Thing are looking up!

How many hours a day do you spend looking down at paperwork, or into a screen? Optometrists recommend a 20-20-20 rule to ease eye strain: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Stretches and exercises are helpful to relieve neck, shoulder, hand, and back fatigue.

Taking a brisk walk can be even more restorative. But now that half the earth – and most of its population – is experiencing shorter days and weak sunlight, getting outside tends to be a dim proposition.

So why not take in the night sky? This December, Jupiter and Saturn will be visible to us as close as they have been in 400 years. On December 21, a telescope or binoculars will show you the two largest planets side by side, with their moons. Bundle up, find a place away from ambient light, and take in the beauty of what my family likes to call ‘sky jewelry.’

For general stargazing, Travel & Leisure maps out the 10 best spots in seven countries around the world: Chile, Costa Rica, France, Japan, South Africa, Sweden, and the United States (Utah, Hawaii, New Mexico, California).

Of course, even during our short days, the sky offers no shortage of breathtaking views, some of the most gorgeous of which recently have been at sunrise: a bank of clouds creating a literal silver line as the sun rises behind it. One morning was so foggy that the rising sun looked like a fireball throwing off flames.

Clouds are their own sources of astounding artistry. They can be dramatic, forbidding, peaceful, or present us with a story-book tableau that looks like a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream pint. To quote a character in Swedish mystery writer Kjell Eriksson’s “The Cruel Stars of the Night:”

“I collect clouds,” Lars-Erik said and leaned forward, looking up at the sky. “It is like an enormous art exhibition. I like to stand out in my yard and watch nature give me fresh exhibitions every day, and to top it off it’s free. Have you ever thought about how the sky can give rise to the most unbelievable formations?”

As 2020 draws to a close and we await a COVID-19 vaccine, may the simple splendor of our natural world provide some peace and beauty, even in the dark.

Global Risk Estimates

After many years as a content manager for Living Abroad, I know it’s not unusual to discover online tools and resources that are interesting, useful, and powerful, and to share them with our globally mobile users. However, it’s a little more unusual to encounter one that I also immediately share with friends, family and colleagues.

The COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool, one of the several resources newly added to Living Abroad’s International Relocation Center, was developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s GT-BIOS. It uses current data throughout the United States and Western Europe to help determine the likelihood of at least one person in attendance at an event ranging from 10 to 5000 people being infected with COVID.

Users are presented with a map of the United States, but choosing the “Global Risk Estimates” tab at the top of the website allows you to view the countries in western Europe for which data is available. From there, users can select their county or applicable administrative region. The “Event Size” slider in the left column allows users to change the estimate of event attendees, and “Select Ascertainment Bias” allows users to adjust data based on presumed COVID testing availability.

For example, on November 16, in my county in Connecticut, USA, there is currently a fifty percent risk that at an event with fifty people, one person who would test positive for COVID will be present.

 

 

As always, it’s important to be aware of context and circumstances when using online resources. You can read more about the research behind this tool in its “About” tab, and at the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

To the future and beyond

When the world came to a screeching halt in March, no one could imagine how our industry would change from one day to the next.  Yet as we moved into the summer months, we heard through many forums how companies were dealing with their assignee population.  It can be summed up best from Stephen C. McGarry, Director of Global Mobility at WPP, in his quote, “We’ve gone from the business of moving people to the business of planning to move people.”

In this vein, we thought long and hard about how we could add more value to the industry. Here are some offerings we’ve added to support global mobility professionals, as well as assignees and their families:

COVID-19 Resources

Advantage – With one click, users have access to a set of curated links to top global sources on the pandemic.

Cultural Questionnaire

Advantage – Users learn about their cultural work style by completing a short questionnaire and comparing their results to other countries.  During this planning phase, potential assignees can take the time to learn more about the new culture and how their business strengths and weaknesses will impact their new colleagues.

Google Translate

Advantage – Users can choose between 100+ languages.  Now, accompanying family members who do not speak or read English can access the information in the language of their choice, easing their sense of isolation.

Immigration Resources

Advantage – Save time sifting through changing immigration rules. Simply click on the real-time resources to get your questions answered on all topics’ immigration related.

Country Videos

Advantage – If a picture speaks a thousand words, a video is even better. Our new intro videos entice users to take a deeper dive into over 100+ articles, all specific to their new destination.

