When in Portugal…

In Portugal, exchanging gifts is not expected when doing business, but small social gifts are more common. When invited to a Portuguese home, bringing red carnations should be avoided as they are a symbol of ________.

  1. Revolution
  2. Bad faith
  3. Courage
  4. Illness
Click here for the answer!

The Australian bushfires: Five facts, and ten ways to help

While bushfires are a regular springtime occurrence in Australia, record-breaking hot and dry meteorological patterns are among the factors contributing to their current unprecedented scale and intensity.

To date, at least 27 people and an estimated 1.25 billion animals have died due to this season’s bushfires, and over 72300 sq km/18 million acres of land have been destroyed.

In many parts of the country, mobile telephone and Internet service has been intermittent during the crisis. This has made it difficult for many to receive evacuation warnings, and has challenged rescue efforts.

Haze from the fires has been visible from as far away as Auckland, New Zealand, approximately 2150km/1300mi southeast of Sydney.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of the bushfire crisis is free of charge to all online readers.

How you can help communities affected by Australia bushfires:

Givit Disaster and Emergency Recovery Service: Current campaigns

New South Wales Rural Fire Service

Red Cross Disaster Relief: Australia

Save the Children: Australia: Bushfire Emergency

St. Vincent de Paul Society: Vinnies Bushfire Appeal

How you can help animals affected by Australia bushfires:

Animal Rescue Collective

Animal Welfare League

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

WIRES: New South Wales Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service

World Wildlife Federation: Help Save Koalas

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

Let Living Abroad’s International Relocation CenterGlobal Business Travel Center  and Culture Coach Online equip your assignees, families and global business travelers with the tools they need to navigate the unfamiliar with confidence.

Plan ahead for health

While medical issues are stressful in any location, they can be especially daunting in a new and unfamiliar environment. Here are some ways you and your family can reduce the risk of health issues while abroad, even before you depart for assignment:

Research and schedule


Are there any regional outbreaks, diseases, or health hazards of which you should be aware in your new home? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) and World Health Organization, (WHO) are good sources for current information on endemic and short-term health problems in locations around the world. In addition, government agencies often issue regular country-specific advisories, available to their citizens who are traveling or relocating abroad.  These advisories can include health considerations. Examples include Foreign travel advice in the UK, Smartraveller in Australia, Travel Advisories in the USA, and Travel Advice and Advisories in Canada.


It is also critical to determine well in advance what your options for health care insurance will be while you are abroad, and if the available coverage will meet your family’s needs. In the event that neither your employer nor your destination country’s government offer health care insurance, other expatriates, business colleagues, and international schools are all good resources for guidance in this area. International firms specializing in supplemental or comprehensive overseas medical coverage can also have helpful information.

Even if there are excellent doctors and dentists in your destination country, there will be plenty of things to keep you busy after your arrival. Therefore, before departure, arrange medical and dental checkups for every member of your family. Schedule these checkups far enough in advance to accommodate any necessary treatment. Be aware that some travel-related vaccinations are administered in a series, and may require even more time.

Consider your circumstances

Special conditions can dramatically affect a family’s experience on assignment. Well before departure, it is very important to determine whether an assignment will take you to any places that you or a family member may have difficulty accessing. You should also learn if there are any other challenges of which to be aware. For example, prescription medications may be more limited in your destination, or there might be fewer support services.

If a family member has a chronic health condition, determine whether it can be adequately treated in your new country. If they are under the care of a specialist at home, the specialist may be able to provide information or helpful references. Another source of information may be your country’s consulate in your destination country.

If you have family members who have depended on you for care while you are at home, it is very important to make and secure arrangements for them before your departure. Many countries offer visiting nurse or home help services, which may present a better alternative to residential care in some circumstances. Good sources of information for care options include physicians specializing in geriatric care, hospitals, health centers, social workers, support organizations, and community centers.

Gather personal data

Secure each family member’s complete medical records, so that they will be available to medical professionals in the new country. Make sure that these records are kept up-to-date, as you will need them when you return home.

