The Five Worst Places to Live as a Newly Arrived Expat

Every expat knows how difficult it can be to find accommodation upon arrival. Sometimes, this leads to rather absurd housing situations. Here’s a more humorous take on a potentially stressful topic.

1) The Single Room:

InterNations Expat Blog 5 Worst Places to Live_Pic 3It’s actually perfectly fine, and it has everything you need: kitchenette, bed, desk, TV, etc. There is only one tiny problem: Whenever you have someone over, it kind of feels as if you’re bringing a victim back to your lair.

2) The Hotel/Motel Room:

Though it’s meant as a short-term solution until you find your feet, you sometimes end up staying there for a bit longer than you should: It’s the VIP lifestyle, and it just feels so good. The bathroom is always clean, the towels are dry and fluffy, and your bed is neatly made with close-to-military precision when you come home.

But when you realize that you’ve spent the last twenty minutes drumming your fingers on the reception desk, politely turning away to fondle brochures when new guests arrive to check-in and sardonically rolling your eyes at Gustav, the affable Swedish clerk, when they leave, it’s probably high time to find your own place.

3) The Unfurnished Room:

In the movies, it would be great. You’d dine by candlelight, dance across oakwood floors with your romantic interest, and would be gently awoken by the caress of the sun’s rays while cuddling with your new-found love on a chic futon. InterNations Expat Blog 5 Worst Places to Live_Pic 2

But in reality, you wake up feeling like you returned home to a scene from a news report on a campsite bear attack – crisp packets and empty Coke cans strewn across the floor, a jumbled-up sleeping bag in the corner, dirty laundry lying in chaotic heaps, and a general sense of “why? What am I even doing here?”

4) The Sixth-Floor Apartment Without Elevator:

A classic case of “I don’t mind! It will force me to exercise more and keep me fit.” You were wrong. You have never been more wrong.

And when did you realize? Quite often actually. InterNations Expat Blog 5 Worst Places to Live_Pic 4From the first day you lugged your suitcases up the stairs, to the days when, breathless by the third floor, you had to grab the bannister for leverage and quite literally hurl yourself up the stairs.

Or whenever your six-foot tall, gorgeous German neighbor easily glides by, a lycra-clad appearance who’s just finished running ─ you decide in your self-deprecating humor ─ at least five consecutive marathons. Gosh, how you love to hate him.

5) The Somehow Always Dirty Dump:

Despite putting on a hazmat suit, grabbing a can of weapon-grade bleach and a sponge so rough it would make a hedgehog blush, somehow you can’t get your new abode as squeaky-clean as you’d like.

The small studio always seems vaguely grubby, and the flies make it look like the set of an Oxfam ad. But, hey, the rent’s still affordable and it wasn’t hard to find that room. Now you also know why.

Does this sound all too familiar? Let us hear your stories!

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Book Review: Times New Romanian by Nigel Shakespear

Times New Romanian – no, you read this right. This is not a typo, and this post doesn’t actually describe popular fonts and typefaces.

Times New Romanian: Voices and Narrative from Romania is the title of a recent book edited and published by Nigel Shakespear, himself a British expat in Eastern Europe. He has lived in Romania for about ten years, working with a government organization to improve the living conditions of the Roma population.

Over and over again, he was asked the following question: “What do you, as a foreign resident, think of our country?” This book is an attempt to answer that question, or rather an attempt to provide a wide range of answers.InterNations Expat Blog Times New Romanian Pic 1

Times New Romanian is a collection of interviews with about 40 expatriates, who talk freely about their life in Romania and their impressions of the country.

The Contributors

The editor has included a fairly diverse group of people to represent expat life in Romania. They come from Australia, Austria, Canada, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK, and the US. Some of them actually have Romanian roots, returning to the country that their parents or grandparents left behind.

The interviewees also represent a variety of occupations, from the business man working in the finance sector over the farm manager to the owner of a small B&B. However, the creative types, such as writers, journalists, or filmmakers, as well as social workers or people affiliated with NPOs and NGOs, may be somewhat overrepresented here.

Still, the expats in question don’t live in Bucharest only. Instead, the editor has taken care to select interviewees who have settled in all parts of the country, from the capital to rural Transylvania, from the Bucovina to the Banat, and from the Carpathian Mountains to the Black Sea.

The Conversations

The short chapters with the individual conversations make for an easy read. Sometimes, the anecdotes or observations come across as slightly banal or somewhat random (though the excursions on, for example, water buffalo farms are still entertaining). More often than not, however, the expats provide some vivid quotes and insightful comments, e.g. on the slow emergence of a civic society in Romania’s public sphere.

Tower and walls of fortified church Alma Vii, Transylvania. RomaniaAt times, the interviewees clearly share their enthusiasm for pursuits like ethno-musicology and Romanian peasant traditions; in other instances, their stories are very personal and very moving. The account of a NGO worker from Wales who used to look after HIV-positive children in a hospice really stuck in my mind.

