Book Review: So You’re Moving to Australia?

You are dreaming of diving in the Great Barrier Reef, driving along the Great Ocean Road, or petting a wombat? Imagining a lengthy vacation Down Under no longer does the trick? Occasionally, you’ll start contemplating a move to Australia. — Don’t worry: you’re in good company! InterNations Blog_Moving to Australia_Book Review_Pic 3

According to recent statistics from the Australian Department of Immigration, the population had grown by over 230,000 net overseas immigrants over the course of a twelve-month period ending in March 2013. Most new arrivals came from neighboring New Zealand, followed closely by expats from the UK, as well as people from India, China, and the Philippines.

Third-Culture Kid Turned “Aussie” Turned Author

What’s more, we might just have the perfect book recommendation for everyone planning to up and leave for the Antipodes: So You’re Moving to Australia? The Six Essential Steps to Moving Down Under by Sharon Swift. InterNations Blog_Moving to Australia_Book Review_Pic 1

The author of this relocation guide is speaking from both personal and professional experience. A TCK (“third-culture kid”) from a British-Singaporean family, Sharon Swift spent her childhood in Singapore before moving with her family to the UK in her teens.

Later on, she lived and worked in about a dozen countries, for example the United States, but decided to start a new life in Australia in 2005. She is now running a relocation service for British executives and their families.

The SETTLE Principle

The clearly structured guide for prospective expatriates and immigrants follows what the author calls the SETTLE principle. This abbreviation is short for “size up – embark – take up residence – tackle the necessities – learn the ropes – explore and discover.” In simpler terms, the book is organized according to a rough timeline for your moving process, from preliminary research to actually settling in Down Under.

All stages of this process are explained in more or less detail, and the easy-to-follow content includes plenty of references to in-depth online resources. No matter if you are wondering which expenses to put on your list of potential moving costs or if you’d like to sign up your kids for the “Nippers”, that quintessentially Australian surf lifesaving club for children – the guide lays it all out quite neatly.

Obviously, So You’re Moving to Australia? isn’t exactly a riveting page-turner, but a practical handbook that contains useful rec-caps for every chapter and numerous checklists for important stages of your transition. Did you know, for example, that you need to collect 100 so-called points of identification by providing various documents before you can open an Australian bank account?

Some Room for Improvement

All in all, the book only has two major drawbacks. As it was written with a UK audience in mind, some information is just not applicable to expats from other countries.

Medical matters would be a case in point: since Australia and the UK have entered into a reciprocal healthcare agreement, all UK citizens are automatically eligible for Medicare, the public healthcare system, which only applies to a select few other nationalities. For everyone else, the sign-up process for such an essential item as health insurance could get a little more complicated, depending on their individual situation.InterNations Blog_Moving to Australia_Book Review_Pic 2

Moreover, there are a couple of important sections on legal and administrative issues, especially visa options, setting up your own business, and taxation, that are rather a tad too short. In contrast, the author seems to devote somewhat too much space to topics that are also covered in many a travel guide to Australia, such as popular destinations for daytrips.

Nevertheless, So You’re Moving to Australia? should serve as a handy overview for everyone interested in organizing their move to Oz on their own. While this book certainly won’t spare you from having to do additional research, it will at least make said research a lot easier.

Good luck, mate!

(Image credit: 1), 3), 4) iStockphoto 2)

InterNations Insider Tips: 5 Offbeat Things to Do in Rome

Rome is my favorite city in the whole wide world. As I’ve mentioned in the blog post on my recent visit to the local InterNations Community, I used to live there myself: After finishing my military service with the German air force on Sardinia and before enrolling at university, I worked as an intern at the Rome Cavalieri, one of the city’s luxury hotels, for several months.

In the morning, I would attend language classes at the Istituto Dante Alighieri, near the Pantheon, in order to brush up my Italian. In the afternoon and in the evening, I’d work in the various departments of the hotel: front office, call center, marketing and sales, at the lobby bar and even in their renowned restaurant “La Pergola”, headed by Bavarian chef Heinz Beck – and among the few select restaurants in Italy to be awarded three stars in the Guide Michelin. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Rome B_Pic 1

Most of all, I was busy falling in love with the Eternal City, where every step, every narrow alley may lead us to hidden corners that remind us of a far-flung empire and three thousand years of history.

There are countless travel guides to Rome, and everyone has seen (or at least heard of) the obvious attractions: the queue before the Vatican Museums is endless, the kiosks next to St John in the Lateran sell bottled water at horrendous prices to unsuspecting tourists, and the much-suffering Trevi Fountain has been repeatedly vandalized.

