Staying Strong Abroad

When relocating abroad, there’s much that changes in your work and home life. Anticipating, learning, preparing, accomplishing, adjusting, and assimilating are some of the positive action stages of a move. Each of these stages – which often overlap – require energy and focus. These phases can also involve anxiety, resistance, trepidation, isolation, frustration, and stress – states that drain energy and cloud focus. Your well-being depends on balancing these elements to a healthy degree.

Even when you are home, in familiar surroundings, exercise can help relieve burdensome emotional states. When you move to a new, unfamiliar place, exercise can be even more important.

Some people are gratified to find they can keep their fitness routines while abroad. Running, gym workouts, yoga, and other mainstream activities can be enjoyed almost anywhere. Activities requiring more specific equipment and spaces – like swimming pools, squash courts, horseback riding trails, and even golf courses and soccer fields – are not available everywhere.

Therefore, many newcomers face a choice: Do you continue (if possible) with a tried-and-true routine? One benefit of doing so is the connection and consistency it brings from your previous lifestyle to your host country. Your workout is familiar, and so serves the dual purpose of physical fitness and engaging in an activity that – unlike other aspects of your new life – does not require a major shift or learning curve. That can make it a source of relaxation and peace.

On the other hand, learning something new brings at least two benefits, too: A different area (or areas) of your body is developed and strengthened by a sport you’ve never tried before. A new activity may also assist with your assimilation, helping you meet new people and make a personal, physical connection with your new home.

For example, someone from landlocked Hungary may revel in ocean sailing or surfing if relocation brings him/her to a coastal city. A native of Kuwait on assignment in Canada may discover the joys of cross-country skiing. In neither instance would these activities be possible at home.

And there are some interesting sports to be tried. Did you know that Quidditch, the game from the popular Harry Potterbooks, is played around the world? Yes, there is an International Quidditch Association established in Middlebury, Vermont and with leagues in 26 countries – including Argentina, Canada, Korea, Spain, and Uganda.

Trying something new can also help you learn about yourself, too. A lifelong runner and biker, I recently took up Pilates and barre classes, and found that certain aches and weak points were not unavoidable aspects of aging but were rather the result of too little attention to certain muscles and joints.  Feeling stronger – in both body and mind – is a worthwhile goal no matter where you live.

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

What should you never do in Thailand?

In Thailand, what should you never do?

A.  Sit with both feet firmly on the ground
B.  Criticize the royal family
C.  Wear a red tie or scarf
D.  Wear a hat indoors

Click here for the answer!

Tips for Dramatic Winter Weather Challenges

This year, locations all over the Northern Hemisphere have experienced dramatic winter weather. High snowfall, strong winds, and dramatic shifts in temperature over short periods of time have made winter unusually challenging for people in many locales.

Here are some tips for weathering wild winters:

1. Take time to assess agility.
Just as it is important to consider preferences and experiences when you are in a cross-cultural environment, it is also important to do this when your overall experience of seasons is different from the climate you are in. For example, an American Midwesterner visiting the United Kingdom should be aware that a blizzard that deposits six inches of snow presents a number of challenges to local infrastructures. They should try to keep any frustration or impatience in check. Those from moderate climates who face harsher weather can seek out advice from locals – often, they are happy to oblige!

2. Store items where you will actually need them.
While it may be a great idea to keep an ice scraper in your car, keeping a second one in your home or garage can be useful with a cold car that has become encased in ice overnight. Snow shovels, sand, salt, car starters, and even extra outerwear are just some of the other winter items for which to consider best placement, and possibly even duplicating.

3. Plan ahead to prevent panic.
Even experienced winter warriors deal with the unexpected. Buying a supply of staple items, such as shelf-stable foods, toiletries, and other items, can help you avoid pre-storm crowded markets. Charge electronics you may need, such as lights, telephones, and radios, in advance. Pay ongoing attention to forecasts, and know what you will do in the event that weather prevents travel at a time when it is usually needed.

4. Remember that all water can cause winter woes.
Snow, ice and water may all consist of H2O, but each form presents unique challenges in winter. Snow can hide objects on the ground, making it easier to trip or run over them. Ice can mean damage to many things, including cars, homes, and power lines. Water can cause flooding and also buckle road pavement. In addition to keeping an eye on forecasts for storms, watch for rapidly plummeting and soaring temperatures.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

Expat Fatigue is Real

Nearly all assignees and global road warriors experience times of extreme fatigue, exhaustion, and feelings of hopelessness from time to time.  Some common symptoms include anxiety disorders and depression, which can be a result of bombardment with a series of changes in quick succession and little time to process these changes.  According to the World Health Organization, there are nearly 322 million people globally living with depression and 260 million struggling with anxiety.

Duty of Care is very important in supporting the health and well-being of your global employees.  The first step is to recognize that every one of your mobile employees may experience burnout due to the constant pressures of their day-to-day home and work life.  Companies must protect their most valuable assets – their employees.

What are some actions you can take to improve travel and assignment health and help employees to achieve a better work-life balance?

1.  Let your employees know that being flexible can go a long way.  All moves have a sense of uncertainty and they should try to leave room for things that may not work out as planned.

