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British Expat Newsletter: March 2014

Hello, and welcome to those of you who have recently signed up.

In this issue

This month

Here’s our news about the latest additions to the BE website.

We’ve been busy this month! First, we published an article by Jamie Waddell, highlighting the growth in the numbers of people taking out QROPS as the tax-free lifetime allowance threshold on pensions drops from £1.5 million to £1.25 million on 6 April. One for the fat cats? Or have you moved your pension fund into a QROPS?

For those of us on more modest incomes, one way of making those holiday pounds go further is to try a stint of house-sitting. For those of us who need to travel but worry about home security and pets’ welfare, it’s a way of achieving peace of mind without exorbitant kennel/cattery fees. Find out more in our Property section!

Former expat in Australia Elizabeth Grey has come up with a quick guide to what’s involved when emigrating to the Lucky Country. If you’ve ever dreamed about moving down under but haven’t given it any more serious thought, Elizabeth’s two-part article is a good place to start.

It’s less than three months until the World Cup gets under way in Brazil, but some of the venues are still not ready. Dave looks at the question: Should we start worrying?

We relaunched one of our eBooks mid-month – It’s All Greek To Them! by Theodore Koukouvitis has now been brought into our Facts Lab series as The Facts Lab Book of Greece, where it sits alongside The Facts Lab Book of Brazil and The Facts Lab Book of Insects. It’s got a shiny new cover, too!

Have you ever heard of the game 2048? It’s a puzzle that’s taken the UK by storm! We’ve created our own version with the help of the UsVsTh3m website, so you can now do your work avoidance with our help. Have a go!

Our latest Pic of the Week is by Shetlander Anne Macdonald—a striking photo of sunlit rough seas just off the eastern coast of the Mainland.

And, just for a change, our Quick Quiz doesn’t have a theme this time—it’s a pick-’n’-mix of different subjects. Find out how broad your general knowledge really is!

Editorial: Fantasy passports and private currencies

Possibly the two most tangible forms of state identity that expats will come across on a regular basis are the various currencies and passports around the world. As you’d expect with such valuable and important documents as passports and banknotes, a great deal of care goes into their design to ensure that they represent the state issuing them in a suitably dignified way—and that they can’t be readily forged.

You might think that with all the expense involved in producing these very special papers, there would be little or no market in producing passports for non-existent states. And the idea of a “currency” that has no legal status and no monetary value seems bizarre. Who would want to buy such a thing?

Well, apparently someone does. The Antarctica Overseas Exchange Office has been selling its “Antarctican dollars” to collectors for nearly 20 years now. Obviously it has no legal status whatsoever—Antarctica has no government, and the states that maintain bases on the continent invariably use their own currencies for the very few activities that require use of a currency. So what’s the point?

One reason may be the artistic value of the designs, which contain a host of security measures just like proper banknotes, but are more richly coloured than most. This isn’t too surprising, as a central bank’s currency notes have to be produced by the million and their real value lies in the bank’s backing, whereas these collectible notes’ only value is in the eye of the beholder. They’re pretty amazing, all the same.

Another may be the sheer novelty. Apparently the Antarctica Overseas Exchange Office was swamped by demand over the Christmas period because the Wall Street Journal suggested their $1 bill as its top gift idea. Yep, we can see that happening—a gift that’s completely impractical, but quirky and fun and unlikely to be in your other friends’ Christmas stockings. Unless of course their friends also read the WSJ.

Much the same applies to fantasy passports. These generally don’t have the amount of detail and supposed security measures built into them that real passports do, and they’re often marked in some way to make it clear that they’re not an official document. So their only value is as a bit of fun for the collector or recipient. Examples include the “Newfoundland” passports sold in tourist shops in Newfoundland & Labrador, which also serve as a little bit of alternative history—Newfoundland was a separate Dominion before 1949.

