Archive for November, 2009

Expats’ Top 10 Choice Of Countries To Live

November 25th, 2009 6 comments

What do you think? Has France been a positive experience for you as an expat?

Expats’ Top 10 Choice Of Countries To Live

5:04am UK, Wednesday November 25, 2009
An HSBC poll of expatriates lists its top 10 countries with the best quality of life.

1. Canada
2. Australia
3. Thailand
4. Singapore
5. Bahrain
6. South Africa
7. France
8. USA
9. Spain
10. Hong Kong

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The New Europe after Lisbon

November 19th, 2009 No comments

The European Union faces a key turning point towards a multi-polar world.

The New Europe After Lisbon

By Michael Barrett / November 19th, 2009

As the U.S. continues to struggle in the aftermath of a brutal economic recession, becoming ever-more indebted while spending unprecedented amounts on stimulus programs and fighting two expensive wars, emerging economies like China, India and Brazil are experiencing growth and expanding investment in scientific research and renewable energy technologies.

Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympic Games, South Africa will host the 2010 World Cup, Russia the 2014 Winter Olympics and Brazil will get both (2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics). China holds an estimated $1.5 trillion in dollar reserves and is signing many free trade pacts while the U.S. relies on it to finance its ballooning debt and deficit. The G20 has replaced the G8. These all serve as reminders of the gradually changing balance of geopolitical and economic power in the world. Indeed, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of what former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine called its hyperpower dominance.

One global actor that is playing an increasingly important role in foreign affairs is the European Union (EU), whose members’ diversity has often undermined any sense of unity. But that could soon change, as Ireland and the Czech Republic recently became the last member countries to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

Could this be another hint of the likely multi-polar world to come, and what effect will Lisbon have on Europe’s structure and status on the world stage?

In Fareed Zakaria’s book The Post-American World, he states that the EU is now “the largest trade bloc on the globe” (with a collective GDP of about $18 trillion, compared with approximately $14 trillion for the U.S.). In 2006, the U.S. had two-thirds fewer Initial Public Offerings (IPO) while European stock exchanges “expanded their IPO volume by 30 percent.” Zakaria refers to this increasing growth and influence in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East as “the rise of the rest.”

Europe may be a big economic player, but what about its political influence? There is no doubt that it has played a key role on issues such as Iran, the Russian-Georgian war, climate change and the G20 response to financial crisis. But as it grows in diversity and membership, it is hampered by an outdated governing structure that has been slow to adapt to changes.

The six founding members (France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) that made up the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951 now find themselves with 21 other countries and counting in a vast bureaucracy governed by the European Commission and the European Parliament, among other bodies. Thus reform was pushed in order for the EU to be able to have a clear and coordinated foreign policy.

In 2005, there was an attempt at passing a European Constitution that failed mainly because misinformed voters believed that Brussels would be given too much power. I was studying in Angers, France when French voters rejected the referendum (followed soon thereafter by a Dutch “no” vote) and remember the fierce debate that raged then between those wanting to protect French sovereignty from Brussels bureaucrats and those hoping to promote a new and united Europe. Although this deliberation between sovereignty and unity persists today, the EU was recently able to pass the Lisbon Treaty. Some critics call it a copy of the EU Constitution project, but proponents refer to it as “watered-down” version. So what does this entail?

According to the official site above, the Treaty aims to “reinforce democracy in the EU and its capacity to promote the interests of its citizens on a day-to-day basis” by enforcing transparency, increasing “participatory democracy” and including national parliaments in the decision-making process more often. The EU Parliament, the only institution directly elected by voters, will also get a bigger say in policy-making, and there will be more majority voting rather than unanimous voting on issues which made it very difficult in the past to come to agreements.