If you want five more unusual tips for your next stint in Rome, here’s what I enjoy most about exploring the Italian capital:

1) Rent a scooter. Yes, it’s a bit of a cliché, but it is absolutely worth it. Get that bright-red Vespa and cheerfully throw yourself into the traffic chaos. On a good day, you might feel like Hollywood leading man Gregory Peck chauffeuring doe-eyed princess Audrey Hepburn in the movie classic Roman Holiday. On a bad day, the – let’s call it eccentric – driving style of many a Roman motorist will give you more of a post-apocalyptic road movie vibe. Mad Max: Via del Corso, so to speak.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Rome B_Pic 22) Have lunch at “Lo Zodiaco”. With your neat little Vespa, it’s no effort whatsoever to climb Monte Mario, the highest hill in Rome. Science geeks should take a detour to the Museo Astronomico Copernicano, a historical collection of astronomical instruments that’s part of the Observatory of Rome. Everyone else can just enjoy the lush greenery of the neighboring park, as well as the Italian specialties served at the aptly named panorama restaurant.

3) Peep through Rome’s most famous keyhole. Since the 19th century, the Order of the Knights of Malta is no longer headquartered on Malta. Its Grand Priory now resides in a sumptuous villa on the Aventine Hill.

Through the keyhole in the main portal, also nicknamed “the keyhole of God”, you’ll spy the greenish dome of St Peter’s Cathedral framed by a picturesque row of cypress trees. If you don’t want to come all this way just for the view, take the time for a tour of the villa’s magnificent gardens: due to the order’s extraterritorial status, you’ve actually left Italy as long as you’re in there!

4) Immerse yourself in architectural history. And no, I’m not talking about Renaissance palazzi or the baroque beauty of Bernini. The residential and commercial district of EUR is a monumental testament to Rome’s darkest hours. Planned for the World Exhibition of 1942 (Esposizione Universale Roma), which never was to be, the neighborhood was originally conceived as a landmark of Italian fascist architecture. The half-finished district was repurposed and completed after World War II.

Today, there are often guided walking tours to introduce foreign visitors to the buildings’ historical and political significance under the Mussolini regime. After such a lengthy walk, it’s easy to see why the neighborhood has often served as a backdrop to movies like the experimental Shakespeare adaptation Titus or the dystopian action movie Equilibrium.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Rome B_Pic 55) Party in Monti. On the one hand, this neighborhood is full of such famous sights as parts of the Forum Romanum or the Colosseum. On the other hand, some of the streets have kept a certain small-town feel, that of a more traditional and authentic Rome.

But what used to be the rundown haunt of criminals and prostitutes has nowadays become a hip and trendy district, where gentrification threatens to displace the proud Monticiani, as the locals call themselves. It’s also one of the places where the Roman youth likes to party hard. If you like your nightlife loud, boisterous, and occasionally disrupted by carabinieri, Monti might just be your thing.

(Image credit: 1) Malte Zeeck / InterNations 2) Osservatorio astronomico a Monte Mario by Wikimedia Commons user Fabian_RRRR 3) Villa del priorato di Malta by Wikimedia Commons user Milhoud 4) Via de’Ciancaleoni, Rione I (Monti) by Wikimedia Commons user Mattes

Founder’s Diary: Rome

After my last visit to an InterNations Community led me to Athens, I continued my tour of Southern Europe with a trip to Rome – one of my favorite cities in the world, with its Mediterranean ambience, full of warm sunshine and easy-going people. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Rome A_Pic 4

Though I used to live in Rome myself, I had never visited its InterNations Community before. Next to Milan, the financial and commercial center of Italy, Rome as the political and cultural capital is our biggest community in bella Italia, with about 15,000 members.

Lorenzo, our InterNations Ambassador, has been developing this important community for almost two years. An Irish national with Italian roots, he is the perfect kind of person to organize InterNations Events in la città eterna: enthusiastic and motivated, cheerful and funny, he is an expert at finding top venues for our get-togethers, which have attracted an increasing number of international guests.

An Apero on the Esquiline

The InterNations Spring Event was hosted on the rooftop terrace of the Radisson Blue Hotel. The venue is situated on Esquiline Hill, one of the famous Seven Hills of Rome, once the fashionable residential district of ancient Rome’s “upper crust” and now conveniently close to Stazione Termini.

Before the guests arrived on the stylish terrace, complete with pool, bar, and breathtaking views of the Roman cityscape, Lorenzo and I took the opportunity to discuss the chances and challenges for our InterNations Community. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Rome A_Pic 1 Unfortunately, Laura, an attorney from Argentina and Lorenzo’s fellow Ambassador, couldn’t make it to our apero. Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to meet her in person during my next visit to this beautiful city.

Gradually, the attendees – over 300 of them, from at least two dozen different countries – began to arrive. I was very impressed with the smart and stylish dress code (Rome was really living up to its fashionable reputation), with plenty of people wearing something blue in honor of the location.

An Active Community Life

After food and drinks had been served and everyone was well fed, mellow and relaxed, it was time for my speech. As always, I wanted to thank our Ambassador team and our Group Consuls that keep the local InterNations Community going, the helpers at the event and our designated photographer (спаси́бо to Maria from Russia), and to tell our members more about InterNations in general.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Rome A_Pic 2Rome has a very active community life, with over 50 Activity Groups dedicated to a wide range of hobbies and interests, from wine tasting to art galleries and exhibitions. I actually met some of our busiest Group Consuls at the event.

