Friday, 30 October 2015

Expat Explorer behind the numbers: Why do expats get stuck into Mexico?

In the first of a new series, we look behind the numbers of the latest HSBC Expat Explorer survey. This month: why do expats get stuck into Mexico?

Two months to go. The one-way ticket perched on the living room shelf becomes harder to ignore and every expat starts to wonder: “Will I fit in with the locals?”  

There’s no shortage of advice. Family, friends and colleagues all delight in sharing insights gleamed from South American gap years or long weekends in the Mediterranean. Everyone seems to be an expert on your new neighbours. Yet, as experienced expats know, the national clich├ęs trumpeted by casual sightseers barely scratch the surface.

When it comes to fitting in with the locals Mexico is the stand out performer, where according to the latest Expat Explorer survey, 78% of expats feel they are integrating well with the local people and culture. A carnival of colour, spice and sun, Mexico is easy to love, but it’s the country’s contagious family values which endear the people to expats.

Which are the easiest cultures to integrate into?

Mexican families are usually big and it’s not unusual for aunts, uncles, grandparents and in-laws to all share the same neighbourhood or even the same home. Getting to grips with these values can be tricky for any outsider. The rules and mores have been passed down through centuries of folktales, often retold but rarely written down.

Creative Commons / Wikimedia commons (anonymous)

One such story is “El Principe Oso”, the tale of a young daughter who marries a ferocious bear to save her family. Realising the beast is a bewitched prince, she consults wizards, tricks the moon, narrowly escapes incineration by the sun, hitches a ride with the wind and finally defeats a wicked witch – all to free her grizzly husband. If the characters are fantastical, the fierce loyalty of the courageous girl is far from fictional. In fact it’s this very sense of loyalty which helps to keep Mexico’s ancient traditions and 68 different languages alive and well in the modern world.

Luckily for expats, Mexican families are always welcoming and it’s the workplace where this is most striking. One expat from over the border in the USA shared his experience of just that with us:

“Go with the flow - things move in a different and somewhat slower pace. Be prepared for more social interaction. Family is very important and you have to engage with your team on a personal level - get to know their family.”

Becoming part of the family is an important milestone to integrating with the Mexican people, but every country offers something unique.  In our latest Expat Explorer survey, expats also celebrated New Zealand, Australia, Brazil and Canada as some of the easiest countries in the world to integrate into. Expats in Canada say they are liberated by their new home’s approach to diversity, with a government policy of multi-culturalism and one of the most celebrated gay pride movements in the world, it’s no wonder four fifths of expats quickly make local friends. In Australia and New Zealand, meanwhile, expats are welcomed as much by their local sports teams as their work colleagues, while those in Brazil find themselves greeted with kisses from the moment they step off the plane.

Creative Commons / Neal Jennings

So don’t pay too much attention to those armchair explorers, the only way to truly integrate is by getting stuck in and making friends. Embracing a new way of life is a process of discovery that must be lived, not just learned.

Are you striving to integrate with the local way of life or do you want to enjoy expat life without losing sight of your roots? Let us know in the comments or tweet @expatexplorer

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Culture shocks from around the world, and what we can learn from them

Adapting to the local culture is a central element of life abroad. For many expats experiencing and learning about new cultures is one of the most enjoyable aspects of moving abroad. 

An inevitable part of transitioning to a different cultural environment is experiencing culture shock of some kind. Culture shocks can be anything from a small change in our daily routine, to something which might force us to dramatically change our behaviour. What might seem slightly amusing or unusual to us at first however, is often symbolic of long-standing cultural traditions and customs.

To reduce the magnitude of these shocks, learning about the heritage of your host country can help you to build your understanding of local customs. Over a third of respondents in this year’s Expat Explorer survey, stated the most important thing for them to feel at home was being able to understand the local culture and etiquette.

Here are some of our favourite cultural shocks expats submitted in last year’s Expat Explorer survey, and the stories behind them. 

Culture shock: “The pub culture” – French expat in UK
Creative Commons / DncnH
Background: The sight of a packed-out pub sprawling onto the road is no shock to those who have lived in the UK for a while, but can be slightly intimidating to newer residents. Pubs have been central to the culture of British socialising for centuries. Having first appeared in the Anglo-Saxon era, by the 16th century pubs were established as important spaces for people to converse, debate, and most importantly – drink beer in. With 57,500 pubs across the UK, and around 15 million people visiting them each week, pubs remain as popular as ever.

How to get involved: If you have just started a job in the UK, it is pretty likely that on a Friday after work you will be asked to go the pub with your colleagues - say yes! It is a great opportunity to talk your colleagues in a non-work environment.

Culture shock: “Kissing as a form of greeting” – British expat in France

Background: The French greeting of kissing on both cheeks, known as “faire la bise” locally, can be a bit of a shock to those with a general fear of PDAs (public displays of affection). However, this ritual is very important to French people, and holds a long-standing place in French culture. The number of kisses specifically given varies regionally across France and among different social classes, so be prepared for this change if you are travelling around!

How to get involved: Don’t be shy! However awkward you may feel at first, this practice will soon become the norm. Holding back on this ritual and not taking it seriously can be interpreted as a sign of insincerity to locals.

Culture shock: “Camel racing using robots” - Indian expat in Oman
Creative Commons / Flickr / Jane
Background: For a lot of us, robots and camels do initially seem like an unusual pairing. However, across Middle Eastern countries, it is symbolic of the coming together of older traditions and new technology. It is thought that camel racing has been a prominent part of Arabian culture since the 7th century as a national sport enjoyed by individuals from all walks of life. To address increasing safety concerns for camel-riding jockeys, after 2007, robotic jockeys took their place. 

