Friday, 28 February 2014

Shopping tips for expats in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a wonderful city for expats and tourists alike, and it’s certainly a treat for anyone who loves shopping. The city has been built for every shopper from all walks of life, with every taste catered for – whether that’s haute couture or a good bargain. 

The thousands of visitors each year who come to Hong Kong to shop is testament to its reputation as a shopper’s paradise. A few spots around Central, Admiralty and Wan Chai, plus some areas of Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon cater for styles that Europe and North America are accustomed to.

Image source: Creative Common/Eric Chan

To get the true Hong Kong shopping experience, however, you must go to Temple Street in Jordan and Ladies Market in Mong Kok. Jordan and Mong Kok are both areas on Kowloon, only a couple of train stops apart. Mong Kok’s traditional Chinese tea rooms are packed at the weekend but great if you need a break from trekking through the market. Be brave and order a bubble tea beverage!

Image source: Creative Common/marim68821

Temple Street is a night market and comes to life in the evening after 5pm selling everything and anything a tourist could ever want. Just remember to haggle to get discount. Prepare for the traders to tell you that ‘you are a very bad person’—but the price, they are offering you, is much higher than what they offer local residents. You would be forgiven if you were a little overwhelmed on your first trip here as neon lights are blazing from every wall, and traders are all competing for custom and often don microphone headsets to be heard over the hustle of the crowd. Go to Spicy Crab restaurant on the street corner for a fantastic range of noodles, vegetable and seafood dishes as well as guilty pleasures such as crispy pork in sweet and sour sauce.
Image source: Creative Common/desmorider

Stanley Market on the south side of Hong Kong Island is a much calmer traditional market; however, bartering isn’t common practice here. Stanley wins on post-shopping activities as it has a beautiful promenade lined with classic British pubs—of course, this tiny fishing town is a haven for expats. The promenade truly comes to life during Hong Kong’s Dragon Boat Festival in June. Be prepared for the crowds—the atmosphere is electric and you can’t help joining in with the crowd’s cheering! It’s the perfect spot all year round to sit back and relax on a terrace in the sunshine with friends, food and drinks. 

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The best rural expat destinations

For many, becoming an expat is a career move, rather than lifestyle decision, and so life abroad can often be associated with fast-paced city living in some of the world’s top business centres – London, New York, Hong Kong. For others however, rural living is part and parcel of the expat dream, especially when it comes to raising a family or enjoying retirement.

Here we look at some top rural expat destinations:

Image source: Creative Common/Thomas Steiner

Converting secluded properties, walking in the mountains and taking in the beauty and variety of the French countryside are all popular expat pastimes, with the country offering expats many different kinds of rural experiences.
Why not check out the Loire Valley – the so-called Garden of France? The area is known for its beautiful chateaux, multiple vineyards and fruit orchards, historic towns, and, of course, the Loire River.
Or sun yourself by the shores of Lake Annecy (Europe’s cleanest lake)?
From the beaches of Brittany to the snowy mountaintops of the Alps and Pyrenees, rural France is well worth exploring and makes for a great expat home.

Spain is another favoured European destination for expats seeking a rural retreatment. Think lots of sunshine and a wonderful outdoors lifestyle, whether near historic inland or secluded coastal towns.
Just try to learn the language and make friends with the locals to make the most of Spanish life and start fitting in with the local culture.

Japan may seem like a less usual choice for expats seeking out a rural idyll but the wonderfully varied landscape - mountains, lakes, rivers – and opportunity for adventurous pastimes such as cycling, skiing, snowboarding, and kayaking can be very attractive.

Image source: Creative Common/Petr Novák, Wikipedia

In the humid summer, the heat can be hard to handle and rural locations often require more knowledge of Japanese than is necessary in big cities, but the opportunity you have to live in such beautiful surroundings and to access a traditional Japanese way of life is invaluable.

What’s your favourite rural destination? Let us know! 

Monday, 24 February 2014

Expat life in…Vancouver

Vancouver is one of Canada’s most popular cities and there’s no denying its popularity with expats, perhaps on account of its outdoor, green lifestyle and high quality of life – which are bound to help you to adjust to your new life abroad!

