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CONSIDER COMAYAGUA, HONDURAS AS AN EXPAT DESTINATION CANDIDATE
We once again feature Carter Clews, who writes a monthly column, “Clews’ Views,” for the Caribbean Property Magazine e-zine. The column highlights Latin American "best buys" for "middle-income" people.
Clews's last column recommended for the reader's consideration the Guatemalan village of Chichicastenango, with living costs in the vicinity of $1000 a month and where a decent place in town can be had for less than $50,000. Importantly, the people there are reported as friendly and pro-foreigner.
This month Clews draws our attention to Comayagua, Honduras. Usually when one thinks of Honduras expat destinations, one thinks "Bay Islands." But Comayagua is a small city of 50,000 "cradled in the juncture of two pristine rivers," and only four miles from a national park. Comayagua was the capital of Honduras until 1880, giving the city an architectural cachet. The climate is described as mild to warm throughout the day and delightfully cool as evening falls. The people of Comayagua are described as "unassuming, open, and warm," and some English can be heard due to the city's proximity to a U.S. military base. No figures are given on the costs of living or real estate this round.
I am going to write to you about Comayagua, Honduras, this month. But, before I get to the refreshing reality of Comayagua, let me try to put to rest some of the more nagging, gnawing myths about Honduras, in particular, and Latin America, in general.
Now, please, let me warn you from the outset that for some, what I am about to say is going to sound like heresy. And to them, it probably is. They like to consider themselves "realists." I consider them the kind of people who, when they see flowers, look around for the corpse.
In fact, they are precisely the kind of people who wrote the following Pecksniffian passage on page 309 of the 2009 World Book Encyclopedia: "Most rural Hondurans are poor peasants who own or rent small farms. These people have poor transportation and communities and often are cut off from the life of the cities." And one is left to wonder why these "poor peasants" suffering as they do from such "poor" transportation and "poor" communications do not just go ahead and shoot themselves.
Well, the reason, of course, is that the "peasants" of Honduras do not see themselves as poor. They transport themselves just fine, thank you. And since they have been corresponding and copulating with each other for well nigh 400 years now, they apparently don't have too much trouble communicating, either.
As to being "cut off from the life of the cities," so are the people in Enid, Oklahoma, and Williamsport, Maryland. And since I have been to both places, I can assure you that they are getting along just fine without the hustle and bustle of Tulsa Town, or Baltimore.
Let me give you the bottom line -- because, unless you understand and appreciate its essence, you are not likely to be happy in Comayagua, Honduras; Chichicastenango, Guatemala; Panchimalco, El Salvador; Sarteneja, Belize; or any other of the 1001 places Clews' Views will invite you to visit.
Most things you hear, read, and see about life in Latin America bear no more relationship to actual events on the ground than Hades does to happiness. So, forget all of the "flies-on-eyes" videos designed to tug on your heart- (and purse-) strings. And jettison all of the sappy narratives about the "poor peasants" with their "poor" transportation and "poor" communications, pining away for life in the city.
For those with some pioneering derring-do; a love of the sea, sunshine, and sandy beaches; and a longing for the good life at a great price -- far from the madding crowd (as well as Big Government's heavy hand and high taxes) -- the countries of Latin America are fast becoming the new American Dream. And that is why some 500,000,000 "poor peasants" choose to live in those lands they love.
Okay, that is enough preaching. Let us stop by -- and, perhaps, consider resettling in -- copasetic Comayagua. The city of Comayagua, Honduras (population 50,000), is snuggled on the northern edge of the fertile Valle de Comayagua, cradled in the juncture of two pristine rivers: the Rio Chiquito and the Rio Humuya. Here, the climate is mild to warm throughout the day and delightfully cool as evening falls.
The people of Comayagua are unassuming, open, and warm. And do not be surprised if you hear more than a smattering of English, since the town is frequented by American soldiers and civilians from the nearby Enrique Soto Cano Air Base, home to the U.S. military's proud Joint Task Force Bravo. A testament to the town's allure is that several ex-military personnel have chosen to remain in Comayagua and have set up small businesses there.
First-time visitors to Comayagua are often struck by its wide boulevards and classic colonial architecture. Some say the latter is rivaled only by that of Antigua, Guatemala. All of that is quickly assimilated, however, when one realizes that this quaint city was for more than three centuries the capital of Honduras (first, the colony; then, the country).
It was not until 1880 that President Marco Aurelio Soto changed the capital from Comayagua to Tegucigalpa. Legend has it that Soto's decision was prompted by the snubbing of his Comayaguan wife by the city elite (proving once again that, indubitably, "pride goeth before a fall"). Nonetheless, the stunning architecture was left intact, and today, its resplendent beauty provides a serene setting for the remaining elite, and newcomers, as well.
Life in Comayagua largely revolves around its beautiful, bountiful Parque Central. Allowed to deteriorate somewhat shabbily in the mid- to late-20th Century, the Parque enjoyed a renaissance in the early 2000's and is now a tropical paradise of flowering plants, towering trees, romantic walkways, and thriving kiosks.
Interestingly, Moon's Handbook suggests that visitors "Note the outline of the cathedral [Catedral de Santa Maria], which lines up with the church's shadow once a day, drawn on the stones of the park in front." And, it is, indeed, well worth seeing.
The Catedra de Santa Maria, itself -- or La Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepcion, as some prefer to call it -- is one of the most imposing in all of Honduras. Which is saying something, since the artisans of that deeply religious country take their iconage most seriously. The edifice, towering majestically above the Parque, features no fewer than eight carefully crafted statues. And it also features one of the oldest working clocks in the world.
The Catedra tower, built in 1650, is home to the Reloq Arabe, or Arab Clock, made in 1100 in Spain. There, it graced the La Alhambra of Granada before being donated to Comayagua by King Felipe II. Though the face of the clock on the outside of the tower is not the original, the wheelworks, weights, and pendulums on the inside are. And if you arrive at the right time, the old clock keepers will escort you up in the tower to watch it strike the hour, as it has done for nearly a millennium. It is more than worth the climb.
For those into the artifacts of the antiquity, Comayagua boasts not one, but two museums: the Museo Colonial and the Museo de Arqueologica. The first is to the south, the second to the north, of the Parque Central, so no matter which way you turn, you can take a trip back in time. But, here, a caveat is in order : Do not expect to while away the hours in either museum unless you are one of those with a meticulous eye for the obscure. Both museums are rather small by American standards and for most of us, I am afraid the artifacts are not particularly impressive.
One rather large artifact that may be impressive to some will be the Caxa Real. It is the crumbling ruins of the old tax-collection house built somewhere between 1739 and 1741. Built by the sycophantic Royal Field Marshall Don Pedro de Rivera Villalon to serve as the Royal Treasury for King Felipe and Queen Isabel, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1809, proving once again that there is, indeed, a God.
Now, since Clews' Views is expressly written for those looking not merely to visit, but to considering living in the venues reviewed, you might be wondering what one does in Comayagua. Well, when not relaxing in the Parque Central, or enjoying the licuados (milkshakes) at Ricle Reposteria y Cafeteria, or the Cajun cooking at Haneman's Bar and Grill, you can journey out the four miles or so to the Parque Nacional Montana de Comayagua.
A hiker's haven, the Parque Nacional covers more than 15,000 acres of virgin forests. It houses the El Portillo, the highest point in the park, reaching a height of 2,400 meters. For those who enjoy wildlife, the park is well populated with toucans, quetzals, eagles, deer, monkeys, and even a few pumas. When one considers that the predatory puma can leap 40 feet through the air to devour its prey, a few may be more than enough.
Perhaps the most celebrated event in Comayagua for visitors, resettlers, and tourists alike is the annual week-long Easter Pageant, with its legendary "Sawdust Carpets." Beginning on Palm Sunday, and ending on Easter Sunday, Comayagua quite literally transforms itself with celebrations and processions day and night throughout its streets and plazas.
Highlighting the event are the nearly two dozen "Sawdust Carpets "unlike any seen elsewhere in the world. Actually created from brightly colored blends of sawdust and salt, the magical carpets decorate the sidewalks of Comayagua, making the sojourn less painful for the Christ figure as he endures the procession of the via crucis.
The "Sawdust Carpets," which normally take the artisans of Comayagua almost three months to design, are laid out in a marathon session of up to 10 hours in preparation for the sacred procession. And even if you have sawdust in your veins, you may find yourself moved by the simple majesty of the moment.
It is, perhaps, this timeless celebration, with its spirit of community, reverential air, and meticulous attention to detail that symbolizes the very essence of Comayagua, Honduras. It is a place where people meet of one accord, where peace prevails, and where the simple joys of, and attendant duties to, traditional values make for a life as secure and ennobling as it is serene.
So, you may, in fact, want to consider residing in Comayagua yourself one day, there to join the "poor peasants" deeply drawing on the true richness of life, the "poor (humble) in spirit" to whom we are told is accorded "the kingdom of heaven."
RETIRING ON $500 A MONTH – PART 2
More on retiring cheaply to Thailand, Cambodia or the Philippines.