How to get involved: Similar to horse racing in the UK, camel racing events are a big deal in Middle Eastern countries, and are a great opportunity to get to know some people living in your local area. Organise a trip with friends and join in the fun!

Culture shock: “Queuing” – Expat from Hong Kong in the UK
Creative Commons / Wikimedia
Background: Britain is renowned for its diplomatic and largely reserved culture; perhaps the essence of this comes in the form of queuing. Queuing is something Brits pride themselves on doing especially well. The Industrial Revolution, which brought a huge influx of people to cities and forced them to establish informal structures, is said to have sparked Britain’s ritual of queuing – and it something the country has been obsessed with ever since. It has been estimated that Brits spend as much as 6 months of their lives in a queue!

How to get involved: The golden rule of queuing is: don’t ignore the queue. Whether it is queuing for Wimbledon or the London underground, do so with style and grace. Cutting in will not make you any friends!

Allison Furlong told us in her guest blog post about the culture shocks she experienced when she moved from Canada to Qatar. Here are her thoughts on overcoming culture shock: “All in all, culture shock, in all its forms, is a fundamental part of international travel. And while it may cause a little frustration at times, the amazingly positive benefits of traveling and living abroad far outweigh the negatives. Have positivity and perseverance, and take the time to do a little research”.

Visit our hints & tips pages for more insights from other expats. To see how countries are rated by expats in 2015, visit our interactive tool.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

These are the top 10 countries for expat economics in 2015

We’ve just released the results of our latest HSBC Expat Explorer survey, this year covering the views of over 20,000 expats from around the world.
The responses we received have been  used to create three key league tables that together make up the picture for a balanced life abroad: Economics ,Experience and Family.

For the Economics league table, a number of different factors go into the rankings. These include expat’s views on their personal finances, confidence in the local economy, views on political stability, the ease of setting up a business and working life aspects such as career progression and job security.

Below is a ranking of the top 10 countries for expat Economics in the world, as revealed in this year’s survey starting at number 10…

10. Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a strong economic destination and particularly attractive to expats working in financial services (39% of expats surveyed in Hong Kong work in this industry). It has the best career progression opportunities of any destination with 68% of expats stating it is a good place for this and 86% saying that the chance to acquire new skills is better than or just as good as at home. As well as employees, entrepreneurs can benefit, as 54% say Hong Kong is a good place to start a business.

9. Oman 

It seems that Oman offers the best of both worlds when it comes to expats enjoying increased disposable income and a better work life balance. Our survey reveals that 72% of expats there say they have more disposable income compared with the global average of 57%. Meanwhile 65% say they enjoy a better work life balance (compared with the global average of 50%).

8. Bahrain 

For expats in Bahrain, this small Kingdom in the Persian Gulf offers a place for expats to both save more and enjoy higher disposable incomes. Expats in Bahrain are nearly one and a half times more likely than the global average to say they are able to save more and 72% say they have more disposable income compared with 57% of the global average.

7. Saudi Arabia

More than any other country in the league tables, expats associate Saudi Arabia with the financial side of life. Nearly three-quarters (73%) say this is the most important aspect of life when making the move. The country offers expats strong contractual benefits, a lower cost of living and a strong economy (68% say this is the case).

6. Sweden

Flickr - Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho
With Sweden’s more relaxed workplace culture and flexible working practices, it is no surprise that over 72% expats say their work life balance has improved since moving there. Despite earning less than some of the other countries in our top 10 list, expats enjoy the working culture and making the most out of the free time they have. One thing our survey clearly highlights is how 60% of expats in Sweden say they have seen their relationship strengthened since relocating.

5. Qatar

Beyond the country’s mesmerising sand dunes, many expats in Qatar gain from generous expat packages that help them to settle into their new surroundings. Three quarters of expats say they receive a relocation allowance from employers, which helps them to acclimatise to their new home and settle in quicker. You can also take a look at our Qatar Expat Country Guide for more great tips on moving, living and working in the emirate.

4. United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates, and more specifically Dubai, offer budding entrepreneurs a promising location to realise their business dreams. 86% of expat entrepreneurs in Dubai say it is a good place to start a business.
As well as entrepreneurs, expats working in the UAE also benefit from increased disposable income and workplace benefits such as travel and healthcare allowances – 88% of expats in Dubai say they get allowances for annual trips home compared with the global average of 33%, while 72% say they have medical allowances as part of their employment contract (compared with 52% elsewhere).

3. Germany

Germany ranks third in this year’s Economics league table. In a country known for its strong financial and manufacturing industries, four in five expats are confident about the German economy. Not only do expats feel secure about the country’s prospects, it also stands out as a place for career progression. Around half say they’ve been able to advance their career since moving there.

2. Singapore 

Expats heading to Singapore enjoy a combination of financial and career advantages. Our results show that three in five expats in the city-state have boosted their earnings. Over a quarter (28%) of expats there earn more than $200,000, compared with just 13% globally and over half believe the opportunity to acquire new skills is greater in Singapore than it is at home.
With Singapore as one of Asia’s key financial hubs offering robust economic and financial fundamentals, it is no surprise that 78% of expats there express high levels of confidence in the local economy.

 1. Switzerland

Switzerland is number one this year for expat economics. A strong local economy and wonderful opportunities for work progression make Switzerland an ideal destination for career-minded types. As well as the opportunity to progress careers and increase earnings, as noted by 53% and 65% of expats in Switzerland respectively, three in four expats also say they also have the chance to enjoy life outside of work.

Discover more about the best places to live and work abroad. Visit the HSBC Expat Explorertool to browse the 2015 survey data and see how different countries compare.



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