Image source: Creative Common/Thom Quine

Get fit
Vancouverites are fit. They love to exercise and eat well. It’s a passion rather than a choice. The area is very popular for expats and tourists who are looking for an outdoor lifestyle inspired by exercise and adventure. Jogging or walking along the sea wall is a very popular past-time. Stanley Park is also a great place to kick start your day or weekend with some exercise.  Vancouver enjoys a temperate climate and it boasts a vast range of natural landscapes so you can exercise or spend your down time on the many beaches, rivers, lakes and mountains.  Boating is a common sight and for the more daring among us, white water rafting when it has been raining or in spring melt is available. On the other hand, if you want fun in the snow, head to Whistler for skiing or snowboarding.

Dream Green
Green living is popular in Vancouver, clear from its aspirations to be the greenest city in the world by 2020. Over 90% of electricity is produced with renewable sources and the city is encouraging greener jobs and businesses. Of course, consequently, pollution is much less of a problem here than in most other major world cities and Vancouver is especially well known for how clean its streets are.

Getting around a new city can be daunting but it is exceptionally easy here. The transport is convenient—it includes a bus network, a sea bus operator, ferries, trains and a sky train. The trip to Granville Island on the AquaBus has been recommended by many expats and tourists alike for its scenic route, plus when you arrive on Granville Island you can peruse the market and shops, eat in the restaurants, buy delicious local produce or even take a trip to the theatre.

Image source: Creative Common/Ice-Babe

Things to do in Vancouver:
1.       Climb the Grouse Mountain (a heavy sweat-inducing hike), or jump on the airborne gondola for an easier way up this dramatic feat of nature.
2.       Cross Capilano Suspension Bridge—but if you’re partial to vertigo, you may not want to look down!
3.       Have lunch and drinks at English Bay, and spend the afternoon overlooking the beach.

Have you ever lived in Vancouver? What has it done to your lifestyle? Share your ideas here with other expats:

Friday, 21 February 2014

Expat shopping hotspots

There’s no one who doesn’t have experience with shopping – and for many, it’s a fun pastime or even a hobby. For globetrotting expats, a shopping trip can be a real eye opener! The first shopping trip to a new area in a foreign country can result in a totally different experience and can often open up a whole new cultural dimension of society.

Image source: Creative Common/Patrick Rouzet

Italian passion
Shopping abroad is likely to be a very different experience from shopping at home. For expats living beside the French-Italian border, Ventimiglia is host to a wonderfully traditional market teeming with local Italian produce but this is not just any food market – you’re likely to see a true passion for the products. Owners of the stalls are recognised as being fiery characters who might berate you for buying only one or two items – because how could you resist buying more?!

Ab fab
Long renowned as a glamour spot, Dubai’s expat community are well-versed in luxury goods – so it’s no surprise that they have their own shopping festival, boasting beautiful products, food and fireworks. Abu Dhabi has recently opened a few malls to cater for an upmarket clientele to compete with Dubai’s shopping scene. If you’re based in Abu Dhabi, you’ll be glad of this as it means you don’t have to go to Dubai every time you want to shop, but it might mean you have to settle for a slightly smaller variety of items. 

For many, Paris is the capital of fashion as well as the capital of France. The city has a magical feel and could knock any clothes fanatic into a dream-like state. Avenue des Champs Élysées is of course where the super wealthy flash the cash but you can find some stores around this area that cater for a more modest-sized wallet or purse.

Designer shops around the city are found in the most beautiful buildings built many centuries ago. If you are as impressed by architecture as you are by fashion then go to Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré/Rue Saint-Honoré —get off at Metro stations Concorde, Tuileries, Palais Royal Musée du Louvre or Louvre Rivoli to see some of the best buildings.

Image source: Creative Common/Esme Vos
When it comes to the festive season, the department stores of Paris go all out to put on a winter-wonderland spectacle - and the window design has indeed become a very serious business. Top designers are brought in to ensure every square inch of window space is taken up with the most visually intriguing, striking designs.

And it’s not just about the food - Café de la Paix at Opéra was used as the location of the final scene in François Mauriac’s most famous novel Thérèse Desqueyroux (1927). It might not be the first choice if you’re on a tight budget, but well worth a look if you fancy a treat in a setting that has inspired a novel which is still studied in schools around Europe today.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Do you speak the language?