Giuseppe doesn’t only run the art galleries group, but he also facilitates professional networking and introduces our members to the best pizza in town. Gianluca is in charge of another arts and culture group with a twist, the Art in Motion – Hike, Monuments and Bike, and Gerardo is part of a Groups Consuls team that both welcomes our new arrivals and invites our members to music events all across Rome.

In addition, we have a Volunteer Group in Rome that supports several local partner organizations. More than 350 InterNations members have already joined in order to help children, disadvantaged people, and the elderly. Mille grazie to everyone who has given some of their time or money to a good cause!

An Ambassador with Hidden Talents

When the casual networking part of the evening was over, the right moment had come to get the party started. But we didn’t just have a DJ to keep everyone on the dancefloor happy.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary Rome A_Pic 3A little later, around midnight, we even got a live music interlude from our Ambassador himself: Lorenzo turned out to be a skilled piano-player who delighted the crowd with a couple of songs – the perfect note to end a perfect event on.

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck / InterNations)

My InterNations: A Dubai Champion

Dubai is not only among the world’s largest expat hubs, with over 80% of all UAE residents being non-Emiratis. The most populous city in the Emirates is also a city of superlatives when it comes to InterNations.

Waleed - Dubai - Blog image Dubai is one of our biggest and busiest communities, with 55,000 members from across the globe. The Middle Eastern boom town ranks among our top three InterNations Communities worldwide.

Last but certainly not least, Dubai is home to one of our most active Group Consuls. Waleed, a well-connected Iraqi expatriate, is responsible for an impressive ten InterNations Groups for sports and leisure, making an invaluable contribution to local life in the bustling expat community.

Discover his motivation, his passions, and the secret of his success!

A Passion for Sports

Born and raised in Baghdad, Waleed arrived in Dubai in 2001. Though the Emirates had been his new home for over a decade, he joined InterNations in 2012 to keep in touch with the international community. As a true sports enthusiast, he decided to set up a volleyball group right away – and was a little disappointed at first.

Though Dubai had become very familiar to him, the online group landscape on InterNations was “a whole new environment”, he recalls. His first activity, a volleyball game on the beach, was attended by exactly four people – Waleed himself and three friends of his. The latter expressed their doubts about his new commitment, but as he says, he had “put his mind to it and wanted it to be a success”.

InterNations Expat Blog_My InterNations Dubai_Pic 2Three years and ten groups later, he has definitely proven his naysayers wrong. Together with various fellow Consuls, Waleed now helps our Dubai members to get their weekly exercise: to volleyball, he’s added bowling, badminton, tennis, ping pong, billiards, and more. There’s no excuse for couch potatoes anymore!

Juggling his responsibilities as an activity organizer requires a bit of planning ahead, including a monthly schedule, keeping in touch with several venues, and some number-crunching as to what kind of activities work best when. Listening to him talk about his tasks as a Group Consul almost makes it sound like a full-time position to match his actual occupation, as a warehousing and logistics manager in the manufacturing sector.

But no. Firstly, Waleed stresses the great teamwork with his ten fellow Group Consuls and the Dubai Ambassadors: “Success comes from working in a team, so I’d like to give a very special ‘thank you’ to all of them.”

And he doesn’t see his groups as an effort at all. “Do an activity that you really like,” that’s his advice to anyone running an InterNations Group. “It should be your passion. What I’m doing is my hobby – I’m doing it for myself first.”

So far, he’s got to know even more people in Dubai through his groups: His InterNations profile sports an amazing 3,300 contacts from over 120 nations.

Removing the Walls between Strangers

As a long-term resident of Dubai with lots of contacts in the UAE, Waleed is also the perfect person to act as a Newcomers Ambassador for our community.

The Newcomers Ambassadors program began as a test run in 2013. We wanted to offer a special kind of event for all members who were new to InterNations as an expat community, new in town, or both. Therefore we were looking for outgoing and experienced people to welcome the new arrivals.

Dubai was one of the first five InterNations Communities where we gave the Newcomers Events a try, and Waleed has been among the hosts from the very beginning. After the successful launch in cities like Dubai, we now have Newcomers Ambassadors in 30 InterNations Communities around the globe, from São Paulo to Singapore. InterNations Expat Blog_My InterNations Dubai_Pic 1

Waleed sketches a vivid picture of Dubai as an incredibly diverse community, where every nationality, culture, or religion is represented. No one ever has to feel lonely as it’s not hard to find some compatriots somewhere in the Emirates.

It’s a very safe city, too, where you can leave your car parked outside overnight, with the windows wide open, and nothing will happen. At least, Waleed’s own vehicle escaped his forgetfulness unscathed.

He exhorts other expats to make the most out of their situation: “Be happy to come here, and enjoy life – Dubai is a very stylish place to be.”

But despite all the diversions that glittering Dubai has to offer, settling in isn’t always easy. Thanks to his role with InterNations, Waleed firmly believes he can shelter others from some of the culture shock and help them adapt to their new life faster.