Perhaps the two most important details of the Lisbon Treaty, however, are the new posts it will create: the “High Representative for Foreign Affairs” (like a Foreign Minister, with his or her own staff) and a new President of the Council (“President of Europe”) on a 2.5 year mandate. The President will be chosen by the 27 member states, out of majority vote and can be re-elected once. He or she will lead EU summits, guide the work of the EU Council of Ministers and represent the EU on the world stage. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was rumored to be the front-runner for President but his support for the Iraq War counted against him. Europe is getting closer to decision time, and the rumor is that the President will be from a smaller member state.

The current front-runner for President is said to be Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, who seems to have the approval of all the countries including Germany and France. Others include Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg), Jan-Peter Balkenende (The Netherlands), John Bruton (Ireland) and Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Latvia).

The likely candidate for High Representative is former Italian Prime Minister (1998-2000) and Foreign Minister (2006-08) Massimo D’Alema. But the Financial Times reports that he does not speak fluent English, which is “all but essential in top-level international diplomacy.” So nothing is for sure, and there could be surprises.

What does this all mean for Europe? With a more cohesive organizational structure in touch with its constituents and a bolder foreign policy lead by two key players in the High Representative and the President, the EU looks set to stay as a power player. Indeed, Europe is well aware of the possibilities of a bigger global role

Why should Americans care? As the dominating power in the world shifts from the U.S. to a more multi-polar order in the generation to come, transatlantic relations will remain an important facet of U.S. foreign policy. It is therefore in our interest to know who our future partners will be and what their geopolitical interests are.

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And now, for a reverse: French expats

November 18th, 2009 3 comments

Plus de deux millions de Français à l’étranger

La – 09/11/2009 | 12:56 – 544 mots

Au 31 décembre 2008, il y avait 1.427.046 expatriés inscrits au registre consulaire des Français établis hors de France, soit 7,6 % de plus qu’un an auparavant.

La moitié d’entre eux (48 %) est installée en Europe, 20 % en Amérique et 16 % en Afrique. L’Asie-Océanie et le Proche et Moyen-Orient ne représentent que 9 % et 7 % des inscrits, mais ce sont les deux régions qui enregistrent la plus forte croissance, avec respectivement + 10 % et + 12,6 %. L’inscription au registre consulaire étant facultative (mais vivement recommandée), tous les Français qui s’expatrient n’y sont pas inscrits.

En réalité, ils seraient au total quelque 2,2 millions à travers le monde, une population hétérogène, mais bien intégrée. Selon une étude, menée en 2008, par la Maison des Français de l’étranger, plus de 80 % d’entre eux affirment bien maîtriser la langue de travail locale. Et seuls 19 % disent éprouver des difficultés majeures à s’insérer dans la vie sociale de leur pays d’adoption.

Des salariés à hauts revenus
Les expatriés sont des salariés à fort niveau de revenus. 89 % d’entre eux ont un emploi et 60 % gagnent plus de 30.000 euros nets par an, selon une enquête menée en 2008 par la Maison des Français de l’étranger et fondée sur les témoignages de quelque 3.000 expatriés et 300 candidats au départ.

Une autre enquête, réalisée à l’automne 2008 par TNS Sofres, affine le portrait : les expatriés sont des salariés employés par une entreprise locale ou sous contrat local à 48 %, 29 % d’entre eux sont détachés ou expatriés. Enfin côté rémunération annuelle, l’éventail est large selon TNS Sofres : de 28 % qui gagnent moins de 30.000 euros, à 21 % plus de 76.000 euros.

Le retour s’anticipe
Une protection sociale qui peut coûter cher Le salarié qui part travailler dans un pays étranger s’attend en général à devoir s’adapter… Il s’attend moins, en revanche, à devoir le faire quand il rentre. « Pour les impatriés, le retour est souvent difficile, raconte Hélène Charvériat, déléguée générale de l’Union des Français de l’étranger. Pour éviter un trop grand décalage, les entreprises essaient de ne pas faire partir les gens plus de six ans. » Elles ont, en outre, intérêt à évoquer les conditions du re- Quitter la France, cela peut être aussi quitter la Sécurité sociale.

