Did you get yours?

The arrival of a reissued credit card in the mail can mean inconvenience. But in some parts of the world right now, it should be cause for celebration. Magnetic strip credit cards that are replaced with ‘chip and PIN’ cards mean their owners can look forward to eventually enjoying the same level of fraud protection that others around the globe have had for a while.

Chip and PIN cards are a feature of EMV, short for Europay Mastercard Visa, a credit card transaction standard that was originally released in Europe in 1994. Over the last 20+ years, EMV has been adopted by many credit card providers. In North America, where magnetic strips are used far more commonly to collect purchase data, the conversion to EMV is finally underway.

Chip and PIN cards dramatically reduce the risk of card theft and fraud at points of sale.  The ’93chip’94 encodes the information transferred to the merchant, such as account numbers, and sends it differently with each transaction. Even if thieves manage to steal data from a merchant, they stealing little more than the equivalent of expired passwords. Chips are also significantly more difficult to duplicate than magnetic stripes. Consumers must also enter a ’93PIN,’94 or Personal Identification Number, when prompted.

While this system offers extra protection, there can also be inconvenience when travelers used to one type of payment system visit a country where another is used.  For example, Chip and PIN cards used in magnetic strip systems are vulnerable to point of sale fraud in the same ways that magnetic strip cards are. Magnetic strip cards do not always have chip and PIN and sometimes, EMV payment systems are not able to accommodate those cards.

It’s important for international travelers to consult their credit card provider prior to departure, and confirm that their card will be compatible to their destination’s preferred payment system. It’s also important to know that in a ’93magnetic stripe’94 country, you may be advised not to let the card out of your sight — and in a ’93chip and PIN’94 country, you’ll need to remember to take the card with you when the transaction is complete.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, International Product Manager, Living Abroad

Do You Send Assignees Abroad? Spend Time On Their Downtime

You may well engage your overseas assignees better by spending a little time on their downtime as well as their worktime, writes Iain Yule.

Important though it is to get the practicalities of an overseas move right, your assignees may engage with you with closer interest if you can finesse the fun as well as the formalities.

Passport? Check. Visas? Check. Accommodation? Check. Health plan? Check. Schooling? Check. Great ideas for what to do for rest and recuperation while in your new expat base? Um…

It’s important to remember that your assignees who are willing and able to uproot themselves from their comfortable homelife tend to be of the adventurous variety. They are happy to explore new opportunities and new experiences.

That’s why you may want to introduce them to some great ideas of what to do when the office closes for the weekend or the holiday break.

A new expat travel web-channel aims to help you and the assignee explore their new region. The channel does not assume travel starting from New York, Chicago, LA or even London. Instead it concentrates on travel adventures that set off from the expat base.

Let’s take a few instances.

Is your assignee based in the Middle East? They could escape the bustle of Abu Dhabi or the weary drag of Dubai by making short hops to other worlds:

  • Hurghada, Egypt. Coral reefs and turquoise waters perfect for windsurfing make Hurghada, on Egypt’s Red Sea Coast, popular. Within easy reach of the Giftun Islands and the Eastern Arabian Desert, Hurghada is a relatively easy beach escape and some of the world’s best diving and snorkeling sites are just offshore.
  • Luxor, Egypt. You may well have seen The Luxor in Vegas but this is the real deal. This ancient city grants easy access to the magnificent pyramids. Why not try a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of Kings?

Note that many countries have issued travel warnings for Egypt. If you’re currently planning a trip to Egypt, please consider the risks and monitor your government’s travel alerts.

Is your assignee based in the Far East? They could escape the hulabaloo of Hong Kong or the shock of Shanghai by making short hops to other worlds:

  • Siem Reap, Cambodia. This city grants easy access to the ancient structures of Angkor Wat, within one of the largest religious complexes in the world. Siem Reap is Tripadvisor’s #2 Travellers’ Choice Destination in the world for 2015. Hire one of the excellent local guides to design a tour lasting several days through this fascinating, until recently forgotten and overlooked, ancient site.
  • Hoi An, Vietnam. On the central coast, Hoi An is a well-preserved trading port of the 15th-19th centuries. Must-sees are the Japanese Covered Bridge and the Quan Cong Temple. The town’s expert tailors will be happy and quick to make you some bespoke clothing.

