Americans living abroad

Dec 29th, 2003, 11:31 AM
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Fascinating thread! I always thought I'd like to live in another country for a while, but at this point in my life there isn't any particular motivation.

We have friends who moved a year ago to Puerto Vallerta with their 8 year old daughter -- they love living there. My step-sister has lived in London for several years and says she would never return to the US.

Another friend lived in Stockholm for about 20 years, moved back here to northern California, found it nothing like her fantasies, and moved back to Sweden. For her, it was really true that "You can't go home again."

One of my best friends lived and worked in Switzerland (Lausanne) for almost a year and hated it. She couldn't bear all those restrictions (as discussed by Queenie and others) on matters that Americans feel should be a matter of personal preference, like when to take a shower.

Lois, closets used to be furniture not built-ins, i.e., armoires.
Marilyn is offline  
Dec 29th, 2003, 01:52 PM
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The restrictions that were described by the person living in Switzerland remind me of that Italian comedy (mid/late 1970s) Bread and Chocolate about the culture shock experienced by an Italian living in Switzerland.
cmt is offline  
Dec 29th, 2003, 02:11 PM
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Fortunately, life in Brussels doesn't have those Swiss restrictions! Our 3 bedroom apartment has its own washer-dryer, dishwasher, two bathrooms (and we are free to flush whenever we want) and the various other modcons. Only one built in closet (in the foyer), but we have modern armoires in all the bedrooms. We don't need those American-style closets anyway--like most Europeans, you get into buying quality v. quantity, and you don't hang on to things you'll probably never wear again.
Adapting didn't pose too many problems for us, although even in Brussels, an expat oriented city, it's true, immigration is a lot different from tourism! I speak better French than my husband, so I get to handle the workmen, the bureaucrats at the commune, etc.
Here, there are expat "ghettos"--Americans tend to clump in the suburbs of Waterloo and Rhode St. Genese. Brits like the Woluwes, parts of Etterbeek, and Tervuren. The Italians and Germans also prefer the Woluwes.
In these expat areas, the supermarkets carry a lot of items from "home". At the local supermarkets, you can find Skippy peanut butter, Jolly Time popcorn, Arm and Hammer baking soda, Crisco, Oreos, Jelly Bellies, taco shells and mix, etc.
BTilke is offline  
Dec 29th, 2003, 03:43 PM
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A great thread. Thank you for sharing. I have been toying with the idea of applying for jobs in education overseas and I think I just might. Can any speak to life in Austria? Thanks.
coldwar27 is offline  
Dec 29th, 2003, 05:57 PM
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Btike -
What do you love about Brussels?
Calamari is offline  
Dec 29th, 2003, 10:24 PM
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Just a note on Switzerland. There are many 'horror' stories here about restrictions etc. We didn't find that the case at all. It completely depends on the type of housing one has and the lease. We were in a house that was part of an apartment complex. There were no restrictions. The only thing I got 'in trouble' for was the fact that I brushed my Australian Shepherd at the playground and forgot to take the hair with me! ! They said that it was a health hazard. Actually, it was Spring and the kids wanted to see if the birds would take it, but I should have taken it with me later!

That said, the thing I found confining about Swiss society was the tremendous pressure to conform. They indoctrinate very early and it is pervasive. It results in a lot of efficiencies and safeties, but it also results in a completely anal population that stifles original thinking.

SloJan is offline  
Dec 29th, 2003, 10:26 PM
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To Coldwar27: Check out this Vienna expat website. It is full of information and covers more than just Vienna.