On the downside, the book is occasionally a little disjointed. The editor obviously wanted to let people talk for themselves, with candor and authenticity. But the natural flow of conversation can turn rambling, or start jumping from topic to topic.

Maybe it would have been better to group their observations and opinions according to the subject at hand, so you could easily compare what they think, for instance, about life in the countryside or family life in Romania.

Readers like me, who know little about Romanian history and culture, may also find themselves wishing for more context in some cases. For example, the interviewees talk repeatedly about the various demographic groups within Romania.

It would have been nice to get more background information about ethnic Romanians, Hungarian-Romanians, “Saxons” (Transylvanians of German descent), the Roma and Sinti communities, and their respective place in Romanian society.

The Conclusion

Times New Romanian is neither a guidebook for travelers or expats-to-be, not is it a systematic overview of contemporary Romania. But I think if you are planning any sort of longer stay in Romania, it will serve as a useful complement to these kinds of books. It offers a good look at what you may expect, both positive and negative aspects. InterNations Expat Blog Times New Romanian Pic 2

The expats in this collection can be rather critical of Romania sometimes, but most have close ties to the country all the same: co-workers, good friends, partner, spouse, extended family. Some of them are probably going to settle down forever in their adopted home.

And despite their criticism, most clearly oppose the negative stereotype of Romania of some backwards, benighted place that is still trotted out in foreign media every now and then. There’s a deep conviction of an ongoing transformation in many conversations, a fascination with the country’s “amazing vitality”.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Survey Spotlight: Expats’ Language Skills

As for the Expat Insider Survey, there are several topics we’d have liked to cover in our survey report, but had to exclude due to various constraints.

Expats and their language skills is one of these subjects. Fortunately, our blog provides plenty of space to make up for this lack.

Number of Languages Spoken

Let’s start with the basic facts about language proficiency: the number of languages that our survey respondents speak. Only 12% of expatriates are monolingual (i.e. they speak just one language) in spite of living abroad.

Leadership Signpost Showing Vision Values Empowerment and Encouragement Fewer than three out of ten (27%) describe themselves as bilingual, and more than 60% speak at least three languages. An astonishing 11% of survey participants even speak five to eight different languages (their mother tongue included) – an impressive figure.

One or Many? Monolinguals vs. Polyglots

Language proficiency varies wildly among the survey population. Those expats who left home to go on an extended vacation, or to enjoy life abroad, are far more likely to be monolingual (23%, as opposed to the global average of 12%).

The oldest demographic group of expatriates aged 51+ also includes a fair share of monolinguals: One in five speaks only his or her mother tongue. The biggest factor by far, however, is nationality.

Expats from Anglophone countries, such as Canada, the UK, and the US, are frequently monolingual. Aussies (50%) and Kiwis (55%) in particular stand out. Unsurprisingly, up to 20% of these nationals move to countries where English is one of the local languages.

What about the polyglots? (Ex-)students who moved abroad to attend university have above-average language skills. About four out of ten speak four languages, or even more. A similar number (44%) would consider their proficiency in the local language to be “very good”.

Social network family
Again, the differences among the nationalities survey are the most salient feature. Belgians, Ukrainians, and Swiss expatriates win at multilingualism: More than two-thirds of each group speak four or more languages.

Frequent Languages Spoken

The top five languages reported by our survey respondents don’t yield any surprising results. A good working knowledge of English was necessary to complete our survey: English is thus the undisputed #1, followed by French (32%), Spanish (27%), German (26%), and Italian (12%).

This list roughly overlaps with the most frequent nationalities. Among the top ten, you’ll find expats from four large English-speaking nations (30% of respondents), as well as from Germany (6%), France (6%), Italy (3%), and Spain (2%). Furthermore, the languages listed above are widely taught in secondary schools, especially in North America and Europe.

Dutch nationals (3%) and expats from India (6%) also appear among the top ten nationalities by number of participants. Accordingly, up to 8% of respondents say that they speak Dutch, and another 8% chose Hindi.

The “Other Language” Option

Hindi by no means represents India’s linguistic diversity. The 2011 census recognized over 1,600 mother tongues across the country. When we looked at the responses for “other language (please specify)”, this diversity soon becomes apparent.

InterNations Expat Blog_Survey Spotlight_Languages_Pic 3Quite a few South Asian languages appear in this data set, for example, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi, and Kannada. However, Bengali – India’s second largest language by number of speakers – got very few mentions.

If we do this survey again, we may need to expand our selection of language options! Our respondents also mentioned several other language groups rather frequently:

• Baltic and Slavic languages from Eastern Europe: Czech, Slovak, Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian, as well as Lithuanian and Latvian

• various African languages: Amharic (Ethiopia), Wolof (Senegal), Twi and Ewe (Ghana), Igbo (Nigeria), and the languages of South Africa (especially Afrikaans, Xhosa, and Zulu)

• several European regional or minority languages (e.g. Catalan and Irish Gaelic)

Language-Related Fun Facts

One jokester deserves a special mention. The respondent listed “Klingon” – the constructed language invented for the Star Trek movies and TV shows – under “other” language skills. Either that person is a really dedicated sci-fi nerd, or this expat is indeed very far from home.