These are just a few of the travel ideas that begin from expat bases throughout the world. View more at http://www.worldofexpats.com/travel.

I hope you will enjoy sharing some downtime tips when you send employees overseas. Happy assignee? Check

  • The author of this article, Iain Yule, is Editorial Director of World of Expats – The First Destination for Expats. You can access free of charge a wealth of information on the whole expat experience at the website www.worldofexpats.com.

Do you telecommute?

According to a global study by Ipsos, one in five employees works remotely on a frequent basis.  Emerging markets rank highest in percentage of telecommuters, with 27 percent in the Middle East and Africa, 25 percent in Latin America, 24 percent in Asia-Pacific. Only nine percent of those surveyed in North America and Europe telecommute frequently.

Of course, ease of telecommuting varies by job and industry. Manufacturing, fulfillment, health care, and other jobs require on-site employees, while certain services, sales, technology, and financial positions can be handled effectively from anywhere.

When asked whether they would be very likely to accept the option to work full-time from home if offered, 34 percent of connected employees surveyed said yes. So what are the pros and cons?

Proponents point to higher productivity – as much as 25 percent according to a Telework study of U.S. workers. Employees also experience less stress and tend to work 60 percent of the time they gained by not commuting. Talent retention, reduced absenteeism, and environmental benefits are also realized. Real estate considerations impact both the company and its employees, as the employer pays for less physical space and employees have a wider choice of residential areas when commuting is taken out of the equation.

Detractors claim the practice of telecommuting can breed distrust in managers and resentment among coworkers who must be in the office. They also claim it quells collaborative and creative processes. Yahoo!’s CEO Marissa Mayer famously ended all work-at-home situations two years ago, citing the innovation that is sparked by chance hallway encounters and an environment of shoulder-to-shoulder coworkers. Isolation is another potential detriment to WAH employees.

Regardless of critics, this trend does not seem to be reversing itself any time soon. WORKshift Canada points out the attractions for three large workforce demographics: Baby Boomers are at the height of their careers and heading toward retirement. They favor employment on their own terms over jobs that run their lives.  Gen X workers are independent; they want freedom and a work-life balance. Gen Y/Millennial workers are very tech-savvy and collaborative, and expect employers to provide options.

It is important to note that setting up a virtual workplace in a foreign country – as an international assignee’s spouse, for example — can present visa and compliance issues.  It is critical that employers and employees alike thoroughly investigate and resolve these issues before beginning a cross-border telecommuting job or assignment.

As technological innovations expand and global business evolves, corporate policies and culture continue to take this practice into account. Writing this from the northeastern United States in the dead of winter with the flu going around, this writer sees working from home as a pretty smart, productive choice.

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, International Project Director, Living Abroad

Ways to stay in touch across the miles

I’ve lived at some distance from family for two decades — and yet, we’re still very close. While we visit each other when we can, and talk regularly via telephone and Skype, we’ve also developed less common ways of keeping in touch. Here are four of them:

Playing games

Not all interaction has to be about direct communication. Thanks to smartphones, social media and video game consoles, my family has brought childhood friendly rivalries into the 21st century. Whether we’re online playing cards, solving puzzles, slaying dragons or reminding each other of our long-standing trivia expertise areas, we’re spending time together.

Sharing in one place

Email is great, but it can also be overwhelming…or it can arrive at exactly the wrong time. And yet, my family often wants to share fantastic resources, interesting discussions, in-depth articles about our interests, and some genuinely hilarious videos. We’ve learned that for us, the best way to do this is to send items to a centrally accessible location, where we can each read at our leisure. There are many options for this that cater to all levels of online proficiency: Facebook groups, blogs, group texts and shared online spaces like Dropbox are just a few of them.