Living Abroad continues to vet and update all information contained in each report.  We can’t wait for 2021 and all the new innovations that are in store for you.  We will keep you posted!

Moving to a zoom town?

Even with global mobility hampered by the pandemic, there is a new and different kind of movement going on. Residents of certain cities are moving to more spacious communities nearby — some temporarily, some permanently. At the same time, specific towns and small cities are attracting newcomers who appreciate factors like low cost of living, larger homes, in-person schooling, and outdoor amenities.

With so many employees remote, and some companies not requiring proximity to the office, workers may pick up stakes and settle somewhere new. The term “zoom town” refers to locales that have seen increased populations since the COVID-19 shutdown and serve as remote working hubs.

Around the U.S., the west and south have welcomed many new residents, but so have the upscale Hamptons in New York; Aspen, Colorado; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; and Kingston, New York – a small, historic town about 145 km/90 mi north of New York City.

Worldwide, individuals and families are making decisions about where to live, assessing what the future might look like for them. And while this freedom of choice can be a wonderful thing during a time when so much is uncertain, there are some challenges. A few things to keep in mind:

-Before committing to a home lease – or especially purchase – employees should confirm that their presence will not be required at a distant office with any regularity. They should also ensure that the area and property have adequate infrastructure to support remote work and, possibly, schooling.

-Both employer and employee should be aware of any immigration issues that may arise from working in their chosen location. In today’s pandemic landscape, immigration regulations are changeable. New applications and extension requests may be delayed. Consult an immigration expert frequently to stay compliant.

– Likewise, determine the potential tax liability based on the worker’s and employer’s locations. Even intra-regional moves can raise complications. Don’t assume that a short move will grant you the same status as staying put. In fact, even continuing to work from your existing home can bring new tax exposure if things change. The U.S. states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire are embroiled in a dispute over that very issue right now, as Massachusetts attempts to tax New Hampshire residents who work remotely for a MA firm.

-The housing market has tightened up in many areas. With the majority of COVID-prompted movers seeking single-family homes, inventory is low and prices are up. It may take a while to find a property that suits an employee’s needs in terms of distance from neighbors, yard, and maybe a home office. The good news is that if a new home is found, the existing one will very likely sell quickly.

– Finally, the employee planning a permanent relocation to one of the up-and-coming zoom towns should research how well equipped and inclined they are to embrace population growth. Again, infrastructure is important, as is school quality and capacity, along with quality-of-life measures like fitness and cultural opportunities.

These are just a few of the considerations employers and employees should keep in mind in this new, complicated landscape of remote work. By all means, find a home environment that supports your well-being and productivity. Just keep tabs on these issues when you do.

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

Should you be walking and eating in Finland?

In Finland, it is generally inappropriate to eat food while walking down the street, with one key exception, which is:

A. Ice Cream
B. Pulla, a yeast bread
C. Meat or cheese sandwich
D. Doughnut

Click here for the answer!

In the air, to nowhere

Right now, it can be easy to feel like we’re going nowhere. But in parts of an industry that is greatly hindered by the pandemic, “nowhere” has now taken on a somewhat different meaning.

Earlier this year, Eva Airlines decided to offer a flight on August 8, Father’s Day in Taiwan. The two-hour, 45 minute flight departed from, and landed at, Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport. Passengers toured the coast of northeastern Taiwan, and Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, at an altitude of 25,000 feet — unusually low for commercial flights, but offering better than usual views. Passengers also received a multi-course gourmet meal, new luggage, limited edition Hello Kitty themed souvenirs, and partial access to duty-free shopping. This 309 seat “flight to nowhere” sold out quickly, as did flights during the Mid-Autumn Festival that gave passengers a clear view of the full moon, and served traditional moon cakes on board.

Adhering to local public health and customs guidelines, other airlines have now ventured into the “nowhere” space. Some examples: HK Express now offers a similar experience, as does Royal Brunei Airlines. Qantas Airlines’ seven hour Great Southern Land scenic flight also includes on-board live entertainment, a charity auction, and a set of pajamas. Singapore Airlines has a variety of experiences from which travelers to nowhere can choose, including training center tours, classes, group event bookings, and dining in a grounded aircraft. A flight to nowhere that has been an option for years, but has increased in popularity this year, is Antarctica Flights’ Antarctica in a Day. Offering different routes from five cities in Australia, the flight treats passengers to four hours of magnificent views of our southernmost continent.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager

How to make the best of a situation

Companies with global operations and business travelers are finding new ways to deal with the potentially negative impact of the pandemic. With the rise of remote work, international business trips have been replaced with conference calls and video conferencing technology.