Maybe he or she should rather give Hungarian a try? It might prove to be a worthwhile challenge.

55% of local respondents – the biggest percentage by far – describe Hungarian as a very difficult language to learn. Given that Hungarian has up to 18 noun cases, tends to construct super-sized words, and uses four different forms of speech to express politeness, they are probably right.

If you’d like to know more about multilingualism among expat children, please check out the official Expat Insider report!

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Preparing for Your Move: What to Ask Yourself Before You Go (Part l)

Are you considering a move abroad? Our guest blogger Ben discusses important points to think about before you leave.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend. During our conversation, she told me that she was thinking about relocating abroad for a while. Her life was in a rut and she needed a change.

My friend asked me for some tips because she knew I had some experience with this. I was flattered that she came to me for advice and that some of my stories about living abroad had provided the impetus to think about doing the same. InterNations Expat Blog_Preparing for Your Move _Part 1_Pic 1

I completely understand and empathize with her feelings. I think at some point in our lives, we all feel that things are not going the right way and we need some kind of change to get us out of a funk. I didn’t tell her what to do because I feel the only person that knows what is best for you is you.

However, I did ask her a series of questions (a very long series, actually) that I hoped would help her understand her motivations and emotions better. I thought these questions would be helpful for all those who are also contemplating moving to a foreign country.

Since our conversation was very long, I broke this blog post up into two parts, the “psychological” and the “practical”. Let’s start with the psychological aspects of relocation:

1) Why do you want to go and what do you hope to achieve?

This is an important question because it gets to the heart of your motivation.

A friend of mine, who happens to be an expert marketer, once told me before making any decision for his company, he asks the question, “Why should we do that?” After coming up with an answer, he then asks “why” again four more times and that is how he gets to the root intention.

Checklist2) What do your friends and family think about your idea and how will your absence impact them?

None of us live on a desert island. We all have friends and family who we care about and who may even depend on us. While going away may change your life, it could also affect theirs as well.

3) How adaptable are you to situations that are completely foreign?

Are you prepared to be immersed into a totally different language, culture and mentality; one you might not understand for a long time?

There is a very romantic notion of running away to some distant exotic land, into the sunset if you will, and you live happily ever after.

However, that is often not the case and sooner or later reality hits you. Just have a look at my earlier post “The Stages of Culture Shock” to see how this worked out for me.

Once you realize that it’s no longer fun and games and there are real challenges to deal with, are you mentally flexible enough to handle them and resilient enough to endure them?

4) How do you handle loneliness?

There will be many times when you feel incredibly alone, especially in the beginning – can you cope?

This is piggy backing on the question above. When you encounter hardships, sometimes you feel like no one understands and you are completely alone. This feeling is compounded when you are in a foreign environment.

At the end of the day, when all your tasks have been completed and challenges handled, sometimes you find yourself sitting alone in a dark, uncomfortable place with only your thoughts for company.InterNations Expat Blog_Preparing for Your Move _Part 1_Pic 3

5) How do you handle racism in a foreign country?

This is important, because although the vast majority of people are kind, warm, and welcoming, unfortunately racism is a reality. Growing up as an ethnic minority in the US, I have experienced racism there, too, but it’s different when it happens at home versus abroad.

At home, you can find comfort and safety with your friends, your family, and with the things you are familiar with. When abroad, you are not surrounded by these sanctuaries, and although the action may be the same, it’s a completely different feeling.

6) Are you prepared for the time when your journey comes to an end, you will be a completely different person and you have no idea in what way?

I believe that it is our experiences that shape our identity and I have never met a person who has lived abroad and not been changed by that experience. Oftentimes the experience is positive, but not always.

I think many people focus on the “going” part, but don’t pay enough attention to the “coming back” part, including myself. The “going” is exciting and fun, and “coming back” is mundane, but it is upon coming back that you will realize the extent of the change you’ve undergone.

Look out for my next post “Preparing for Your Move (Part II – Practical)” in the coming weeks!

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Survey Spotlight: Expat Insider, the BBC, and the OECD

Last week we had several fairly intense discussions in the comment sections on the InterNations Facebook fanpage. They involved the overall country ranking of our Expat Insider Survey, the survey’s Quality of Life Index, and a BBC article touting Canberra as the “best place to live”.

Actually, the BBC presented the results of another worldwide ranking, the OECD Regional Well-Being study, where several Australian cities made it to the top.

Canberra Parliament HouseIn the Expat Insider of top expat destinations 2014, Australia “only” shows up on rank 9 (out of 61). So, which report gets it right?

Spoiler: It’s not a question of “right” or “wrong”, but rather a matter of what you look at and how you do it.

This is a great opportunity to discuss country rankings, with an emphasis on methodology, to see how they come about and what they mean.

Australia and the OECD Regional Well-Being Initiative

First of all, the OECD index that sings the praises of Canberra – once charmingly entitled “the most boring capital in the world” – looks neither at entire countries not at individual cities. Rather, it compares larger administrative units.