We posted part 1 of “Retiring On $500 A Month” a month ago or so, which suggested the idea of looking among the less fashionable areas of South East Asia to accomplish the article title goal. As promised the author is back with part 2, providing considerable details to back up his claims and many Web resources as well.
Once, nearly a thousand years ago, it was the big player in South East Asia. Its empire became vast and influential but Cambodia now seems like any another Third World country. Time has taken these glories and in the modern period, after a trying internal war, they are finally coming out of the nightmare. The 10 million Cambodians are a surprisingly happy lot, considering their recent difficult history.
As a consequence of that past, Cambodia is such a poor country that it would be difficult not to live there on $500 a month. Yet of course with poverty comes other issues. There can be problems of access to those material things that you love, the ability to buy just about anything and everything. However, in many places there are lots of similar stores and franchises as back home. So, if ever you get the urge in a big town you can indulge in pizza, burgers or even your favorite yoghurt.
Cambodian people are really nice and friendly, though there needs a certain caution regards safety which you should do in any unfamiliar place. One problem is landmines. Walking off on your own in many places outside of populated areas can be dangerous. Go where everyone goes and it should be no problem.
Cheap food can be had at stalls and small restaurants. The cheapest from a stall is about 50 cents for a small rice meal, with some chicken and vegetables. The price obviously goes up in tandem with the style of the surroundings.
A few hours away from the capital city, Phnom Penh, is the beach life. Go past the mountains that rise out of the eternal plains and head south. If you like a tropical beach and want a pseudo-town feel to life, then Sihanoukville (called by its old name Kampong Som by the locals) could be the place for you. It is quite small and always seems in a state of perpetual rebuilding. There are a number of beaches in Sihanoukville and they have varying degrees of cleanliness. These run off a short way from the town itself which has a small central area. Most of the hotels and bars are situated near the beaches. A lot of sex and bar businesses moved from Pattaya to Sihanoukville. Yet, as in Pattaya, there are lots of places that cater to ordinary people. Shopping can be done at a few of the markets in town the Psah Leu Market 21 7 Makara, the Central Night Market near Sopheakmongkol East also the Samudera Supermarket on 7 Makara. Minimarts are in such places as gas stations and corner areas. These supply most things that you would need in a hurry. ...
Kampot and Kep
A quieter place are the small towns of Kampot and Kep. These are located on the Bay of Thailand, within sight of Vietnam, whose border is just a few miles away. You can head up the cooler Bokor Mountain and see quite a lot of Southern Cambodia and Vietnam.
Kampot itself is a quiet little place on a river and the start-off point for day trips up to Bokor Mountain. If you like the idea of faded grandeur and a laid back approach to life, Kampot could be an option. ...
Further north and nearer the middle of the Thai borderland is Siem Reap. In this town there are the many little luxuries you may miss if you stayed in a village. It is the nearest town to the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat. That means that tens of thousands of people come here for that reason, though they never stay that long. It is a walkable town catering to tourists, though around about it is surrounded by some nice countryside. In the town itself it is becoming more lively at night with people who have done their Temple stint.
There are lots of cafes and bars and small restaurants, in the obviously named Bar Street. Around the old market is anything and everything you need, bakeries, guesthouses and restaurants selling meals for as low as $1.50. Eat well and enjoy the passing crowd that never seems to dwindle in this town that thrives on the Angkor Wat experience. ...
Approximate expenses for apartment living on the cheap in Cambodia.
Miscellaneous – Visa Insurance, etc. $75
Total monthly expenses: $310
Reading in Cambodia
New and second-hand books are in many of the towns listed as well as DVDs. The Cambodia Daily is available in most newspapers outlets that cater to foreigners, it costs 30 cents. Phnom Penh Post -- PhnomPenhPost.com -- twice monthly news and analysis. The Bayon Pearnik, an English language publication. Cambodian Scene, published every two months. The Bangkok Post, The Nation (Bangkok), and The International Herald Tribune can be bought in some towns, rarely. They are also on-line.
Blog: F.E.A.R. Life in Kampot
Blog/News: KI Media Cambodian info
Cambodia Visitors Guides
The Cambodia News
Banks and money transfers in Cambodia: http://www.canbypublications.com/siemreap/srbanks.html and http://www.yellowpages-cambodia.com/banking/banking-and-finance.
Upon entry to Cambodia get a business visa $35 and you can say that the reason for coming to Cambodia is business. This lasts for one month. You then pay just under $300 to various visa services that you can get locally and after that you get a one-year multiple business visa. This is renewable indefinitely, meaning you never have to leave the country again. Visa Overstay is $5/day. Extending your tourist visa for one month is $50. So it is best just to get a business visa and save the hassle. This is one of the best visa deals of any country.
Living in Asia is like living in a permanent summer, so some people say. In truth the Philippines is on the back end of the typhoon belt and can get a bit of rain at times. It seems a very small price to pay for living a pretty good life. Most people speak English and they are friendly and easy going. There are more beaches than you shake a stick at and tropical islands aplenty. Within those islands are even more potential accommodation bargains. Out of the three countries here, if you really want to live cheaply by a beach this is the place to be. It could take you years of pleasurable hunting to find the perfect place in such a country of retirement opportunities.
Many Many Islands
The country is made up of two large islands, six or more smaller ones and 7,000 tiny ones. It is situated south of China and north of Malaysia and has the mix of those places, plus heavy Spanish and American influences. Someone phrased it as 400 years in the convent (Spanish rule) and 100 years in Hollywood (American rule).
Luzon, the largest island to the north is where the capital, Manila is. Each island sometimes appears like a separate place, now of course with communications, they are connected to each other and the world. The Philippines has 30 volcanoes, and 10 are regarded as active. They do on times blow up, but check your proximity to one if it concerns you. People here tend to live away from them, leaving the poor landless to get nearer the sleeping giants.
A lively city situated half way down the Philippines and on the coast of 140 miles long island. Cebu is considered the second city of the country; some would say the best. Others hate it because it is a city with city problems. As a redeeming factor it has lots of nearby beaches small mountains and everything a city offers; nightlife, good cheap transport, shipping to other islands and an international airport. A very busy but friendly the place it has a different style to the capital. ...
There are any number of cheap places to live in the Philippines. Some, though, may not be as cheap as you need and also not so clean, or have crime, or they are noisy; the list goes on and on. One of the recently surveyed best cities was Tagbilaran City on the island of Bohol. This beautiful island is just 72 kilometers south across the strait from Cebu. It is, by comparison, a quiet area. Many choose to come here for holidays, weekends and some to retire. With a population of just under 93,000 it is a manageable city
s It is fairly quiet after 11:00 p.m. There will of course be some drama going on around the central districts since it is a holiday place. In Tagbilaran you can get a small room for a while for around $9 a day, this will tide you over until you can find more suitable accommodation. Yet it is almost parochial in its quietness.
Not far away from Tagbilaran are the 1,268 Chocolate Hills, strange round shaped mounds that are cooler places than the city. A popular tourist area but, like much of the Philippines, its main tourism is from locals. Foreign tourism is limited and, unlike Thailand, it has less impact on the rental properties of beach areas. ...
If you think you would like a more artsy place try Loboc, 24 kilometers from the city of Tagbilaran. The famous Loboc Children's Choir is here, winners of many competitions, both locally and overseas. You can find music bands, adult choirs, and a brass symphonic ensemble here too. Not bad for a town of 16,000 people. Scenically there is the Loboc river, on which there are floating restaurants as well as cruises and a waterfall. It is along the river that you may see the smallest primate in the world, the Tarsier. They are frail, tiny little creature with big eyes that attracts everyone who sees one.
The town of Loboc is inland a bit but within striking distance from the sea if you want trips there. Basically it is a quiet town but has great potential if you are in any way artistic or musical. You can get there from Tagbilaran by jeepney every 10 minutes, or bus from the Integrated Bus Terminal, Dao. Also by van from Tagbilaran Pier, the Airport and the Integrated Bus Terminal. ...
Now foreigners to the Philippines with temporary visitor's visas may extend their stay in the country every two months and up to 16 months without prior approval from the Bureau of Immigration. However, a foreigner may still extend his stay after 16 months and up to 24 months if his application is approved by the chief of the Bureau's Immigration regulation division (IRD).
Approximate expenses for apartment living on the cheap in the Philippines.
Rent: P7,500 Electric: P1,300 Water: P120 Cable: P850 Groceries: P5,000 Taxis: P3,000 Miscellaneous: Visa, Insurance etc. P2,500 Total monthly expenses: P20,270 – $431
example: Mandaue city, Cebu 7,000 Pesos / $155
World Rankings of GDP
#84 Thailand: $8,565 per capita
#122 Philippines: $4,966 per capita
#153 Cambodia: $2,422 per capita
Most places in Asia are relatively free from crime. You will constantly get chiseled out of 1 cent here or 10 cents there, but nothing serious. Crime is mainly opportunistic, including a small amount of pick pocketing and small-time con artists. There are murders, but they are usually confined to the criminals themselves. You will be seen as rich so avoid bragging about money and flashing your money. Do not get caught up with a criminal element, especially in drugs. Asian jails are not something to write home about, unless it is to beg for money or food.
