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Expat Gay | Expat Gay - Part 2

Oh the places you won’t go as an LGBT Expat!

The prospect of becoming an expat is both exciting and daunting. Yet one of the most critical decisi

Gay Rights Watch – Link Roundup

Ecuador is closing the countries “lesbian cure” clinics after lesbian is appointed Ecuador’s n

Happy Chinese New Year!

The year of the Dragon in Chinese astrology is very special. The dragon being the only character tha

 
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by CG

News from around the world

January 6, 2012 in Countries, Ecuador, Expat, Gay, Israel, Leaving the US, LGBT, Spain, Weekly News by CG

Below is this week’s collection of relevant articles and news from the gay expat world that are worth a look:

 

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by CG

Cancun to pass gay marriage bill to attract tourists

January 5, 2012 in Countries, Expat, Gay, Gay Marriage, Leaving the US, LGBT, Mexico by CG

Starting in January, gay expats in Mexico will have even more incentive to hit the beaches in the Mexican Caribbean (including Cancun, Cozumel and other nearby resort areas) as these areas can now serve as potential wedding destinations.  According to Fox News Latino, the Mexican Caribbean will allow gay and lesbian couples from abroad to legalize their same-sex unions due to a quirk in the local civil code which only makes mention of “people interested in getting married” without reference to gender.  Starting in January, the first same-sex weddings will be held in the resort area and agreements are being put into place with various airlines and hotel chains to hold same-sex weddings all along Mexico’s Caribbean coast.  According to a local activist, the gay community generates between 45 and 60 percent more income on top of conventional tourism.  Same sex marriage has been legal in Mexico City since 2009 with over 1200 couples married so far.  We will post an update post detailing the requirements for marriage in Mexico in the very near future. Read more.

Check out our section on Mexico!


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by CG

Where Do American Expats Live?

December 20, 2011 in Countries, Expat, Leaving the US by CG

According to U.S. State Department 2011 estimates it seems like most Americans like to stay close to home when living abroad with the majority of American expats living in the Western Hemisphere (2,591,000).  Also strongly represented are Europe (1,612,000), the Near East (870,000) and East Asia & Pacific (864,000).  South Central Asia (212,000), Africa (171,000) and Russia (30,000) bring up the rear in numbers of Americans living there.  The report also breaks down the countries that have more than 100,000 Americans living there.  These countries include Australia, Canada, China, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Israel & West Bank, Greece, Mexico, Italy, Spain and the Philippines.  While a high concentration of Americans does not necessarily guarantee that it is a place where you would want to live, it is interesting nonetheless as another possible factor in your search for the perfect home abroad if being surrounded by American expats is important to you.     Check out the cool info graphic at the link for another look at the data.


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by CG

Top Beach, City and Country Retirement Spots

December 19, 2011 in Colombia, Ecuador, Expat, France, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Nicaragua, Uruguay by CG

U.S. News Money has selected their best beach choices, city choices and country choices for retirement abroad.  They break out the list into small, medium and large budgets so the choice of location is dependent on your budget.  Many of the locations selected show up on most live abroad lists but U.S. News Money manages to sneak in a couple of surprises:

Top Beach Choices:

  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico ($2500/month) – half the cost of California, luxury living, easily accessible from North America and established expat community.
  • Costa de Oro, Uruguay ($1700/month) – great seaside values with options for full retirement living on the water, easy residency and first world infrastructure.
  • San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua ($1300/month) – beachcomber town, undeveloped and rough around the edges,  one of the world’s most affordable, emerging expat community.

Top City Choices:

  • Paris, France ($3000/month) – not as expensive as you might think, some of the best things in city are free, even practical requirements can be affordable (phone, internet, etc.).
  • Medellin, Colombia ($2000/month) – cosmopolitan lifestyle, great museums and restaurants, great weather year-round.
  • Cuenca, Ecuador ($1300/month) – offers best quality of city life for the money, small (400,000 people), great public transportation, municipal offices.

Top Country Choices:

  • County Kerry, Ireland ($3000/month) – great outdoors and white sand, no major development, cheap property prices.
  • Abruzzo, Italy ($1600/month) – golden beaches and hillsides, no over-crowding or heavy industry, affordable cost of living with some village houses available for about $36,000.
  • El Retiro, Colombia ($1,300/month) – undiscovered colonial mountain town, 1/2 hour from airport and 1 hour from Medellin, cool weather, affordable properties with houses on the central square going for $40,000 to $60,000.

