When the Wedding Aisle Includes a Country Border

As we prepare for our son’s wedding next month, I was comparing notes recently with a Chicago friend whose son is also getting married. In Mexico. Janet has been getting to know her future daughter-in-law’s family, though they speak different languages and live thousands of miles apart, while she learns about wedding preparations in a foreign country. For example, she and her husband will not be hosting a dinner the night before the wedding. Rehearsal dinners are not customary in Mexico like they are in the United States.

Weddings are joyous occasions but also can be emotionally fraught events, even if you do know what to expect.  With so many blended families and relatives living around the world, people are increasingly likely to experience a cross-cultural wedding.

Janet’s family and the future in-laws are both Catholic, so they share the desire for a wedding mass. But some brides and grooms are blending religions as well as families. Communication is key in expressing family priorities, setting expectations, and creating space for compromise. Some couples plan two ceremonies – some time and distance apart – one according to each family’s traditions. This can often involve travel for some or all family members.

With this potential for international travel, couples who can plan ahead will give their family and friends the chance to reserve vacation time, book flights, budget funds, and make other necessary arrangements with greater ease.

Of course, a marriage ceremony involves certain legalities, no matter where it takes place. The betrothed couple needs to find out what licenses, certificates, blood work, or other requirements are in force at the municipal level or in the place of worship. Language translation help from the family in the wedding location may be necessary.

Finally, there are a few interesting traditions that may take non-natives by surprise: Some couples in Germany take part in Baumstamm Sägen, sawing a log in two at their wedding to symbolize working together through life. A tradition in Fiji holds that a man presents a whale’s tooth to the father of the woman he asks to marry. And a tasty one: Scandinavian weddings often feature akransekake, a cone-shaped confection made of iced almond cake rings and typically hiding a bottle of wine or champagne in the center.


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

Voting Whilst Abroad

Ask anyone who has traveled abroad for any length of time, and you will quickly learn that relocating to a foreign country requires a colossal amount of preparation.

What will your new living quarters be like? Where will your children attend school? How’s the local food? Are there any security concerns? What are the passport and visa requirements? These questions represent a mere fraction of top-level concerns for expatriates; however, one question that often gets overlooked is: How do I vote while abroad?

The answer is simple: absentee ballots…..

Most countries have some form of absentee ballot system that allows voters who are unable or unwilling to attend physical elections the opportunity to vote by other means. Voters may use absentee ballots for a wide variety of reasons such as illness or disability, overseas military duty, study abroad, or business relocation. In some countries, all voters are eligible to request absentee ballots for no stated reason whatsoever, while others are tightly regulated and only use absentee ballots in specific circumstances.

Postal voting is the most common procedure for requesting and submitting absentee ballots.

Typically, ballots are requested by writing a letter to an election office, town clerk, or other election official; many countries also use request forms that may be obtained online, printed out, and mailed to the appropriate office. Once the request has been received, processed, and approved, an election official will send an absentee ballot. The voter must then fill out the ballot and mail it back to cast their vote.

It is important to keep in mind that submitting an absentee ballot may add a considerable amount of time to the voting process, and therefore it is crucial to plan how you will return your ballot ahead of time. In some cases, submitting your vote is as simple as uploading, emailing, or faxing your completed ballot to your election officials. Other ballots – such as those for the US presidential election – must be submitted by mail.

You may use a local mail service if it has a reliable delivery to your home country, or you may use a professional courier service. A third option is to place your completed ballot in a postage paid envelope and bring it to your nearest embassy or consulate, which typically be able to forward it to your home country. The process of requesting and submitting absentee ballots varies by country.

The following are a few examples of how the procedure works in various countries worldwide:


India has an absentee voting system that is tightly regulated and generally restricted to government employees—typically military members or state officials—who are stationed overseas or in remote areas. These individuals, termed, “service voters” by the government, must apply for an absentee ballot via the National Voter’s Services Portal. Once the Election Commission of India has approved the application, service voters may request a postal ballot.

Recently, the government has also permitted the use of e-postal ballots. These forms are simply blank ballots that may be downloaded and printed out by registered service voters, who cast their vote by completing the ballot and mailing it to the appropriate returning officer via the post office.

South Africa

As of 2013, all South African citizens who will be either living or traveling out of the country during national elections may apply to vote abroad. Compared to other countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and India, absentee ballots work a bit differently in South Africa. Rather than sending voters a postal ballot, the South African government instead sets up physical polling stations in South African diplomatic missions worldwide.