Watching movies and shows together

The only difference between doing this in person and online is that I can’t coax my sister into making my popcorn. Streaming video is readily available — and tools that support viewing it haven’t been far behind. Websites like Rabbit offer chat rooms where we can all gather to watch video being played by one of us. Some streaming services, such as EPIX, allow subscribers to invite non-users into a virtual screening room. These options are considerably easier than trying to coordinate when everyone needs to push “play!”

Using GPS

GPS apps aren’t always a good option for those who want to keep in touch, but they’ve worked well for my family. Last year, we gave each other access to our profiles in Find Friends for iPhone (Life360 for Android is a comparable app) while we were all traveling. We forgot to turn it off when the trip was over. Soon enough, we discovered GPS had other uses at wider ranges. My father saw that my daughter and I were both at her school one evening last week. He asked me to send pictures of her concert performance — which I might have otherwise forgotten to do. When he’s on his biking exercise route, I send him encouragement that he’ll read when he’s finished his ride. And when my sister and I see each other at our local grocery stores, we tell each other to get popcorn for our next movie watching session.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, International Product Manager, Living Abroad

Do you know what Guanxi is?

I was in Xi’an, China, near the Terra-Cotta Warriors.

A man called to me in front of a McDonald’s. “Wait, sir!”

I paused, and he ran up to me. “Which country are you from?” he asked.

“America.”

“California? I have family there. Can you help me get a visa and a new passport?”

He sensed my confusion, and proceeded to tell me his story:  He had practiced English every night, after work, for over ten years. He wanted his English to be good enough so that he could get his family a visa, so they could come to the USA for a better life.

And that’s when he asked again about the visa. “Here’s my information.  Can you give it to the Embassy in San Francisco?”

I tried explaining that wasn’t how it worked in the USA. I had no power or influence at all, and definitely no immigration connections.

Nonetheless he kept pushing. “You take my information, okay?”

At the time, I wasn’t aware of the Chinese concept of guanxi, which very loosely translates as “connections” or “relationships.”

I had no idea that you can literally get anything if you know the right person. However, you are invisible until you know someone personally.

In China, it isn’t uncommon to hear of people who were waitlisted for a decade for an international visa… and then met the right person, or made a family connection.  Within a week, the entire family had the right papers to move abroad.

This is not only common in China, but in many developing nations. Personal connections are almost always the way to build trust and skip the line, even when it’s unfair or even illegal.

Understanding the culture in China truly can help you in your assignment. You will better understand not only the locals and their view of relationships, but how to do business in a country where regulations aren’t necessarily well enforced.  And it might help you understand why you get requests for promises that you can’t keep!

Written by Alexander Heyne, Project Manager, Living Abroad

Solving a Small Slice of the Relocation Puzzle by Ellen Harris, GMS, International Product Director at Living Abroad, LLC

Families moving to a new host country have a hundred things vying for attention. Errands that were simple – even mindless – back home now require some thought, choice, and planning.

For example, where do you shop for groceries?

In a familiar neighborhood, hopping out to the supermarket for a few items is so commonplace that you may have found yourself back home with little recollection of the trip. It doesn’t register as remarkable because it takes so little thought.

But newcomers in a foreign land spend a lot of time getting to know how to fulfill daily needs like putting dinner on the table. What stores are close by? Which has the best selection? The best prices? How will they manage a grocery shopping trip with three small children and limited time?

Enter the Internet.

Grocery store websites, food delivery, and “click and collect” options make it easier for consumers to comparison shop and save time.

In years past, grocery delivery was viewed with skepticism and consumers’ high standards for quality and ease were not often met. Those standards remain high, but today’s shoppers are very comfortable with Internet shopping – for all sorts of goods – and service is better. Successful merchants in the online grocery business must make shopping simple, with clear website design, quality products, and reliable, convenient delivery.

In the UK, major grocers like Tesco , ASDA , Sainsbury’s, and Morrisons all deliver food. They also offer wine and, depending on the store, everything from household goods and electronics to tires and baby furniture. A minimum order is usually required (e.g. £25), with free delivery for orders over a certain amount. Delivery charges may vary, with higher fees for high-traffic times and lower fees for quieter times or days of the week.