Gambling for money is illegal in some countries in Asia. Be very careful of illegal places, they are usually run by the local mafia. Being a rich foreigner you will be seen as a good mark. If caught illegally gambling, for instance in Thailand, you may be deported and never be able to return, or became a mark for the police to harass.
If you have come to retire and find that you need some companionship it is inevitable that you will go looking for a partner. Since you are a foreigner you will stick out like a sore thumb, a rich sore thumb. Be careful who you chose as a companion and be on the lookout for signs of fascination with money, gold, cars, houses, or starting their own business. Family problems are also danger signs like a need for cash for an operation, a tragic event that can only be fixed with your money or, helping a brother set up a sure-fire winner of a business. Always say, “I’ll think about it.” Keep saying that until they get the message that it means no.
The next thing is that you need to understand that Asia, like everywhere has its share of sexually transmittable diseases. Without wishing to stereotype, be cautious of loved ones with tattoos or overly dyed fair hair. Some things are fashion and a few tattoos on men can be religious, but others show that they are not traditional and are often not good indicators. Unless that is what you want.
Find out as much as you can about someone: Where do they work? Where is their family? Do they have children living with their family? Do they talk a lot on the phone to a member of the opposite sex and who they say is a “cousin,” and so on. Make sure he/she knows you have just $500, or even less, disposable income. Many newcomers, and even old hands, have trusted in locals and become unstuck. If the companion stays after they know you are not vastly rich it may well be OK. If not, count yourself lucky. Not all people in Asia are con artists and are very generous with what they have, just be careful.
Cost of Living
To gain a rough idea of food costs here is a shopping basket of various items: Milk, butter, eggs, meat, fish, vegetables and fruit as well as sundry items. Some, like milk, will last a few days, whilst others, such as toothpaste, a few weeks or more. These are center of capital city prices and one main problem, it must be said, is that they are mainly Western foods from top-end supermarkets. Because of that they are all very expensive items. With some cleaver shopping, buying local produce in markets and avoiding city centers you should be able to slash the prices by at least a quarter, if not more, and still have a healthy diet. You could cut it down to around $100-120 a month.
It is often easier and sometimes cheaper to eat out in small restaurants or from food stalls. This is especially so in country districts and smaller towns and cities. Eating out also gets you out of the house and socializing.
Milk 2 pints
Butter 1 lb.
Plain yoghurt 6 oz.
Eggs 12 (large)
Bread Whole (wheat loaf) 2 lbs.
Rice (long grain) 2 lbs.
Spaghetti 2 lbs.
Sugar (white) 2 lbs.
Cornflakes 13 oz.
Coffee (instant) 4 oz.
Coca Cola 2 pints
Mineral water 2 pints
Orange juice 2 pints
Corn oil 2 pints
Potatoes 2 lbs.
Onions 2 lbs.
Tomatoes 2 lbs.
Spinach 2 lbs.
Oranges 2 lbs.
Bananas 2 lbs.
Peas (can) 8 oz
Beans (can) 8 oz.
Fresh beef filet 2 lbs.
Fresh minced beef 2 lbs.
Chicken (fresh whole) 2 lbs.
Shrimps 2 lbs.
Frozen pizza 11 oz.
Ice cream 2 pints
Fresh or frozen apple pie 1 lb.
Cookies (plain) 7 oz.
Soap (bar) 5 oz
Toothpaste 4 oz.
(These are central Bangkok prices)
It costs 1,200 Baht or $35
(These are central Phnom Penh prices)
It costs $57
(These are central Manila prices)
It costs P2795 or $60
The Thai Baht consists of 1, 2, 5 and 10 Baht coins. The notes are: 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 Baht.
The Cambodian Riel (R) is technically the official tender in Cambodia but the U.S. dollar is the one most preferred. Most business and even border crossings set their costs in the U.S. dollar. Small transactions are often in Cambodian Riel as is the change. It is worth keeping some for the motorcycle taxis.
There are no coins in the Cambodian currency and the notes are: 50, 100, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000 Reil. The red 500 and 1000 notes the most useful.
When you get dollar bills make sure there are NO tears or rips, people will not accept them, especially the $20, $50 and $100 bills.
The currency of the Philippines is the Peso (PHP, but in this article P) = 100 centavos. The bank notes are in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50,100, 200, 500 and 1,000. Coins are in denominations of 1, 2, 5, and 10 then 5, 10, 25 and 50 centavos.
In Asia most banks are open Monday to Friday often from 9.00 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. Banks in shopping malls are usually open 7 days a week and almost mirror the store times. ATMs are everywhere, but beware of the commercial ones not outside the banks, they can charge you a small fee for a transaction.
ATMs take a number of cards such as Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners Club International, JCB Cards, Visa Electron, Plus and Cirrus. Make sure the Bank or Card company you use knows about the fact that you are going to use an ATM on a regular basis, get a verified statement that they have received information to that effect from you in advance. Cambodia is not as sophisticated as its neighbors yet, so go to banks to withdraw cash.
If you are getting a pension, perhaps the institution or your government dislikes the idea that you are domicile in a foreign country. For instance they may not pay you upgrades, or incremental benefits, or other payments. You obviously need to draw funds from your account, so to overcome any objections you can have a dummy address. Check out the various Post Boxes on this site. Use a discreet Post Box as your domicile address and have them forward any statements and other important mail to you anywhere in the world. When you make an agreement with the company you can ask them to send your mail just once a month, saving you money.
Deposits checks into your account and sends on mail anywhere -- $240 a year plus $10 to forward.
Similar but no check depositing -- $240 a year plus forwarding
No check depositing -- $240 a year plus forwarding ...
This is a way of life, but do not take it too seriously. There will be three prices: tourist price, local foreigner who knows some language price and, the one you will never get, the actual local price. If you have a local spouse, send them in. Do not show yourself while they do the bargaining.
If you decide to stay at a guest house for more than a week or two strike a bargain with the owner. Something that is $200 for a month will come down a few percent if a discount for long stay is asked for.
Rarely, if ever, do Asians tip. Not for meals, or taxis, or anything. Follow suit and you will have extra cash in your pocket. Rounding up a few Baht/Riel/Pesos is OK. Just do not go overboard.
These are usually in the central area of the town or city. Sometimes they have small sub post offices. All are relatively efficient in the main areas of the country of your choice. The central ones and some others can be used for poste restante [general delivery]. However, it is better to check after you get there.
The Internet is everywhere and costs about 60 cents an hour, outside of tourist places. Some places have cameras to talk to your friends and family back home. Faxes can be found in some hotels and cost the same as the Internet, though for each page.
You will need medical advice on vaccinations a month or so before your journey. You will more than likely need: Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Polio, Diptheria and Tetnus jabs -- the last two being combined. Your Hepatitis A will need a booster after 6-12 months.
If you need medication on a regular basis bring a plenty with you until you can secure a proper supply. You can get most things in Asia, often without seeing a doctor. If you bring medicines through customs ensure you have a written statement from your doctor that you are entitled to the medication. There is no need to tell anyone about your medication unless asked. It may also be wise to take out some sort of health insurance if you are prone to an illness. Check out BUPA in the country you have chosen for cheaper rates than in the West.
The wheelchair-bound will find it near impossible in Asia. The roads do not surrender to pedestrians and the pavements are mostly badly maintained potholes. To cross the road in some places you have to climb a pedestrian bridge of about 30 steps up, then the same amount down. Those with debilitating conditions will also find it difficult.
Health care is cheap and with local insurance it is possible to get by. In Thailand you can buy good cheap medicines over the counter. In the Philippines there are similar circumstances to Thailand, but slightly more expensive. In Cambodia you have to be careful of counterfeit medicine. Check the expiry date and the batch number is not faded like a cheap copy. Also some places have less than clean conditions.
Government hospitals in Thailand are cheap but slow. They fill up with people, especially at weekends, but you get the job done at a very cheap price. Treatment is often very low, under 100 Baht for a minor ailment, plus a few more Baht for the medication.
In Cambodia they can be very suspect, a bit unclean and slow. The staff are nice, but they can be inefficient. For serious ailments some go to Bangkok for treatment. If you were down the bottom end of Cambodia you could go to Rayong.
The Philippines is more like Thailand, professional and do their best at all times. Efficient and cheap you will still need some sort of insurance for major ailments.
Both Asia Insurance and Infinity represent Goodhealth. The range of plans start at $477 annually with no co-payment.
Forte's Fig Tree Blue plans start at $448 per annum with no co-payment.
Thailand provider, BUPA/Blue Cross, is about $1,300 a year for a family.
Doctors & Dentists
A doctor will charge you for time and any medicine plus medication costs. They may have medicines on the premises or will give you a prescription to take to a pharmacy. They display either a large green or red cross depicting their profession.