Obtain written statements from your physicians and specialists that identify specific conditions, as well as recommendations for treatment. Medical imaging such as MRIs and x-rays, as well as any official analysis reports regarding these images, may also be worth taking with you. Sometimes, these materials are available in a digital format.

In case there are additional questions or more information is necessary, bring all contact information for home country medical professionals with you. In some countries, fax numbers or secure website logins are important communication tools, because they are commonly used for the transmission of medical documentation.

Your pharmacist can provide the generic names of prescription drugs so that pharmacies abroad will be able to match them with local equivalents. Any medications you take with you should be in the original labeled containers. You should have a signed and dated statement from the prescribing physician describing the health problem requiring the medication, as well as the dosage. Be aware that some countries require special documentation to accompany large quantities of medication, and that some countries do not allow the importation of certain types of drugs.

Store your family’s medical information in multiple and secure places, to reduce the risk of theft or loss.

Pack other important items

A small first aid kit is always useful, and over the counter medications, especially those for which you have specific brand or formulation preferences, are a wise addition to it. A health reference book from your home country may help you identify and treat simple maladies. An overnight bag with extra medication, toiletries and a blanket can be useful in the event of an unexpected hospital stay.

Many health conditions require items other than oral or topical medications for monitoring and treatment. If your preferred devices, testing materials, or other equipment is difficult to find in your destination country, be sure to bring a more than adequate supply, or make appropriate alternate arrangements.

Wearing a medical bracelet can be important if you or a family member has serious allergies, reactions to certain drugs, or a medical condition that should be immediately known in the event of an emergency. It may be useful to have its information translated into the language of the destination country, especially if English is not widely spoken.

Be prepared

Making key decisions and plans in advance can not only make a substantial difference in how you are able to handle medical emergencies while abroad, but also in the quality of your family’s assignment experience overall.

A new decade for business travel

It’s the beginning of 2020 and time for another year of corporate travel, which is crucial for any business.  Customer meetings still top the list as the reason for business travel, with average travel plans ranging from once or twice a month to once every two months.  Business travel supports business goals, skills development, recruitment and initiatives for the coming year.

What trends will influence business travel in 2020?

  1. “Bleisure” travel continues to grow with the influx of younger employees into the workforce.  More than half of international business travelers also plan to extend trips to accommodate leisure activities.
  2. Boutique and unique accommodations are growing in popularity.  They often feel homier and offer a little more flavor of the destination.
  3. Self-booking travel options and accommodations are on the rise. However, speaking with a customer service agent is still important for canceled flights and other travel emergencies.
  4. Travel policies are becoming more flexible. Dynamic travel policies, which adjust according to options available at booking, are on the rise.  Dynamic policies tend to have a higher adoption rate.
  5. New biometric technologies such as facial recognition will speed up security lines.
  6. The use of blockchain as secure storage of traveler preferences will continue to increase.  This supports secure and seamless cross-border travel.
  7. Dynamic corporate travel programs will help encourage organizational growth, improve retention, and increase employee engagement.
  8. Political tensions, trade issues, regional conflicts and rising oil prices will challenge growth in the travel industry.
  9. China will continue to dominate the business travel market, and India is slated to be in the top 5 business travel markets by 2022.

If you have employees who are frequent business travelers, it’s crucial to stay ahead of trends, and to keep your corporate policies updated.  The overall goal, of course, remains the same: making business travel efficient for better experiences and investments.

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T, Managing Director

Living Abroad’s Global Business Travel Center  supports global business travelers with the tools they need to navigate the unfamiliar with confidence.

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Leaping into 2020

Another leap year is upon us. And while none of us was around back in Julius Caesar’s day, most people know that calendars back then had fewer days per year, which threw off the seasons over time. The 46 B.C. Julian calendar reformed the previous Roman one, bringing the number of days to 365 and standardizing one additional day – an “intercalary day” — every four years.