To apply to vote abroad, registered voters must first submit a form stating their intention to vote abroad; this form may be completed either online or downloaded, printed, and mailed to the election office in Pretoria. Forms must be received at least 15 days prior to the election date. Once the forms have been received and approved, voters may then cast their vote at the mission indicated on their confirmation letter. It is important to note that polls in South African missions are typically only open on a single date, and it is not possible to vote on any other date.

United States

In the United States, the procedure for requesting absentee ballots varies depending on the type of election in which you are voting, as well as your home state. Registered voters may submit a request for an absentee ballot by writing to their local election officials—typically their town clerk. Increasingly, email, online forms, and even mobile applications are being used to request and submit ballots.

Ballots for the November general elections are delivered electronically or by mail forty-five days prior to Election Day. For other elections such as primary, run-off, and special elections, ballots are typically sent out thirty days prior. Some states allow voters to request a ballot either for a specific election, or for all the elections that year.

Once the ballot has been received and completed, it must then be sent to the appropriate US election official—either via email or online form for electronic ballots, or by mail or courier service for physical ballots. US citizens may also drop off completed ballots at their nearest embassy or consulate.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, absentee ballots take the form of postal ballots. Registered voters may choose to vote via post whether they are at home or abroad, and applicants are not required to state the reason why they wish to use an absentee ballot.

To apply for postal voting, UK residents must download an application form and mail the completed document to their local electoral registration office. Registered voters must send in their applications eleven working days prior to the poll. Residents of the UK may apply for a postal vote either for a single election or permanently, and voters from England Scotland, and Wales have the additional option to receive postal ballots for all elections during a specified time period.

In addition to postal voting, the UK also allows citizens to apply for proxy voting. Using this method, voters may appoint a close relative—defined as a spouse, civil partner, parent, grandparent, brother, sister, child, or grandchild—to cast their vote at a polling station in their stead. Proxy voters must be registered to vote for the election in which they will be casting a proxy vote. To apply for proxy voting, voters must submit an application and explain why they are not able to go to their polling station on polling day.

It is important to note that the regulations and procedures for postal and proxy voting in Northern Ireland differ from those of the UK. Consult the local Electoral Office for a comprehensive overview of election procedures there.

How to find information for your country

Whether at home or traveling abroad, it is crucial to voice your opinion and exercise your right to vote if you are able. If you reside in a country other than those mentioned above, a good first step to determining your country’s voting procedure is to contact your local embassy. To find your nearest embassy, consult: https://www.embassypages.com. For further information regarding absentee ballots in the countries discussed above, visit:

Election Commission of India
Register and Vote abroad – South Africa
UK Postal Vote
Electoral Office of Northern Ireland
USA Federal Voting Assistance Program

James Cafferty, Living Abroad, LLC

What’s different about the Chinese New Year in Brunei?

In Brunei, the Chinese New Year is the most important festival for the Brunei Chinese community. Pesta Tanglung, or ___________ is the name of the last night of the New Year.

A. The Dragon Festival
B. The Lantern Festival
C. The Flowers Festival
D. None of the above
Click here for the answer!

Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana….and You

Online help isn’t just for text files or chatbots anymore! Do you ever start everyday questions with:

“Hey, Siri…”
“OK, Google…”

If so, you’re far from alone. Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are the world’s most popular virtual assistants. With current versions born in 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2016 respectively, each represents years of research and development. For many people, each has become, literally, a household name.

While these virtual assistants were initially available to English speakers in North America, their reach has since grown by leaps and bounds. All are available in at least three languages — and in the case of Siri, more than twenty languages. Smart phones, appliances and electronics offer virtual assistant features, with more to come. Several international automobile companies have announced plans to integrate Alexa or Cortana into car models, and auto-friendly speakers with the technology are already available. These evolutions, as well as efforts to make virtual assistant output more like human interaction, have met with success. Research and consulting firm Ovum estimates that by the year 2021, the virtual assistant “population” will outnumber the human population.

Through their linked devices, virtual assistants offer a continuously broadening range of tasks and services. While their top use remains performing online searches, many people use virtual assistants to play music, radio, television shows, movies, weather forecasts, sports scores, news briefings and podcasts. Virtual assistants can set alarms and reminders, check on package delivery, manage a home’s lights and temperature, and perform mathematical calculations. Children enjoy asking virtual assistants to read books aloud, sing songs, tell jokes, and answer questions like “What does a hippopotamus sound like?” or “Where does wind come from?”