However, technology can’t replace all global business. Functions like equipment installation, quality control on a production line, or systems testing simply can’t be accomplished over video. While business travel is not impossible, in many places employees must quarantine for 14 days after arrival before starting work.

It is often said that “necessity is the mother of invention” and these challenges are forcing us to find solutions to getting the job done. Here are some tips:

1. Get the facts in advance – The most important first step is to plan ahead. It is possible that the process of obtaining a work visa and/or permit will be slower given backlogs due to COVID 19. While it is not always achievable, companies should plan as far in advance to prevent immigration surprises. Check with your immigration counsel before committing to a client contract or signing an employment contract.

2. Communicate to all employees – Besides a potential two-week quarantine, new requirements may mean an employee needs a visa where none was needed in the past, or they could encounter delays in visa approval. Updated policies and information regarding these challenges should be shared with not only HR and legal personnel but also company managers and recruiters.

Business travel, transfers and new hire requirements should be checked first before making commitments or signing contracts with clients. In companies where employees are allowed to book their own international travel without managerial approval, the COVID 19 policy and travel requirements must be clearly expressed to all employees.

3. Utilize a system to track employees – The pandemic has magnified the need to have a system in place to track and manage employees’ global movement. The pandemic spread so quickly that some companies did not know where their employees were in the world, when their visas were expiring, or how to get them home. Tracking your employees provides the information and tools needed to make informed decisions.

While we can’t predict how long the pandemic will last or what will happen to global workforces who must face immigration delays and quarantines, we can adapt and find ways around these challenges, as humans know how to do all too well.

Making screen meetings accessible

Who among us feels like an old pro at virtual meetings by now? Who also feels a bit fatigued by virtual meetings?

Given that online gatherings remove the physical cues and subtleties we typically register in person, we sometimes can miss out on the entire message being delivered. We lack the full complement of office setting insights. Reading body language may not be possible because of the camera angles. Occasionally someone’s sound is garbled. In smaller groups, participants can alert the person with a troubled connection, but in larger meetings that is more difficult.

The bottom line is that we have to work harder to pay attention and exchange information. This is especially true if we have distractions at home.

Anyone with vision, hearing, or other impairments may find this “new normal” extra challenging. While many of us are experimenting with boredom-busting backgrounds, some of us are struggling to hear or see clearly.

Proper lighting and contrast help with visuals. Check your audio ahead of time and eliminate background noise from inside and outdoors as much as possible. Also make sure other device notifications are on silent.

Meeting platforms also have plenty of extra functions that assist those with impairments, including closed captioning, transcripts, and amplification. See examples of accessibility features in more detail, from A to Z:

Many of the features are useful to anyone: Text magnification, sound amplification, closed captioning and transcription, screen filters and other color options, keyboard shortcuts, screen readers, and high contrast settings. There just may be something here that helps you or your coworkers engage just a little more easily in that next virtual meeting.

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

When in Bangladesh….

Tipping in Bangladesh can be complicated. What statement is false?

  1. Even though hotels charge a service fee, hotel staff expect a small tip.
  2. Bangladeshis do not tip in restaurants.
  3. Never tip a delivery person as it is considered insulting.
  4. Foreigners are expected to tip in upscale restaurants.

 

Click here for the answer!

New iPhone and iPad features for the Globally Mobile

The release of iOS 14 has brought many new features and capabilities to iPhone and iPad users. Features of particular interest to the globally mobile are expanded Maps features, and the new Apple app Translate. While translation apps have been available for mobile phones for some time, one that is native to the operating system is likely to become popular and familiar.


iOS 14 also offers the opportunity to simplify your home screen. Don’t remember which folder has the app you’re looking for? Swipe right, and there’s a page with a searchable index. This change means your home screen has just the widgets and resources you use the most.

Here’s one way to add direct access to a website, in this case Living Abroad’s International Relocation Center, to your iOS home screen:

  1. Open your subscription link on your iOS device, in Safari.
  2.  Choose the “Share” icon at the bottom, and scroll down.
  3.  Select “Add to Home Screen.

4.  Check out your indispensable resource, now just a tap away!

Android users can find similar options in their mobile browser menus.

Written by Erin Fitzgerald, GMS, Content Manager