“Let’s simply remove this wall between strangers,” he says.InterNations Expat Blog_My InterNations Dubai_Pic 3

He surely provides plenty of opportunities to do so: Among his favorite moments from three years as a Group Consul, he singles out a “sports carnival” with up to 60 participants. Half a dozen teams competed against each other in a miniature Olympic Games for several activities, such as badminton or billiards. They started at two o’clock in the afternoon and only finished after nightfall.

“I won’t forget this day,” he says. “It was really, really amazing. Our people here in Dubai are just lovely.”

And: “I believe that’s the key to the success of everything – how to get along with people.”

(Image credit: 1) InterNations 2)-4) Waleed al-T.)

Unexpected Expat Essentials

Our latest guest blogger Kelly talks about the unexpected essentials of everyday life and how finding them abroad can sometimes turn into an adventure of its own.

There are many things to think about when you first move abroad: taxes, healthcare, all the other sensible adult things that we are supposed to deal with and that are over-analysed in various ways on numerous websites.

But what about the more everyday stuff that we take for granted? The essential things like shopping? When the mundane becomes a mission, remember: there’s no place like home.

Not the Way Our Mother Makes It

A couple of years ago, when food nostalgia kicked in ─ you know, when you start longing for food from home that you could normally take or leave when it’s available on tap ─ the urge for cheesecake struck me. Happily, this coincided well with an upcoming birthday, and so the decision was made to make a cheesecake from scratch.

Budapest, you are beautiful, but your cheesecake is not like my mother’s cheesecake. Not even a poor imitation of it.

The first task was to find out what the ingredients were in Hungarian. The recipe is basic enough and has been well practiced over the years, but knowing the name of everything mentioned in the recipe meant a good start, and would hopefully help to avoid culinary disaster. Thank you, trusty Google Translate.

The second task felt as though it should be relatively simple. Shopping list in hand, off we went to the local supermarket. In Budapest, common supermarket chains are shops like Spar and CBA, but there are also Lidl, Aldi, and Tesco, as well as other brands.

A Noble Quest

Most of the ingredients for cheesecake are straightforward ─ digestives or their local equivalent, sugar, butter, soft cheese. But the search for double cream ─ tejszín ─ made Frodo’s journey to Mordor look like a picnic along the Danube. (Perhaps I might be exaggerating a little.)

Three supermarkets later and many an utca walked, we were tired, but victorious. The cheesecake was delicious, by the way.

Not a Home Away from Home

Now, please don’t take this as a grumble targeted at Budapest, because we love Budapest very much. Our point is that you cannot expect the same things abroad as you have them at home, even the simple things like supermarkets.

In the UK, you could walk into any of the major supermarkets completely naked and starving, and come out of it fully dressed, fully fed, and with a range of electrical items and soft furnishings to boot. We are a little spoilt like that. InterNations Blog_Unexpected Expat Essentials_Pic 3 (And I don’t for a minute recommend actually giving this a try.)

But it was with a somewhat naive spring in our step that we set out on our cheesecake adventure (we’d like to point out we were fully clothed throughout the experience). Because things simply aren’t like that the world over.

Following Smoke Signals

Continuing with our supermarket awakening: if you need a nicotine fix, you should probably think in advance about where you’re going to get your cigarettes or tobacco from before you leave home.

In the UK there are special counters separate from the main store, as well as newsagents. In Budapest you can purchase all kinds of tobacco products at the supermarket checkout and from the local dohánybolt.

In Valencia, Spain, you should become acquainted with tabacos because these are the only places, aside from vending machines, that you can buy cigarettes from. The supermarkets do not sell so much as a Rizla.

Working through the Pain

Another example of things that aren’t necessarily where you expect them to be is over-the-counter medicine. In England you can buy cough medicine, flu capsules, and painkillers in supermarkets, and often there are also in-store pharmacies. Not so everywhere abroad.

Here follows the tale of another journey, this time in search of the humble paracetamol.

Budapest has many a patika (the full name for pharmacy in Hungarian is gyógyszertár, by the way ─ go on, give the pronunciation a go!), and thanks to a tried and tested system of gesticulating and body language, you can probably get what you came for.

Bottle of pillsThere are also the various branded shops of drogéria, where a mission awaits. Painkillers are kept in locked glass-doored cabinets, and shop assistants will look you up and down as if you are attempting to buy something illicit.

You will be escorted you to the checkout with the painkillers and receive a card with which you wait in line. Even the checkout operator will give you the once over. All for eight 600mg paracetamol pills that cost the earth.

A similar outing awaits you in Valencia, too: even though the word paracetamol is very close in Spanish to the English equivalent, it will take several attempts at pronunciation to get your point across.

Whilst most pharmacists in Valencia’s city center speak English and embrace the non-local patient, you may expect suspicious looks and attempts at overcharging further outside town. (You’d better learn the phrase más barato – cheapest. And quickly.)