Need a little more sand to sink your toes into? Check out the article!


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by CW

Do you have travel in your blood?

December 16, 2011 in Can I do it?, Expat, LGBT by CW

At age 26, I wouldn’t call myself a world traveler but I would call myself an experienced traveler. Born and raised in the US, I have traveled all over North America, been to several countries in Europe and most of the Caribbean. I have yet to explore Asia, Africa, Australia or most of the land in between but it is not from a lack of desire.

To pack 4 large bags ($200 in bag fees), fly halfway around the world (coach will only cost one arm please) and stay in lush hotels (the Holiday Inn in Venice, Austria was posh, I can’t imagine the Ritz), you pretty much have to have a large amount of disposable income or be traveling for work (on company dime). Traveling for me has been based on good deals, cheap fares or trips I have just been lucky enough to go on and not pay for.

If you’re anything like me, you want more and more travel and you’re willing to do almost anything to be able to do it! You want to be able to travel the back roads of China, explore Thailand, go down under in Australia and backpack Europe (maybe even check out a hostel). But before we get too far into the wants and desires of dreamy destinations, let’s look at the reality.

REALITY CHECK!

You’re broke, you barely make enough to cover your bills, let alone enough to dream about whisking off to some country halfway around the world. You have responsibilities, your family wants you to go to college, get a good paying job, work, work, work.

UHG!

By this point you throw your dreams, hopes, wants, desires out the window and try to please everyone else BUT yourself. Alternatively, you may already be a thirty-something and have already loaded yourself down with school loan debt and numerous other responsibilities that creep up on you.

For some reason this sounds familiar… Oh yeah, I’ve done it. Let me tell you where it got me.

I have a great paying job (I bust my ass from 7am to 6pm, Monday thru Friday, with the occasional work trip on weekends), $40,000 in school loans (and that’s cheap!), a loving family (would never give that up) and a ridiculous burning desire in my gut to say SCREW all of it! I want to see the world and I don’t want to work for the next 45 years so that when I retire, I will finally have the chance, and the money to do so. I will most likely be in a wheelchair, may not be able to fly, may not have use of half my body because of a stroke I had 5 years ago, oh and let me be really morbid for a moment, I may not be alive. So here I worked for 45 years to achieve a goal I never had the opportunity to accomplish.

Stop reading this for a second and do me a favor, think about the oldest living person you know and the next time you talk to them ask the following: “What is the number one thing you regret not doing when you were younger?” Obviously this is different for everyone but the point is that everyone has desires that went unfulfilled for various reasons. Now it may be too late and they have the pleasure of living with those regrets day in and day out.

Unfortunately, and fortunately, I learned what those burning desires really feel like when you know that time is limited (in my case it was in 4 hours). In four long hours, while being held hostage against my will, I learned how much you regret not doing the things you want. I felt the sheer anger and resentment you feel for squandering your deepest desires. If I can give you an analogy, the feeling is similar to putting a magnifying glass up to the sun to start a fire and it happens that fast.

So what? How can I change it? Do you need to almost die to get to the point I got? (I hope not!?!)

I’m not saying screw it, drop everything and run out on your responsibilities. Please be clear, that is the worst thing you can do and it will only make matters worse. No, look at “CG’s” very first post, “ONE STEP AT A TIME.”

I first had to realize that if there is any time to travel in your life, it is while you are young. It is when you are fit and healthy and able to run over ruins, climb mountains, or run for the train because you took too long trying to get the perfect picture. That is the time to travel! When you’re 65 sitting in a chair because the left-hand side of your body won’t move (damn stroke), you’ll be full of memories, pictures, surrounded by little things from all over the world. You’ll have stories to tell for years or maybe a simple video from that time you decided to sit with the copper statue in the middle of Prague making ridiculous faces at the camera.

This is all possible; you can make this work, no matter your age. If traveling is your desire, then what are you waiting for? We are embarking on that journey right now and plan to show you every step we take in getting there. We will explain how to do it financially, physically, mentally and without breaking the bank or neglecting your responsibilities.