Grocers that deliver let customers select a time slot, a window of a few hours that suits the buyer’s schedule and allows the driver some leeway. Orders typically are placed the day before the requested delivery date, often as late as midnight. For busy dates, like public holidays, stores suggest early ordering; some allow up to three weeks in advance.

Some customers find it easier to pick up their grocery order at a store. Where online ordering allows for “click and collect”, this option saves time by having store employees select and pack the order, which is ready for the customer on arrival.

Discount retailers like Aldi and Lidl don’t offer web order/delivery, but their websites display what they carry, and both offer mobile apps for sale notifications, shopping lists, and recipes.

Among these stores and others, chances are that newcomers to the UK will find the products they are looking for, and will find it easy to get food on the table.

In other parts of the world, the Internet similarly helps people fill their pantries conveniently. Those new to Qatar, for example, may find themselves trying to sort out grocery options, and worrying about carting it home in the very warm climate. While Internet grocery delivery has less of a foothold in Qatar, some new services are worth mentioning.

FreshQatar delivers food, health and beauty items, and household products to 15 areas around Doha. A minimum order of 100 QAR (about US$27 or £16) is required. Delivery costs 50 QAR, but it is free for orders over 500 QAR. Customers sign up to receive their orders sometime between 3:00pm and 9:30pm daily.

The Green Box also delivers in Doha, offering fresh fruits, vegetables, deli items, and other food and non-food items. Fresh seasonal items are delivered according to a set schedule. For example, a box of fruits or vegetables arrives on Sunday, and hormone-free poultry on Thursday. Orders of 150 QAR qualify for free delivery. Payment can be made online or upon delivery, and an app is available for Android.

In addition, traditional grocery store websites make it easy to comparison shop or to search for a specific item. Carrefour , Spinneys , and LuLu give shoppers a good idea, online, of their Qatar store offerings. Expatriates in Qatar have cautioned that inventory and prices can change, so if you see an item you like at a good price, buy as much as you can or need. You may return to the store later and find it is unavailable or is priced differently.

With expanding choice and delivery options, grocery shopping may just become one of the easier things to figure out in a new home!

Published in ACS International Schools Newsletter.

New technology = new relocation planning by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Living Abroad LLC

Technology and connectivity are fundamental parts of a family’s global relocation plan. Choosing what equipment to take, establishing what services are available, determining the best options for at-home and mobile connectivity — all of these decisions can make a critical difference in quality of life, and therefore, an assignment’s overall success.

Yet, it is very easy to overlook the fact that technology is always on the advance. Such innovation makes life easier, especially when it comes to local and global communication. But, it also affects assignees and their families — and their decisions — in new, and sometimes unanticipated, ways.

What are some of the newer technology features, and issues, of which relocating families should be aware?

Video gaming

There is much more to taking video games to a new country than selecting the correct power converter for a console, or choosing favorite discs. Online functionality is now the norm in video gaming, not the exception. The Internet is used to purchase, download and update games, as well as allowing players to interact. In addition, as with DVDs and players, some consoles and games are region-coded. Online availability of titles can also be region-coded.

  • If a family plans to play video games in a new country, these are some of the issues they may face:
  • Will the local language in the new country be a barrier in areas such as the purchase of new games, customer support, technical support, or online interaction?
  • Are online gaming services, such as XBOX LIVE, PSN, or Steam, available in the new country? If so, are there any account, hardware, or setup changes that must take place in advance of arrival?
  • What options are available for gaming subscription payment in the new country? Are certain forms of payment more secure than others? Is it advantageous to purchase an extended subscription prior to departure?
  • Do home Internet subscriptions in the new country support technical specifications for online games?
  • Does the new country limit the importation of video games due to format or content?
  • Are hardware technical support and upgrades available in the new country?

Media streaming services

Internet speed increases and line improvements have brought films, television shows, and telephone service online. In some locations, users can choose to rely exclusively on the Internet for them. This can offer cost savings, as well as a great deal of convenience.