But adding a day every four years began to accumulate incrementally more time than the solar year. By the time Pope Gregory XIII was head of the Catholic Church in 1582, he was concerned about Easter becoming out of sync with the spring season. His calendar skipped leap year every 100 years – with the exception of every 400 years, when it is a leap year. This adjustment makes the Gregorian calendar as closely aligned with the solar year as possible.

The Gregorian calendar is the international standard today, although there are countries that do not use it – including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Iran.

If we did not work leap years into calendars periodically, the seasons would reverse every 730 years or so. Just imagine if the hemispheres’ climates swapped according to the calendar. Not that anyone would notice, since it would take about 24 generations to achieve.

The current generations have some decisions to make this year. Presidential elections are on the 2020 calendar, in the United States as well as in Bolivia, Burundi, Greece, Iceland, and Poland.

Meanwhile, we will enjoy an extra day at the end of February. And those born on February 29 can actually celebrate their birthdays on their birthdays, rather than on March 1 as is the norm. As we start the new leap year, here are two quotes from motivational presenter Tony Robbins, born on February 29, 1960:

         “Success in life is the result of good judgment. Good judgment is usually the result of experience. Experience is usually the result of bad judgment.”

“Change is inevitable. Progress is optional.”

Here’s to a year of new experiences, and of learning, growth, health and happiness. Wishing you a Very Happy 2020!

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, Product Manager, Content Group

Don’t get stuck this holiday season!

Planning to step off your next flight and into a van or a sedan? You might want to plan ahead.

The end of 2019 will also bring the end of a business long familiar to many air travelers. Last week, the airport shuttle service SuperShuttle announced that it will close worldwide after December 31. (Customers who have reservations after that date will receive refunds.) At its peak, SuperShuttle’s distinctive blue and yellow vans transported walk-up and reservation-based passengers to and from over 100 airports in North America and around the globe. Company officials cited “changes in the competitive and regulatory landscape” as key reasons for the closure: in other words, the emergence and continuing expansion of ridesharing networks such as Uber and Lyft.

Traditional shuttle service availability can have a range of effects. Right now, for example, airports sometimes permit shuttles to arrive curbside, but designate space further away for rideshare networks.  Facilities that support transportation services in airport arrival areas can range from on-site personal attention to nothing at all.  And in some cities, fares and fee structures vary dramatically among transportation types.  Many factors contribute to these, such as an airport’s physical space, a goal of reduced pollution, or even local legislation concerning the employment status of drivers.

As airport transportation services begin, end, change and evolve, so too will their range of offerings, affordability and convenience. Checking ahead with your preferred provider and knowing what to expect when you arrive will help to ensure that the rest of your journey is a success.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

How do expats celebrate the holidays?

If expats don’t travel back to their home countries, how do they make the best of the holiday season away from home?

Their adopted countries’ holiday traditions may be very different from those back home.  Many expats bring their own personal and cultural traditions with them, and even incorporate some new traditions from their host country.

Four different American correspondents share their holiday experiences from around the world.

Portugal Correspondent, Tricia Pimental and her husband Keith, find the Christmas holiday not too different from the U.S. The season starts on December 8 with the Day of the Immaculate Conception.

“There are Santas, crèches, and tasquinhas, which are stalls selling handmade crafts, wines, cheeses, jams, and jellies,” Tricia says. “Festive lights are everywhere—downtown Lisbon is aglow—and in smaller communities, like where we live, the sounds of Christmas carols are heard through loudspeakers as locals shop and passersby enjoy festivities on the esplanade in the center of town.”

Don Murray and his wife, Diane, who live in Cancun, Mexico, say they celebrate Christmas twice.  However, he notes that it is more relaxed than in the U.S.

“We have our first dinner in a nice restaurant on Christmas Eve. Then, Christmas Day is our time for a homemade turkey dinner, calling friends and family on Skype, binge-watching Netflix, and enjoying some wine.”

