself an ‘ultimate’ goal
@themadkiwi1, “Find somewhere with a beach, good weather and job security then plants roots and become a local.”
@Nikiwebster85, “Kids in school, a partner and job that takes one to various countries / cultures and languages.” 

At what point in your life do you think you could take a step back and say that you’ve accomplished everything that you wanted to? Think about it and when you’ve got that ideal picture aim for it. This could be anything, from building a business to having a family. It’s good to dream big so don’t hold back!

You can also look at a compilation of all the expat bucket lists we received from Twitter on our Hints & Tips tool here. Why not add your own?

Monday, 22 April 2013

Country in review: Vietnam

Image source: Flickr

Vietnam is rich in natural beauty, culture and heritage. There’s no arguing that the country has had a difficult past but in recent years it has sought to move on from historical events and establish itself as a country and tourism destination in its own right.
Thanks to the cost of living, lively culture and rapidly improving infrastructure Vietnam is also attracting expats in their droves. As a result, big cities such as Hanoi, are increasingly catering for foreign visitors with international bars and a wide range of international cuisine.

Picture source: Wikicommons

One of the most popular spots for tourists, expats and locals alike is the Ben Thanh market in Ho Chi Minh City -  a 17th Century market by the Saigon River where street vendors still ply their trade. Make sure you are good at bartering as there is no such thing as “final price”!

Picture source: Wikicommons

Like in many cities the best way to travel is on two wheels. This includes navigating your way around the twists and turns of a Vietnamese market! Motorbikes or mopeds will also give you the freedom to explore the surrounding areas and visit villages that aren’t within walking distance.

Source: Wikicommons

In the south, away from the noise and chaos of Vietnam’s cities, sits the world’s 12th longest river: the Mekong. Taking a boat trip along its course will allow you to witness people at work on floating markets and fisheries.

Source: Wikicommons

We can’t possible write about Vietnam without acknowledging the food. Vietnamese cuisine is some of the healthiest in the world, thanks to the use of fresh fruit and vegetables and little oil or fats. Take advantage of street vendors and tiny stalls to give you a true taste of Vietnam.

Have you been an expat in, or visited Vietnam? Where are your favourite places to visit?

Friday, 19 April 2013

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing…Briana Palma

This week’s guest blogger takes us through some of the best cultural activities that Dublin has to offer.

 Source: Flikr
 Dublin has a vibrant pub culture that’s like no place else in the world and is on full display every day of the week. There are traditional spots that pour the perfect pint of Guinness and quirky locales that brew their own beers. But if you need a break from the beer and traditional music, check out these five cultural activities on offer in the Irish capital.  

First Thursdays

With its pubs and clubs, the downtown area of Dublin is known as a hotspot for tourists, but it’s also home to plenty of small cultural venues. They all join forces on the first Thursday of the month and stay open late. About 50 different spaces take part, so you can walk door-to-door checking out all the great art on display and creative activities taking place. Each month there is also an organised tour that stops at a handful of venues where curators and artists share the stories of the exhibited works and the spaces that house them. 

Milk and Cookie Stories

In Dublin, milk and cookies are more than just a snack for kids; a collective of the same name organises a monthly story time open-mic event. You can drop in to the Tuesday night sessions whether you have a story to share or simply want to listen to others’ tales and munch on the treats. Given the gift of the gab that most Irish people have (and the country’s great history of storytelling), it’s sure to be an entertaining way to spend your evening.

 Jazz and wine

Source: Here
More and more Dubliners are trading their pints for pinot – at least once in a while. Downtown wine bars seem to be increasingly busier and new ones are popping up every so often, too. While you’ll frequently find a guitar-wielding musician at a traditional pub, the wine bars regularly host jazz bands to entertain the crowds.

International films and more

At a number of places around town, you can brush up on a foreign language by indulging in its cinema. The regional film institute hosts a number of festivals and special events throughout the year, often with a focus on different languages and cultures. If you like to go to the movies in grand old style, keep an eye on the schedule for the local orchestra, which occasionally plays music – sometimes as a live score for a screening – from old film favorites.