The Greasy Spoon Test

Cheesecake, cigarettes, and painkillers are not the only things that you will find different abroad, but then you probably already know that from your own experiences. Navigating a new culture with a hangover is usually a sure test of if this is the place for you: no suitable greasy spoon replacement? Get packing!

To the Google Machine!

If you’d rather not pickle your liver in your quest of discovery, may we recommend thinking ahead? Before you leave, open up your cupboards and decide what items really are your essentials and what you should probably throw away. Assume nothing and do expect the unexpected, such as pet food at the chemist’s (Budapest) or disposable sauna sheets in the tissue aisle (Finland).

Turn to Google like a long lost, well-travelled friend: type in ‘where can I buy xxx in xxx’, and you will be led to many a forum that will probably point you in the right direction and also make you think of other things you hadn’t already considered.

Most of all, enjoy the experience. Difference is good, if not a little scary. Happy travelling!

Kelly is an English as a foreign language teacher from the UK, currently taking a pit stop in Valencia and working her way around Europe. When she isn’t teaching English she enjoys writing and sampling cake and beer.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

The Happiest Countries – The World Happiness Report 2015

How´s life? This question, usually part of our small talk repertoire when we meet friends and acquaintances, can also be used to probe our collective feelings of happiness.

People around the world were asked to rate their overall satisfaction in life on a scale of 0 to 10, with zero representing the worst possible life for them and ten the best.

This data, collected by Gallup International, has now been published in the World Happiness Report 2015 by the UN-backed Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

The report, first issued in 2012, is aimed at influencing national policies toward the well-being and quality of life among citizens, instead of purely economic agendas. It also offers insights into happiness worldwide, as the average life satisfaction is used to rank countries from happiest to unhappiest.

Additional statistics chart the reasons why countries differ in happiness, with six key variables accounting for most of the variation between nations. These variables include GDP per capita, social support networks and trust, expected lifespan in good health, the individual freedom to make relevant choices in life, personal generosity, and freedom from corruption in government and business.

The Top 10 Happiest Countries

The top 10 countries are almost the same as in 2012: only the order has changed somewhat. The happiest countries are developed western nations, with good social support networks and high societal trust.

1. Switzerland
2. Iceland
3. Denmark
4. Norway
5. Canada
6. Finland
7. The Netherlands
8. Sweden
9. New Zealand
10. Australia

It probably doesn´t come as a surprise that all five Nordic countries are in the top 10, as their social-democratic model is focused on taking care of the weakest members of society, and relatively low corruption levels inspire trust in official institutions and society as a whole.

The opposite is true in the unhappiest cohort; the bottom 10, including Syria, Afghanistan, and eight Sub-Saharan African countries, are all connected by a tragic history of dictatorships, corruption, and internal conflicts.

What Doesn’t Destroy Us Makes Us Happier?

Looking at the countries that made the biggest gains in happiness, Latin America seems to be on the upswing, as there are five Latin American countries in the top 10. Happiness went up by nearly an entire point in Nicaragua, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and Chile. This is a huge increase since the gap between the happiest and unhappiest countries is only about four points.

Latin America is also the only region where the evaluations went up across all age cohorts, a stark contrast to the Middle East and North Africa, where they all decreased. The drop in the Middle East can be attributed mostly to regional unrest, but changes in the survey procedures are also partly responsible. Since 2013 Gallup has included the whole resident populations in their samples, lowering averages in Arab countries with large concentrations of guest workers.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest decreases in overall life satisfaction occurred in countries affected by economic, political or social crises, or a combination of these. The single largest drop, almost 1.5 points, happened in Greece, indicating the unraveling of social fabric following the Eurozone crisis.

The report also highlights a few countries that survived recent economic crises with very small losses in average happiness, such as Ireland and Iceland. In the case of Iceland, the recovery has indeed been so significant to earn the country second place in the worldwide top 10.

The report suggests that if the societal structure is sufficiently strong, especially in the way of support networks, overcoming a crisis can actually make a society happier. This also applies to non-economic crises, as trust and happiness actually increased in Japan´s Fukushima region after the 2011 disaster.

Besides the country rankings, the biggest takeaway from the report is the fact that trust and social support networks are a big part of overall life satisfaction, and help us to cope with crises. It’s not the threats and hardship that make societies stronger – it’s the realization that there’s always someone to lean on.

Henri Hoffren is a global adventurer and winter refugee from Finland, who’s escaped to Munich, Germany. When not rock climbing or trying out a new recipe, he enjoys reading a good book.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

My InterNations: The Toulouse Dream Team

The Group Consuls of our Toulouse Travel Club are truly a dream team: Helly and Serhat met at an InterNations Event in April 2012; InterNations Expat Blog_My interNations Toulouse_Pic 7 by now, the two aren’t only sharing the responsibilities for the members of their InterNations Groups, but also their life in la ville rose.

Read their story to find out more about our multi-national couple and what they contribute to expat life in the beautiful south of France.