A dentist charges similar rates to a doctor and there are lots around. They often display a large drawing of a tooth as a visual gimmick. Most are pretty cheap by western standards, but as a foreigner you will inevitably be charged more. In some places low standards of hygiene prevail, just be aware.
Often English speakers, pharmacists are sometimes a better bet if you have a minor ailment. Ensure that it is the pharmacist you are talking to and not a friendly assistant. They can direct you to doctors and hospitals in your area.
There are good public hospitals all over Asia and some bad ones in the major cities, and private ones can be expensive. However, the cheap ones get busy on the weekend in the outpatients department. If you do not have insurance they can be cheap enough to get by. Cambodia for instance has less social infrastructure than say Thailand, and it shows. Yet the hospitals are cheap, though not as good outside of the capital.
If you consider the need for daily help from a care giver you would expect to pay the following:
Thai nurses $150-$300 a month
Cambodia nurse about $50-$60 a month
Philippine nurse $50-$60 a month
These are the lowest salaries in their respective countries. Other non-qualified help which is easy to get, live-in or out, would be below this. The best way of finding these helpers is on the ground, local word of mouth and ex-pat residents will know where to go and who to ask.
Keep safe and well from things like mosquitoes by spraying regularly. Other things like cockroaches and ants are common features of Asian life. Generally you do not see many snakes, though rats are common enough. Just keep your area clean and most things will avoid you.
Most urban areas over a population of 50,000 have at least one supermarket. You can buy anything that you have in your own country in these superstores. However, the prices can be much higher than just round the corner or shopping the old way, going from shop to shop. This also helps circulate money locally and gives you a chance to socialize.
PUERTO RICO: ENCHANTED ISLAND
Puerto Rico is more Caribbean, Spanish, Latino, tropical and colorful than anything Stateside, notwithstanding its U.S. territorial political status.
Puerto Rico remains a U.S. territory, having rejected full statehood and complete independence multiple times. But a visit there quickly reveals that the island is nothing like any of the states. Culturally it displays a pastiche of influences typical of the Carribean, albeit with more U.S. influence than is typical. Spanish is most definitely the domininant language.
Not being a state, Puerto Rico lacks full protection under the United States Constitution. Of course "full protection" is hardly any protection at all in practice these days, so this factoid in itself is of suspect significance. The actual facts of the matter are that while residents of Puerto Rico pay some import/export taxes, federal commodity taxes, social security and other U.S. federal taxes, most do not pay non-Social Security/Medicare federal income taxes. (Notable exceptions include U.S. federal employees and those who do business with the U.S. government, as well as corporations which send funds to the U.S. proper.) There is also a Puerto Rico income tax, which on average is less than would be paid under the Internal Revenue Code. Bottom line, we would say, is that there is more practical freedom in Puerto Rico than the U.S.
Not discussed in this introductory article is that Puerto Rico's population density of 1,100 people per square miles is among the world's highest -- only Bangladesh, The Maldives, Barbados, Taiwan, South Korea and the city-states of Hong Kong and Singapore are more crowded, according to this source. The island is not for those seeking to escape the madding crowd.
Puerto Rico is also popularly known as "La Isla del Encanto," which translated means "The Island of Enchantment." And indeed it is, as everyone from Columbus to its current visitors will attest. Of the four largest Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico is the only one under U.S. jurisdiction. Nevertheless, Puerto Rico is more Caribbean, Spanish, Latino, tropical and colorful than anything Stateside. This article attempts to explain the history, political system and the island's affiliation with the United States of America.
As befits a Catholic country, the island has quite a selection of monasteries, convents and shrines where the Virgin Mary is said to have made appearances before the faithful. Head for the centuries-old San Juan convent authorized by Spain's King Philip V. During the building's long history, it has gone from nunnery to ruin to grand hotel and even a short-lived casino. The ex-convent's neighbor is San Juan Cathedral, dating to 1521 and therefore the Western Hemisphere's oldest such structure. Nearby is the New World's oldest continually occupied governor's mansion, and the home of first governor Juan Ponce de Leon.
A popular myth has it that Ponce de Leon set out to find the legendary Fountain of Youth and "discovered" Florida instead. Actually, the old man needed gold, not youth! He had a passel of unwed daughters in need of dowries so that they could marry well.
The crown jewel of Puerto Rican eco-tourism treasures is El Yunque Rainforest. El Yunque -- the Anvil, in English -- is a movie-set jungle ensconced in mist and rain over trees as high as 100 feet. You will hear many a squawk of the indigenous Puerto Rican Parrot, along with the croaks of millions of coqui, tiny tree frogs that are a national symbol. Some drink from the forest's two waterfalls, but you are advised to stick with the purified and bottled stuff, just to be on the safe side.
The dry southwestern corner of the island is noted for its beaches and picturesque fishing villages with easy-going attitude. Here you can savor fresh clams and oysters in between sips of coconut water and the enchanting company of sea, sun and sand.
The island's second city, Ponce, may have been named for the aforementioned Ponce de Leon. Local residents call their city La Perla del Su -- the Pearl of the South. It resembles provincial Spain in the daytime when locals gather in the cool shade of the Plaza Central. During the evenings, people regroup to socialize.
Delightful country inns known as paradores are a little-known aspect of Puerto Rican tourism. These government-promoted inns, patterned after those of Spain, are ideal for inexpensive family vacations, usually in a rustic setting.
Since the U.S. military stopped using the out island of Vieques for target practice, the island is fast developing into one of the world's newest best travel and beach Mecca. The main town and ferry point is Isabel Segunda, boasting a bust of South American Liberator Simon Bolivar, one of the island's first tourists, having come to the island in 1816.
About Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico, officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, is a self governing unincorporated territory of the United States with Commonwealth status located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of the Virgin Islands, approximately 1,280 miles off the coast of Florida. The archipelago of Puerto Rico includes the main island of Puerto Rico, the smallest of the Greater Antilles, and a number of smaller islands and keys, the largest of which are Mona, Vieques, and Culebra. The Capital of Puerto Rico is San Juan, founded in 1508, by Juan Ponce de León.
Puerto Rico has one of the most dynamic economies in the Caribbean region. Tourism has traditionally been an important source of income for the island. The currency of Puerto Rico is the United States dollar.
Spanish and English are the official languages, but Spanish is without a doubt the dominant language. English is spoken by about 1/4 of the population -- with limited capabilities. English is taught as a second language in public and private schools from elementary levels to high school and in universities English is required in all federal matters. English is spoken in all major tourist areas. Puerto Rico has developed a unique version of Spanish. The language was greatly influenced by Puerto Rico's history. Puerto Ricans integrated thousands of Taíno words, adopted some pronunciation habits from African dialects, and incorporated English words or phrases (known as "Spanglish") into the language.
Puerto Ricans can understand Spanish speakers from other countries, while there may be some differences. Such differences are not excessive and does not obstruct communication.
Language has been a central issue in Puerto Rican education and culture since 1898. Until 1930 U.S. authorities insisted upon making English the language of instruction in the schools, the intent being to produce English-speaking persons of American culture in the same way this is done in the U.S. public schools. But strong resistance to the policy finally brought a change to the use of Spanish as the basic school language, English becoming a second language studied by all.
In 1991 the Puerto Rican legislature, following the lead of the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic Party and the governor, Rafael Hernández Colon, endorsed a bill that made Spanish the island's official language, thus reversing a 1902 law that gave both Spanish and English official recognition. In 1993 the pro-statehood governor, Pedro J. Rossello, signed legislation restoring equal status to Spanish and English.
Puerto Rican culture is somewhat complex -- others will call it colorful. Culture is a series of visual manifestations and interactions with the environment that make a region and/or a group of people different from the rest of the world. Puerto Rico, without a doubt has several unique characteristics that distinguish their culture from any other.
Let us consider that the people of Puerto Rico represent a cultural and racial mix. During the early 18 century, the Spaniard in order to populate the country took Taino Indian women as brides. Later on as labor was needed to maintain crops and build roads, African slaves were imported, followed by the importation of Chinese immigrants, then continued with the arrival of Italians, French, German, and even Lebanese people. American expatriates came to the island after 1898.
Long after Spain had lost control of Puerto Rico, Spanish immigrants continued to arrive on the island. The most significant new immigrant population arrived in the 1960s, when thousands of Cubans fled from Fidel Castro's Communist state. The latest arrivals to Puerto Rico have come from the economically depressed Dominican Republic. Amazingly, Puerto Rico exists practically (very close to but not completely) without racial problems.
Due to the mix of the four cultures -- African (from the slaves), Taíno (Amerindians), Spanish, and more recently, North American Puerto Rico has a strong music base to its culture. From Africans, the Puerto Ricans have obtained the "bomba and plena," a type of music and dance including percussions and maracas. From the Amerindians (Taínos), they kept many names for their municipalities, foods, musical instruments like the güiro and maracas.