Moving abroad is likely to present all sorts of new challenges. And when you arrive in a new place, it can feel very alienating if you don’t speak the language – so it’s common for many expats to prioritise this or even make a start before the move. However long you intend to be in your new country for, mastering the lingo or even just conquering a couple of choice phrases is likely to make a real difference to helping you to feel more at home. Here are a few of our top tips to help you on your way: 

Image source: Creative Common/Seedcamp Photos
Practice makes (almost!) perfect
It can feel daunting attempting to try and speak a language that you aren’t fluent in. It’s normal to feel a little self-conscious, but in many places, making the effort to speak the language is a great way to earn expat kudos – as well as a great opportunity to test your understanding! You’ll find most people are helpful and willing to lend a hand to help you get there. Take the opportunity to try out your skills at the local supermarket, strike up conversation with your neighbours or seek out colleagues who have five minutes to spare for a chat. And practice really does make perfect!

A little at a time
You wouldn’t climb a mountain in a day – and the same principle applies when it comes to learning a new language. Take it a bit at a time and break things down into manageable chunks to tackle when you have the time. At what is likely to be a very busy time in your life, there are bound to be other demands on your time so it’s worth spending a while to consider how you can fit in the language learning with whatever else you’re doing. With plenty of audio courses, podcasts and apps available to help make life a little easier, it’s well worth taking a look at what’s out there.

Image source: Creative Common/Lucelia Ribeiro
One for the kids
If you’re moving abroad with your family, particularly children, it’s likely that they’ll feel similarly overwhelmed at the prospect too. It’s generally believed that children find it much easier to pick up new languages than adults. While being young and able to absorb ideas faster will help, you might find that your kids are anxious at the prospect of feeling alienated or left out. While it’s inevitable that there are times when they may feel left out, it’s important to reassure them that this won’t always be the case. If your children are attending an international school, you’ll find that there will be a variety of languages spoken there which will help to boost learning while also helping children to retain a good command of their mother tongue.

What are your tips for mastering a new lingo? Share them with us and other expats here.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Valentine’s Day – Expat Style

Valentine’s Day is not celebrated worldwide (although many countries have equivalent festivals of gift giving, chocolate guzzling or romance). But whether you’re an expat couple who always indulge each other on this one day of the year or a dating expat looking to try the Valentine’s tradition for the very first time in your new home, wherever you are in the world, we have plenty of ideas for making February 14th the most romantic day of the year!

Image Source: Creative Common/Oronce Fine

The perfect setting
An an expat, you've got a vast array of exciting and romantic date destinations to check out. If you’re in one of the world’s great business cities why not consider the heady heights of a skyscraper restaurant so your heads can really be amongst the clouds? If you’re in Scandinavia this is definitely a great chance to head to the sauna! And if you’re in Europe, where better place to head than to the canals of Venice? Think world famous monuments for great photo opps and marriage proposals, or snug hidden getaways. Your Valentine’s is sure to beat those of your friends back home!

Just dinner?
Being an expat means dinner is no longer the safe option, especially if the local food is new to your partner as well as you. Why not try oysters on the banks of an Irish lough, macaroons in a Parisian patisserie, a real Texan barbecue, tapas in the backstreets of Barcelona or pufferfish in Japan (if you like your dates served with a dash of danger)?

Give a gift
Why not try out local gift-giving traditions? The Welsh craft lovespoons – intricately decorated wooden spoons. In China, be careful what colour ribbon you use to wrap your presents – red is used day to day, silver and gold for wedding gifts, and black and white only for funerals. And the Japanese are the most prolific gift-givers in the world, so seek to be over- (rather than under-) prepared with your token of affection.

Long distance Valentine
Many expats are in long distance relationships but that’s no reason to give Valentine’s a miss! Write an old fashioned love letter, set up a coordinated film viewing while video chatting, or, even better, leap on a plane and surprise your loved one! The only risk is that he or she may do the same and you’ll end up passing somewhere over the Atlantic…

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A literary picture of Barcelona

Barcelona is a city that encompasses a real zest for life, relishes artistic beauty and lives through al fresco dining. It often tops the lists of the world’s best cities because of the high quality of life that it provides to the people who are lucky enough to call it home…or at least home for now.  