Global travelers benefit from virtual assistants, too. They can ask virtual assistants to estimate travel time, check flight statuses, summon a taxi, translate words and phrases, and suggest nearby entertainment, dining, and retail options. Virtual assistants can even place calls home that are inexpensive compared to telephones.

While all virtual assistants continually expand and improve, each of the top four still offer unique features, skills, and abilities. This can mean that users may be best served by more than one virtual assistant!  However, many households have a centrally available virtual assistant device. Here are some questions a globally mobile family should consider when choosing one:

Which virtual assistants are available in your destination?

If you’re taking a device to a new country, it’s important to check in advance for its capabilities there. Some features, such as online shopping, telecommunication, or apps, may be more limited, or unavailable.

What will you need your virtual assistant to do in your new location?

Since the overall list of virtual assistant device features can be overwhelming, identify what are likely to be your greatest needs before exploring all of the options. Are travel-related features important to you? Educational features? Home maintenance features? Will your family use the device to communicate with each other, therefore making the learning and recognition of different voices more important? Are parental controls necessary for your device and if so, what kinds? Also: Consider the possibility that your current central virtual assistant device might now be most useful in another role.

What do you already use? Will it all need to work together?

Most popular virtual assistants were originally created to support an operating system or online service, and therefore offer the broadest array of features for that technology. Those who rely on Amazon deliveries and Prime member services in a new location might opt for an Alexa device. A household that uses exclusively Apple products may find it best to stick to Siri. Cortana can be a good option for families using Windows 10 and Skype, and Google Assistant is often the choice for Android and Google Home fans. It’s also important to remember that many apps linked to virtual assistants offer cross-platform capabilities, and therefore offer additional options for getting things done. Look for features with commands that are simple, easy to remember, and truly meet your needs.

How will you want to address “eavesdropping?”

When you are not using a virtual assistant for help, it is still listening. While some virtual assistants (and apps) listen only for your next command, others may be sending your voice data to their own servers for evaluation, or even recording and storing it.  If this is a concern for you, be thorough in your evaluation. Review system and device user agreements closely. Speak with your employer or other relevant parties about guidelines that may already be in place for virtual assistant use. Learn if it is possible to turn off data collection and/or device microphones, and what the steps are to do it.

No matter which virtual assistants you choose to help you and your family, know that your needs may evolve as quickly as the technology itself! Make an effort to stay up to date on virtual assistant advancements, features, and issues, even after you have made some choices. This will help you get the most out of your choices, and also serves as an excellent reminder that Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana always have one key similarity: They’re designed to serve and to support…and therefore, help their users succeed.

Learn more about virtual assistants:

Alexa: http://alexa.amazon.com

Cortana: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/cortana

Google Assistant: https://assistant.google.com/

Siri: https://www.apple.com/ios/siri/

Erin Fitzgerald, International Content Manager, Living Abroad, LLC

Twenty you may have missed!

For many, a new year means a new calendar — and a few minutes of writing (or tapping!) important dates into it. But simply copying from last year’s calendar may not give you everything you should note in this year’s, especially if you are globally mobile.  Do you need to also add these to your 2019 calendar?

  • Club meetings
  • Driver’s license renewal
  • Local events and festival dates in a new location
  • Fitness club renewal
  • Frequent flyer points expiration
  • Medical prescription orders
  • Parking pass renewal
  • Passport expiration
  • Pet medical checkups and vaccinations
  • Public transportation pass renewal
  • Review of identity and other personal documents
  • School applications
  • Smoke alarm detector checks
  • Streaming service subscription changes
  • Tax and personal finance requirements
  • Travel-related vaccinations
  • Vehicle inspections
  • Vehicle registration renewal
  • Visa and/or permit expiration
  • Website password expirations

If you have a daily or weekly calendar, it can be very useful to add some of these twice — once when something related to it must be scheduled, and once on the deadline itself. A few more minutes now can save frustration later, when 2019 is not so new!
Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS,  International Product Manager

Digital Content at your Fingertips

When was the last time you had to think about where to buy a newspaper? Or whether your kids can find something to read over school vacation? Or how to view a movie you’ve been wanting to see?

Expats and business travelers may face these questions when they land in a new country, but technology has made access to media and books vastly easier than it was in the days when you had to scour newsstands for newspapers in your language, seek out consular libraries for books, and bring DVDs and a compatible player from home.

Now, content is in your pocket, on your tablet, on your laptop or desktop computer. Digital subscriptions, streaming video, and all manner of Internet news, entertainment, and social connections are accessible and portable.

What can you expect in your new host country or on your next business trip?

Streaming services

Watching streaming video on a personal device eliminates both the need for a television that’s compatible with the host-country standard and the limitation of viewing only local programs.

