Skip to main content
A guide to independence day in the USA

Independence Day Explained for Non-Americans — A Quick Guide

What is Independence Day in the United States of America All About?

Many non-Americans are pretty familiar with the country’s Independence Day holiday: it’s about patriotism, independence from Great Britain, and defeating an invading army of enormous slimy aliens (that actually happened, right?).

Of the United States’ 10 public holidays, the Fourth of July stands out as easily the most well known to non-Americans around the world and probably the most significant for Americans themselves.

As I’ve written before, I think it’s an important part of an expat’s experience in their adopted country to try to understand and to mark important public holidays in their host country. With that in mind, what is Independence Day all about, and how should a non-American mark it? Here’s Independence Day explained.

(more…)

Why are British and American English different?

Why to Succeed in the USA You Must First Learn to Speak “American”

When doing business in today’s globalized world, all of the expert advice suggests learning to speak a little of your host’s language. If you’re British (or have learned British English) then you might think you have a head start in the USA. In fact, the differences between British and American English are substantial.

The approaching Fourth of July holiday (or should that be July Fourth?) is a reminder that American and British English share a common ancestry. Yet, despite the modern day United States having it’s roots in British colonialism, the two main branches of the English language have diverged quite markedly over the past 250 years.

Having a firm knowledge of the differences and deploying American English correctly is, as I am discovering as a British expat living and working in San Francisco, crucial to business success in the United States.

What, then, are the key differences, how should you handle them and why are British and American English so different?

(more…)

What is the friendliest country for expats?

The World’s Friendliest Countries for Expats

Which Countries Rank Highest for Social Life, Making Friends and Feeling Welcome?

Living overseas doesn’t have to mean loneliness, homesickness and being made to feel unwelcome by the locals. At least that’s true if you’re living in Russia (yes, you read that right), Bahrain or Mexico.

These are the three friendliest countries for expats, where they can most easily make friends, integrate into the community, enjoy an active social life and be made to feel welcome at work, according to the most recent HSBC Expat Explorer Survey.

(more…)

Expat voting rights

Can I Vote While I’m Living Abroad?

Overseas Voting Rights Under the Spotlight

The recent announcement that the British government will act to extend overseas voting rights to all citizens (though not in time for expat  Britons to vote in the planned EU membership referendum), irrespective of how long they have been living outside of the UK has put expat voting rights under the spotlight.

At present British citizens can vote from overseas in General and European elections, so long as they have not lived outside of the UK for more than 15 years. The “15 year rule” has generated quite a bit of controversy because, with an estimated 5.6 million British citizens living overseas, it causes a substantial number of people to be disenfranchised.

The European Commission has gone so far as saying that Britain is “punishing” its expatriates for leaving the country by denying them the right to vote. “The right to vote is one of the fundamental rights of citizenship. It is part of the very fabric of democracy,” said Vivian Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, in a statement made in 2014.

However, far from being an anachronism, Britain’s expatriate voting rules are actually among the most relaxed in the world. The vast majority of the world’s migrants and expats are unable to continue to have a say in how their countries are run and many of those expats who do have voting rights find that they are subject to stricter recent residency conditions than imposed by the UK.

(more…)

Buy british groceries online

Where to Buy British Food and Groceries Online

What can you do if you’re craving British food in America?

With an estimated 5.5 million British citizens living abroad and more than 300,000 people joining them every year it is hardly surprising that demand for British food and groceries overseas is booming.

Of course, part of the joy of living in another country is the opportunity to experience a new and exciting food culture. I am very fortunate that my current home, California, has some of the best cuisine in the United States – influenced by waves of immigration from Latin America, Japan, China, South East Asia and Eastern Europe.

To walk down the main shopping street in my district in the west of San Francisco is to pass through, within the space of around a mile, microcosms of Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, Poland and Mexico. I could eat pho for breakfast, sushi for lunch and have burritos for dinner every day if I wished.

But, sometimes I crave certain British foods and groceries: proper tea, Jaffa cakes, HP sauce, baked beans, a warm British ale! These things are much harder to find even here in San Francisco and, if you’re currently further afield, probably almost impossible to come across.

So, where are the best places to buy your favorite British food and groceries online?

(more…)

How big is the UK compared to California?

How Big Is the UK Compared to California? (And Nine Similarly Important Questions)

One thing that expats to the United States, especially from densely populated Europe, find difficult to comprehend is the sheer scale of the place.

At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, the United States is enormous. In fact, the USA is so big that the entire European Union (all 28 member countries) could fit inside it, twice.

My new home state, California, is (by population at least) the largest state in the union. But how does it compare to my native United Kingdom?

(more…)

Memorial day explained

Memorial Day Explained for Non-Americans – A Quick Guide

What is Memorial Day — the US Public Holiday taking place on May 25 — all about?

For expats a country’s national holidays — and how people mark them — can be a huge insight into your new home’s culture and way of life. Understanding the background to the public holidays celebrated your new country, and how you can mark them, can be an important part of your integration.

With that in mind, it is currently “Memorial Day Weekend” here in the United States – a holiday unique to the USA, and therefore an opportunity for me to try to better understand my new home. If the reaction of people on Twitter is anything to go by the holiday is predominantly about barbecues and parties:

Clearly there is much more to Memorial Day than this. So what is it all about?

(more…)

moving abroad checklist

Moving Abroad Checklist — 10 Things to Consider before Moving Overseas

Every year tens of millions of people move across the world to call a new country home. They do so for a whole variety of reasons — for work, a lower cost of living, or a better quality of life. Whatever their reasons for emigrating packing up your life in one country and moving to another is a major undertaking.

Trust me — I speak from experience! In March 2015 my wife and I packed up our life in London, England and moved over 5,000 miles to San Francisco, California. You can read a little background to our story on the About page.

The key lesson I have learned from my experience? To move abroad successfully you must plan ahead. Every year embassies and consulates report having to help out their citizens because they’ve found themselves in financial hardship or run into legal troubles.

Your exact checklist will vary depending on where you are moving to and your specific circumstances. My wife and I have been quite fortunate: we didn’t own a home in the UK, we do not have children, and our parents are still spritely young things. However, if you’ve got assets or care obligations for example, your move may be more complicated.

Most moves will, however, require thinking about similar issues. What, then, were the 10 major areas on my moving abroad checklist?

(more…)

expat life in San Francisco

Nine Things I Wish I’d Known before I Became an Expat in San Francisco

In March, my wife and I packed up our life in London, England and moved 5,315 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to San Francisco, California.

Moving to a new city, let alone a new country, is a hugely exciting experience – new people, new culture, and new things to see, do and eat. But it also comes with a whole range of details to figure out and cultural quirks to get used to.

So, after nearly eight weeks in San Francisco, what are the nine things I wish I had known in advance?

(more…)