A Chance Meeting

Their paths crossed, coincidentally, at the first InterNations Event that Serhat ever attended. A friend introduced him to our Toulouse Community, as Serhat has always liked to meet other people with a multicultural background. Born and raised near Paris, with Turkish parents from Cappadocia, he has both double citizenship and a slightly ambivalent attitude towards his own origins.

“I’ve always felt different living in France,” he says, “not completely French, although I’ve lived here all my life, except for five years I spent in the UK. But not really Turkish, either. I believe we’re strongly impacted by our culture, so I like to think that meeting new people from different places is making us more open-minded.”InterNations Expat Blog_My InterNations Toulouse_Pic 1

Helly, however, describes herself as German, though she was born in the Romanian region of Transylvania. She grew up in a small village near Cologne, and has divided most of her adult life between Germany and France. After moving to Toulouse, she had to relocate to Munich for professional reasons in 2010.

It was there that she discovered InterNations. “I really liked the InterNations philosophy,” she remembers, “and I enjoyed meeting so many interesting people from various countries – and various companies not related to my own field of work!”

So naturally she joined the Toulouse Community when she had to move back to France in early 2012. The rest, as they say, is history.

Creating Memorable Moments

Gradually, the two became more and more involved in InterNations Activities, and last year, they decided to run the local Brunch Group and to start the Toulouse Travel Club as well. “Sharing the role of Group Consul with your partner makes organizing activities much easier,” they joke. “And, of course, it’s much more fun to do it together.”InterNations Expat Blog_My InterNations Toulouse_Pic 3

Their brunches include a variety of themes, such as a champagne brunch to celebrate the holiday season or a crêpe brunch dedicated to this deliciously French specialty. They even host most of their brunch events at home during the winter, as they’ve had some trouble finding good places for inviting many guests to brunch in Toulouse. In summer, they are planning to take it outside and enjoy the city’s mellow climate.

But it’s the travel group that has provided some of their most memorable moments for the passionate globe-trotters. They organized, for instance, a skiing trip to Andorra, one of the biggest ski resorts in the Pyrenees. Over a dozen people from the Toulouse Community spent an entire weekend together: it was a great “opportunity to really get to know each other better and share some nice memories,” the Consuls say. Indeed, the trip was such a success that they decided to plan a repeat event a few weeks later. InterNations Expat Blog_My InterNations Toulouse_Pic 2

But they’ve hosted some lovely daytrips, too. Last November, they enjoyed the colors of a late autumn day in the countryside, at Puycelci, a picturesque sleepy place in the Tarn department, which prides itself on being one of the most beautiful villages in France.

“We even managed to get their castle opened just for us,” Serhat and Helly remember proudly. (In autumn and winter, the local sights are usually closed to visitors.)

Insider Tips for “La Ville Rose”

What’s their impression of expat living in Toulouse? For obvious reasons, the local expat community is very much linked to the aerospace industry, and both Helly and Serhat work in the sector themselves.

The Pont Neuf in Toulouse in summerDue to the presence of such large employers as Airbus, Thales Alenia Space, or the European Space Agency, there are lots of expatriates from neighboring Germany and Spain in town, but plenty of representatives from the UK and the US, too. With roughly 450,000 inhabitants (including 90,000 university students), Toulouse is big enough to be vibrant, lively, and interesting – but it still retains just the right amount of “small town feel”.

“The size of Toulouse makes it very special,” Serhat says, “especially compared to bigger cities or capitals. We always meet plenty of people we know all across town.”

“I like the intimacy of the InterNations Community in comparison to Munich,” Helly adds. “Here in Toulouse it really feels more like a big family. We’d recommend new expats to join InterNations – it boosts building your network in Toulouse, and you make lots of contacts.”

“And do live in the city center if you can. Public transportation isn’t very good if you live too far in the banlieue.” Then you can also explore your new home more easily and find your own favorite corners, markets, or restaurants.toulouse three

“We love taking our bikes on a Sunday morning to ‘our’ local market in Saint-Cyprien, or maybe the one in Saint-Aubin. And having a coffee in the afternoon, or a glass of champagne at Le Florida, in front of the town hall, that’s not to be missed.”

And what about the famous French food? After all, Toulouse is said to be the birthplace of cassoulet (a hearty stew made of white beans and sausages) and a number of other regional specialties. “Chez Émile”, our InterNations Consuls recommend. “It’s traditional food from the region, a very good address, right in the heart of town.”

Bon appétit!

(Image credit: 1) InterNations 2) & 4) Serhat G. & Helly T. 3), 5), 6) iStockphoto)

Founder’s Diary: Athens

Before Easter, I was about to enjoy my first spring cocktails – not here in Munich, as it turned out, but at one of the March events hosted by the InterNations Community in Athens. I even got to stay in the city a little longer than planned: InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Athens_Pic 6 due to a strike, Lufthansa cancelled my flight on Friday, rebooking me to a machine on Thursday night.