What better way to truly explore Barcelona than by immersing yourself in its rich culture.  From artists Antoni Gaudi and Pablo Picasso to writers Mercè Rodoreda and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Barcelona is brimming over with creativity.

Image source: Creative Common/Wolfgang Staudt

Gaudi’s architecture and Picasso’s paintings at times overshadow the literature written by some of the most vivid thinkers the world has known. Barcelona, however, has offered itself to many literary masters as a muse to inspire some of the most beautifully written prose. The city has inspired tales of love, friendship, betrayal, rivalry, crime and war to name only a few. 

Many writers have managed to capture the essence of this multi-faceted city and by taking a journey through its literature, you can really enrich your understanding of it. Be prepared to fall in love, or fall in love all over again, with Barcelona after exploring the material that these writers have created. 


Bestsellers include Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Shadow of the Wind and Ildefonso Falcones’ Cathedral of the Sea. Both are undoubtedly fantastic reads; Zafón takes you on a rite of passage through post-war Barcelona, and Falcones brings you action from 14th Century Barcelona at the height of the inquisition.  

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Shadow of the Wind could be considered an obvious choice for our top read. However, the tale’s insatiable thirst for Barcelona is undeniable and the author paints a beautiful picture of Catalonia steeped with many different human layers that will allow expats in the 21st Century to love the past, present and future of this city. 

It is a story within a story as the protagonist, a young boy called Daniel Sempere, chooses a book by Julián Carax (pertinently entitled Shadow of the Wind) from the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He must protect the book as it emerges that a sinister character will stop at nothing to destroy every last remaining copy. The possession of this book leaves Daniel in grave danger and his quest to discover who Carax was and why he did not write anything else leaves him in even greater danger as he has caught the attention of the brutal Inspector Fumero.    

Spanish Civil War

Mercè Rodoreda’s masterpiece The Time of the Doves is set in Barcelona post, during and after the Spanish Civil War and is one of the most highly regarded novels to depict the struggles of a young woman in this era of Spanish history.  George Orwell’s Homage to Barcelona documents his own first-hand experience of the Spanish Civil War. He was eventually a lieutenant based in Catalonia and Aragon from 1936 to 1937 and his account brings a unique vibrancy to a revolutionary tale that could otherwise be forgotten by our 21st century society. 

Image source: Creative Common/Wolfgang Staudt
Literati hangout

If you are passionate about writing, or art, and want to mingle with the creative minds based in Barcelona, you should go to the district of Gràcia. Writers, publishers and agents alike can be found in the many bars, cafes and bookshops in this romantic area. You should head to Astrolabi and Heliogàbal if you truly want to be in the hub of it all. 

Any expat moving to Barcelona will soon learn that the city will help you to unleash creativity in everything you do. The inspiration from the city’s culture is impossible to ignore and you may find that the way in which you envision the balance between your work and life could dramatically change for the rest of your life.

Have you dipped your toe in literature from Barcelona? Or, are you a fanatic of writers from this diverse region of Spain? Share your thoughts with other expats here:

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Guest Blogger Series: Introducing… Vassi Atanasova

Our latest expat guest blogger, Vassi Atanasova, tells us the ways to grow as an expat in the US.

Living and working in Chicago

Making the leap from Eastern Europe to the US is a huge step. At least for me it was. I moved to the US in 2007, when I was only 23, with no family or friends.

Beginning a new life abroad can be very exciting. When I arrived in Chicago, I knew that I wanted to go to school and find a job. English was not my first language and if I wanted to attend college I had to take the TOEFL exam. Many colleges offered ESL / TOEFL prep classes so I signed up right away.

For me, the most difficult part was learning to commute in the big city, but things got better in time. Soon, I managed to master the public transportation grid and later on I bought myself a car.

When school started things got even better. I met some amazing people who helped me learn more, showing me around and taking me to different places. One of my English teachers used to take our whole class to a bar, almost every week. We went to Green Mill Jazz Bar, which is a must see in Chicago as it is known for being Al Capone’s bar, where the mafia used to hang out. The bar is located on Broadway Ave. and Clark St. with doors opening on to both streets to enable a quick getaway. Till this day, the interior has been kept authentic and there is a great wall of memorabilia in honour of Al Capone.  