Many words and other objects have originated from their localized language. From the Spanish they received the Spanish language, the Catholic religion and the vast majority of their cultural and moral values and traditions. From the United States they received the English language, the university system and a variety of hybrid cultural forms that developed between the U.S. mainland and the island of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico consists of the main island of Puerto Rico and various smaller islands, including Vieques, Culebra, Mona, Desecheo, and Caja de Muertos. Of these last five, only Culebra and Vieques are inhabited year-round. Mona is uninhabited most of the year except for employees of the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources. There are also many other even smaller islands including Monito and "La Isleta de San Juan" which includes Old San Juan and Puerta de Tierra.
The maximum length of the main island from east to west is 110 miles and the maximum width from north to south is 40 miles. Comparing land areas, Puerto Rico is 80% the size of Jamaica and 8% the size of Cuba, the next-smallest and the largest countries in the Greater Antilles, respectively. An important peak is El Yunque, one of the highest in the Sierra de Luquillo at the El Yunque National Forest, with an elevation of 3,494 feet.
Puerto Rico has 17 lakes, all man-made, and more than 50 rivers, most originating in the Cordillera Central. Rivers in the northern region of the island are typically longer and of higher water flow rates than those of the south, since the south receives less rain than the central and northern regions.
The most recognizable endemic species and a symbol of Puerto Rican pride is the Coquí, a small frog easily identified by the sound of its call, and from which it gets its name. Most Coquí species (13 of 17) live in the El Yunque National Forest, a tropical rainforest in the northeast of the island previously known as the Caribbean National Forest. El Yunque is home to more than 240 plants, 26 of which are endemic to the island.
Puerto Rico is located to the west by Haití and the Dominican Republic (La Hispañola), separated by the Mona Passage ("Mona Canal"), to the east by the Virgin Islands, to the north by the Atlantic Ocean, and to the south by the Caribbean Sea.
Interestingly, Puerto Rico is close to the deepest submarine depression in the North Atlantic Ocean. The Puerto Rico Trench, roughly parallel to the northern coast of the island of Puerto Rico and lying about 75 miles (120 km) to the north. The Puerto Rico Trench is about 1,090 miles (1,750 km) long and 60 miles (100 km) wide. ...
The Caribbean's greatest known depth is Cayman Trench (Bartlett Deep) between Cuba and Jamaica, at approximately 25,216 feet (7,686 meters) below sea level. Mona and Monito Islands are located between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. These small islands are considered the Galápagos Islands of the Caribbean Sea.
No other reef and offshore island habitat within U.S. jurisdiction possesses such ecological uniqueness, invaluable habitat, and biological diversity within such a reduced surface area. For these reasons, Mona and Monito Islands have been recognized by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as a Natural Reserve. The islands are a critical habitat of endangered marine turtles, sea birds and occasional migratory marine mammals.
When Christopher Columbus arrived in Puerto Rico during his second voyage on November 19, 1493, the island was inhabited by a group of Arawak Indians known as Taínos. Columbus named the island San Juan Bautista, in honor of Saint John the Baptist. Later the island took the name of Puerto Rico (Spanish for "Rich Port") while the capital was named San Juan. In 1508, Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León became the island's first governor to take office.
The Spanish soon colonized the island. Taínos were forced into slavery and were decimated by the harsh conditions of work and by diseases brought by the Spaniards. In 1511, the Taínos revolted against the Spanish but the revolt was easily crushed by Ponce de León and within a few decades much of the native population had been decimated by disease, violence, and a high occurrence of suicide. African slaves were introduced to replace the Taíno.
Puerto Rico soon became an important stronghold and port for the Spanish Empire. Various forts and walls, such as La Fortaleza, El Castillo San Felipe del Morro and El Castillo de San Cristóbal, were built to protect the port of San Juan from European enemies. France, The Netherlands and England made several attempts to capture Puerto Rico but failed to wrest long-term occupancy.
United States Colony
On July 25, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States with a landing at Guánica. As an outcome of the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris.
The United States and Puerto Rico thus began a long-standing relationship. Puerto Rico began the 20th century under the military rule of the U.S. with officials, including the governor, appointed by the President of the United States. In 1917, the Jones-Shafroth Act granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship and provided for a popularly-elected Senate to complete a bicameral Legislative Assembly.
In 1947, the U.S. granted Puerto Ricans the right to democratically elect their own governor. Luis Muñoz Marín was elected during the 1948 general elections, becoming the first popularly-elected governor of Puerto Rico. In 1950, the Truman Administration allowed for a democratic referendum in Puerto Rico to determine whether Puerto Ricans desired to draft their own local constitution.
A local constitution was approved by a Constitutional Convention on February 6, 1952, ratified by the U.S. Congress, approved by President Truman on July 3 of that year, and proclaimed by Gov. Muñoz Marín on July 25, 1952, the anniversary of the 1898 arrival of U.S. troops. Puerto Rico adopted the name of Estado Libre Asociado (literally translated as "Free Associated State"), officially translated into English as Commonwealth, for its body politic.
Puerto Rico has a republican form of government, subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sovereignty. Its current powers are all delegated by the United States Congress and lack full protection under the United States Constitution. Puerto Rico's head of state is the President of the United States. The government of Puerto Rico, based on the formal republican system, is composed of three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The executive branch is headed by the Governor, currently Mr. Luis Fortuño. Puerto Rico is represented in the United States Congress by a nonvoting delegate, formally called a Resident Commissioner.
As Puerto Rico is not an independent country, it hosts no embassies. It is host, however, to consulates from 41 countries, mainly from the Americas and Europe. Most consulates are located in San Juan.
Political and Tax Status
People born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. As such, they are entitled to vote at the federal level, but not from the island, as the territory is not yet incorporated. The legal restriction to vote at the federal level extends only to the territory, not to its citizens. In this fashion, all U.S. citizens can vote at the federal level from any part of the world or incorporated territories of the U.S. By the same token, no U.S. citizen may vote at the federal level if they reside in Puerto Rico, although they can vote at the "state" (local) level. Most Federal level taxes do not apply to island residents, as taxation is one of the powers delegated to the local authorities.
All persons born in Puerto Rico after 1941 are considered natural-born citizens of the United States, one of the constitutional requirements to be President of the United States.
Puerto Rico is classified by the U.S. government as an independent taxation authority by mutual agreement with the U.S. Congress. Contrary to common misconception, residents of Puerto Rico pay some U.S. federal taxes: import/export taxes, federal commodity taxes, social security taxes, etc. Most residents do not pay federal income tax but pay federal payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare), and Puerto Rico income taxes.
But federal employees, or those who do business with the federal government, Puerto Rico-based corporations that intend to send funds to the U.S., and others also pay federal income taxes. Because the cutoff point for income taxation is lower than that of the U.S. IRS code, and because the per-capita income in Puerto Rico is much lower than the average per-capita income on the mainland, more Puerto Rico residents pay less income tax (or fewer income taxes) to the local taxation authority than if the IRS code were applied to the island.
Residents are eligible for Social Security benefits upon retirement. But Puerto Rico is excluded from Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and receives less than 15% of the Medicaid funding it would be allotted as a state, while Medicare providers receive only partial state-like reimbursements for services rendered to beneficiaries in Puerto Rico (even though the latter paid fully into the system).
Puerto Ricans may enlist in the U.S. military. Since becoming statutory United States citizens in 1917, Puerto Ricans have been included in the compulsory draft whenever it has been in effect. Puerto Ricans have participated in all U.S. wars since 1898, most notably World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as the current Middle Eastern conflicts.
Puerto Rico is considered one of the major tourism playgrounds of the Caribbean by both the Americans, Canadians and Europeans and maintains a high visitor and airlift status as compared to other nations in the Caribbean Basin.
Known as the Enchanted Island for its lush green beauty, Old World delights, beaches, culture, and gracious people it has proved to be one of the best visitor bargains in the Caribbean.
RELOCATE IN CROATIA
Looking for a cheap expat destination in a physically and culturally attractive old European setting? Unfortunately Croatia does not qualify on “cheap” criterion; but it does on the “attractive” criteria. For those who can afford it, and are willing to look beyond the sometimes still open wounds remaining from the post-Yugoslavia breakup troubles, we have yet another emigration destination candidate.
Croatia's capital Zagreb, has many things to offer an immigrating family, student or others considering relocating there. The city is often described as a smaller Vienna as much of the architecture and city plans are a replica of the style of those in Vienna. It is home to a quarter of the country's population and is situated inland in the north of the Republic. It is a romantic city, characterised by the architecture, parks and couples sitting on benches or walking hand in hand through the city. For those who enjoy a peaceful environment, wandering through the city and a place where everything is in close proximity, you cannot help but fall in love with the city itself.
Accomodation in Zagreb is not difficult to find but may come with a high price tag. At the moment, real estate prices are higher than the average in the European Union. There is a national rumor that because of this, prices will fall when Croatia becomes a member state of the EU. However, a booming tourism industry contradicts this idea and implies that prices will rise instead. The currency is the HR Kuna, which has remained stable against the euro and other currencies for the past five years. One euro can buy you just over seven kunas.
