Expat Focus International News Update May 2022

Driving licence ‘bungle’ affects expats in Spain

A post-Brexit failure to agree a policy on UK driving licences has left thousands of British expats in Spain high and dry. Tourists are still allowed to use their UK licences, but residents who have not yet swapped their licence for a Spanish one will not be able to drive from May 1st. Conservative MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith has blamed the Spanish authorities for the delay, and for missing the April 30th deadline. The Foreign Office says, “We have agreed to rapidly accelerate talks and are urging the Spanish Government to bring forward interim measures.”

No-one can say how long this situation will persist, but it’s causing serious inconvenience to those residents who only have a UK licence (such as those who were prevented from obtaining a Spanish replacement because their residency had not yet been registered). Those living in mountain villages, with no driving school close by, have been particularly badly affected.

British expats granted ‘votes for life’ in Queen’s Speech

Following years of campaigning by expats, a new ruling allowing British expats to vote in General Elections received Royal Assent on Thursday, April 28th. The Elections Bill also includes measures to allow overseas electors to stay registered to vote for longer, and an absent voting arrangement will be put in place. Lord True, Minister of State for the Cabinet Office, said:

“In an increasingly global and connected world, most British citizens living overseas retain deep ties to the United Kingdom. Many still have family here, have a history of hard work in the UK behind them, and some have even fought for our country. These measures support our vision for a truly Global Britain, opening up our democracy to British citizens living overseas who deserve to have their voices heard in our Parliament, no matter where they choose to live.”

You will now be allowed to register your details every three years, rather than annually, and will be able to reapply for a postal vote or refresh your proxy vote at the same time.

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The new legislation is estimated to affect 3.5 million Brits currently living abroad.

Expats affected by rising cost of living in Thailand

Thailand opened up its land borders in early May, in line with airport arrivals. You can now enter the country without any medical tests, but there are still some restrictions in place. In order to get your Thailand Pass QR code you will need to register in advance on the Thailand Pass portal by submitting your vaccination record and proof of Covid insurance, which must be worth a minimum of US$10,000 for 30 days. This opening up can only be a boost to the Thai economy, and is likely to be welcomed by expats, who have been expressing concerns about the rising cost of living in the country.

Expats are also keeping a close eye on the Thai elections, with a number expressing interest in greener policies and the intention to de-permit companies who generate pollution. Other quality of life issues, such as transport and traffic congestion, are of concern to expats in the country. Equality is also an issue: expats object to double pricing, for example, and call for equal treatment with Thai citizens.

Bangkok has been ranked 11th out of 57 world cities in a recent survey, based in part on the cheap cost of living, but this may be changing. Transport costs may not be rising, but expats say that other rising costs are ‘nipping away’ at people on fixed incomes.

Note that the easing of access and egress from Thailand after the pandemic is likely to result in the curtailing of any further visa extensions.

Metro reports on solo travelling

The Metro newspaper has reported on a survey of the friendliest countries for solo travellers this month. Research by Hostelworld has shown that 55% of its respondents are planning a solo trip in 2022. However, 72% of those do feel nervous beforehand, and 30% fear making the initial introductions to other travellers. If that applies to you, it helps if you find yourself in a friendly place, and fortunately there are many of them! Spain, the US, Italy and the UK ranked highest, with Mexico coming in at number five, followed by Germany, France, Australia, Thailand and Portugal.

South African expats leave the UK

The African Wealth Report 2022 has discerned a pattern in SA nationals moving back home after life in the UK. These are mainly ‘high net worth individuals,’ and the report says that their findings highlight the relative scarcity of billionaires in SA, although several of them have found not just fortune but fame elsewhere, such as Elon Musk. The AWR says:

“On a positive note, there is a trend of wealthy people returning to South Africa, in particular from the UK. This is a notable emigration trend that we are tracking, and we should have more statistics available for this in the next report.”

British expats ‘can earn most’ in Switzerland

A recent survey noted by the Daily Express suggests that British expats can earn the highest salaries in Switzerland, where the average salary for expats is £70,233. These findings are backed up by the HSBC Expat Explorer Survey, which has also cited Switzerland as one of the best countries for expats. The States came in second place, with an average annual salary for expats of £52,102, followed in third place by Norway with an average salary of £48,787. In last place came Turkey, where the average annual salary was around £4K. Obviously, one also has to factor in the cost of living.

Limit on drinks in Spain

As you may be aware, some regions of Spain are limiting alcoholic drinks in ‘all inclusive’ hotels to foreign visitors. Magaluf, El Arenal, Playa de Palma in Mallorca and Sant Antoni in Ibiza are all destinations affected by the new legislation, which seeks to cut down on binge drinking. From now on, you’ll only be able to order three alcoholic drinks at lunchtime and three in the evening.


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