 Dublin Flea Market
Source: Flikr
If you prefer the culture of yesteryear to that of today, then head to Dublin’s monthly flea market, where you can troll the stalls for vintage goodies. Taking place just west of the city center at Newmarket on the last Sunday of every month, Dublin Flea always has a fantastic mix of items, both old and new. There’s also food and drink to keep you going as you browse the stock of more than 60 vendors. Whether you go home with a retro bag or a new limited edition print – or nothing at all – the flea is a fun way to spend a Sunday, rain or shine. 
 About the author

 Briana Palma is an American writer and editor based in Dublin. For more information on her work, visit or follow her on Twitter @brianapalma.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Expat senses: Tastes

Welcome back to our series documenting the wonderful sensory experiences awaiting expats across the globe. So far, we’ve had a look at expat sights and sounds. This week, we’re taking a look at some of the interesting delicacies on offer worldwide.

Food is at the beating heart of all cultures and it is a fantastic way to learn more about a region. While we might all relish the search for the most authentic pizzeria in Naples or the best Southern grits, there are some rather more intrepid edible delights to be sampled on your travels. Sticking to the mantra that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, we have taken an eye opening look at some of the most weird and wonderful treats to fill the expat plate.

Mexico: Escamoles

 Image source: Flickr

Despite having the appearance of a bowl of rice, this Mexican dish is actually the larvae of a giant black ant. The ‘insect caviar’ is harvested from the roots of the agave plant and is most commonly served in a taco loaded with salsa and guacamole. Culinary adventurers are often pleasantly surprised by its nutty, buttery taste and melt-in-the mouth consistency.

Japan: Fugu

Image source: Flickr

This Japanese delicacy of puffer fish is famous around the world, but not for its taste. Fugu contains a lethal dose of the poison tetrodotoxin, which is 1,200 times deadlier than cyanide. The toxin is so dangerous that it can only be prepared by chefs who have spent three years in training and passed an official test. However, while it is dangerous, it is also quite bland (supposedly) so we’ll leave it to you to weigh up the advantages of tucking in!

Thailand: Bugs

 Image source: Flickr

While many people associate bugs and spiders more with fear than food, recent research has suggested that insects might actually become a staple part of the human diet in the future, as we are forced to look for alternative sources of protein. In Thailand, deep-fried critters are a popular snack and are to be found at street vendors all over Bangkok. It is the perfect place to go for a bout of immersion therapy. In case you are still feeling a little bit squeamish, just remember that they taste a bit like chicken; everything seems to at the end of the day. 

What’s the strangest delicacy you’ve ever encountered? Were you brave enough to try it, and what did you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Country in review: Italy

Italy has so much to offer prospective expats. Its rich and fascinating culture means that it has so many ways of surprising and delighting anybody. Below we’ve detailed just a few of the best bits that you might care to enjoy.


Image source: Flickr

Thousands of years of culture mean that Italy has loads of amazing architecture, from the Colosseum in Rome to the Leaning Tower of Pisa - and that’s not forgetting the country’s natural wonders, such as Mount Etna in Sicily. However, not all sights have to stand still. The Palio di Siena is a thrilling horse race where each area of the city enters its own horse and rider to represent it. What’s more, all this excitement is preceded by a magnificent pageant.


 Image source: Flickr

Italy is the spiritual home of opera and the country has seen some legendary works. From Verdi to Puccini, the Italian opera scene has produced some of history’s greatest composers – and with the likes of Luciano Pavarotti, some of the best performers too.


Image source: Flickr

We challenge you to think of anything that smells better than chocolate and if that’s your thing, then Umbria’s the place to be. Every year the region is host to Europe’s biggest chocolate festival, attracting almost a million visitors to the beautiful city of Perugia. And that’s not all – the area is also home to the famous Perugina chocolate factory.