Pour rester affilié à l’organisme, il convient de cotiser à la Caisse des Français de l’étranger (CFE). Celle-ci compte 4.500 entreprises adhérentes et couvre un total de plus de 180.000 personnes dans le monde, principalement en Afrique et en Asie. Elle propose une couverture en matière de maladie et maternité, vieillesse et retraite de base de la Sécurité sociale et accidents du travail et maladies professionnelles.

Pour diminuer les formalités à accomplir, la CFE a passé de nombreux accords de gestion avec des assureurs complémentaires. « Pour la retraite, nous faisons le lien avec des organismes spécialisés, comme la CRE [Caisse de tour dans le contrat de départ. « Nous n’avons pas suffisamment de visibilité pour garantir d’avance tel ou tel poste à un expatrié, relève Hans Vanbets, responsable du management des talents du groupe BNP Paribas.

Mais nous pouvons l’assurer de réintégrer des fonctions comparables à celles qu’il occupe à son départ. » Quelles que soient les précautions, les impatriés n’en ont pas moins besoin d’être accompagnés à leur arrivée, ne serait-ce que sur le plan matériel.

C. G.

Categories: Expat life, French, Taxes Tags: , ,

For British expats: London and Colonial launches EU SIPP for expats

November 17th, 2009 1 comment

London and Colonial launches EU SIPP for expats
International Investment| 16 Nov 2009 | 15:05
Author: Sitanta Ni Mathghamhna

London and Colonial has today announced the launch of the EU SIPP, for individuals resident outside the UK.

The EU SIPP is similar to UK SIPP but enables a wider range of investments including residential property in both the UK and EU, provided they are not used by either the SIPP member or a connected person.

It allows for a tax free lump sum of 25% of the fund value to be taken from the age of 55, with the remainder providing income, which can be paid monthly, quarterly or annually. There is the additional option to receive ad hoc payments during the year.

The SIPP is primarily aimed at ex-patriot individuals who have been living outside the UK for five tax years or more.

Adam Wrench, Product Development Manager at London & Colonial, says: “When investors move abroad they typically leave their pension behind in the UK or transfer to a QROPS.

“Once they have been resident overseas for at least five tax years, transferring to the EU SIPP will give them more flexibility to manage their retirement options and to make provision for their dependents.”

The EU SIPP pays out 100% to beneficiaries on the member’s death, whereas in the UK, tax rules means up to 82% of an individual’s pension fund is lost on death, even if the member is a non UK resident at the time.

Adam Wrench adds “This provides the opportunity for estate planning to be undertaken knowing tax will not be automatically deducted from the pay-out.”

“Quite often where a husband and wife have emigrated together, in the event of the death of one of them the surviving spouse will return to the UK. With the EU SIPP the non-residency status of the scheme is locked in.”

Additional features of the scheme include no restrictions on borrowing either for the purchase of commercial or residential property or for other purposes, compared to a 50% restriction under UK SIPP rules.

France sees U.S. as main obstacle to climate deal

November 16th, 2009 1 comment


By Emmanuel Jarry

PARIS, Nov 15 (Reuters) – The United States is the main obstacle to concluding an ambitious agreement at the Copenhagen meeting on climate change next month, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said on Sunday.

Speaking after world leaders meeting in Singapore said it was unrealistic to expect binding targets to be negotiated by the time the meeting starts on Dec. 7, Borloo said Washington was posing the biggest difficulty.

“The problem is the United States, there’s no doubt about that,” Borloo, who has coordinated France’s Copenhagen negotiating effort, told Reuters in an interview.

“It’s the world’s number one power, the biggest emitter (of greenhouse gases), the biggest per capita emitter and it’s saying ‘I’d like to but I can’t’. That’s the issue,” he said.