SloJan is offline  
Dec 29th, 2003, 11:13 PM
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Considerations: Population density. Age of a city. Government. Traffic behavior. Cost of living. Local crime problems. Climate. Immigration patterns. Public transport.
Another bit: Europeans are relocating. Why? Also note: Information a year old is often out-of-date.
GSteed is offline  
Dec 30th, 2003, 03:07 AM
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Gsteed - Europeans are relocating.. not just why, but where?
flygirl is offline  
Dec 30th, 2003, 04:29 AM
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The short answers on the why and where are roughly similar, relating either to quantity (more money, hence people moving to more prosperous countries) or quality (trading down, usually to a sunnier climate and a less pressured lifestyle). So - at least in the UK - we have lots of people who watch (and either daydream or act on) TV programmes about people who up sticks to buy a fixer-upper in Greece or Italy or Spain and live on B&B or home-grown olive oil or something, if we're not lucky enough to get to the traditional emigration destinations, like Australia or New Zealand. Some of them probably go on to moan about people who come to the UK to earn some money (mostly doing the jobs we wouldn't dream of doing ourselves, let alone the ones we're desperate to get away from). So the world turns.
PatrickLondon is offline  
Dec 30th, 2003, 03:34 PM
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A lot of Brits are also relocating to the States, particularly the Orlando area. Houses are cheap in comparison to the UK, *almost* no language problems, a warm welcome from Americans, lots of sun, direct flights to London every day, etc. all make central Florida a very attractive relocation option. Esp. for retirees. Plenty of British accents can be heard in The Villages, for example. BBC has already filmed two series about Brit expats in central Florida--Escape to the Sun and Big Strong Boys in the Sun (a home improvement show that did a few episodes on Brits living in The Villages).
Calamari, will get you an answer about what I love in Brussels soon! Very busy at the moment and catching an express train to Germany tomorrow for New Year's Eve celebrations.
BTilke is offline  
Dec 30th, 2003, 04:28 PM
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And we here in Orlando love it! 3 of our very very best friends are Brits, our stores carry lots of UK products that we've all encountered on our travels, the conversation has gone beyond sports and business and we are all having a jolly good time!

Don't know anyone who has relocated to the Villages, but I do imagine there are quite a few of the totally retired. But it is a bit out of the way of the actual Orlando area...surprisingly not everyone moves there or to the attraction areas. The towns of Winter Park and Maitland and Mt Dora have substanial UK expats in residence.

jody is offline  
Dec 30th, 2003, 04:31 PM
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Here's a new spin on this thread - if one were considering moving abroad, specifically to a European country, which one has the most lenient immigration requirements? This is something I have been trying to research, but would like to hear some first-hand experiences.
crepes_a_go_go is offline  
Dec 30th, 2003, 07:04 PM
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I've always known that I want to live in many different places all over the world. It's hard to say why without sounding trite, but I honestly believe that the world is such a big and diverse place that it would be a shame (for ME) to only experience life in one country.

I lived in Geneva and Paris for a year (and didn't face many of the "personal" restrictions mentioned by others since our house was a standalone in Onex with our own washer and dryer and no one to complain if we showered late!). I loved every minute of it and would move back to either place in a second (assuming my husband or I could get a good job).

Like the poster above, I also caused a commotion at a Swiss grocery store by not weighing the produce before checking out.

For the past 5 years, we've been living in Shanghai, China (we're American). I could write a book about the cultural differences we've encountered!

I agree that one of the biggest adjustments for any American moving to almost any foreign destination is the lack of convenience. All of the stories illustrate the thousands of little things that can add to your frustration level (even when you take things with a sense of humor).

The expat life has its challenges, as many of the other posters have mentioned (being away from family is one that I don't remember seeing), but for us (and millions of others), the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

One of the biggest benefits is the ability to travel - we've been to over 20 countries in 5 years (and no, not of the if-it's-Tuesday-it-must-be-Italy variety).

For expats working in developing countries, the financial benefits can be huge, too. We met with our financial planner while back in the states over Christmas, and determined that if we stay here and continue to save the way we are now (facilitated by the much higher salary, lower taxes, and no housing/insurance/car or other bills), we could retire at age 50!