After I took my TOEFL I got accepted at some colleges and I picked a state school. At school was where I found the most support – it helped give my life direction and connected me with great people. I also had my work as I had a job as a hostess in an American restaurant – Ted’s Montana Grill. It is a chain, but not your typical American chain as they only serve natural food, and their big winners are the bison meat dishes. The restaurant was great for me as it was where I met one of my best friends who will always be my favourite party girl!

Going to school and working was exactly what I had in mind when I moved to the US – I’d advise all expats to have goals and plans in advance so that when you arrive you just have to set them in motion.
Despite that, you can never know exactly what to expect. When I arrived, I did not know that Chicago was such a big city and that I would not actually live in the city. Living in the suburbs, commuting was my first big challenge. I obtained my driver’s licence right away, but I was scared to drive. It took me months to get used to the highways and driving every day, but having mastered that among many other things, I feel like nothing can scare me. Once you move to a foreign country and learn to live and love the life there, you know you can handle everything life throws at you.    

About the author
Vassi Atanasova is a digital marketing specialist by profession, and an artist by heart. She is an Eastern European expat in the US, planning on travelling more and writing more. You can check out her latest author profile or her personal blog, and connect with her on Twitter @VasilkaEM

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

International Dating

 Dating is typically fun but confusing. The ‘what ifs’ are borderless—it doesn’t matter what country you’re in, you aren’t ensured success.  Of course the mixed emotions which dating creates can be found in any country all over the world. However, from country to country, the manner in which dating is conducted, the perceived objective of the date, and the aftermath can differ dramatically.

Image source: Creative Common/mozzercork

As an expat, when it comes to the world of dating, you are exotic. Whether you are French in the UK, British in the USA or American in Asia, you are all exotic to the local residents of your new home and exotic is usually good—so if you are single and looking to date when abroad, be sure to remember this confidence booster. That’s not to say that you are more attractive than the local residents or better at dating (plus language barriers may work against you) but in case you thought you never had any luck at dating before, remember that you have moved away to start a new life and dating is a great way to meet people.

The subsequent date could end up being what you are used to from back home or becoming a very complicated minefield depending on the country and the person you are out with.

And remember, Brazil is the destination country where most expats surveyed by Expat Explorer in 2013 found love. So, if you’ve yet to pick an expat destination, why not hit the beaches and take to the streets of Rio to see what the Brazilian dating scene has to offer?

In Japan, young people tend to live with their parents until they are married and so when dating, love and marriage may become a topic on the cards much sooner than what you would be used to back home. Also, if you are male—remember that a female normally buys and gives chocolates to a male on Valentine’s Day.

When given a fork and spoon to eat with in Thailand, don’t put the food in your mouth with the fork. That’s what the spoon is for.

Don’t be put off by the burping and slurping when out for dinner, it’s in fact a compliment to the chef and his or her wonderful culinary skills. Also, whatever you do, don’t stick your chopsticks standing up in the rice and leave them there—this symbolises death.

Image source: Creative Common/Eleazar
Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, after dating for some time, don’t be surprised if the girl gives the guy her handbag to carry because that’s what good boyfriends do. You’ll often see men on trains, in shops and in bars holding their girlfriend’s handbag.

The French are of course known for their romance and yes it can be intense. The dating process with special regard to the ‘what ifs’ is much shorter. A Frenchman or woman may call you his or her girlfriend or boyfriend before the end of your first date. Plus, daily contact is essential. Expect a phone call if they have not seen you that day.

Countries in the Middle East are much more conservative and can have strict laws around men and woman who are not married. Please be aware of these laws before moving (consult your embassy if need be) to ensure that you do not get in trouble.

The British are far more reserved than their North American counterparts. Dating in the USA is a way to get to know someone and figure out if you are compatible as a couple. Blind dates are popular in the USA and friends will set you up with someone they think will suit you. In the UK, people will only tend to date if they have already met the person (perhaps through a friend). Dating has increased momentum in the UK with the rise of internet dating and apps but again with internet dating sites, your profile must be rich in content to allow someone to get to know you before actually meeting you. 



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