Living overseas with a special diet

by Rick on April 12, 2011

Culture shock remains one of the biggest obstacles to successfully settling into a new country, and the differences between cultures are not limited to new types of music, handshakes or weather. There’s also the issue of food. In the developed world, many people have chosen vegetarian diets and may find it difficult to live in countries with meat filled diets like Korea. The Korea Herald discusses some of the issues facing expats whose diets are at odds with their new country’s cuisine:

Most foreigners’ initiation to Korea comes sat around a BBQ with coworkers, sharing drinks and endless cuts of meat. This can be hard for people with dietary restrictions hoping to assimilate without much ado. So for practical reasons, some find themselves making exceptions.

Jill Murray, vegan for a year, struggles when out and about. “I sometimes feel like a burden to my friends here because there are so many restaurants that only serve meat,” she explained.

Rae Dohar did make changes in her first few weeks and ate seafood, egg and some dairy cookies. “I wanted my co-teachers to understand that I was appreciative of their culture and willing to try new things.” But, now they know her better, she said they are understanding.

As long as you are sensitive and polite with your requests, most find restaurants are happy to accommodate. “Cuisine here is very personal,” said Vanessa Burke, who recommends not picking unwanted parts out of your food. “I have yet to offend because I’ve learned a lot of Korean, know what ingredients are in what and am specific of my lifestyle choices.”

I think the biggest problem with having unique dietary needs is that it interferes in socialization. For instance, if you are Muslim and do not drink, you may have a more difficult time in an alcohol soaked culture like Britain, Ireland or Russia. Since drinking is a way of meeting people, you may be forced into other social networks whether you like it or not.

However, as our world becomes more interconnected, I think people become more understanding of cultural differences, particularly those related to immigrants/expats. A brief explanation that you do not eat or drink certain items should solve most problems.

Should you change your diet to fit in better? If you are looking to move permanently to a country, I would suggest it. If you are just passing through, I wouldn’t bother. Obviously if the reasons behind dietary choices are religious in nature, or related to health issues, then no choice is possible. But for the rest of you who have specific diets simply because you have made a choice to not eat certain foods, it may be best to put those aside to succeed in a more challenging goal: fitting in.


Beware of offshore accounts

by Rick on April 4, 2011

I’ve written about offshore accounts before, and I’ve detailed how they are a terrible choice for investors. Unfortunately, expats are beset by ads and publicity for them. This is because many expats live in countries that cater to the offshore account crowd, and many expats work in international financial centers like the Persian Gulf, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Financial institutions that offer these accounts figure that they might as well try to sell these accounts to their employees to make even more money.

Why are they bad?

The biggest reason they are bad is because they are often illegal. Many countries, particularly the United States, make it illegal for their citizens to own them, particularly if they are being used to hide wealth abroad in order to avoid tax. If you decide you must put money away in one of these accounts, check with an accountant or lawyer from your home country to determine whether it is legal. Most countries look down on offshore accounts because they are primarily used to avoid tax. Many of the biggest offshore account holders are dictators and criminals who are shifting money to safe refuges. Why be involved with those types?

Cash is a terrible investment

Cash is probably the worst investment you can put your money in. It is an investment that is utterly destroyed by inflation. Instead of putting your money into large sums of cash, you should put your money in a diversified portfolio made up of stocks and bonds.

But some of you are probably asking, what about taxes? The point behind offshore accounts is that you get to avoid taxes. Surely that would make offshore accounts a better “investment” than stocks and bonds?

I disagree. Stocks are the key to the growing of any portfolio. There are over 100 years of data from countries around the world showing that equities provide average annual returns far greater than bonds or bank accounts. Now those returns are not consistent, however over time as an economy grows, ownership of companies via stocks is the best way to gain the returns of an underlying country’s economic growth. Cash accounts have disastrous returns over time, even those accounts that avoid taxation.

Where should you put your money?

As I stated before, putting your money in cash accounts is a bad idea. The point of investing is to save for retirement. With that goal in mind, you should determine what country you wish to retire in, and then invest in the same currency as that country. And then you should make purchases in the most prominent stock exchanges and bond exchanges in that same country.

At no point should offshore accounts figure into your budget. While you do avoid tax with offshore accounts, you miss out on the returns gained from stock ownership. The expected gains from stock ownership are almost always greater than the tax liability of cash over time. Is that guaranteed? No, there is risk involved in owning stocks. But there is also risk with offshore accounts. They are only guaranteed by the solvency of the financial institution that issues them. If the bank you have your money in goes bust, you may lose it all. Unlike normal cash accounts, offshore accounts are far less likely to be backed by the government of the country they are located in.





General advice for investing

March 28, 2011

For those of you who read this blog regularly, you might be asking yourself if there is a good source of simple, easy-to-read information on investing available. The books I write are more technical nature and discuss specific topics about living overseas. While they do discuss how to invest, they are not solely about how […]

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Staying behind in a disaster as an expat

March 23, 2011

This article from the Daily Telegraph gives us the story of an expat who has stayed behind in Japan to face the ongoing nuclear crisis: Mr Kent, who has two children with his Japanese wife, says that he estimates more than half of his British friends and colleagues have relocated to Osaka or Hong Kong […]

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Bahrain and the aftermath

March 22, 2011

News out of Bahrain is anything but good. The country is in lockdown and the army of Saudi Arabia has invaded. This isn’t even the first time this has happened. About 20 years ago Shiite protests almost toppled the government and Saudi was forced to intervene. It seems that every generation a new uprising begins. […]

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Japan, Catastrophe, Investing, and Diversification

March 17, 2011

Like most modern countries, Japan has an enormous investor community and a vibrant (though in recent years, lackluster) financial exchange. A person living in Japan who invested would probably have the bulk of his or her portfolio in Japanese equities and Japanese government bonds. The catastrophe facing the Japanese people has caused me to revisit […]

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Bahrain occupation analysis

March 15, 2011

So the country of Bahrain has been occupied. At this point only expats from developing countries remain in the country. Western expats have absconded. The question is what happens next. Economy in shambles In the short term, the Bahraini economy will be brought to a standstill. Saudi troops are everywhere. Shiite Bahrainis will see that […]

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Japan Earthquake Analysis: Expats and Natural Disasters

March 11, 2011

One of the factors in moving overseas that is rarely discussed are the dangers of natural disasters. On its surface it sounds like fear-mongering and paranoia. And then things like this happen: watch?v=j3fUqdGXLbM The problem with being an expat is that you are not used to the natural disasters that regularly beset some parts of […]

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Routine maintenance

March 10, 2011

I’ve updated my page on global political instability above. I’ve added entries for Libya, Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia. I’ll probably add an entry for Bahrain tomorrow. I apologize for the lack of an entry today as I’ve been busy. One caveat: While my page is meant as a guide to the most unstable countries in […]

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Dictatorships really aren’t that stable

March 7, 2011

One of the big misconceptions about dictatorships that both expats and western governments have is that they are “stable”. They don’t have demonstrations like democracies (because the people are terrified of being shot at them), and they are often ruled by a sensible, corrupt, but passive overlord. In fact, dictatorships are inherently unstable. A lot […]

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