Borloo’s comments follow a joint declaration by President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Saturday, aimed at committing rich countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

Borloo said France was looking at an option that would allow countries that had not signed up to the Kyoto protocol, including the United States some leeway, possibly including allowing it an extra delay of some years to meet targets.

“There needs to be international pressure on the United States, that’s clear,” Borloo said. “But at the same time, we have to allow some flexibility in the formulation.”

But he said this did not mean compromising on the need for an “irreversible, binding and measurable” commitment.

World leaders agreed on Sunday to a two-stage plan aimed at securing a political accord at the Dec. 7-18 talks, to be followed by a process of working out binding commitments on targets, finance and technology transfer.

This would allow time for the U.S. Senate to pass carbon-capping legislation, allowing the Obama administration to bring a 2020 target and financing pledges to the table at a major U.N. climate meeting in Bonn in mid-2010.

Borloo said such a deal could not be allowed to get in the way of binding commitments. If a political agreement “means vague and non-binding declarations of intent, the answer is no,” he said.

“Behind the word ‘political’ there has to be precise declarations with figures,” he said.

Win a 40–euro gift basket of your favorite American treats!

November 15th, 2009 No comments

Are you struggling to satisfy your cravings because you are:

– Embarrassed to ask your family and friends for one more favor?
– Fed up with products that melted or broke during the transatlantic trip?
– Worn out from having to rush around Paris, search for parking spaces and drive in traffic?
– Frustrated from having to wait until your next trip or someone’s visit?
– Tired of bringing back heavy suitcases from your trip to the US?

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Get connected with Europe’s American community and friends.

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It is time you do something about your cravings!

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To win a gift basket, follow these simple steps:
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Good luck and happy blogging!

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US dollar, Eurozone economy a mixed bag for expats

November 14th, 2009 2 comments

Although I have a French bank account, I know as an American expat that going to the ATM (cash machine) to withdraw from my American account is a matter of strategic timing. I’m always keeping my eye on the markets and the exchange rate for US dollars to Euros so that I can get the biggest bang for my buck, even though it is at miserable levels. At the time of this posting, it is 1.492 USD = 1 Euro ($1 = 0.67 centimes).

US dollar - Euro rate

As the Euro rises against the dollar, more and more American expats are feeling the squeeze when withdrawing from US accounts.

The US dollar looks to remain at low levels for quite some time, judging from the recent decision of the US Federal Reserve to keep interest rates low for the time being (thus technically making it easier to borrow and consequently spend money, undermining the value of the dollar by way of supply and demand of liquidity).

Also playing a role: the inflation-weary European Central Bank announcing hints of an “exit strategy” from stimulus. The ECB has been quite cautious in the past about lowering interest rates, so that contributes to a stronger Euro overall. But they too have voiced concern about a weaker US dollar. Indeed, Airbus (EADS) has suffered because its production costs are in Euros but it sells its airplanes in dollars. There is even an idea of moving some production to US dollar economies.

Meanwhile, with US economic growth in the last quarter at 3.5% largely driven by the stimulus program (like “cash for clunkers” and helping negotiate lower mortgage rates for home owners), the US government is happy with a low-value dollar that is driving export growth. This is good for the US economy but bad for expats like me when withdrawing US dollars into Euros. I also know that generally when the US stock markets are up, the dollar usually gets a bit weaker. So when the US markets are up, it is bittersweet as an expat.

How are you fellow expats dealing with this issue?

According to recent reports listed below, the Eurozone economy may be officially coming out of a recession, but there remains pessimism about unemployment and sustainable growth in the mid-term. Much is similar in the US.

In fact the whole concept of GDP has been put into question by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz in France, as well as by BusinessWeek magazine. But this is an issue for another discussion.

HiFX –Europe’s job market indicates caution for money transfers

HiFX –Eurozone recession figures may bring optimism to expats making money transfers

For Brits, France is the top expat destination

November 13th, 2009 2 comments

France the most popular expat destination

Halifax International has released a new report on expat trends, with intriguing information on where they actually move.