2.  Encourage them to set realistic goals with realistic timeframes. Completing the many tasks this way will build confidence instead of creating overwhelm.
3.  Schedule time to relax.  Some may even need to add their downtime to a calendar.  This allows the mind to focus on something other than the issues or stresses at hand.

4.  Encourage employees to eat well and try to add in time for exercise.  Creating set habits lends stability to a new situation.

5.  Find a trusted person to share feelings of overwhelm or even more extreme cases of depression. Remind your employees of programs your company has that offer access to telephone, online, email, and face-to-face counseling.

6.  Make sure to offer employees access to an online cultural learning tool and access to excellent destination information before they travel or move abroad.  Perhaps learning a few words in the language before traveling will eliminate the fear of not being able to communicate upon arrival.

7. Promote acceptance of host country culture.  Those who reject the host culture tend to be the employees that have the most problems.

Ultimately, empowering your global employees with tools and resources will add to their happiness abroad and yours.  “Companies that build a culture of health yield greater value for their investors.”(1)

(1)Source:  The Link Between Workforce Health and Safety and the Health of the Bottom Line, Fabius et al.  Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol 55, No. 9, 2013

For additional reading, click here.

Written by Cathy Heyne –  GMS-T, Managing Director, Living Abroad 

Be Safe Out There!

Nearly 1.8 billion people are projected to shop online in 2018 *

Approaching the holidays, we all tend to accelerate this practice. And if you have recently relocated, online shopping can be a comfort and a time saver. In many cases, you can get the same gifts you would have purchased in your native country, without having to leave your new home and navigate an unfamiliar retail landscape.

But what about safety? Data breaches, identity theft, credit card fraud, and stolen packages are real concerns. Here are some tips to keep in mind before, during, and after ordering anything online:

Before shopping

Be sure you’re connected to a safe Internet connection, whether at home, at work, or in a public space. Avoid public Wi-Fi and shared computers; you can’t tell how data is stored and what could be accessible to other users. Wherever you are, identify a secure connection before sharing your personal information.

On your own computer, keep your security software and anti-virus program up to date. Be careful about opening emails from retailers, and don’t click any links or download an attachment before making absolutely certain where it came from. Double check the email address; scammers will often change one letter or use a name nearly identical to a legitimate business.

Beware of incredible offers of low, low prices. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always use trusted websites. As with emails, sham websites can look like the real thing, but might use .net instead of .com, or make some other minor spelling change that’s easy to miss. Many major retailers have mobile apps, making it easier to be sure you’re buying from your trusted seller.

If your search for an item leads you to a retailer you’re unfamiliar with, check it out before placing an order. Search the company, make sure there’s a physical address and phone number available, and review any ratings or complaints with the Better Business Bureau or equivalent organisation.

Finally, more than half of global Internet shoppers purchase items from other countries. Know your host country’s customs regulations, duties, and taxes associated with an inbound purchase. If you’re shipping packages abroad, know the destination country’s rules, too.

As you shop

Once you’ve determined that your connection is safe and you’re on a legitimate web seller’s page, what’s next? If you decide to create an account, make your password a strong one. Using a password-generating tool is one way to create and manage random passwords for multiple logins.

When shopping on mobile platforms, take advantage of any additional authentication steps that can protect your identity and your funds. Before committing to a purchase, check the return policy. Note that buying far in advance – shopping for Christmas gifts in October, for example – may be risky if the seller has a 30-day return policy. Also confirm shipping times to assure that your package will arrive when you need it to.

Plan ahead for items that take longer to arrive, such as personalised goods. When shipping to another country, there may be a wider window of arrival estimates.

After your choices are made and you’re on the check-out page, make sure it indicates a secure payment platform, displaying SSL and HTTPS in the URL. The Secure Socket Layer (SSL) safeguards sensitive data; you may also see a lock icon. For one more layer of security, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts your connection, masking your identity and activity. It can be used across devices, so your smartphone, tablet, and computer can remain anonymous to trackers and thieves.

Finally, choose the most secure form of payment available to you. For example, credit cards are safer than debit cards. Credit card issuers offer protection from fraudulent purchases, while someone with access to your debit card could directly drain your bank account before you’re aware of the loss. Many shoppers use digital wallets like Apple Pay or PayPal. Again, keep passwords to these accounts strong and in a safe place.

After ordering

Keep track of what you’ve ordered, perhaps in an email folder for orders and shipping confirmations. In a flurry of shopping and the busy season, sometimes you can lose sight of what packages are arriving when. Take advantage of package tracking and delivery notifications. This allows you to take the package inside immediately when it’s delivered. If packages will be arriving to an empty home and security is a concern, consider shipping to your work address or to a trusted friend who can hold them for you. Certain items require – or have the option – for a signature upon delivery. This will further safeguard your packages, ensuring they won’t be left outside, but it can be a challenge to meet the delivery in person.

Check your monthly statements, review credit card transactions and any digital payment source you use. Report any fraudulent activity immediately for the best chance of reimbursement and damage control.

For more tips on a broader range of Internet safety – like charity donations and booking holiday travel – consult Get Safe Online. Following these precautions can reduce your risk of unpleasant surprises and give you peace of mind this holiday season.

* Statistica (July 2017). Number of Digital Buyers Worldwide 2014 to 2021.

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

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.

Cheers!

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

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…”
“Cortana…”
“Alexa…”
“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