Millions subscribe to services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which offer broad libraries of studio films in addition to proprietary content. Popular original series are produced by both services, and many viewers like to keep up on favorites even while traveling.

NOW TV offers video segmented into entertainment, cinema, kids, and sports programming for viewers in the U.K. Users can buy passes for one or more categories and can pause the pass(es) if they travel elsewhere. Hulu is another region-specific service, offering TV shows and movies to users in Canada, Japan, and the U.S. for a monthly fee.

For relocating families, having access to familiar shows can be a comfort, and one less thing that is different in the host country. Both Netflix and Amazon are available nearly worldwide, with main exceptions being China, North Korea, and Iran. Licensing laws and censorship continue to block international content in those countries, including sites like YouTube. Instead, China has its own services, like iQiyi and Tencent Video, both of which claim active users in the hundreds of millions.

While Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have been used to access subscription content while abroad, Netflix began blocking that type of viewing in 2016, instead requiring subscribers to stream through the host country’s service. So, you may have to sign up anew if you move from one country to another for any length of time.

There are free video services as well, such as Sony Crackle and Tubi TV. These are advertising supported and not available everywhere. Crackle works in Australia, Canada, the U.K., U.S., and in 18 Latin American countries. Tubi TV works in Canada, India, South Africa, the U.K., and U.S.

Another free option is Hoopla, which is tied to your public library card and lets you check out movies, television shows, music, audiobooks, eBooks, and comics. Patrons may check out a certain number of titles per month. The maximum varies by library, but eight to 10 is common. Different borrowing periods apply to different media – 72 hours for most movies and TV shows, for example, and seven days for music.

Depending on where you are in the world, licensing can be an issue, if content – typically movies – are licensed only for a certain region, such as North America, for example. Often, a movie downloaded prior to travel can still be viewed abroad. Amazon has its own carousel of “Watch Abroad” titles for viewing by those outside the U.S.

Parental controls and kids’ zones are common in many services. These allow parents to block certain content by user, or to simply usher children into a kid-friendly section of the service. Some services offer different language options as well.

One final consideration is where you plan to watch. Most services work on a variety of devices and platforms, from iPhone, Android, Windows, Apple TV, and Chromecast to PlayStation, Xbox, and Roku. Check with any service you’re considering to find out if it will work according to your preference.


We are so accustomed to reading on our mobile devices these days that it’s hard to remember a time when this wasn’t possible. More often now, the challenge is not where to find print materials in your language, but how to manage the many channels of input from email, feeds, and online material.

Perhaps the easiest thing to access is your digital subscription to newspapers and magazines from a home-country or international news, entertainment, or special interest source. Various levels of information may be available for free, with premium content requiring a monthly or yearly fee. Again, censorship may come into play if you travel to a country with strict laws.

Local digital content also makes it easier to keep up with goings-on in the host country. Newcomers often sign up for alerts and updates from a news source or government service.

For any family member who likes to read, there are many ways to find digital material in your native language. Travelers can purchase content for reading on portable devices like smart phones, tablets, Kindle, and Nook. Downloading before travel may save you time and spare you Internet issues.

Free services like OverDrive and Hoopla work with your library account to provide access to millions of eBooks and audiobooks. Users must return items checked out via OverDrive, while Hoopla titles merely expire at the end of the borrowing term.

Books can be read on a computer, mobile device, compatible eReader, or MP3 player.  Hoopla Digital and Libby are the apps for Hoopla and OverDrive, respectively.

24/7 access

With so many options for viewing, reading, and listening to what you like — whenever you want – there should be a way for you and your family to happily consume digital content in your language, in any time zone you find yourselves.

Ellen Harris, GMS Product Manager, Content Group, Living Abroad, LLC

Why Business Traveler well-being is important for your company  

Frequent business travelers say their job satisfaction is directly tied to their business travel experiences.  According to a recent Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) survey, 59% of those looking for new employment state that a company’s travel policy is an important factor when considering a job opportunity. Not surprising is that almost 84% say that the caliber of their business travels directly translates to the success of the business trip.

The biggest challenge for business travelers is the time spent waiting to travel.  Delayed flights, non-direct flights, layovers, and other time wasters such as preparing an expense report, top the list and are all time consuming.

Enjoyable and pleasant hotels have a large impact on travel experience for global road warriors along with nonstop flights and receiving paid time off.  Many business travelers use their hotel room to continue working long after a meeting has ended, and hotel amenities and a comfortable room create a positive environment to get the work done.

