Preparing to Become An Expatriate

passportcurrencyThis post is intended for readers who are about to set out for the first time as an Expatriate.  Although, it is stated from a U.S. citizen’s perspective, similar information should be available in the Consular Section of most embassy websites.

If you are traveling as an employee for an international company you may have already engaged in some sort of orientation process to prepare for your life abroad.  If you are making this step on your own, or you haven’t had the luxury of an orientation, the United States Department of State has already done the homework and you can access most of the information you need here.

The Traveler’s Checklist you will find on this website allows you to research the country  you will be traveling to or living in and provides the following information:

  • Passport Requirements
  • Vaccination Requirements
  • Currency Restrictions
  • Visa Requirements
  • Local Embassy Address & Contact Information
  • Facts About the Country
  • Safety & Security
  • Criminal Activity & Reporting Instructions
  • Health, Medical Care & Facilities
  • Travel & Transportation

Another service offered by the U. S. Department of State is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  Expats and travelers can register for this free service to inform the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate of your stay in the country.  In return applicants will be informed of safety conditions, natural disasters, and civil unrest within that country.  In addition, the embassy will have a way to contact you in the event of a family emergency.  It is also an easy way for family and friends to contact or find you.

If you are expatriated from another country similar information should be available at your national embassy website.  To list a few:

French http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/

German http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Startseite_node.html

Italian http://embassyrome.com/italian/

Spanish http://www.spanishembassy.net/

United Kingdom http://www.embassy.org/embassies/gb.html

Amsterdam: The City of Freedom

Amsterdam is a city where you are likely to see and experience things you’ve never imagined.

 

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Our waitress at the popular Grasshopper Restaurant (no longer Coffee Shop) describes it as The City of Freedom.  Freedom to come and go, do and be as you please, with no oppression.  I asked her how she came to live there from her home country (she was actually from Brazil), and she said that she’d followed her heart.  First with a man, then because she fell in love with the city.  I can’t say that I was totally in my comfort zone or feeling totally free on my visit; however, others younger or less inhibited than me might feel right at home. Although, I can say, it was an experience I will never forget, and parts of it were fun and entertaining.

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Besides the popular Red Light District that you hear about so much, with open and legal access to prostitution and drugs, were lovely historic homes and architecture, beautiful canals, numerous houseboats, and cyclists galore.

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Bikes in Amsterdam

My first impression of walking down the street in Amsterdam was that my immediate safety may be in peril from all of the bicycles and motorcycles along the way from the Central Train Station to our lodging just across the street.   In fact, 40% of all vehicle traffic in Amsterdam is bike traffic.  Just after we arrived we stopped at a convenience store to buy drinking water, and while paying the shop owner we heard the shriek of tires on pavement just outside the front of the shop.  On further investigation we saw that a biker had ran a red light and been hit by a car.  The shop owner told us this happens about once or twice a day at that corner; so safety tip, watch out for bikes.

Amsterdam is where I first experienced a number of new favorites:

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Bitterballen, now my favorite Dutch Appetizer. Here is a link to find some of the best places to eat it in Amsterdam.

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Cheese shops are numerous in the city of Amsterdam.  Here is a link to some of the finest shops in Amsterdam.

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Canal Cruises and houseboats wherever you look.  Here are some great locations to book houseboat rental or cruise.

Our first full day in Amsterdam was devoted to a cruise on the canals.  Instead of going with one of the larger commercial cruise lines we decided to go small with Boat Amsterdam, a one hour cruise including all you can drink and a personal guide to the city for 15€.  It is an open air vessel so blankets were provided for warmth against the chill Autumn air.  Our tour guide was a young lady from Seattle Washington, go figure.  She transferred her citizenship to Amsterdam over a series of visits throughout her young life and finally decided it is where she needs to live and work.  She seemed very well adjusted to life in The Netherlands, and was fairly knowledgeable about the city and historic sights.

 

On this cruise we saw the home of Anne Frank next door to Westerkirk, the church whose bells she describes hearing from her hiding place in the book “Anne Frank’s Diary”.

We also saw the home of the mayor of the city, many beautiful buildings, and were told the history of our own hotel.

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The Victoria Hotel built in the 1970’s surrounds a smaller house whose owner refused to sell out.  The family is still in residence to this day.