I thus had to leave the InterNations office in a hurry on Thursday afternoon to go home and grab a few clothes before rushing off to the airport. Despite that slightly stressful start, the flight itself was a smooth two and a half hours to Athens – fortunately, well before an awful hurricane hit Germany, and with a sudden upgrade to business class in the bargain.

Greece and Germany: A Fraught Relationship

I arrived in Athens right in the middle of a politically sensitive situation, as far as relations between Greece and Germany are concerned: owing to Germany’s fiscal policies in the Eurozone crisis, the relationship is indeed rather strained right now.

This actually led to a vaguely surreal conversation with the taxi driver who picked me up at the airport. As he found out I was from Germany and I wanted to go to the Hotel Grande Bretagne (an upscale location next to the parliament building on Syntagma Square), I had to convince him I wasn’t working for the Troika and had nothing to do with the EU, IMF, or ECB. InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Athens_Pic 1

Obviously, I hadn’t chosen the hotel because of its proximity to the center of Greek politics, but because it was the designated event venue for Friday’s get-together.

However, I did get an upgrade to a very comfy room with a nice view of the Παλαιά Ανάκτορα (Old Royal Palace), which houses the parliamentary sessions nowadays. Another special thanks for the room upgrade to Tim Ananiadis, the general manager, who also attended our event on the following night together with his wife.

A fun fact for those interested in architectural trivia: The Old Royal Palace was designed by Friedrich von Gärtner, a 19th-century Bavarian architect, who also created several famous landmarks in Munich. So, in a way, my room even overlooked a little piece of “home”.

I didn’t actually have time to enjoy the splendid view, though.

Exploring Athens: Night and Day

After I’d dropped my baggage, Anastasios, our new InterNations Ambassador in Athens, came to meet me. We took a leisurely walk down to Plaka, where we had a drink at the rooftop bar of the “A for Athens” hotel.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Athens_Pic 2 The bar provided another stunning view – this time of the brightly illuminated Akropolis – and a great atmosphere. Anastasios, who is currently working as a business advisor / consultant in Athens, told me all about his motivation for becoming an InterNations Ambassador, as well as his experience of living abroad in various European countries – from Austria over Cyprus and Malta to Poland and Spain.

On Friday morning, I kept eyeing the Akropolis from my breakfast table on the rooftop terrace of the Grande Bretagne hotel. I simply had to go and explore it again.

The first (and last) time I’d been to Athens had been in March 2008, back when I hosted our very first InterNations Event in town. Seven years ago, we had only 30 members in the entire city, and a total of three people (myself included) showed up for our kick-off meeting.

However, the prospect for this upcoming event looked completely different – thankfully, but not unexpectedly, since our Athens Community has also undergone tremendous growth: about 300 members from 33 different countries were on our latest guest list, and nearly all of them were to show up later that night.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Athens_Pic 3After strolling through the ancient ruins till I was getting a bit overwhelmed by all those Caryatids, Ionic columns, Doric colonnades, and more architectural trivia than I could take in, I decided to rather focus on present-day Greece’s amenities: I went down to one of the many restaurants at the foot of the hill to try some freshly grilled souvlaki.

I couldn’t indulge too much, though. Before our event started, Anastasios had booked a table at Strofi – in his opinion the best restaurant in Athens. Only recently the German Federal Chancellor and the Greek Prime Minister had taken lunch there together. One can only hope that the delicious food made their talks a little more relaxed and mellow. The sfyrida – a seafood dish of grilled White Grouper – and the local wine certainly turned my own mood from good to excellent.

The InterNations Athens Event

At nine o’clock in the evening, the InterNations Event started in the historical ballroom of the Grande Bretagne (truly an amazing location), and the guests began to pour in. Anastasios and his volunteer “crew” of several InterNations members welcomed them all personally, and the spacious ballroom filled up surprisingly quickly.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Athens_Pic 4Not only did I have interviews with several local and international media outlets (e.g. Protothema and Athens Views), but I also enjoyed the opportunity to talk to various members: for example, Fivie, who is very active in the InterNations World Forum on our website, or Nikos, an enthusiastic Group Consul, who organizes several smaller get-togethers in Athens every month.

During the official part of the evening, I had the chance to thank Anastasios, Sylvia, our former Athens Ambassador (who’d had the position for an impressive six years), and Zdenka, who acted as a short-term Ambassador last summer, for their efforts. I also raffled off two vouchers for the Grande Bretagne spa to a couple of lucky winners.

InterNations Expat Blog_Founder's Diary_Athens_Pic 5During the unofficial small talk, politics was, of course, a huge topic. I can’t remember listening to so many political discussions at any other InterNations Event. People – expats and Greeks alike – were very interested in the general opinions about Greece in Germany. At the same time, it was fascinating for me to hear what our members thought about the present situation.

Opinions were fairly divided, too: I think I heard about everything, from people advocating for more radical reforms over stances favoring Greece’s withdrawal from the Euro to voices condemning all austerity politics. Fortunately, all those heated debates stayed pretty peaceful and constructive – if only it were that easy in international politics…

We ended our event in much a less serious fashion, though – with music and dancing till about half past one, when a group of guests decided to continue the party at the close-by Kitty Cat Club, one of Athens’ most eclectic nightlife venues. We even made it to another popular venue, Rock’n’Roll Athens, which used to host a few previous InterNations Events.