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by CG

Review: House Hunters International

December 15, 2011 in Argentina, Belgium, Costa Rica, Countries, Denmark, Ecuador, Expat, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Leaving the US, Mexico, Netherlands, Panama, Portugal, Scandinavia, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, Uruguay by CG

In the past few months I have developed an obsession for a TV show that I would have never watched before.  As a matter of fact, I couldn’t tell you where on the dial HGTV was since the type of show they run is normally so far outside my interests.  However, as a result of the research I have been doing on living abroad, a specific show on HGTV has become appointment TV.  The strangely addicting and informative House Hunters International on HGTV is a great way to get a sense of the types of properties available abroad at different price ranges.  The concept is simple, a house hunter is moving to a new location internationally and with the help of a local real estate agent they preview 3 different properties in their new location discussing the pros and cons of each.  At the end of the episode, the house hunter(s) picks one of the properties as their new home and the cameras return a few weeks later to see what the new house owner has done with their new place.  The show follows a standard 30 minute format familiar to anyone who has ever watched House Hunters on HGTV and the joy in the show for me is finding an episode set in a country that I have been thinking about living in and getting a look at the different properties available.  It has really proved an invaluable reality check on some of my plans (for example, I now realize living by the sea in some tropical Caribbean island paradise is probably well outside my living abroad budget) and, on occasion, has provided new places to explore in my research that I had not previously considered (hello Slovakia and Nicaragua!).  Following are some pros and cons of the show itself:

PROS:

  • The show follows house hunters in all price ranges so you will see episodes dedicated to million dollar properties as well as properties under $100k.
  • The show seems to go to a lot of locations that are popular expat destinations (I have watched recent episodes set in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico and many others).
  • The listing prices for all the houses featured are announced and the selling price for the selected property is disclosed at the end of the episode providing real data for the featured properties).
  • The show frequently returns to the same locations with different house hunters and different properties.  This provides the ability to see a wider range of properties at different budgets.  I have watched multiple shows set in Nicaragua and other places with different house hunters with differing budgets.

CONS:

  • Due to its thirty-minute format the show is necessarily superficial.  Each house under consideration gets about a 5 minute segment which means that on larger properties the evaluation seems rushed.
  • There is little discussion of the place where the house hunter is moving to.  Again, since this is a 30 minute show they have to focus on the house itself but the show glosses over local customs and specific quirks related to house buying in foreign countries.
  • After watching a number of episodes the show can feel stale and repetitive.  The format is always the same, 3 houses for evaluation, one chosen and then the reveal 3 months or so later.  This is a show best digested one or two at time.

Don’t let the cons scare you away from adding this show to your DVR rotation.  It is informative enough to keep your interest if taken in small bites.  Don’t be surprised when you start having strong opinions on which house the house hunter should select and feeling very real anger when they choose the wrong house.  Not that that’s happened to me of course!  The show runs seemingly around the clock on HGTV but premieres Friday nights at 10 PM EST.  Check it out for yourself.


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by CG

IRS Leniency for Expats?

December 14, 2011 in Expat, Financial, Leaving the US by CG

The IRS has issued a fact sheet indicating that there could be leniency for expats who have failed to file tax returns in the past.  According to the release, taxpayers who owe no U.S tax will owe no “failure to file” or “failure to pay penalties”.  Additionally, the IRS indicated that they may be lenient with penalties related to foreign bank and financial accounts (FBARs) if the IRS determines that the FBAR penalty was due to a reasonable cause.  The IRS requires U.S. citizens regardless of where they live and work to file annual tax returns. In addition to filing a tax return reporting their income, Americans must also report all their foreign bank, brokerage, mutual fund and pension accounts.  The penalties can be steep. Failure to disclose foreign bank accounts can result in penalties of $10,000 (U.S.) a year for every account. If it’s determined that a person willfully failed to file reports detailing foreign bank and financial accounts, the fines can be $100,000, or 50 per cent of the total balance of the account, at the time of the violation – whichever is greater.  The IRS fact sheet details how the IRS will determine “reasonable cause” and includes examples as well as detailed FBAR filing requirements and penalties.  If you have not been filing taxes in the US from your income abroad, now may be the time to consult an accountant and determine whether you qualify for this program. Check out the article.