We only spent a night and a day in Amsterdam before moving on to another leg of our journey, but it was eye opening and entertaining.  There is much more to see and do there than time permitted, and I hope to go back again for a longer stay.

To create your own itinerary for a day or longer in Amsterdam you can visit the following website http://www.visitacity.com/en/amsterdam/itineraries/amsterdam-in-one-day–easy-going-day-1 .  Happy travels!

Bitterballen: A Dutch Masterpiece

Okay, okay! Food doesn’t necessarily conform to the genre of a Dutch Master, but this tasty treat is definitely a work of art all on its own. Bitterballen is a type of meatball or kroket with a piping hot gooey center, and one of the best appetizers to be found in The Netherlands. Here is a link including a short history lesson of this well-known Dutch treat along with the recipe to try it out and form your own opinion. Bitterballen is served on canal cruises, in restaurants and bars throughout The Netherlands along with these other 10 Dutch Foods You Should Try Once. I can’t vouch for them all, but they are pretty popular. Gouda Cheese is especially prevalent in The Netherlands, there you will find many shops which offer cheese tasting opportunities to find what suits you best before you buy. All in all, Bitterballen was the winner for me. I hope you enjoy it too!

Holland: Expat Life in The Hague

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Grand Hotel Amrath Kurhaus

Travelers Guide. 

For those travelers considering a short trip to The Hague, you won’t be disappointed in what you find there.  Beginning with Scheveningen Beach, an impressive strand on the North Sea, is the equally impressive Grand Hotel Amrath Kurhaus above.

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The next sight you may take in is the ocean liner shaped, covered pier.  If you are like me and don’t do extreme water sports, it is great for watching wind surfers and kite boarders take on nature’s turbulence while you relax in a protected indoor salon, offering refreshments and light entertainment.

The esplanade offers a vast venue of night life, recreation, clubs, and eateries.  You are bound to find something which appeals to your taste in music or entertainment, but for help getting started you might enjoy Crazy Pianos, a happening mad world of dueling Baby Grands. Many restaurants such as Simonis and Grieks Restaurant Eleni in Wassenaar, feature North Atlantic Seafood caught fresh daily.

Speaking of Wassenaar, it is an affluent inland village in The Hague, and home of quaint sidewalk cafes, bistros and pubs, fine shopping, and friendly approachable people.  You may be wondering about currency in The Hague; as part of the European Union, Holland currency is still the Euro.

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If you are from the U.S. and missing food back home try Broeder’s Bistro for a taste of American dining while out shopping for those little wooden shoes.

 

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Holland is a land of canals, windmills, and flowers, but also a nice area to raise children, with access to some of the finest education Europe has to offer. The Windmill de Windlust in the photo above, located in Wannesaar, is still in operation today.

Expats Guide.

 

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Madurodam Mini Dutch City

My mini vacation in The Hague was only a brief visit; however, a new friend and fellow expatriate, Ron Brown, in the photo on the left, offers insight into long-term living in this part of Holland.  When asked about everyday life in the Den Haag as it is known to local residents, he said, “Children in Den Haag begin English Language Classes in 4th grade, so language barriers are not a real problem for non-Dutch speakers because almost everyone there speaks English.” In regard to activities of daily life he stated, “The grocery stores have hours similar to here (Berlin),” in that they are closed on Sundays, and the shoppers must provide their own bags unless they choose to buy one each time they shop.  Ron mentions a place called “Kelly Expect, that commonly sells name brand foods from the U.S.A.” which he found very useful as an expat.  He described his firsthand experience with vision care as “better than anything in the USA!” He received fast treatment and no out of pocket cost because of his great health care insurance.  Other information I was able to gather from Ron is that immigrants and expatriates must register for residency in The Hague to receive a 5 year residency card.   You can read about that here.

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Ron also enjoyed the beach and activities at Scheveningen, but he highlighted his experience with the Central Railway Station in the following statement,  “Central Station in Den Haag is one of the largest in Europe and one can travel to about any place from there.  It was only 12€ to Amsterdam!  Nice trains, and fast.  From Central Station you can also travel anywhere in Den Haag, kind of like here (Berlin), but more up-to-date.”  Thanks to Ron, for sharing this information.  Holland in general is some of the most awe inspiring scenery in Europe, and a good location to add to anyone’s bucket list.