4% of British expats already own a home overseas with around a quarter saying that they are contemplating buying or moving abroad in the future. Nearly one third of Britons considering the move are under the age of 35 and more than two-fifths of those who have made the move said they have no intention of returning home.

Despite public opinion generally being that most expats move to Australia, New Zealand or South-East Asia, the report reveals that France is the number one destination for Brits abroad.

France held a 16% share of the expat total, well ahead of second placed Spain (10%) and the USA (8%). Australia was joint fourth along with Germany and Switzerland.

The figures did reveal definite trends amongst age groups, with Australia named as the most popular place to live by those aged 16 to 35. Spain and France were the European leaders for this age bracket. For those expats aged between 35 and 45 Italy was named as the preferred European destination.

British pensioners said Canada was their ideal overseas destination, just ahead of Australia, New Zealand and Spain. One in six of all pensioners have considered moving overseas.

An estimated 5.5 million Britons live abroad according to Public Policy research, with 400,000 leaving the UK in the last year alone.

International health insurance: News update: 12 November 2009

Yes “Oui” Can? Informing the Healthcare Debate: The French Example

November 12th, 2009 2 comments

An original piece originally published in September on Scoop44 (now ScoopDaily):

By Michael Barrett / September 7th, 2009

As the healthcare debate remains intense in Washington and across the country, leaving fiery protests at town hall meetings in its wake, one way to have a more knowledgeable discussion is by looking to examples of healthcare in other countries.

The Obama administration has been criticized by some conservatives as wanting to impose a socialist system in not just healthcare but also in economic matters. One of the countries referred to the most by both critics and proponents of Obama’s policies is France, the supposed beacon of socialism and the welfare state. It is important, however, to get beyond ideologies and examine the facts. What could the U.S. learn from the French healthcare system, both what to do and what not to do?

France’s public health system provides a basic form of mandatory health coverage for everyone, including foreign residents like myself with valid working papers. The main fund, Sécurité Sociale (Sécu), covers 80 percent of the population, and two other entities exist for the self-employed and agricultural workers. France also provides options for those ineligible for Sécu or below a certain salary threshold.

Everyone covered by the system uses a health insurance card resembling a debit card, called a Carte Vitale. This is equipped with a computer chip that can be read by doctors’ and pharmacists’ computers to access a patient’s insurance coverage information. All French citizens from 16 years old are required to have one; those younger are on their parents’ plans. While practical, this card can represent the excessive paperwork and hurdles that foreign residents must get through in order to obtain one. It took me several months to get my Carte Vitale, somewhat delayed because I had provided one too many pieces of identity for their comfort.

This notorious bureaucracy makes even the French cringe, but there is a silver lining: when getting laid off from a job does not result in losing a steady health insurance plan, the benefits seem worth the hassle. These are reaped not only individually but also economically. Indeed, the French social safety net played a role in bringing France officially out of the recession this past quarter, providing a stable foundation for increased consumption and other economic activity.

In addition to the public system, there exists a huge private market for health insurance in the form of supplementary medical plans known as mutuelles. These tend to pay for some of the costs not covered well by Sécu. Most French opt for these; the Boston Globe puts the rate at 90 percent of the population. For non-E.U. citizens moving to France, private medical insurance is mandatory.

These mutuelles are run by private insurers that offer a variety of plans to different groups, from students to professionals (and this is again subdivided into job sectors, like teachers). They often cover expenses not already paid for by the Sécu. For example, the standard doctor’s consultation will cost 22€ (about $31) and Sécu will normally reimburse 70% of this, or 15.40€. The mutuelle will usually make up some or all of the difference. My mutuelle is with the LMDE (la mutuelle des étudiants – student’s private option), which along with the other student option (SMERRA),offer beneficial plans to students in coverage and cost.