In Australia, these regions include the nation’s eight major states and territories. The small Australian Capital Territory is more or less identical with the city of Canberra.

For each of 362 regions in the OECD’s 34 member states, researchers have collected a variety of statistics from local or national authorities. These figures are drawn from nine different areas:

• educationBig Data Concept.
• jobs
• income
• safety
• environment
• health
• access to services
• civic engagement
• housing

Most areas comprise one or two statistical indicators only. For example, education represents the members of the regional labor force that have at least completed secondary school.

The OECD statisticians used a mathematical formula to assign values from 1 to 10 to every single indicator. This makes it possible to combine such different units as percentages of the population or disposable income per person. If one area is represented by more than one indicator, they used the mean value to arrive at one score per category.

If you assign equal importance and weight to all nine scores, you’ll get a top 10 list that features several Australian states or territories: the ACT (Canberra), New South Wales (Sydney), Queensland (Brisbane), and Western Australia (Perth).

These four regions boast individual indicator scores from 6.9 to 10.0 (Queensland), or even from 8.5 to 10.0 (ACT). But what do these figures mean in concrete terms?

From Data to Descriptions

“Translated” back into easy-to-grasp explanations, the OECD Regional Well-Being study states, for example, that the top Australian regions have very low homicide rates (safety), high voter turnout (civic engagement), and barely any air pollution (environment). In the ACT, people also tend to have a fairly cushy income.

SafetySo far, the study doesn’t include any other factors that might be relevant from an individual’s point of view, such as childcare facilities or leisure activities. It doesn’t say, either, how people feel about their region. After all, it compares hard facts, not personal opinions or emotions.

It’s not about whether or not the residents of Canberra are happy. It’s about enabling policy-makers and researchers to quickly compare certain data, like local unemployment rates (jobs) or the availability of broadband Internet (access to services).

Expat Insider – the Methodology behind the Ranking

The Expat Insider Survey had a completely different approach. For starters, we only reviewed results on a national basis. Since we didn’t rely on official statistics, but on people filling in a questionnaire, breaking down 14,000 answers to smaller units than a whole country would no longer yield any valid results.

InterNations Expat Blog_Expat Insider OECD Regional Well-Being_Pic 2Secondly, it’s a subjective snapshot. It was explicitly aimed at the expat population, which isn’t representative of the national population in general. And we asked them explicitly how they feel about life abroad.

For example, we featured the question: “How satisfied are you with personal safety in Australia?” Participants could respond on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 7 (completely satisfied). We didn’t look at the crime rates for Australia and compare them with Germany.

With this rating scale, you’d get a mean value for every single factor. Several mean values (for safety, quality of medical care, etc.) could then be combined in one sub-index (e.g. Health & Safety).

Several sub-indices make up one topical index (e.g. Quality of Life); all topical indices, plus an individual happiness rating, form the overall country ranking.

Interestingly enough, when we look at the sub-indices touching on similar topics as the OECD Regional Well-Being study, there are certain similarities.

Expat Insider Results for Australia

According to the OECD, most Australian states do pretty well with regard to health and have low rates of violent crime. Among our survey respondents in Australia, about two-thirds think that medical care is good or very good. Just 7% give it a negative rating.

Moreover, more than 80% feel safe or completely safe in their new home. All in all, Australia ranks on #2 when it comes to health and safety for expats worldwide.

In other respects, subjective perception among our expat residents and large-scale data don’t match. Income-wise, all Australian states are among the top 25% of the regions analyzed by the OECD. InterNations Expat Blog_Expat Insider OECD Regional Well-Being_Pic 3

In the Expat Insider survey, though, Australia ranks only 47th out of 61 in our Personal Finance Index. If we consider just the OECD member states listed in this ranking, Australia is still #20 out of 28 countries.

Indeed, one in four participants in Australia think that their income is lower than the local average. This might help to explain between the discrepancies between the two studies to a certain extent.

Generally speaking, Australia does particularly well in the Expat Insider rankings for “soft” factors that weren’t measured in the OCED index. When it comes to general family life, it’s the #4 worldwide. Respondents also appreciate their work-life balance and quickly feel at home down under.

Lastly, Australia is the #1 country for leisure activities worldwide. This may or may not include Canberra.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

Founder’s Diary: Birthday Celebrations in London

Last month, on September 11, 2014, InterNations turned exactly seven years old to a day. What better place to celebrate this special occasion than our largest InterNations Community worldwide?

So I got myself on a plane to London in order to meet up with our three local InterNations Ambassadors at that night’s event location, the Buddha-Bar, a trendy nightclub/restaurant hybrid in swanky Knightsbridge.

The InterNations Ambassadors Team in London

Our Ambassadors in London, Rosa, Alex, and Francesco, have been organizing events for our community for quite some time, and they complement each other well, forming a great team for one of the most diverse and dynamic cities on the globe.