 Image source: Wikicommons

Not only is Italy famous for its culinary creations but its ingredients are renowned for their quality, too, perhaps none more so than Sicilian lemons – the locals have a saying that lemons aren’t real lemons unless they’re Sicilian. However, inhabitants of the Amalfi Coast might beg to differ. Amalfitano lemons are totally different to their Sicilian cousins. If you want a sharp taste to contrast sugar, Sicilian lemons can’t be beaten. But if it’s a sweeter and subtler flavour you’re after, then the bigger Amalfitano lemons are the ones for you.


 Image source: Flickr

Europe can be a much more touchy-feely place than America and the UK and Italy is no different. Whether it’s kissing to greet each other or a greater love of hugs there’s certainly a lot more personal contact than many expats might be used to. But embrace it (literally) as it all comes from a place of love.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Guest blogger series: Introducing… Andrew Herweg

Our latest guest blogger, Andrew Herweg, discusses his experiences of becoming an expat in Italy and the UK.

 Image source: Flickr

The first 24 hours in London

Moving abroad is never an easy task for anyone. I have done it twice, moving to Italy and the United Kingdom. Between those two moves, what is vividly implanted in my mind is my experience moving to the UK. So here is my story of the sensations and feelings I felt during my first 24 hours in London.

Important to note is that I had only been in the UK once prior for my sister’s wedding and my week-long stay consisted of me getting drenched on the Kentish coast. This was late June by the way. I figured it was the British cuisine and warm lager that won me over and gave me the motivation to move to London.

For me moving thousands of miles from home wasn’t terribly difficult. I had already done it when I moved to Italy for a year a few years prior. One of the drivers for me to move to the UK was that I had close family living there. Leading up to my move across the Atlantic, my parents were more nervous than me. From my perspective I was able to speak the language fluently (oh how I was wrong) and knew I could brave the wonderful weather the UK had to offer.

I arrived in the UK on a typical cloudy day. From the terminal, I then barely managed to carry my heavy luggage (I’m quite skinny and scrawny) onto the train and made my way to Victoria Station to be greeted by my sister who was kind enough to hail a cab. On my 30 min taxi ride to my student residence, I made the standard call to my parents letting them know I was alright. I was still in much of a travel daze during the taxi cab ride and simply took in the picturesque sights as we crawled past Hyde Park and along the Thames. Reality didn’t settle in for me till I stepped out of the taxi and threw my bags on the curb in from of my new residence.

It is always a learning/social experience moving into a new place, but moving back into the dorms at age 22 living with 17/18 year olds is something that feels oddly strange. Feeling exhausted from the travel and setting up my cell (dorm room), I hit the hay in the early evening. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, strangely stressed. Questions started to pop in my head, asking myself whether moving to the UK was the right choice? Would I make friends? Where is my university? And where exactly was I in London? After what seemed like an eternity, I battled my nerves and fell back to sleep.

The following morning I woke up and reflected on the night’s questions but what helped me answer those night terrors was international student orientation at my university which allowed me to meet people in the same situation as me. The friendships I made during orientation definitely helped me realise that I did in fact make to right choice to move to London.

It is never easy to pick-up everything in your life and move a few thousand miles away. For me, I was quite naïve and laid back. I guess you could call it the arrogance of youth. Looking back I will always remember those feelings I had when I first came here. The biggest lesson I learned was that it is perfectly normal to have doubts and nerves about moving abroad – whether before, during or after the move.

About the author

Andrew is a PR executive working in Central London. He can usually be found in an East London pub or the park (depending on the weather) discussing the finer points of international politics and West Ham Football Club. He tweets @aherweg.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Adjusting to life abroad

Picture source: Wikicommons

If you are already an expat you will know that moving abroad is big leap. It can be scary having to face a new country, culture and environment, especially if you are flying solo. Like any big change there are ways to make the transition period easier and in this post we explore some of the easiest and best ways to learn to love your new home.