Accomodation rates are usually quoted in euros. You can find a quality dorm room for high school and tertiary education students at a fee of under €200 per month, which accommodate 4 students and house a single sex only. Shared apartments come at about €200 per tenant per month and above, depending on the location, size and quality of the building. Buildings in or around the city center are generally more expensive than those in the suburbs. Since Zagreb is a small city, living in one of the farther suburbs may mean that you are in fact only a fifteen minute ram ride away from the center. Apartments sized at about 50 square meters may come at a rent of €400-500. If interested in purchasing a property, prices come at about €2000 per square meter.
There is a large market for low wage employees. Part-time clerks, barmen and waiters are paid around 1500 kunas per month, whilst the same full time employees are paid about 3000 kunas. These jobs are usually taken by students who are given preference to work part-time.
There is a demand for bookkeepers and accountants with foreign experience, as well as translators and interpreters with a knowledge of European languages. Croatian is the official language, although many people do also speak English. Salaries and wages are taxed at a very high rate. VAT is currently charged at 22%. So as to give an idea to the cost of living, a cup of black coffee will cost you 7 to 8 kunas, while a capuccino costs between 11 and 14 kunas.
The establishment of two English schools has made it easier for foreigners with school age children who relocate here. One follows the International Baccalaureate Program for Grades 1 to 12. The other is the American International School. Therefore, students need not struggle learning a new language in order to become settled. They may study the national language at their own pace, whilst receiving an education in English.
Provision is also made for foreign university and college students. Each faculty of Zagreb University holds positions open for foreign or exchange students. However, the curriculum at the university is taught in the Croatian language. In order for new students to familiarize themselves with Croatian, a language school is held every summer. Students are taught the essentials and how to communicate and learn before the year begins at varsity.
Croatian is not difficult to learn if a student is dedicated and concentrated. It is a phonetic language so words are written in the same way that they are spoken. There are also private economics colleges which do provide a part of the curriculum in English and are affiliated to schools in the U.S. and UK. The government also makes it easier for Croatian nationals who have lived abroad or students with a Croatian heritage to qualify for entrance at the university so as to encourage them to study there. Current students may also look into transferring if already working towards a degree or diploma. The university recognises ECT points and follows the Bologna system of education.
Once accepted to any of the educational facilities or as an employee, the visa process is simple. Several documents are required for the application of a residence visa, such as proof of income or sufficient funds, proof of your status as a student or employee, proof of residence, passport, etc. The process may take a few weeks to complete so applicants may initially come to Croatia with a tourist visa.
Zagreb has a wide variety of places to see and things to do, both during the day and at night. The city has a cafe culture, with some streets filled with cafes, such as the famous Tkalciceva street and Cvijetni trg (the flower square). Some cafes open as early as 7 a.m. and remain so until midnight. It is also filled with monuments, museums and parks. The largest park is Maksimir, part of which has become the habitat of the animals of the local zoo.
There are also many libraries and book shops, with large collections of English and foreign literature, as well as a variety of restaurants including traditional, vegetarian, Chinese and Indian. Bakeries are to be found almost in every street of the city. They sell many sweet and savoury pastries, and sometimes even pizza, drinks and sandwiches. That way, you will never go hungry exploring the many alleys and streets of the city and you are sure to find a good treat when you do. Some bakeries used to operate 24 hours a day throughout the week. However, with the introduction of new legislation, most businesses are closed after 2 p.m. on Sundays.
On Saturdays, you may visit one of the flea markets, where you can find many items at reasonable prices and you are always welcome to negotiate with vendors. These markets are also the best places to buy fresh foods such as vegetables, fruits and seafood, as well as home-made products such as honey and sweets. Zagreb is the stroller's paradise. In a day of walking through the city, one will discover many of its attractions. It would be a shame not to experience this and you will find yourself often dedicating a Sunday afternoon to go walkabout. There is always some little detail, monument, building, park or secret hideaway that you discover you have missed.
For the night owls, there are many places to go after the sun sets. Many of the cafes turn into night clubs at 9 p.m. There are techno, metal, alternative, hard rock and hip-hop sub-cultures that expose themselves in the clubs on Wednesday and weekend nights. There is also a modern jazz sub-culture, which is emerging with the growing number of jazz clubs in the city. Clubs are usually open until 4 a.m the next morning. However, for those of us that are not quite out for partying every night, Zagreb hosts many festivals throughout the year. These include areas such as fashion, art and film. Films can be viewed for free at the student centres during some of the festivals. Many old theatres showcase classical and theme-based movies throughout the year at very low prices. This can be a more exciting experience than watching new releases at the modern cinemas.
Living in Zagreb is a great opportunity to explore the rest of the country. As Croatia is a relatively small country, it takes only a 3 to 5 hour bus ride to visit the coast. Great places to visit include Pula, Split and Dubrovnik. Island hopping is also a must as Croatia is home to many of the most beautiful islands in Europe. Many of the inhabitants of Dalmatia make a living contributing to the wine and fishing industries. Therefore the freshest fish and the finest wines are found in Dalmatia at unbelievable prices. A bottle of the famous Peljesac Dingac or Plavac Mali wines may cost you around 200 kunas in the city, while it costs around 20 to 30 kunas on the coast, buying from local producers.
Due to the tourism industry and an increase in immigration over the past years, Zagreb is slowly developing as a diverse culture center. Millions of people visit the city and some decide to stay longer and make it their new-found home. With this comes the establishment of smaller communities within the city. For instance, groups of Asians, Africans, South Americans and other Europeans are gradually increasing. In the globalizing world, this is a sign that Croatia is also modernizing and progressing. Government restraints have loosened on visas and permits, making it simpler and appealing for expats to settle in and call it home.
UBS CLIENT PLEADS GUILTY IN TAX CASE
The second American caught in the investigation of the Swiss banking giant.
Swiss private bank UBS has turned 285 customer names and account details over to the IRS. Two of the former clients thus exposed have been charged with tax fraud or evasion so far.
UBS provided information on the 285 to Swiss banking authorities, who in turn decided the information could be provided to the U.S. because those clients appeared to have committed U.S. "tax fraud" judged by Swiss legal standards. The IRS is attempting to force UBS to disclose the identities of 52,000 additional U.S. customers of UBS with Swiss accounts totaling $14.8 billion. This UBS is vigorously fighting.
Details of the exact case against Robert Moran are scarce in this NY Times article, which instead concentrates on the salacious "lifestyles of the rich and famous" details of Mr. Moran's yacht business. But information provided elsewhere indicates that Moran failed to report to the IRS and U.S. Treasury a $3.4 million bank (UBS) account which he controlled. The account was in the name of a Panamanian corporation, but that entity was controlled by Moran. He also failed to report income from the account on his tax return.
That was, of course, a highly risky course of action, relying on secrecy alone -- and it was even when financial secrecy was not yet a dead concept. You need to structure your affairs so that if the weak link gives out it still holds together.
A wealthy UBS private banking client whose yacht company caters to Russian oligarchs, Kuwaiti royals and other global jet-setters, pleaded guilty on Tuesday (April 14) to tax fraud, the second American caught in a widening investigation of the Swiss banking giant.
The client, Robert Moran, 57, of Lighthouse Point, Florida, pleaded guilty in Federal District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to a single count of filing a false tax return, according to court papers.
Mr. Moran is the chief executive of Moran Yacht and Ship, one of the world's leading players in the yachting world, which was until recently a fertile recruiting ground for wealth management clients for UBS, the world's largest private bank. Moran Yacht and Ship, which is run out of Fort Lauderdale and Moscow, builds, charters, buys, sells and manages yachts, some costing hundreds of millions of dollars. ...
Mr. Moran was released on a $6 million bond; sentencing has been scheduled for June 26. He is the second UBS client to be swept up in the Justice Department's crackdown. Earlier this month, federal authorities arrested another UBS client, Steven Michael Rubinstein, an accountant in Boca Raton, Florida, and charged him with filing a false and fraudulent tax return.
In court filings, prosecutors accused Mr. Moran of evading taxes on at least $3.7 million hidden in a UBS account controlled through an offshore entity he had set up in Panama.
The authorities have opened more than 100 criminal investigations of UBS clients, some of whom are notable names on Wall Street, according to a person briefed on the issue who requested anonymity while discussing criminal inquiries. In February, UBS paid $780 million to settle charges that it helped wealthy Americans evade taxes on nearly $20 billion hidden in offshore accounts. The bank remains under investigation.
UBS routinely courted clients at gatherings like the Palm Beach Boat Show, Art Basel Miami and other events that attracted a moneyed crowd.
Mr. Moran, a one-time deckhand and sea captain, founded Moran Yacht and Ship in 1988 with several family members, according to the corporate Web site. The company's yachts routinely ferry Hollywood personalities to events like the Monaco Grand Prix and Cannes Film Festival.
The Web site extols the glossy world of yachts, the longest at 500 feet, and their owners. "So personal, like choosing the soubriquet for a beloved pet, is naming a yacht," it says. "Whether intentionally or no, the result artfully tells something about the owner, something cherished, perhaps; some hidden dream, or personality quirk, even something outlandish, for some."