There’s also a thriving market in what are known as “camouflage” passports—passports that look and read as if they ought to be official, but don’t actually belong to a real state at all. They generally bear the name of a territory that no longer exists (like British Honduras, which is now Belize) and spurious state insignia like a coat of arms and motto.

Governments and law enforcement authorities around the world take a dim view of camouflage passports. They argue that most camouflage passports are bought primarily to facilitate crime (terrorism and money laundering in particular) by deceiving the officials of legitimate authorities.

They have a point. Some people have certainly managed to travel on unofficial passports of this kind. Apparently in 2001 a resident of Los Angeles obtained a Brazilian visa and managed to enter Brazil using a “Republic of Taiwan” passport. He reported that another traveller using a Republic of China passport (ie one issued by the Chinese Nationalist government based in Taipei) was subjected to all sorts of hassles by Brazilian immigration officials, perhaps because they assumed that the man was from mainland China (ie the People’s Republic of China).

This may sound a bit unlikely. (It’s more likely that they pulled him up because Brazil doesn’t recognise the Republic of China or its passports.) But it illustrates the point well enough. With over 200 sovereign states in the world, it’s unlikely that a harassed clerk in a provincial bank in, say, Niger will have the time or inclination to carry out checks on a passport issued in the “British Hebrides”. If it looks imposing enough, it’ll pass muster. And the dodgy bank transfer goes through.

Nevertheless, we can think of at least one good reason for wanting to have a convincing-looking camouflage passport. Donna Walker of Houston claims to have had the original idea of creating camouflage passports after having heard of a US citizen who was shot by a hijacker simply for being American. She hit on the idea of producing passports for “Ceylon”, having checked first with the Sri Lankan Embassy that Sri Lanka no longer had any rights over the name. Travellers could then produce these passports when trying to get out of trouble, say when confronted by hijackers or when attempting to flee a country in political chaos or at time of war.

This sounds like a good idea, on the face of it. When Kay was travelling in Northern Iraq shortly after the 1991 Gulf War, on a British passport, she was more than happy to keep her head down and pass as one of her Australian fellow travellers to avoid harassment. And if you’re travelling in a country whose relations with your home country are frosty at best, it certainly does no harm to be able to call on another citizenship that’s unlikely to provoke official obstructionism—or worse.

But what happens if the hijacker or official smells a rat, or has a better grasp of geography than you’re banking on?

Have you ever been tempted to travel on a camouflage passport? Or have you used a second citizenship to bluff your way out of trouble? If you’re able to share the details now that you’re back in safety, why not let us know on the forum? We’d love to hear your tale!

Write for British Expat

Would you like to write for British Expat? Sorry, we don’t pay for articles but if you have a website we’ll link to it in the author’s blurb below any of your articles we publish. We use all sorts of content as long as it’s useful and/or interesting to our readership.

Besides articles, we also publish quick trivia quizzes—five questions about any subject. So, if you’d like to write for us but don’t feel like producing a literary masterpiece, then why not try writing a quickie quiz about your city, country, or even your hobby? Please use our contact form to get in touch.

British Expat Amazon Shopping

Amazon don’t just do books, you know. We’ve teamed up with them to bring you the ultimate in online shopping—from a micro SD card to a garden shed! A great way to do your shopping online, especially if the shops aren’t up to much in your part of the world.
BE Amazon Shop: UK & EU | BE Amazon Shop: non-EU

And now for something completely different…

How do you fancy the idea of running a 380-metre course, up and down a 15-metre slope, being soaked with buckets of water and having to clamber over bales of straw, carrying a weight of at least 50 kilograms… that happens to be your wife? Only the British could be this daft—couldn’t they? Erm, no. Apparently it’s the Finns who host the world wife carrying championship!
The UK Wife Carrying Race

So there’s a round-up of all that’s been going on. Come on over and see for yourself! Don’t forget…
Visit the BE website and join in with our lively community!

Till next time…

Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat—the definitive home for British expats

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