Embrace it
Accepting that you are likely to experience a culture shock will make your move that bit easier. There’s no point in fighting against your new way of life… because it will win and leave you feeling frustrated and annoyed. Instead, embrace your host country and everything about it. Grab the opportunity to learn a new language, try new foods and adjust your daily activities to reflect your surroundings. For example, if you’ve moved to Spain why not take advantage of the relaxed afternoons and later evening meals?

Stick with it
Try to avoid falling at the first hurdle. There will be times when packing up and going home with your tail between your legs will seem much more appealing but remember…you are not alone! Use social networking sites to find other expats who are or have been in a similar position to yourself – they will be able to guide you through the adjustment and offer first hand advice. As well as the expat community, use the wider local community. If you speak the local language then talk to locals, they will help you find your way around and hopefully share their insider knowledge on great places to visit or hang out.

Explore it
There’s no better way to get to know a new place than getting out and experiencing it for yourself.  Don’t bother with a map – unless there are specific sites you’re keen to see. Getting lost is always good fun and helps you find your bearings….eventually. A well as your local area try and venture a bit further afield to surrounding cities or even countries.

Think about it
Planning for accommodation should be something that you do ahead of your move. Where you live can make a real difference, especially if you are far away from local transport links or don’t have access to a vehicle. Think about being based somewhere where you can connect with locals or other expats. An area with a strong sense of local community will not only feel friendly but there’s likely to be activities for your to become involved in.

Ultimately, adjustment takes time but the rewards of sticking with it can be invaluable. Eventually your new expat destination will become your new home away from home…until the next time!
What helped you adjust to life abroad? Feel free to leave us a comment in the box below. Alternatively, help other expats by sharing your tips for a happy transition on our Hints & Tips site. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Expat Weather

Moving country brings with it lots of new changes and things to get familiar with. The weather system is one of the big changes expats have to get acclimatised to when settling in their host country. We take a look at some of the hottest and coldest countries to set up home.

Picture Source: Creative Commons

Results of our 2012 Expat Explorer survey have shown the Middle East to be a popular destination with expats looking for career opportunities and progression. However, this sun seekers’ paradise can get very hot. Temperatures are regularly over 40 degrees centigrade and occasionally have been known to creep up to over 50. Our survey revealed that expats based in the Middle East found it difficult to adjust to the weather conditions with 39% expats based in Saudi Arabia and 34% in Kuwait citing this to be the case. In temperatures like this, walking outside without shoes or touching metal objects during the middle of the day become just not possible.

Picture Source: Creative Commons

At the other end of the spectrum, expats can also find themselves in sub-zero temperatures, the kind of temperatures where you feel ice on your face and can stick to cold objects if you touch them. Russia and Canada, both popular expat destinations, have some particularly chilly conditions to say the least. In fact, Russia has just had one of the coldest winters on record with temperatures falling as low as -50 degrees. In these sorts of conditions, even turning off your car engine is risky as  you may not get it re-started. Similarly, Canada is host to some tough winters. This year temperatures in Quebec fell to -40.3 so it’s not surprising that 30% of expats there found it difficult to adjust to the local weather. 

Picture source: Creative Commons

Forget hot and cold, the sticky humidity that expats in some Asian countries face can be equally as tough to bear with clothes sticking to your body and sweat trickling down your face. Humidity levels sometimes reaching 95% and there have even been reports of mobile phones breaking due to the moisture. However, thanks to modern air conditioning humidity can be dealt with to some extent. Only 19% of expats in Singapore and 12% in Thailand reported finding it difficult to adjust to the local climate.

What is the temperature like in your expat location? What top tips do you have for expats to survive extreme temperatures? Leave us a comment below. 

Friday, 5 April 2013

Expat Entrepreneur: Kristrun Hjartar founder of social fitness app, Starters

In the latest of our Expat Entrepreneur series, Kristrun Hjartar gives us an overview of her life as an Expat Entrepreneur and brains behind Starters, an app which helps people to exercise – no matter how busy they are!