InterNations London Birthday CelebrationsRosa is a polyglot banker with Irish-Peruvian citizenship, who really enjoys hosting InterNations Events and volunteering for causes that matter to her.

Alex, a Russian expat, works in the finance industry as well, though he also has a background in communications and international relations and used to work for one of the EU institutions in Strasbourg. He appreciates the amazing opportunities that London can offer – be they gallery visits or vintage parties.

Last but certainly not least, Francesco has made the leap from Italy to London (with a little detour via NYC) to start working as a cardiologist at a local university hospital. After a hard working day, he thinks that London has just the right cultural events and socializing opportunities to forget about the stress!

The three of them are definitely fun to talk to, and they seem very dedicated to the InterNations idea of bringing people together.

An Inauspicious Date?

Speaking of bringing people together: Our founding date has a rather tragic connotation, since 9/11 will always be a reminder of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001, as well as all the international crises and conflicts that have followed. InterNations London Birthday Celebrations 2 Understandably, a few members have asked me if it is a good idea to celebrate our network’s anniversary on that very day.

Well, actually our “birthday” in 2007 was pure coincidence. We were originally aiming to go live on September 1, but just like an actual birth, our InterNations “baby” took a little longer. (If you’ve ever worked in IT or tech, this may not surprise you. We have learned by now that even the best of roadmaps don’t always work out as accurately as planned.) So we were suddenly stuck with a less-than-fortunate date of birth, so to speak.

Two years later, for our second anniversary in 2009, we attended a birthday reception for InterNations in Berlin’s diplomatic quarter. The former Egyptian ambassador to Germany gave a short introductory speech that I still remember very well. He said that in 2001, people from different nations, ethnicities, and faiths really started drifting apart. But that was all the more reason to find new opportunities to bring them together.

InterNations is, of course, not a political organization. We aren’t an NGO or NPO or a think tank, but a social networking site. However, we do bring many very different people from all around the world together, and I think this is an achievement very much worth celebrating, regardless of the date.

Birthday Parties in London and around the Globe

Our birthday event in London united several hundred guests from dozens of countries – an impressive turnout. But before most of the attendees arrived, I seized the chance to talk to our London Ambassadors about the truly astonishing development of their Local Community, which has over 50,000 members by now.

We clinked glasses to the 7th birthday of InterNations, and then I gave a brief interview to the Daily Telegraph about the InterNations story before our members started pouring into the event location. InterNations London Birthday Celebrations 3

I tried to talk to as many of them as possible and listen to their feedback. Quite a few had attended InterNations Events in other Local Communities before, so it’s always interesting to get a glimpse at our various get-togethers across the globe. Our site relaunch and a mobile-friendly version were also popular topics.

Somewhat later, Alex, a former journalist, introduced me officially, thus giving me the chance to thank our InterNations Ambassadors, Group Consuls, and all our members for making InterNations what it is today. A delicious birthday cake topped off this occasion perfectly.

Below, you can see some more yummy cakes and lovely snapshots from other birthday parties worldwide. After all, we didn’t just celebrate in London, but in plenty of our 390+ InterNations Communities around the world: Just have a look at our snapshots from Johannesburg, Dubai, and Toronto.

Here’s to the next seven years of connecting global minds!

InterNations London Birthday Celebrations 5

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Survey Spotlight: See the World Through Expat Eyes

InterNations has grown tremendously in these past seven years, from a small start-up to the biggest expat network in the world.

With around 1.4 million members, we decided that it was time to find out what moves expats around the world: Why do they relocate? What makes them happy? And what is life abroad like for them?

We believe that this information may be of potential use to both our members and a wider audience interested in other countries and cultures, in living and working abroad. Thus the idea for Expat Insider – The InterNations Survey was born! Survey

With the help of close to 14,000 respondents, we have managed to conduct one of the largest expat surveys worldwide. The questions focused on the personal satisfaction of our members with all aspects of living abroad.

The results served as the basis for an overall ranking of 61 countries and five topical indices, as well as detailed reports for 20 destinations and 15 nationalities.

We got an insight on the career prospects for expats in various countries, on where families and couples are the happiest, and where the cost of living is most satisfying, at times with surprising results:

Ecuadorian Flag old, isolated on white background. Ecuador, with its low cost of living and the welcoming attitude of its people, is the most popular destination, according to our general country ranking. It’s closely followed by Luxembourg, the clear winner among career-minded expats, and Mexico, which ranks highly for personal happiness and friendliness.

• When it comes to the quality of life, Switzerland makes it to the top. Clearly, the top-notch infrastructure of this small alpine country played a huge part in this positive rating. Nigeria finds itself at the bottom of the scale.

• Sunny and welcoming Mexico is number one in our Ease of Settling In Index, closely followed by Spain and New Zealand, which both received great ratings as well.

Norway impresses with its great work-life balance and its booming economy and deservedly ranks in first place of our Working Abroad Index.Norwegian Flag old, isolated on white background.

• Scandinavian countries also received glowing ratings in our Family Life Index, with Sweden and Denmark coming out on top. On the other hand, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are rather unpopular among expat families and find themselves on the bottom of the scale.

