April: This Month in Moving
This is the latest in our monthly roundups of the latest news in overseas property prices, cost of living, tax and red tape changes, and all the other things that affect the life of the expat, or the mover-to-be.
Canada, seeking expats
The land with jobs to spare
I’m just back from a few days in Spain, where you feel so pleased for almost every young person you meet who has landed a job in that troubled economy. Not too much opportunity for the young British expat looking for work there.
But what if there was a country where they positively encouraged British people with skills? There is, and it is wide open for business. Canada wants thousands of expats to settle in 2014, as part of an ambitious immigration plan to boost economic growth.
Compared to so many potential overseas destinations for expats, Canada has not changed all that much since its pioneering days. It is still a land of vast undeveloped spaces, where overcrowding simply isn’t an option. And it’s a country of tolerance and welcome and integration.
Now Canada has decided it needs more skilled trades people, and it announced in April (2014) that it was increasing its quotas. And the list of eligible occupations which will qualify will rise from 24 to 50.
This news comes ahead of the 2015 introduction of “Express Entry”, described as a “new active recruitment model which will lead to a faster and more flexible economic immigration system [to] address Canada’s economic and labour market needs.”
Canada wants to welcome up to 15,000 permanent residents in 2014 under its Canadian Experience Class (CEC) programme, which is the most popular route for expats. Under the CEC, foreigners who meet a minimum language requirement and have at least one year of skilled work experience in Canada can become permanent residents. These include international student graduates and foreign nationals who are working in Canada on a temporary basis.
In 2012 the Canadian government announced plans to extend its new start-up visa to attract foreign entrepreneurs who can set up their own venture in Canada or invest in local start-ups.
Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said the new measures will ensure a steady supply of skilled workers settles in Canada, helping to supplement the Canadian workforce in areas where there are skills shortages.
At the same time an international study been launched to help British and Irish trained tradespeople assess their skills against Canadian criteria, and help them gain employment that reflects their skills and experience. The study is backed by the Canadian government and UK NARIC, the UK agency responsible for providing information, advice and expert opinion on qualifications worldwide.
New Zealand, stronger currency
How far does the pound stretch?
There is some cautionary currency news for expats in New Zealand, or people who were thinking of moving there.
The newly launched Post Office Holiday Money Index, which is equally useful for people on longer stays abroad, showed in April (2014) that the pound sterling had strengthened against nearly all foreign currencies.
New Zealand was one of the main exceptions: here the pound bought 7.8 per cent fewer NZ dollars than a year ago.
The best places to be an expat were Turkey, South Africa and Thailand, where you will enjoy considerably more sterling spending power than a year ago. This is the result of the happy combination of a stronger pound and a weaker local currency. A pound buys 30% more Turkish lira than this time in 2013, 29.5% more South African rand, and 23.6% more Thai baht
The Post Office’s index, which will track trends of tourist exchange rates each quarter, showed that two-thirds of its top selling 20 currencies have fallen against sterling by over 10% compared with 12 months ago; a fifth have dropped by over 20% against sterling.
The pound buys 10% more US dollars than a year ago, and 3.8% more euros than this time in 2013.
Australia, better pensions
Fair play for the older expat?
It’s one of the biggest causes for concern among older British expats, and one that – until recently – has had less publicity, and political attention, than perhaps it deserved.
Currently UK citizens who live in certain countries, including Australia and Canada, do not receive annual inflation-linked rises to their state pensions. Instead, their pensions are frozen at the level in force when they retired there.
Now things could be about to change. In April (2014) the issue of frozen state pensions paid to expats was given sharper focus, and a degree of influential support, when the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Pensions Reform held its inaugural meeting in the House of Commons.
An APPG group is a formal structure within Westminster, composed of parliamentarians from the ruling party and opposition, created to promote the interests of a particular group. This new APPG is headed by Sir Roger Gale MP (Conservative), with vice chairs Dame Anne Begg (Labour), and Lord German (Lib Dem).
A spokesman for the campaign group Pension Justice said: “The Parliamentarians who are involved with this group are as passionate as we are about the need to unfreeze pensions and it is most encouraging to now have a voice within Westminster, instead of always being on the outside trying to make politicians listen.”