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by CG

Warning to Expats About Following Local Laws Abroad

December 13, 2011 in Countries, Expat, Thailand by CG

Today it was reported that 55-year old Joe Wichai Commart Gordon, a Thai-born US citizen, has been sentenced to 5 years in a Thai jail for insulting the monarchy (he will serve only 2 and a half years in exchange for his guilty plea).  The facts surrounding the conviction may seem astonishing to Americans and may come as a surprise to expats that live or have traveled in Thailand. Gordon, a former Colorado car salesman, pleaded guilty to translating and posting sections of the biography, The King Never Smiles by Paul Handley, which has been banned in Thailand, several years ago on a blog while he was living in the US. Thai authorities arrested him under the country’s strict lese majesty laws, which make it illegal to insult the monarchy, when he visited Thailand on a holiday for medical treatment. His lawyer will now seek a royal pardon for Mr. Gordon.  According to the BBC, foreigners convicted of lese majeste are routinely pardoned and deported shortly after being sentenced. While extreme, this case does show that expats living in Thailand are not immune from Thai laws and anyone planning to live abroad or spend significant time in a foreign country is advised to educate themselves on the laws of the country.  MSNBC lists a few other surprising laws (some more serious than others) that travelers and expats should heed including traveling by scooter in the Philippines in sandals or bare feet or failing to flush a public toilet in Singapore. Read more.

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by CG

Best Countries for Gay Expats in Europe

December 8, 2011 in Belgium, Countries, Denmark, Expat, Gay, Germany, Great Britain, LGBT, Netherlands, Portugal, Scandinavia, Spain, Switzerland by CG

I, like many others, have spent a lot of time researching the best places to live abroad.  As a quick Google search shows, there is no lack of opinions on this topic, to the point that weeding through the available information can be downright overwhelming.  However, when I try to find information on a more specific subset of this question, namely finding the best places to live abroad that are gay-friendly, the search gets much more difficult.  There seems to be precious little data on expat gays and their experiences abroad.  Outside of some personal blogs and small sections in otherwise general expat blogs information on gay life for retirees abroad seems scarce.  However, there is much more information for gay travelers vacationing abroad generally and while these articles do not dig into the specific concerns and challenges for gays who choose to live abroad, they are useful to at least get a sense of a place’s overall attitude and acceptance towards gays.  Over on Rick Steve’s popular traveler website he has posted a handy article for gay travelers in Europe which, again, while not providing an in-depth look at living in Europe does help weed out those places in Europe that are more welcoming of gays and therefore should be on your shortlist of living abroad options.

According to Rick,  the best countries for gay rights — and for gay travelers — are the Netherlands, Belgium, Scandinavia (especially Denmark), and Great Britain (particularly London), as well as Germany, Switzerland, and cities in Spain and Portugal.    In other countries, such as Austria, Ireland, Paris, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia the record is mixed, with fewer legal rights. However, the farther east you venture in the former Soviet Bloc, the less progressive things become. Particularly in rural areas of Eastern Europe.


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by CG

Should Gay Expats Give Up Their Citizenship?

December 7, 2011 in Citizenship, Expat, Leaving the US by CG

A recurring concern for American expats living abroad on a permanent or semi-permanent basis is the unfair tax and financial burden on expats and how to address such inequality.  The New York Times addresses one of the more controversial options increasingly being taken by expats who are renouncing their citizenship to avoid double taxation and also takes a look at the special circumstances that may lead same-sex couples to do the same.  The Federal Register estimates that 502 expats gave up their citizenship in the last quarter of 2009 out of the 5.2 million Americans estimated by the State Department to be living abroad.  While still a small number, it is the largest quarterly figure in years and seems to be growing.  Anecdotally, concerns over tax and banking issues appears to be driving the growth, especially complaints that the US is the only industrialized country to tax citizens on income earned abroad, even when they are taxed in their country of residence (though expats are allowed to exclude their first $91,400 in foreign-earned income).   Additionally, stringent new banking regulations have inadvertently made it harder for some expats to keep bank accounts in the US and in some cases abroad. Some US banks have closed expats’ accounts due to difficulty in verifying a US address.  It is this potential concern for double taxation and banking issues that can drive expats to renounce their citizenship.

For gay expats there is an additional motivation that can make living abroad and renouncing one’s citizenship an attractive option.  Aside from the same double taxation and banking issues faced by other expats, many same-sex couples who leave the US head for countries that recognize their unions or due to immigration obstacles here in the US for foreign-born partners.  Couples may head to more tolerant places such as Canada where it’s easier to gain permanent resident status for couples since only one partner has to qualify and gay marriage is recognized there.

Relinquishing citizenship is pretty straightforward. The person must appear before a U.S. consular or diplomatic official in a foreign country and sign a renunciation oath. This, however, does not allow a person to escape old tax bills or military obligations. Read more…