Donna Stiteler, a Correspondent in Cuenca, Ecuador, says that she was ready to give up enjoying the holidays in the U.S., but living in Ecuador, life has taken a change for the better given the lower cost of living.

“This is the first time I’ve actually had time to put an effort into decorating. I had sort of given up on enjoying Christmas while living in the States. Fighting over whose house to go to, spending money on presents no one wants, the holiday music that starts at Halloween. Christmas had turned into a chore instead of a celebration.  In Cuenca, I have rediscovered the true meaning of Christmas, and for me now, it’s about stopping to take time to appreciate the things I have.”

Kirsten Raccuia, Southeast Asia Correspondent in Penang, Malaysia believed when she moved there, she would never celebrate a U.S. style Christmas again.

“Malaysia is a multicultural country, so they celebrate all sorts of holidays here, and Christmas is a big one. I’m still shocked to see girls in traditional hijabs, wearing Santa hats, putting up Christmas trees with their Chinese coworkers at a shop. They deck the malls with fake snow and huge Christmas scenes where people line up to pose and take pictures in all the merriment. They play holiday music starting the first day of November and a Chinese Santa walks around in full regalia, never mind that it’s 90° F. Just like home, kids are running up to hug Santa as he belly-laughs and walks around the mall.”

No matter where you find yourself during the holidays, take advantage of the new surroundings and best features of your adopted country and culture. That’s the sign of a successful expat – one who is adaptable and creative!

Prescher, Dan. “Keeping the Traditions-Expat Christmas Around the World.” International Living Web.December 25, 2017.

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T, Managing Director

‘Tis the Season for Shop & Ship

Now that it’s December, many of us are counting the days until Christmas and Hanukkah, making lists and shopping for presents.  For those who live abroad, being far from family means the added time and cost of shipping gifts.

This year both holidays fall in the same week; Hanukkah is celebrated from December 22 to 30.

Shoppers frequently take advantage of the option to have online purchases shipped directly to the recipient.  This is especially convenient when gift wrap is an option. Merchants typically provide “order by” dates that tell you when to ship for guaranteed delivery.  Perishable items like chocolates or cheeses often require two-day or similar shipping, and certain delivery addresses may be restricted.

But sometimes you have gifts for several family members – or multiple gifts for one person — which you need to consolidate into one box and ship yourself.

The main international shippers provide tools to let you estimate time and cost, based on various package criteria. Click their links below:

DHL      *         FedEx        *     UPS

When using these tools, be prepared to enter the shipping and receiving addresses (or at least postal codes), as well as package size, weight, and value of contents. Speed of delivery will also affect your price. Customs regulations vary by country.

Another way to send gifts from abroad is to utilize gift cards with email notifications. Many gift cards are digital, requiring no shipping, and are instantaneous or can be scheduled for delivery on a given date. You can send cinema tickets, restaurant gift certificates, music service subscriptions, or spa vouchers, for example, without a physical package.

Finally, if your loved one has a favorite local merchant or food vendor, you may be able to contact them from abroad and arrange a local delivery. Perhaps a hometown florist or bakery has the perfect gift for the holidays.

Plenty of options are available, and with a little planning, everything will arrive where you want it, on time!

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, Product Manager, Content Group

Does the train always run on time?

It is sometimes said that in Germany, the trains always run on time. But when trains did not run on time in Germany last year, a local commuter spotted opportunities for stress management, creativity, and generosity.

Claudia Weber travels daily from her home in Moosburg to her job as a travel agency clerk in Munich via a regional Deutsche Bahn route. In recent years her commute has grown in popularity — which presents additional challenges to a mass transit infrastructure that already serves both regional and international travelers.

Last year, track repairs began to prolong the Moosburg-Munich commute from 40 minutes to sometimes more than two hours one way. Many commuters in situations like these write letters, take to social media, or complain among themselves.

Ms. Weber, an avid knitter, decided to begin a new scarf.