Only in countries that have signed bilateral agreements with the UK – they include Spain, France and the USA – do expat British pensioners receive index-linked state pensions.
In Canada, New Zealand and Pakistan pensioners' incomes are frozen at their initial level. Some, who have had their payments frozen for decades, are now paid only tiny pensions. Some expat pensioners in their 90s are said to receive as little as £17 a week, compared with a full basic state pension of £110 a week. One 102-year-old pensioner is said to get less than £7 a week.
Chairman of the all-party group Sir Roger Gale said Prime Minister David Cameron was "not unsympathetic" to the pensioners’ plight.
According to The Telegraph, the new group has received strong support from the governments of Australia and Canada, where many of the expats with frozen pensions live. David MacClennan from the Australian High Commission said Britain's failure to pay full pensions to expats in Australia was the "biggest bilateral issue" between the two countries.
A spokesman from the Canadian High Commission said: "This is a question of simple fairness. This issue comes up between us and the UK all the time."
Campaigners said they were not asking for back payment of the index-linked increases that pensioners had missed over the years, but simply a restoration of the full pension from today.
The bigger expat picture
The latest Expat Explorer Survey has been running throughout April.
Described as the largest sounding of its kind, the HSBC project offers people living and working overseas the chance to give their views on their financial well-being, quality of life, the issues of raising children abroad and other subjects.
This is the HSBC’s seventh annual Expat Explorer Survey, and It is open until May 9.
The results will be used as part of Expat Explorer Interactive – an online resource designed to paint a comprehensive picture of expat life. HSBC wants people to be able to compare different destinations according to the subject areas they are interested in.
7,000 expats completed the survey in 2013. That was the largest response to date and this year HSBC hopes to reach even more people. It wants more parents to take part, to give a better understanding of how a move abroad affects family life.
The survey, administered by YouGov, takes around 15 minutes to complete, and the responses are confidential and private.
The 2013 survey put Thailand top of the league among places for expats to make friends and have an active social life. Switzerland and China lead the list of the best places for top earning potential, while Germany and Singapore excelled as places to raise children.
It was the headline the media couldn’t resist, even if the emphasis wasn’t quite right.
British “boomerang emigrants” were coming home because they miss Fish & Chips and Corrie.
While it’s true that one of the reasons those questioned in a survey, published in April, of 1000 Brits who had emigrated then returned to the UK gave were “typical English food” (18%) and English TV, including soaps (15%), twice as many (39%) gave missing family and friends as the main reason.
Where were they coming home from, the “boomerang emigrants”? The survey, by Robinsons International, found that the United Arab Emirates came top of the departed shores. People who moved back from there had lasted on average only six-months.
After the UAE, the most unpopular regions according to the returnee Brits were Mainland Europe – average stay 12 months; Australia/New Zealand – average stay 2 years; Asia and Africa, 3 years.
North America achieved a sort of “limpet” status, with most people who returned having lived there for a respectable for 3-5 years.
Looking at why people went overseas in the first place, the top reason given was the promise of better weather (66% gave this as the first reason). 32% cited improved job prospects, while 26% and 24% respectively gave disillusionment with current UK politics and UK culture changing for the worse as their reasons for moving away
The survey revealed some fascinating differences of attitude between the genders.
While the returning men left the UAE after a matter of months, the women surveyed were staying for up to three years. Delving beneath these findings, could I suggest this is something to do with the strength of the expat “sorority”?
I have a British friend in Dubai who conducts a satisfying social life with like-minded non-working women while their husbands go to the office. Her busy diary include coffee mornings and cultural events.
It should be stressed that the survey only looked at people who returned, with the implication that their experience wasn’t entirely satisfactory. Many expats live full and satisfying lives in their country of choice. But there is a point to such a poll, according to Robinsons. If you carefully plan your stay abroad and research your preferred destination well, you can turn it into a more positive experience.
Written by Gareth Huw Davies
In a busy journalistic career Gareth Huw Davies has contributed to UK and overseas publications on a wide range of subjects, from property to travel, and business to the environment, most recently for the Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday. He has also written five e-books, on subjects as diverse as Garfield Sobers, David Attenborough and the River Fleet.