Some of the yachts are called Amnesia, Romance, Nirvana, Battered Bull and Galactica. One, the Madsummer, a 257-foot Lürssen craft that carries 12 passengers and 25 crew members, costs $1 million a week, plus expenses, for chartering in the Caribbean. The Rapture, a 166-foot craft, is for sale at about $29.7 million. The salon of one megayacht, the Kismet, has a Persian theme, with honey-toned linen panels featuring hand-embroidered passionflower motifs created from gold thread, glass beads and freshwater pearls, according to the Web site.
As part of his deal to waive indictment, Mr. Moran agreed to cooperate with the Internal Revenue Service and to pay any taxes, penalties or interest.
Mr. Rubinstein, the first UBS client to be charged, is also involved in the yacht business, though he is not connected to Mr. Moran. Both Mr. Moran's and Mr. Rubinstein's names were among 285 that UBS turned over as part of its settlement.
SWISS MAY BLOCK BANK SECRECY TREATY
Survey finds that 78% of Swiss citizens support preserving bank-client confidentiality.
The Swiss, bless their ornery souls, have said that they are willing to reject the G20 demands on compromising bank secrecy even if that comes at a cost. Challenging the treaty will take some effort -- obtaining 50,000 names to call a referendum -- but not an insurmountable one. And there is always the matter of words versus deeds. Stay tuned.
Regarding the treaty itself, OECD secretary general Angel Gurria insists it does not allow governments to go on a "fishing trip," claiming: "A country can still refuse to give information if it believes that the receiving country would not respect confidentiality. The goal is not to have names plastered on the front pages of newspapers, the aim is to make people pay the taxes they should pay."
Well that clears things up nicely. We always thought people were more afraid of being shamed than having to fork over big money to the government. So now our concerns are assuaged. The nagging question remains, however: Just where do they find these people?
The Swiss do not like being told what to do, and even though some of their key products -- cheese, Cartier watches and chocolates -- could face trade sanctions, the Swiss may vote to block new tax treaties. A key case hanging in the balance is the U.S. tax evasion case involving the opening of 52,000 Swiss bank accounts on deposit at UBS.
To avoid being blacklisted by the G20, Switzerland joined Luxembourg, Austria, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and Singapore in signing an Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development treaty to share tax information. These countries joined a "grey list" of countries that agreed to implement tax standards but have not yet done so. If these standards are implemented, the banks in these countries would have to change their banking secrecy laws. And people who use these tax havens to avoid tax in their own countries by stashing their money in secret accounts would no longer be able to do so.
The Swiss can challenge the new treaty by getting 50,000 signatures on a petition to call for a referendum on the ballot and use that referendum to reject the tax treaty. The Swiss Bankers Association conducted a survey about the protection of privacy on financial matters and found that 78% of Swiss citizens support preserving bank-client confidentiality. The Association said in its press release on the study, "The banks continue to be regarded as solid and trustworthy, and once again are perceived to be the most important sector of industry in Switzerland."
Swiss president Hans-Rudolf Merz told the British newspaper the Guardian that Switzerland was "not a tax haven" and called the OECD grey list regrettable. David McNair, Christian Aid adviser told the Guardian, "the burden of proof required for poor countries to obtain information on tax dodgers is incredibly onerous. We urgently need a system open to all countries, for the automatic exchange of tax information."
Angel Gurria, OECD secretary general, insists that the new treaty does not open secrecy laws and allow governments to go on a fishing expedition for tax evaders. He told the Guardian, "A country can still refuse to give information if it believes that the receiving country would not respect confidentiality. The goal is not to have names plastered on the front pages of newspapers, the aim is to make people pay the taxes they should pay."
If countries refuse to abide by the new G20 rules they will be blacklisted. If blacklisted, sanctions could include extra audits of those who use tax havens and curbs on tax deductions claimed by businesses who use the banks as tax havens in blacklisted territories. Gurria said the sanctions will be decided by individual governments and not imposed by the OECD.
GORDON BROWN GIVES SANCTIONS WARNING TO UK TAX HAVENS
Meet international transparency standards within 6 months or face sanctions.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has told the UK offshore financial centers to comply with the G20 tax transparency standards ... or else. Brown also has said he wants the G20 to "raise the bar" further on transparency, presumably until the bar is high enough that one can walk under it without the inconvenience of bending over.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has written to the UK's offshore tax havens -- including Gibraltar -- warning them to meet international transparency standards within 6 months or face sanctions. Mr. Brown told the jurisdictions to sign at least 12 bilateral tax information sharing agreements by November.
But in his letter to Chief Minister Peter Caruana, Mr. Brown also welcomed recent steps taken by the Gibraltar Government in this context. He referred to a statement issued by the Gibraltar Government ahead of the G20 summit in London, in which Mr. Caruana reiterated Gibraltar's commitment to OECD standards. "The Prime Minister highlighted the fact that that statement was well received," a Convent spokesman told the Chronicle.
Mr. Brown also stressed the importance of the tax information sharing deal reached between Gibraltar and the U.S., and acknowledged that Gibraltar was in well-advanced negotiations with other countries. Last week, even before he had received Mr. Brown's letter, Mr. Caruana said he was confident that Gibraltar would sign at least 12 agreements by November.
The latest developments follow the OECD's recently-published progress report on tax transparency, in which it lists the efforts made by countries to ensure transparency. Even though Gibraltar is fully compliant with EU legislation in tax matters, it was listed among the British territories and other countries described as "tax havens" by the OECD.
Gibraltar, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos were all placed in a category listing 30 countries that had pledged to meet international tax standards but have yet to do so. In some cases, those pledges go back several years. Gibraltar, which first expressed its commitment to meet OECD standards in 2002, has so far signed just one agreement to share tax information.
The agreement with the U.S. was signed a fortnight ago on the eve of the G20 summit in London, during which world leaders pledged to clamp down on financial centres where tax avoidance is common. The OECD published its report a day later.
Mr. Brown's letter last week, first revealed by the Financial Times, signals the UK's intention to maintain pressure on its territories and keep the momentum going in the wake of the G20 summit.
Leaders at the summit agreed a range of sanctions that will be applied to financial centers that do not comply. Industry executives said that being blacklisted by the OECD would in itself be extremely damaging for any center.
According to the FT, Mr. Brown also sought to increase pressure on Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, three British territories that were placed on the OECD's "white list" after signing at least 12 agreements.
The Prime Minister praised their efforts but wants them to further increase transparency. He said he would urge the G20 to "raise the bar" if there was no clear improvement.
Mr. Brown's letter comes just days ahead of publication of an initial report on the UK's offshore havens. Michael Foot, a former Bank of England director who was commissioned to write the report, will publish his interim findings on April 22.
ST. KITTS & NEVIS PROTESTS “ILLEGAL TAX HAVEN” DESIGNATION
The St. Kitts/Nevis Minister of Finance has objected to both the designation of the island nation as "non-compliant" tax haven and to the process which generated the designation. His point on the later is that the powerful countries decide policy without consulting any of the effected parties, dictate, and then the small offshore centers are supposed to comply no matter what the cost.
We have some news for everyone: That is how the world works. It is not fair in any meaningful sense of the word. The only element that varies is how thick is the velvet glove over the iron fist. But if the OECD is going to claim that it is only "fair" that everyone be forced via any means possible to pay the assessed taxes then it is worthwhile that St. Kitts make this point in public.
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – The Federation has been labeled as an illegal tax haven by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a move which Minister of Finance Dr. Hon. Timothy Harris has called "unjust."
Following the April 2 G20 Summit in London, global leaders agreed to introduce sanctions on "secretive" tax havens around the world, resulting in the OECD publishing a list of 30 countries that have committed to their tax standard, but have not substantially implemented it. St. Kitts-Nevis is named among the non-compliant countries on the list, while only two Caribbean islands, Barbados and the U.S. Virgin Islands, are seen by the OECD as substantially implementing the standards.
Harris informed that the Federal government is displeased the nation is on the list, adding that such decisions have been continually made with little to no input from the region.
"In a sense we have never been part of the real decision-making. This goes back to the fight we had with the OECD about harmful tax jurisdictions and this notion of tax havens. It was always coming externally, where powerful entities and people are saying that these developing countries are encouraging [tax] evasion and we have to do something," he said.
The OECD tax standard requires countries to submit information upon request regarding all tax matters and the enforcement of domestic tax law. While the information submitted can go against domestic tax interest requirements or bank secrecy laws, it does provide for extensive safeguards to protect the confidentiality of the exchanged information.
Harris said that because of power and size, larger economies may have more input in such decision-making. He further indicated that the key response for small, vulnerable states is to increase lobbying at critical tax jurisdictions to outline the detriment such decisions have on developing states.