• On our Personal Finance and Cost of Living Index, Ecuador is again the clear winner. Italy and Greece, both of which are still struggling with the effects of the economic crisis, drop to the bottom of the ranking.

But we didn’t stop there! Several topics are covered in greater detail. For instance, did you know that the phenomenon of the expat bubble is most noticeable in the Middle East?

Moreover, most expat kids (86% to be precise) grow up bi- or multilingual. Vietnam and the Philippines are top-notch destinations for money-savvy expats and, while Greece and Argentina occupy the last places in many rankings, they are still very popular destinations for lovebirds.

We also take an in-depth look at various expat destinations and nationalities:Business Capitals signpost 20 country reports offer profiles on destinations around the world from an expat perspective, from Australia, over Singapore, to the USA. A series of charts visualizes how expat residents see their local neighbors and their new home.

Finally, we examined the different types of expats roaming the world – assignees, globetrotters, and romantics to name just a few – and took a closer look at their reasons for moving abroad.

15 nationality reports conclude the analysis. Did you know that Belgians are the most polyglot expats? Or that Brits are more likely to stay abroad forever than any other nationality?

The first edition of our annual Expat Insider survey gives you the opportunity to see the world through expat eyes, and it would have never been possible without all of our members who participated in our survey.

We want to thank everybody who took the time to respond to our survey and helped us gain such interesting insights into expat life around the world.

Last but not least, we would like to congratulate the winners of our raffle:

Anna, now living in the UK, won a Virgin flight voucher, Sigurdur, who lives in the USA, won an iPad Air, and Abdulrahman, now at home in Dubai, who won a Kindle Paperwhite.

You are invited to see the world anew through expat eyes. Explore and enjoy!

We will also talk about some of the results in detail here in our blog, so watch this space for more.

(Image credit: 1) InterNations 2)-4) iStockphoto)

Oktoberfest in Munich and Around the World

It’s that time of the year again when Munich’s residents dust off their Lederhosen and Dirndl to join millions of tourists for the biggest event of the year: the Oktoberfest! InterNations team member Gregor shares his own take on this Bavarian festival and its exports.

I’ve been living in Munich for just over four years now. In fact, I arrived on the 21st of September 2010, three days into the 200th anniversary of the Oktoberfest. I got my one-year visa in the morning, bought a pair of Lederhosen in the afternoon, and I was at Oktoberfest the next day in the Hacker-Festzelt (Hacker Beer Tent) with my German friends. In the picture below, I’m second from the left: the young man with a Maßkrug – pronounced muss kroog – of beer in his hand, and a big, cheesy grin on his face.

Munich Oktoberfest Germany Hacker Festzelt

Oktoberfest 2010 in the Hacker-Festzelt, Munich, Germany

The Bier was flowing, the Humpta (“oompah”) music was playing, people were singing, and everybody was meeting and talking to strangers in a variety of languages; most importantly, it was gemütlich, a word almost without translation in English, but it means something like a jovial, cozy, friendly atmosphere. I fell in love with the Oktoberfest, colloquially called the Wiesn (meadow) by locals, after the location’s formal name, Theresienwiese, which means Therese’s Meadow.

The Theresienwiese got its name, and the Oktoberfest its origin, from Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage to Therese von Saxe-Hildburghausen in 1810 – he was later to become King Ludwig I. In a grand romantic gesture, he named the meadow after her and threw a Volksfest (people’s festival) to celebrate their marriage, though it’s unlikely these affectionate acts made up for his philandering later on! All the people of Munich, including the commoners, were permitted to attend the festival. It culminated in a horse race at the end and was so popular that the people of Bavaria insisted on another one the following year. Thus, the Oktoberfest was born!

Horse Race at the Okotberfest , Munich, in 1823

Horse-Racing at the Oktoberfest in 1823

Being Australian, I’ve always had a love for beer. A cheeky drink with friends and colleagues after work rounds off the day nicely, in my opinion. I particularly enjoyed it back in Oz in September and October when Sydney’s own Löwenbräu Keller pays homage to the original Oktoberfest by throwing a mini one just near Sydney Harbour (picture below). Of course, it doesn’t quite compare to Munich’s Oktoberfest, but it is a nice little slice of Bavaria in the middle of Australia’s largest city.

Oktoberfest in the Löwenbräu Keller, Sydney, AustraliaAfter living in Munich for several years and enjoying many a Wiesn, I was surprised to find out that there are many more towns and cities around the world that celebrate Oktoberfest. Some of them, like the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest in Canada, first began over forty years ago. I find it fascinating that an icon of Bavarian culture and tradition has spread to all the corners of the globe, so I decided to take a closer look at some of the weird and wonderful “Oktoberfests” around the world.

Qingdao International Beer Festival, Qingdao, China

The Chinese have a talent for imitating and reproducing technology; since 1991, they’ve also been recreating the Oktoberfest – kind of. Eight-hundred kilometers south of Beijing, the city of Qingdao celebrates the Bavarian Oktoberfest, with a Chinese twist.