1. Why did you decide to become an expat entrepreneur?

When I arrived in Shanghai, China, I had lost my community of friends to exercise with, was juggling a lot of work, and there was lack of high quality gyms near me. So I decided to design a solution for myself. At first I just designed prototype workouts for me and my friends who were also struggling to exercise, but when one of my best friends in the US with a bad back sent me an email telling me about how he improved, tears came to my eyes and I realized this is what I want to do – help get people healthy and happy. Starters grew from there.

 2. If you could give one piece of advice to other expats setting up their own businesses, what would it be?
Be patient and find people you trust, even if this means taking longer or paying more (if you can). It can be hard to find people right away, especially if you have recently moved to a new place. Usually, you start out with a very small team, so capable people can make you or break you - I have been very fortunate to find people to work on my app. They all joined because our purpose aligned; we are all interested in helping people make a change to feel better and to live longer.

3. What challenges did you encounter when setting up your business and how did you overcome these?
There were few different challenges. One, I had never worked in this type of medium before – designing an app is very different from designing physical objects. However, I applied the same methodology. The other big challenge is speed of development. As a small bootstrapped company, speed and nimbleness is important but hard to maintain due to lack of resources.

4.   What common mistakes do expats, in general, make when setting up their business?
Expats or not, I think it’s as important to prototype your brand / message as it is to prototype your product. The two is intertwined. Start it early. Start a blog, get on social media and have a conversation with the world. Also, take time for yourself. It’s easy to get wrapped up 24/7 in what you are developing and you treat it like your baby. However, getting out of the office, learning the native language and getting to know the local people is important to not miss out on important experiences that will certainly influence you and your business.

5. What resources did you find useful or tapped into to get your business off the ground?
I was really lucky to have very experienced co-founders next to me – they’ve been super inspiring and helpful on many fronts. I also talk to my friends who have experience building a business. There are so many great blogs and books as well, but it will only guide you, it won’t teach you – you have to do and learn and iterate.

6. What would you do differently if you could do it again?
I would have started conversations with the world from the beginning to build awareness and engage with lots of different people earlier. I would also do more bare bone prototypes for a little longer with a small group, and build from there. Another thing I think all expats should do is take advantage of local entrepreneur organizations and events to tap into the local network to advance personally and professionally.

About Kristrun Hjartar
Kristrun Hjartar is the founder of Starters, a social fitness app for busy people who don't have time for the gym or don't know where to start. For more information visit:

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Country in review: Hong Kong

As the world becomes ever more connected, different cultures are coming together in a variety of ways. Nowhere is this more true than in Hong Kong, where east meets west creating a spectacular fusion of cultures.

This cultural synergy is perhaps most obvious in the food. From delicate dim sum to Michelin-starred restaurants, there really is something for everyone. One great area that expats tend to forget is North Point – a great location for authentic Chinese food, both local and from the mainland.

No expat experience is complete in Hong Kong without visits to the city’s famous cha chaan tengs, neighbourhood restaurants serving comfort foods with no-nonsense service. Patrons of cha chaan tengs go for a variety of fusion culinary delights, which can include pork-based soup noodles with a fried egg and chicken wings, baked pineapple buns with a generous dollop of butter or fresh beef, tomato and egg sandwich washed down with a yin-yang (coffee and tea, mixed in the same cup).

Image source: Flickr

The island is also great for shopping. Causeway Bay is great for familiar western styles and Stanley Market – while a bit ‘touristy’ – is a great place to buy all of your gifts for those back home. Venture over to Mongkok in the evening and you’ll find that Ladies’ market is similarly exciting.

Image source: Flickr

It’s not all about city-dwelling of course. If scenery’s your thing, take a tram up to the Peak and enjoy stunning views of the entire island. Or if you’re more of an active sort, try some water sports in Tai Po or watch the weekly races at Happy Valley.

Image source: Flickr

Indeed, no post about Hong Kong would be complete without mentioning the beaches. Deep Water Bay is really popular amongst the locals and we think this picture goes to show why!

Image source: Flickr



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