We love the excitement and challenge and feeling of being a part of the global society, and wouldn't trade our experience for anything.
Andrea_expat is offline  
Dec 30th, 2003, 07:11 PM
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What in the world are you doing in China that is so lucative? Got room for another American over there?
Dec 30th, 2003, 07:30 PM
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Calamari, I don't live abroad now, but I did live and work in Switzerland for a year in the mid 80's. I'm a dental hygienist and, especially when I went, one could fairly easily obtain a work permit with that profession. Several girls I knew moved to Switz. and I thought, well, if they can, I can too! I came back because I knew I would be a foreigner forever and I missed my family: I also suspected the longer I stayed, the harder it would be to return. As it was, I pined away for Switzerland for several years--I often wished I'd stayed.
Queenie, I really can relate to you comments on Switzerland!
Standing in line at the post office to pay utility bills (no checks, as you said!)
Living in an apartment where all the tenants had assigned days to use the laundry facilities in the basement--once every 2 weeks! I did alot of hand wash!
Putting a deposit down on boots because I didn't have enough cash with me and the banks were closed--then being given them to take home and being told I could come back the next day to pay the rest (what trust!!)
After a few months, I really came to love the lifestyle and tried to recreate it when I came back, but really couldn't. Maybe I was European in another life.....

MzPossum is offline  
Dec 30th, 2003, 07:36 PM
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Now I admit it, I know why you were asking. At the time, it seemed like a bit of an off-the-wall question. It's clear now.
StCirq is offline  
Dec 30th, 2003, 08:17 PM
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Degas, it's my husband with the full expat package, and he's had 2 different jobs, basically just working as a general manager for a distribution company (well, of course he's brilliant at it and well worth the money , but my point is, it's just business).

There certainly is room for more! It's hard to find a full expat package, but they do still exist!

A full expat package (in China - it's similar for other developing countries but not exactly) will usually pay:

* A significantly higher salary, presumably to incentivize people to move to someplace "crazy" like China
* 5 - 15% hardship pay
* 5 - 15% COLA
* Health insurance (full coverage plus medical evacuation)
* "Home leave" and/or R & R leave - Typically $10,000 USD plus reimbursement of travel expenses
* Average $40,000 USD housing expenses paid per year (unfortunately you can't keep the difference - use it or lose it!)
* Tax "equalization", meaning that many expats pay little/no tax, certainly less than they would in the US; typically taxed at under 20% for taxable income over $70,000 USD per year
* Frequently car and driver provided
* Typically pay for children's international school tuition, $10,000 - $20,000 per child per year (even for kindergarten!)

Lest I be accused of making this up, there's a presentation reporting all this on the AmCham Shanghai website:

And while you're there, you can "visit" me here:
Andrea_expat is offline  
Dec 30th, 2003, 10:48 PM
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Andrea, those perks are all very nice, but they won't mean squat if the company develops financial problems. Employers won't hesitate one bit about breaking the terms of the contract and it's up to the employee then to sue, a process that could take years, during which time the employee's residency visa and work permit will have expired and they'll have to go home on their own. Not a pretty picture.
We saw many expats go through that experience when companies they worked for went under in Belgium. Sure, they all had contracts with every one of those things in them (except the chauffeurs), but the companies reneged on the return home package, stopped paying medical benefits and tuition at the private school (one family had four kids in private school and the company went under in November, leaving the family with a $50,000 tuition bill but no income to pay it), the cars were taken back the same day the employees were laid off (not fun when you live out in the country and mass transit is not as good, esp. is you have kids). And of course, the employees can't collect unemployment, either back in the States or the country where they are currently living.
Those golden contracts are only as good as the financial health of the companies that issue them...if you were an American working for an overseas office of Enron, for example, you were SOL. I imagine there are more than a few expats working for Parmalat right now and good luck to them. They'll need it!
BTilke is offline  
Dec 31st, 2003, 03:09 AM
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Andrea_expat, thanks for all the info. Sounds pretty sweet. Make the most of it while you can. I lived in Asia off and on for seven years and dearly loved it. Had to do a phased withdrawal by living in Hawaii for three years before coming fully back to "the mainland".

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