Qingdao International Beer Festival

A clash of cultures at the Qingdao International Beer Festival.

What started out as the city’s beer-themed 100th birthday celebration has now become an Oktoberfest-influenced, internationally-renowned beer festival. You’ll find Bavarian Bier here, among many other things, but instead of eating Brez’n (pretzels) or Schweinshax’n (pork-knuckle), you are likely to have a plate of skewered prawns, pickled peanuts, or grilled squid! So, while the interpretation of Oktoberfest is rather loose – especially considering the karaoke competitions – the festival, nevertheless, attracts two to three million visitors per year.

Blumenau Oktoberfest, Brazil_smallOktoberfest, Blumenau, Brazil

When people think of Brazil, it’s not usually Lederhosen, Bier, and Wurst (sausages) that come to mind; but, in the city of Blumenau, that’s exactly what you’ll find! The majority of Blumenau’s 300,000 citizens have German heritage, their ancestors having migrated from Germany to Brazil as far back as 1850 when it was founded as an agricultural colony.

Today, it seems tradition is alive and well: Every year Blumenau hosts its very own Oktoberfest over eighteen days in the middle of October, featuring an official parade (picture), bands, and folk music groups. The festival attracts around half a million people, and is considered South America’s largest German festival, as well as one of the largest Oktoberfests in the world!

Oktoberfest Zinzinatti, Cincinnati, USA

Wiener dog racing

Cincinnatians have been celebrating Oktoberfest since 1976. Last year, around 650,000 visitors indulged in Bavarian music, food, and Bier over three days. The festival also features some rather unique events, including “wiener dog” races and – allegedly – the world’s largest group Chicken Dance.

Oktoberfest, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai OktoberfestIt seems the Oktoberfest has even made it to the Middle East in the last few years. Among others, venues such as the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Dubai Sports City, and the Dubai International Marine Club celebrate in Bavarian style throughout the month of October. In an effort to make the experience as authentic as possible, beer tents are set up, Bavarian cuisine and Bier are served, and Bavarian bands, such as Die Kirchdorfer and Die Derby, are flown in to entertain the crowds. Unlike the Wiesn in Munich, though, events are ticketed and participants must be over twenty-one years of age.

Oktoberfest, Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada

Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest

The Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, enjoys a Bier at the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest.

The second-largest Oktoberfest outside Bavaria is held in the twin towns of Kitchener and Waterloo. Over 750,000 visitors each year take their pick from nineteen Festhallen (festival halls) and forty family and cultural events. In its program, the festival even features a 5km fun-run and a 50km or 100km cycling race. What’s more, you can drink and eat guilt-free because much of the money spent goes back into local community organizations. According to its organizers, hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised each year from the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest. The Fest even has its own mascot; Onkel Hans is an oddly orange-colored, green-lederhosen-wearing character with an enormous moustache and a red hat that says Prosit (cheers!) on it. If you look closely at the photo above, you may spot Onkel Hans winking at you.

Where do you celebrate Oktoberfest?

The Wiesn-Season is upon us and I’d like to know more about Oktoberfests around the world. Where are you celebrating Oktoberfest? What’s the funniest or strangest Oktoberfest you’ve been to? What’s the best one? Leave a comment on this post and tell the other readers and me about your experiences.

chicken dance oktoberfest cincinatti

Doing the world’s largest group Chicken Dance at the Oktoberfest in Cincinatti

Image credits & sources:

(Picture 1 & 7 – private; Picture 2 – PD; Picture 3 – Löwenbräu Keller, Sydney, Australia; Picture 4 – That’s Qingdao; Picture 5 – Vitor Pamplona on Flickr; Picture 6 & 9 – Oktoberfest Zinzinatti; Picture 8 – Premier of Ontario Photography on Flickr)

Founder’s Diary: Thessaloniki

After my last two visits to InterNations Communities took me to Northern Europe, this time I’m heading in the opposite direction – on a two-hour flight to Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city and the most important in the country’s north. In stark contrast to Munich’s rather rainy summer, 30°C and Mediterranean sunshine await me.

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary Thessaloniki Pic 7 My accommodation, the Bristol Hotel, turns out to be an excellent choice: It’s located on a quaint little square with plenty of restaurant, bars, and cafés in the neighborhood. Even better, the hotel is just a short walk from Thessaloniki’s waterfront promenade, as well as the picturesque upper town (ano poli), a little further inland.

Before our get-together starts, I still have a bit of leisure time left to explore the ano poli, with its historical houses, magnificent churches from the Byzantine era, and the old fortress (kastra) that provides a splendid view of the cityscape, the port, and the gulf opening into the Aegean Sea.

The Thessaloniki InterNations Community

The InterNations Event then takes place at Kitchen Bar, a popular venue right on the seafront promenade. The amazing view alone is worth it!