After a busy day and a long night in Athens, I finally got bed at 5:30 in the morning to snatch a few hours of sleep before leaving early for Munich and home. Γεια σου, Αθήνα!

(Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

Important Tax Deadlines for US Expats

Every April is a reminder of the looming filing deadlines for getting your United States tax affairs in order. Whether you are looking to file a return early or thinking about filing an extension, there are some important dates that you want to keep handy so that you do not let an essential deadline slip by.

15 April – This is the regular deadline for filing tax returns and the date on which any tax liabilities are due. Expats, however, are automatically granted an extension from the standard filing deadline.

15 June – This is the typical filing deadline for expatriates. You are allowed an automatic extension to 15 June if, on the regular filing deadline (15 April), you are living outside of the US.InterNations Expat Blog_Important Tax Deadlines for US Expats

30 June – If you own foreign accounts, you are by now very familiar with the possible need to report those accounts on the ominous FBAR report.

30 June is the date when this form must be filed, and to top it off, there are absolutely no extensions available. For that reason, make sure you prioritize getting your bank account details in order early so you don’t have to scramble around in mid-June to get the information you need.

15 October – So you aren’t ready to file your tax return by 15 June? Not to worry, you are able to formally request an extension to 15 October to get your tax information in order. To file for this extension you simply need to complete and send in Form 4868 by the original due date of your return.

You can avoid additional penalties and interest by filing and paying tax on time. If you are an expat, just remember that interest on unpaid tax liabilities starts to accrue starting 16 April and penalties start on 16 June.

If looking to file an extension, you will want to make sure to include payment of any estimated tax amounts in order to minimize the accumulation of penalties and interest.

This article was provided by H&R Block Expat Tax Services, a company specializing in US tax returns for Americans abroad.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Color Your Life with InterNations

“Now daisies pied and violets blue do paint the meadows with delight…” Okay, I stole that one from Shakespeare, but the change of seasons rather lends itself to lyrical outbursts.

After Germany weathered an actual hurricane last week, spring is here to stay at last: blue skies, golden sunlight, budding leaves in translucent green, and plenty of flowers in bloom, including the odd violet. InterNations Expat Blog_Color Your Life_Pic 1

Unless you’re among those poor folks prone to hay fever, you may be feeling the strange temptation to start skipping through the daisies and warble along with the chirping birds.

Here, it’s the bright-colored coming of spring that inspires us, whereas nature in the southern hemisphere is slowly taking on the earthy hues of autumn. Either way, April seems to urge us to “color our life”. And that’s the motto of the latest themed month for our InterNations Communities all over the world.

Our themed events in January invited you to welcome 2015 together with InterNations. They might even have helped you to stick to your New Year’s resolutions. Now we invite you to color your life with your friends from InterNations: it’s all about bold and bright and colorful get-togethers this month!

• In Barcelona, you can literally paint the town red tomorrow night. Our Ambassadors Paul and Elina are throwing a fiery Red Party for you, featuring a special dress code and rocking live music. InterNations Expat Blog_Color Your Life_Pic 3

• There’s also a particular dress code for the next Language Exchange Activity in Lausanne. Don’t just come to find someone interested in learning your mother tongue – show off the national colors of your country’s flag as well!

• While Barcelona sees red, Cape Town goes orange. Our Taste of the World Group in Cape Town is going to join the local Oranjefeest, inspired by the traditional Dutch festivities for King’s Day. This year, the festival coincides with the South African Freedom Day celebrations, so be there and toast the “rainbow nation”.

• You can also get a taste of the big wide world in Uzbekistan and Ecuador. Our Tashkent Foodies Group will try a selection of colorful dishes from a variety of cuisines, where East meets West. And our Quito Cooking Class is going to prepare a three-course meal with seasonal specialties – yum!

• The Dortmund Sightseeing Group has opted to explore one of the most colorful artists of the 20th century instead. The Osthaus Museum Hagen has dedicated a comprehensive retrospective to painter and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, a lifelong partisan of ecological values and intercultural exchange, of organic forms and vibrant colors.InterNations Expat Blog_Color Your Life_Pic 2

• The bold colors of art are a definite theme at the upcoming InterNations Event in Milan, too. Our Ambassador Michela has organized a live body painting performance by a local calligraphic artist – a splash of color and an unusual touch.

• Last but not least, next week’s InterNations Event in Malaga is all about the colors of the mind, so to speak. Ambassadors Tanya and Laura have scheduled a special guest speaker who’s going to deliver a motivational talk on awakened consciousness.

Looking for “Color Your Life” events and activities in your InterNations Community? Check our Event Calendar and keep your eyes open for this month’s logo. Be bold and bright and have lots of fun!

(Image credit: 1) InterNations 2) & 3) iStockphoto)