If a family intends to use their home Internet connection for these services in a new country, here are some questions to ask:

  • Is Internet speed and access in the new country at appropriate levels?
  • Are popular streaming services, such as iTunes or Netflix, available in the new country? If not, are there local equivalents? What are the terms of service, and the costs? Are there additional options bundled into a service, such as the ability to select and return DVDs locally, and what equipment is required?
  • Does the new country have legislation that limits what online services residents can access, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or instant messenger services?
  • Are there laws that dictate what online content can be viewed? Is Internet activity monitored in the new country and if so, by whom?
  • Are alternate methods of Internet access preferable? For example, a virtual private network (VPN) can offer digitally secure access to a home or office network.
  • What are good contingency plans for staying informed of weather, news, and other developments in the event of a power or service outage?

Locator apps

Smartphones are almost ubiquitous globally, and international travelers of all kinds are well aware that advance planning is necessary to use them in a new destination. But an enhancement found on many smartphones, Global Positioning System or GPS, has given them an additional use that can be quite valuable to families. Some smartphone apps with GPS functionality allow users to track other users on maps, if mutual consent has been established.

The ability to view a family member’s whereabouts can provide peace of mind anywhere. However, additional concerns about unfamiliarity and security make these apps particularly sought after and valuable in international relocation destinations. For example, in 2013 more than half of users of the family locator app Life360 resided outside of the United States, despite the fact that the app was only available in English and its other features were much more limited internationally.

A family that plans to use locator apps on smartphones to track each other should consider these factors, in addition to other mobile communication planning:

  • What smartphones are available in the new country, if currently owned ones will not work there?
  • Is a smartphone’s GPS functionality limited in any way, by government regulation or by service provider?
  • What locator app, such as Live360 or Glympse, is best suited to a family’s needs? Is a chosen app available to all of the family’s smartphones?
  • What locator apps are available locally? Do those apps provide more detailed or less detailed information than others?
  • What provisions can be made if the app is particularly draining on battery life, smartphone memory, or usage plans?
  • What is an effective backup plan for staying in contact if there are unanticipated outages, especially those that only affect some family members?

Advantages to looking ahead

By identifying these issues and their solutions in advance, families who relocate internationally can benefit from access to familiar activities, fewer ongoing costs, and better communication. They can also establish a pattern of identifying new technological needs for future assignments, and for future convenience.

Published in ACS International Schools Newsletter – click here.

International Education: Cost versus Quality

Education has never been more expensive, or more highly valued, writes Iain Yule, Editorial Director for World of Expats.

The average cost of a university undergraduate education for an international student in the USA is over $36,000 a year. But at $42,000 a year, Australia is the most expensive option.

Nearly three quarters of parents around the world would consider sending their child abroad for a better university education. Half of parents globally rank the USA in their top three for countries that provide the highest quality of education, according to a report from banking group HSBC, ‘The Value of Education: Springboard for success’.

But parents may have to make a greater investment if they plan to send their children abroad for a western education because, although the perception is that ‘west is best’ in terms of quality to educate children, the reality is that the costs are high.

More than a third of parents rated the UK in their top three countries for educational quality, but the annual costs including university fees and living costs are in excess of $35,000 a year.

The report, which surveyed over 4,500 parents in 15 countries, suggests that parents recognise the value of a good education, but too many are still financially underprepared. Some 89% of parents across 15 countries said that they wanted their children to go to university, but more than half wished they had started saving earlier for their child’s education.

Simon Williams, group head of wealth management at HSBC said: “The key reasons to send children overseas are the acquisition of foreign languages, international experience, and independence. An international education brings an extra dimension of complexity to planning, particularly financial planning.

“The majority of overseas education is privately funded by parents, but while the concept of a college fund is well established in the United States, it is still the exception elsewhere. The prospect of educating children, especially if parents choose overseas education, can seem daunting, but with proper planning and an astute investment plan, most of the financial uncertainties can be eliminated.”