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary Thessaloniki Pic 1 Unfortunately, Daniel, a Spanish expat and one of our InterNations Ambassadors, as well as the Group Consul for the Thessaloniki City Trotters, can’t make it tonight, but Tatiana from Russia, his fellow Ambassador, has brought back-up: Her cute little daughter greets the guests together with her mommy – together, the two make a wonderful welcome committee.

About 35 InterNations members show up to enjoy the mellow August night and to refresh themselves with a cool beer from the Greek Alpha brewery. There’s plenty of time to chat, mix and mingle, and many a member has an interesting biography to share:

InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary Thessaloniki Pic 6 One spends half of the year in Australia and the other half in Greece; another is an artist who has come to Thessaloniki from the UK to paint. I meet a writer from Liverpool, a law student from Kiev, and various other people whose path in life has led them to this bustling city, “the bride of the bay”.

At the moment, our Thessaloniki Community is still fairly small, with about 800 members, but that could change soon: The city of Thessaloniki has over 800,000 residents – even more if you count the entire metropolitan area – and a sizable expat population.

Thessaloniki by Day

The guests at our event also give me a great selection of sightseeing tips for the next day: Unfortunately, the famous beaches on the Chalkidiki peninsula are somewhat too far for my tight schedule. However, I just follow another suggestion and rent a bike at the hotel to ride down the long seaside promenade.

I make a brief stop when passing the White Tower, the landmark of Thessaloniki. InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary Thessaloniki Pic 2Today, it looks rather romantic – a strong and squat fortification surrounded, somewhat incongruously, by well-tended flower-beds.

The White Tower’s notorious past is more the stuff of horror movies than the stuff of romance, though: It used to be an Ottoman fort, military garrison, prison, and execution site, once nicknamed “the Red Tower” or “Tower of Blood”. Fortunately, in the 21st century, it just serves as the local history museum.

And onward I go, riding along the waterfront, till I get to take a break at Omilos, another one of Thessaloniki’s many cafés and bars with a truly spectacular view of the Aegean. On my way back to the city center, I encounter plenty of young people, teenagers and families with kids, all coming out in droves to relax in the sea breeze and soak in the fine summer weather.

…and by Night

At the Plaza restaurant in the vibrant Ladidaka district, I get to enjoy an authentic Greek dinner before I set out in search of some typical Greek entertainment. Again, plenty of people have suggested going to one of the local bouzoukias.

Bouzoukias are a fixture of nightlife in Greece, live-music venues for popular performers, where shows go on till the early hours of the morning. The bouzoukias of Thessaloniki are mostly located somewhat outside the city, close to the airport, about a 30-minute taxi ride from Ladidaka. InterNations Expat Blog Founder's Diary Thessaloniki Pic 4

So I finally enter a bouzoukia long after midnight, not quite knowing what to expect. It’s actually a concert hall packed with elegantly dressed people, where a live concert of Thessaloniki’s pop/folk idol Nikos Vertis is in full swing.

Unlike the shows I’m used to, there’s not much dancing going on in the audience, but the people seem to be quite the devoted fans: Standing at their tables and all around the stage, they keep throwing flowers – especially carnations – at him and are beside themselves when they catch one that he throws back into the crowd.

It’s a really electrifying atmosphere, and I almost forget that it’s nearly 3 am and that I won’t get much, if any, sleep before I have a plane to catch…

The beaches of Chalkidiki will just have to wait until next time.

Image credit: Malte Zeeck/InterNations)

The Lucky Number: Happy 7th Birthday, InterNations!

Seven is a lucky number, and this is a lucky occasion for us: It’s the seventh birthday of InterNations. Seven years ago, in 2007, our website went online, launching what is today the world’s largest expatriate network.

Last year’s anniversary neatly coincided with us celebrating our 100,000th Facebook fan and member #1 million of our expat community. This time, we don’t have a round number of similar elegance to announce, but a lot has happened for InterNations in the last 12 months, especially this summer.

In June, we kicked off a major site relaunch. The complete overhaul of the InterNations website, starting with our brand-new networking feature, is our most important project right now. Most of the relaunch so far has been going on behind the scenes of Product Development & IT, but the next year in the life of InterNations will put the results of their hard work into the spotlight.

In the summer months, we also introduced the Expat Insights Survey, a look at the daily life of thousands of expats around the world. While we are still busy with giving our official survey report the finishing touches, we are looking forward to presenting you with the results very soon. We’ll keep you updated!

InterNations Expat Blog Happy Birthday Pic 2Last but certainly not least, this summer featured the very first InterNations World Games – a series of football matches to support the InterNations Volunteer Program. Here it is indeed taking part that counts, and everyone’s a winner in support of a good cause. The World Games were great fun for everyone involved, and we hope for a repeat performance next year.

Today, we are proud of what we have achieved in our seventh year and excited about what year #8 will bring. Therefore we’d like to invite all of our members to celebrate with us: Birthday events in our Local Communities around the world are spread out over the entire month of September.

If you haven’t been to an InterNations birthday party yet, just check our event calendar and watch out for our special 7th Anniversary Events. Enjoy!

(Image credit: 1) iStockphoto 2) Sergej Kovalenko)