"Because they have the clout and the wherewithal, their views in the end almost became directives, and we must use the opportunity of international fora in which we participate to say that this is unjust! This does not create international economic justice
"Some of how you fight that is to be really proactive in lobbying, and maybe this is one of the mechanisms [to be considered] going forward. We are trying to cope and do what is right at the same time that we argue that this is wrong," Harris stressed.
According to Director of Financial Services Fidella Clarke, international policy-making has "never truly been a level playing field." She indicated, however, that representation in the Caribbean Financial Action Taskforce and the upcoming Fifth Summit of the Americas may increase lobbying opportunities for the twin-island state.
"One must bear in mind that, at present, St. Kitts-Nevis is the Chair of the Caribbean Financial Action Taskforce, in which we would be able to have significant input into the legislation in the international fora with regards to offshore tax centers.
"Also, with regards to the upcoming Fifth Summit of the Americas ... the Federation's delegation would be able to have an input into any possible legislation that would be coming out as a result of the OECD meetings," Clarke said.
The countries of Costa Rica, Malaysia, the Philippines and Uruguay were completely blacklisted by the OECD, while 40 other countries have been listed as substantially compliant. [All four subsequently migrated to the grey list.]
Grey-listed countries, such as St. Kitts-Nevis, would require legislative changes and the negotiation of specific bilateral agreements in order to make their way onto the list of "compliant" countries.
CONSPIRACY THEORISTS WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG!
"Federal agency warns of radicals on right," says the headline of an article summarizing a Department of Homeland Security report. "Right" includes any groups that "reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority." Meanwhile the DHS is arming local police departments with weaponry such as 17-ton "Ballistic Engineered Armored Response vehicles" which feature 2-inch shatterproof glass and gun ports on both sides.
The consiracy nuts were right all along, notes Gary Barnett, writing on LewRockwell.com. The federal government is being used as an instrument to impose tyranny, and it has been all along.
As I opened up an e-copy of the Washington Times today, the headline read: "Federal agency warns of radicals on right." Many have talked about this and Karen DeCoster in today's LRC blog here mentioned this report. Fox News, Drudge and many other "conservative" commentators are up in arms claiming that this is a direct attack against conservatives. I beg to differ. It is an attack against Americans!
The Department of Homeland Security is warning "law enforcement officials" (jackbooted criminal types) about a rise in "rightwing extremist activity," but a footnote in this report by the Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines rightwing extremism as "including not just racist or hate groups, but also groups that (don't miss this part) reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority."
If I am interpreting this correctly, this report is going after anyone who dares to question federal authority. This would put libertarians directly in the government's crosshairs. In fact, I have been against federal authority my entire life, so am I a prime target? In addition, this report was sent to police and sheriff's departments all over the country. This is after thousands of combat troops have taken up permanent residence as domestic police, with thousands more on the way. This sounds like nothing more than a recipe for tyranny.
The government's destruction of liberty has been with us for generations, but due to the incremental nature of this assault on freedom in the past most paid little attention. But now our liberty is being pushed aside like a bulldozer mowing over anthills. Is anyone other than LRC readers and small "l" libertarians watching?
In the past I have talked about illegal wiretapping, illegal spying, government/private spying partnerships (Infragard), thought crime legislation, financial transaction monitoring, anti-money laundering legislation, immoral taxation policies and privacy invasions among many other government indiscretions, and many thought that I was too negative or too cynical. I even wrote an article about pending legislation that would allow government to round us all up and put us in federal camps. Now, after just recently seeing the leaked Missouri MIAC Strategic Report, The Department of Homeland Security is informing police to be on the lookout for any who would not be in favor of federal authority. Orwell as prognosticator has been well vindicated; more so than even he probably could have imagined.
I write this today after just learning this morning that in Billings, Montana (population 100,000) the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Department rolled out its new 13-foot tall, 35,000-pound Ballistic Engineered Armored Response vehicle (BEAR) purchased with, you guessed it, a Homeland Security grant. It is to be used by not only the sheriff's department but also by the Billings Police Department. They got this war machine just in time to tame those who are not in favor of federal authority. It is bullet-proof, has 2-inch shatterproof glass and gun ports on both sides. This idiocy is going on all over the country, and why more are not fearful of the danger of this military arming of local police I do not know. In order for the normal citizenry to defend themselves from this onslaught of military weaponry, rifles and shotguns will need to be traded in for bazookas and hand-held rocket launchers. Unfortunately, these are still illegal.
All the federal government's offensive and defensive mechanisms are being put in place while the lowly sheep await the slaughter. More economic tensions with more unemployment along with over-zealous police thugs bent on revenue creation. What will be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back? What will it take before civil unrest is not just discussed on talk shows, but is evident in the streets of America? How much unrest will be tolerated by the now fully armed military-type police before they become physical?
If you want to continue to hide your head in the sand, do not dare connect these dots! We now have militarized police, combat soldiers on our streets, war-zone materials and weaponry in the hands of domestic government agents, FEMA camps, and a neutered rule of law. These atrocious changes have happened quickly, and at a time of civil restlessness. Is this a coincidence? I think not. Everything happens for a reason, and this time that reason is easy to spot. Are you looking? If not, you had better open your eyes soon!
Four Blacklisted Tax Havens Agree to Mend Ways
They have seen the light and the way.
The Philippines, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Malaysia agreed in principle to "exchange information according to the OECD standard," thus moving them off the black list onto the "grey list."
Four nations will no longer be blacklisted as uncooperative tax havens after they bowed to pressure from world leaders and agreed to apply new rules on financial openness ... Angel Gurria, head of the OECD, said in a press conference that the Philippines, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Malaysia have been moved off the black list after they agreed to cooperate with international authorities.
"These four jurisdictions have now made a full commitment to exchange information according to the OECD standard," he said. "This is very important progress."
G-20 leaders meeting in London last week pledged to crack down on tax havens, an action reflecting the concern that their banking secrecy has helped disguise the true value of some global assets and has cost other states tax income.
Anti-poverty activists say nations with banking secrecy provide corrupt officials with havens to stash illicit funds, often depriving poor nations of needed resources.
The OECD has divided nations into three categories: those that comply with rules on sharing tax information, those that say they will but have yet to act, and those that have not yet agreed to change banking secrecy practices. ...
[T]he Philippines, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Malaysia will now join nations, including Switzerland and Liechtenstein, on a "grey list" of nations that still have to carry out their commitment to accept new information-exchange standards.
Gurria said the four nations planned this year to propose legislation allowing them to comply with OECD standards.
Cook Islands Says Meeting Stricter G20 Requirements for Tax Havens Is a Priority
The Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Sir Terepai Maoate, says he welcomes the call from the Group of 20 leading industrial nations for more transparency in the international flow of tax information. Sir Terepai says he has instructed his officials to place a priority on making the legislative amendments necessary for Cook Islands to enter into tax-sharing agreements.
Agreements will then have to be negotiated separately with each G20 country.
Financial supervisory commissioner, Lorraine Allan, says with only 6 crown law officers to meet all of Cook Islands legal needs, it will be hard to meet the G20 deadline. She says she would like to see some assistance from the OECD.
Liechtenstein Trusts Sue New York Lawyer for Alleged Offshore Fraud
Winthrop Ross Munyan, a New York attorney with 60 years experience in international estate planning, has been sued by owners of five Liechtenstein-based trusts over charges of "shamelessly looting" over $15 million (€11.2 million) from the clients for longer than a decade, according to a report in The National Law Journal.
The plaintiffs -- Establishment Finapart, Establishment Figest, Establishment Gour-Sande, Establishment Elatia and Establishment Elatia -- charge Munyan with fraud, illegal enrichment, conversion and breach of fiduciary duty.
Caribbean Nations Are Urged to Reject Protectionism
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urges the Caribbean and Latin American communities to join the parade of troubled economies by doing as the U.S. does -- stimulating their economies through "all available tools." In other words, do something/anything, even it there is no proof that any of those something/anything options are something other than and anything but damaging.
They say about advice that fools won't heed it and wise men don't need it. We also suspect wise men don't give out much advice while fools proffer it freely. The empirical evidence in the political domain is overwhelming enough.
The Caribbean and Latin American countries have been called upon to help revive global growth by safeguarding free trade and stimulating their economies through "all available tools" by the U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
The U.S. and other nations "need to affirm our commitment to maintain open policies toward international trade and investment and to avoid protectionist measures that could threaten recovery," Geithner said on ... at the Inter-American Development Bank meeting in Medellin, Colombia. He called on "international institutions" to quickly provide aid.
The IDB, a Washington-based lender to Caribbean and Latin American nations, is seeking to nearly triple its capital, with $180 billion in new funding from its member countries, said Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. A former Peruvian finance minister, he is leading an outside panel evaluating a capital increase.
The proposed increase, about 4% of which would be paid in cash over several years, could sustain annual lending of $15 billion, Kuczynski said at the bank's annual meeting in Medellin. The IDB, the region's largest development lender, wants to approve loans for $17 billion in 2009, up from 2008's record $11.1 billion, he said.
"We will listen to your proposals with an open mind," Geithner said in his speech. "This is a time for the world to come together."
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