Technology plays a certain role for happy business travelers and often enhances their travel experience.  High on the list is online destination information, like Living Abroad’s Global Business Travel Center, with access to over 150 destinations. Other time saving tools are mobile expense reporting, itinerary management apps, safety tracking apps, and apps for mobile payments.

Communication from the travel department can be seen as a plus if the right information is conveyed at the right time.  Some of the information business travelers have cited as perks are access to transportation options, information about the traveler’s destination, and internet availability.

Duty of care and corporate responsibility should also be conveyed to global travelers.  Ensuring your employees will be safe and secure no matter where they travel, especially in more remote locations, keeps them from suffering stress.  Duty of Care also includes keeping your business travelers healthy.  The most common threats to health are stress, sleep interruptions, unhealthy eating and drinking, and a lack of exercise, which are common side effects of being on the road.

Over the long-term, these issues can add up to chronic disease risks.  In addition, there is a strong correlation between the frequency of business travel and physical and behavioral health risks.  Business travelers who spent 14 or more nights away from home per month had body mass index scores significantly higher than regular employees. These individuals often reported poor self-rated health, clinical symptoms of anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence, no physical activity, smoking, and trouble sleeping.

What else can companies do to keep their business travelers healthy?  A combination of employee education and improvements in employer policies around travel will help.  Through education, employees can learn to identify and select the healthiest options available.  Training in stress management approaches and sleep hygiene techniques can be beneficial. Cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction training are therapeutic options that provide personal coping strategies and have been effective in managing depression, anxiety and workplace stress.

Keeping all these points in mind will help your business travelers to be successful and maintain a healthy lifestyle while on the road.  After all, a healthy and happy employee will both save the company money and make it more profitable.

If you are located in the New York City tristate area, Living Abroad and KPMG are hosting a Duty of Care presentation from International SOS.  Dr. Quigley, M.D., D.Phil., Senior Vice President and Regional Medical Director, Americas Region, International SOS Assistance, Inc., and MedAire, will be the guest speaker.

To learn more about ways to support your global travelers, click here to register.

Written by Cathy Heyne, GMS-T, Managing Director, Marketing & Business Development

Simplifying International Travel   

Whether you’re relocating your family a world away or taking a two-week business trip, wouldn’t you like to make your travel as simple as possible?

Here are some ways a subscription to the International Relocation Center (IRC) can help you do just that:

  1. For those facing a full relocation, use the Move Planner. This tool shows you a detailed, organized list of tasks that you can customize, sort, print, and view in any length you choose. You can also get email reminders when upcoming action is required or to deliver some useful IRC info.


  1. For the bulk of your relocation support content, you’ll choose your destination in the drop-down menu. Once in your report, open News Across the Web for quick access to health, headlines, currency calculator, weather, and holiday calendar. Right on the home page, these links inform you of any health issues and vaccines, remind you of the exchange rate, prepare you for weather, and help you plan meetings with the holiday calendar.


  1. Not sure where to find something? Search for it using the tool in the upper right. IRC content is organized and chronological, based on the flow of a typical relocation. But if you need to find something fast, the Search feature will speed you a list of all the places your topic is mentioned.



  1. Going on a shorter trip? Select Business Travel on the IRC homepage to get all the country-specific information you need, and none that you don’t. You’ll still find those helpful weather and currency links, along with descriptions of the business protocol and social customs that will help make your trip a success.


  1. Do you prefer to read an offline PDF, or want to share a paper copy with someone else?  Use the Print Report button in the top right. The Print function lets you print everything or make your own selections to create a custom report. Either way, it’s quick and easy, and you’ll have your desired information in hand.

These tips just scratch the surface of all the time you’ll save when you let the IRC help you. Prepare for business meetings, acquaint yourself with your host country, know what visa or permit you’ll need, find housing, choose a school, set up banking, learn how to get around and how to shop, how to stay healthy and what to eat. Whether you skim across the top layer of info or take a deep dive, your IRC exists to make your travel easier.

What practice may end in 2019?

What practice has the European Commission proposed an end to in 2019?

A. Tipping in restaurants
B. Seasonal clock changes
C. Highway speed limits
D. Cellphone use in airports


Who Doesn’t Love Trivia?

Living Abroad recently hosted the Forum for Expatriate Management holiday party with KPMG in New York City where attendees competed in teams to see who could answer the most holiday trivia questions. There were a total of 40 multiple choice questions.  The winning team (above) got 25 correct.

We thought it would be fun to share just ten of those questions.  How much do you know about holidays around the world?