When she came home each evening in 2018, she added two rows to the scarf. Dark gray yarn signified there had been a delay under five minutes that day. She used pink yarn for delays of six to 30 minutes. Red yarn was for delays of more than 30 minutes, or when both of her trips had run late.

Melissa’s daughter, Sara, posted a photo of the resulting 4 ft / 1.2m Bahn-Verspätungsschal, or “train delay scarf” on Twitter.

The response, especially from other German commuters who regularly dealt with similar issues, was so overwhelming that the Webers decided only one thing could become of the Bahn-Verspätungsschal: It was put up for sale on eBay, with the proceeds going to Bahnhofsmission.

Founded in 1894, Bahnhofsmission is an organization that supports those who use the German railway system in a variety of ways. Their missions include providing areas for respite in over 100 train stations, communication and translation services, identifying local accommodations and support services for new arrivals, and Kids on Tour, a program in which children who might ordinarily have to travel on their own are accompanied by volunteer adults trained in child care.

The train delay scarf sold for €7550 / US$8650 to a buyer who was, initially, anonymous. Eventually, it was revealed that the buyer was Deutsch Bahn, the train company. In addition to the purchase, Deutsche Bahn some hiring increases, and a 2019 on-time goal of 80% of all trains.

Nevertheless, Sara Weber reports that her mother has begun a new scarf. Given how common scheduling delays are for commuters, it’s reasonably safe to assume that now, she may not be alone!

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

Whoops or how to avoid it

In 2005 on Inauguration Day, President George W. Bush raised his fist with the index and little finger extended to bring on the cheers.  This was the time-honored “Hook ’em Horns” hand signal and slogan of The University of Texas at Austin.  Newspapers around the world were aghast at this gesture.

In Italy, it was referred to as “il cornuto,” which means your wife is unfaithful.  It is an offensive gesture in many other parts of the world and considered a curse in some African countries.  Clearly, he was not thinking of the repercussions this gesture would have in other cultures, but it does show just how powerful non-verbal communication can be.

People often mistakenly think that becoming fluent in the language of their new home country is all that is needed for intercultural communication.  Verbal communication is more than language, and includes tone and volume, speed and rhythm, vocal inflections, use of descriptive words, and the use of silence.  However, social interaction is far more often about cultural subtleties than it is about words and dialect.

In the seventies, a book came out called Body Language by Julius Fast.  At the time, this was a relatively new concept stating that your body doesn’t know how to lie.  Unconsciously, you telegraph your thoughts through your body’s movements and gestures.  If you were adept enough and with hints from the book, you could become an expert at reading a person’s body language, and therefore their thoughts.

About this same time, some form of diversity training was offered in the business world.  It wasn’t until the 1980s that cultural training classes were starting to be taught to those moving for a corporation to another country.  Terms such as verbal and non-verbal, high and low context, direct and indirect communication were being used to help people understand the nuances of a culture different from their own.

Fast-forward to today when technologies like social media, e-mail, and video conferencing lead some people to forget that the skills and awareness learned through cross-cultural training are still necessary. On the contrary, the best communicators know that technology is not a replacement for cultural education.

In today’s interconnected world, developing competency in cross-cultural skills can be extremely beneficial.  Those working with global teams can utilize cultural awareness to bring out the best in each team member.  Global sales travelers trying to enter a new market benefit by learning the nuances of the culture before walking into a meeting.  Cultural awareness also fosters development of key leaders, innovation, and integration of two companies as a result of a merger.

By working towards intercultural competence, assignees and their families are less likely to repatriate before the assignment is over, have greater satisfaction in their host location, and can deal better with the stress of living in a new culture.  Global business travelers will have the knowledge to conduct themselves respectfully during business interactions.

Cultural awareness can prevent misunderstanding in communication, both verbal and non-verbal.  Good communication is a sign of respect and understanding of cultural differences.  Mutual understanding leads to more successful outcomes and builds better relationships.  So, for those thinking that cultural training is a soft skill and not important, think again.

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T, Managing Director

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