International Education: Cost and Quality

Country University Fees per year Cost of Living per year Cost Total per year Cost Rank Quality of Education Rank % who rank country in top 3 for Quality of Education
Australia $24,081 $18,012 $42,093 1 3 25
Singapore $18,937 $20,292 $39,229 2 6= 10
United States $24,914 $11,651 $36,564 3 1 51
United Kingdom $21,365 $13,680 $35,045 4 2 38
Hong Kong $13,444 $18,696 $32,140 5 7 6
Canada $16,746 $13,201 $29,947 6 4 20
France $247 $16,530 $16,777 7 6= 10
Malaysia $2,453 $10,488 $12,941 8 9 3
Indonesia $4,378 $8,527 $12,905 9 11= 1
Brazil $59 $12,569 $12,627 10 11= 1
Taiwan $3,338 $8,573 $11,911 11 10 2
Turkey $1,276 $10,089 $11,365 12 11= 1
China $3,844 $6,886 $10,729 13 5 13
Mexico $750 $8,710 $9,460 14 11= 1
India $581 $5,062 $5,642 15 8 5

The USA and China rate each other’s educational systems highly, putting each other in their top three for the quality of education they provide. Some 73% of Chinese parents think the USA offers a high quality education. However, it may be more cost effective for parents in the USA to send their children to university in China, with an annual overall cost of less than $11,000 per year.

  • The author of this article, Iain Yule, is Editorial Director of World of Expats – The First Destination for Expats. You can access free of charge a wealth of information on the whole expat experience at the website www.worldofexpats.com.

Can you find happiness in hard work?

Did you know there are 100 Chinese characters that mean Happiness?

We didn’t, until we saw those 100 characters, beautifully formed in mother of pearl and inlaid in gorgeous red lacquer.  In fact, one of our team is the proud owner of this stunning piece of art after winning it last week at the Worldwide ERC’s Global Workforce Symposium in Chicago!

The lacquer’s red color represents positivity, luck, success, and happiness. Mother of pearl is used in art work and decoration to convey elegance and luxury. The Chinese characters date back 5000 years, but the happiness they brought last Friday was very present.

Hand-made in Vietnam, this art was created through a process that is many centuries old. In PhuTho province, early Vietnamese artisans discovered how to convert juices derived from the Rhus Succedanea tree to a slow-drying natural lacquer which protects delicate art.

Would you believe the process can take up to four months for a single piece? Artisans follow more than 15 steps and apply 18 coats of lacquer to make art that is not only beautiful but also durable.

According to DSP Relocation Asia, the donor of this gift, crafting lacquer-ware requires knowledge, patience, ingenuity and foresight.

The patience and hard work devoted to this particular piece made Erin – and all of us – very happy indeed.

Written by Ellen Harris

Are you heading to a conference?

If you find yourself heading to a conference, here’s some great tips to make the best use of your time and get the most out of the day.

Maximize your time by planning ahead.

Read your conference’s agenda. Identify not only the formal opportunities for education and outreach, but available time in which you can create your own opportunities. Look at floor plans and area maps in advance. Are the events you’re attending close together, or far apart? Locate useful amenities, such as shipping services. Research arrival and ground transportation, tipping customs, dining options, and local etiquette. All of these efforts will increase your confidence, and let you make the most of your time at the conference.

Choose tools that eliminate stress.

Card files, bulky planners, and notebooks accidentally left in a taxi or on a plane can be relics of the past. Computer and smartphone tools such as Dropbox, Simplenote, Evernote Hello, Google Calendar, and Fantastical collect your thoughts, streamline your contacts, and tell you where you are expected to be in ten minutes…and they’ll still remember it all, long after your return home.

Step beyond saying hello.

Conferences are one of the best ways to contact with other like-minded people. We are all stuck at our desks with lots of hours online. Attendees at any conference want to be together to exchange ideas, get new ideas, and dream big. If you have an issue at work, ask meaningful questions of other attendees and vendors. Attendees are willing to help other like-minded individuals, so use the event to get what you need for your business. Many vendors are also willing to share their experiences in dealing with other companies, which gives you valuable insights to bring back to the office.

Stay sharp.

Conferences often require more walking and talking than an ordinary work day. What’s more, fantastic sessions and scintillating conversation can mean compromise on meals and rest. Carrying a water bottle and some small snacks allows you to renew energy conveniently. And a quick stroll around the block can restore needed focus.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald

If your conference is taking you out of the country, read up on a destination of your choice by clicking on the free trial button on the right.