I just upgraded mine, and it will help cover most prescription costs, doctor visits, some dental and eye appointments as well as hospital stays. The cost for my total coverage per year? 393€ (195€ for Sécu, 198€ for LMDE) – about $560 a year ($47 a month). Not bad, considering that this covers the entirety of my asthma prescription costs for medicines I take daily, for which I’d pay a lot in the U.S. even with insurance. Not to mention a good portion of the costs incurred for hospital visits, dentist appointments and other procedures.

This is one of the key differences between the French and American systems. In the U.S., if you are prone to illness or have a chronic condition, health insurance providers will often either increase your payments or drop your coverage. As stated in the Boston Globe article, the French system makes it “more difficult for insurers to deny coverage for preexisting conditions or to those who are not in good health.”

Another difference is that associated with unemployment. If you lose your job in the U.S. and are not covered by government employee plans, you will likely have to pay more for private health insurance than through a company-provided scheme. In France, everyone is covered by the public option so that even those laid off by their employers don’t have to fear enormous costs in going to the doctor in case of illness.

One more aspect is that when ambulances are dispatched to treat injuries, a doctor comes along with appropriate equipment to start treating the patient at the scene before going to the hospital for further care. This was featured by CBS news.

The benefits can be seen in many ways, such as life expectancy: France is ranked 7th among UN nations (77 years for men, 84 for women), whereas the U.S. is at 35th (75 for men, 80 for women). Moreover, the World Heath Organization (WHO) has ranked France’s healthcare system as the best (though debatable). Indeed, according to the Boston Globe article, France’s ranking is based on “its universal coverage, responsive healthcare providers, patient and provider freedoms, and the health and the longevity of the country’s population.” The U.S. comes in at a meager 37th place. People like Fox News anchor Glen Beck should reconsider their statements.

Image: The Economist

So we see that the system in France has positive aspects, but what could be the costs of such a universal scheme? It does not come cheap, at about $3500 per capita (Boston Globe), but it is much less expensive than the U.S. ($6100). In terms of overall spending, France devotes 10.5% of its GDP to healthcare, whereas America spends 16%. More on the U.S compared to other countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) can be found in this 2004 report. As addressed by Medical News Today, the financing for the public health system is provided for by employers, employee contributions and personal income taxes, with around 20 percent of a working person’s gross salary deducted to pay for the Sécu.

There should be no surprise, therefore, that French authorities are trying to cut down on costs in the system. According to this article, instead of years ago when people would go to any doctor they wanted, “family doctors must now coordinate treatment.” I have witnessed this in France, where a patient must have the approval of his or her general practitioner before going to a specialist for a specific problem (exceptions: gynecologists, ophthalmologists and dentists – no need for referral).

There certainly needs to be reform in the U.S. of some sort. Indeed, the majority of Americans view the U.S. health system as “average” or “below average” according to the Pew Research Center. Even if a public option comes into existence in the U.S., it would likely not be mandatory for everyone, unlike the French system. The crux of the debate is whether or not a government-run public option would result in healthy competition with private insurers and lower premiums or if it would dominate the market and be a weight on business. A public health insurance option in the U.S. might dramatically increase coverage, but it will be vital in the long-term to reduce cost. Streamlining government bureaucracy could contribute to that endeavor.

Policymakers in Washington would be wise to take heed from French lessons of mixing public with private insurers. According to the American Journal of Public Health, these lessons include: “the importance of government’s role in providing a statutory framework for universal health insurance” and “understanding that universal coverage can be achieved without excluding private insurers from the supplementary insurance market.”

We can learn from France without becoming France, taking what works and leaving aside any nuisance to long-term growth while encouraging innovation to reduce costs, increase coverage and improve medicines. Our collective health depends on it.

If you would like a very in-depth analysis of the benefits and pitfalls of France’s whole economic system, I invite you to read the Economist article cited here. You can find more info on the French social protection system here and on this site.

Doing business in Paris

November 11th, 2009 No comments
Categories: Business, Paris Tags: , ,
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