State Department website lists where American travelers have died abroad

The LA Times recently linked to a tool on the US State Department website that allows you to search by date range and country to find out where around the world Americans have died of “non-natural” causes.

The information goes back to 2002. No names or details of the deaths are disclosed, they are only reported as suicide, drowning, drug-related, homicide, disaster, or vehicle, air or maritime accident, and listed according to date. The disclaimer on the site states that the stats may not be entirely accurate however, as they only represent those deaths disclosed to the State Department.

So can this tool tell you where you should or shouldn’t go based on your likelihood of drowning, getting into an accident, or being killed as a tourist there? Not really. Circumstances of the deaths are, of course, not disclosed and there is no distinction between expats or people who have lived in the country for many years and those who are tourists visiting on vacation.

Even countries with high numbers of deaths shouldn’t automatically be crossed off your list. Mexico, for example, lists 126 American deaths in 2009. 36 of those were homicides. Sounds like a big number, but not as big compared to the 2.6 million Americans who fly to Mexico every year. As the LA Times points out, “the odds overwhelmingly suggest that your vacation will be nonfatal.”

Guess which country is ranked #1 for expats?

Expats in London celebrating the US InaugurationThose of us who love to travel know the feeling: you’re in some completely foreign place and you find yourself thinking “Could I live here?” Sometimes, the answer is an overwhelming “Yes!”

Even if you think you could live in a foreign place, the idea of packing up your life and family and disconnecting from all the comforts of home can be daunting enough to quell your wanderlust. Being a stranger in a strange town — especially if every shopkeeper asks you where you’re from every single day for three years (I’m looking at you, Liverpool, where I went to college) — is not always easy.

Well, here’s some news that may or may not surprise you. According to Reuters, “The second annual Expat Experience survey, commissioned by HSBC Bank International, revealed that expats in Canada have the best quality of life and found it among the easiest places in the world to integrate with the local population.”

The survey, which reached 3,146 people living and working in 50 countries, ranked Australia as number two — but don’t expect that English-speaking was the only factor considered; the third was Thailand, and it was closely followed by Vietnam, Hong Kong, Brunei and Malaysia. Go Asia!

Britain actually ranked among the least satisfying places for expats, particularly because of the high cost of living — the salaries may be larger, but it doesn’t really help.

Alan Smith, Head of International Wealth Management at HSBC International, in his summary of the report, says: “High salary doesn’t always mean a high quality of life.” This is at least half true; the lowest paid expats reportedly live in Australia (#2) and Belgium (dead last).

You can read the full HSBC Expat Experience report here.

[via Reuters]

Expats hit hard by economic downturn

It’s a popular dream–move to a sunny, beautiful part of the world where life is cheap and say goodbye to the home country forever.

But the BBC has found that the dream of many expats has soured because of the economic downturn. The article focuses on the tens of thousands of British expats living in Spain, but the story could be about expats anywhere. For the past twenty years the English have been moving to Spain in droves, especially the sun-soaked coastline of Costa del Sol and Mallorca (pictured here). They fueled a real estate boom that was one of the major factors of Spanish economic growth until the housing bubble popped, markets crashed, and Spain ended up with a 17% unemployment rate. Oh, and the change from the peseta to the euro caused inflation that ended the “cheap living” part forever.

Now some expats are headed home. Many had jobs related to the housing industry that have since disappeared, and new jobs are not forthcoming. English-teaching jobs may be next as Spaniards rein in discretionary expenditures.

Are you an expat? Has your job or lifestyle been affected by the economic downturn? Gadling readers want to know.

Creativity abounds if you live outside your homeland

Science says expats are more creative, so it must be true. According to research published by the American Psychological Association (five studies in all), living abroad opens minds and leads to new experiences – all of which points to creativity. The research will be published in May in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Of course, the conclusion is a tad obvious, as the people most likely to choose this lifestyle are probably open-minded and eager to accumulate new experiences. The research team made room for this fact by saying that the project’s results do not prove causation.

As quoted in Reuters, lead author William Maddux, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior at European business school INSEAD, says, “This research may have something to say about the increasing impact of globalization on the world, a fact that has been hammered home by the recent financial crisis.”

In perhaps the most interesting component of this project, Kellogg Business School MBA students were presented with the “Duncker candle problem,” which tests creativity. The subject is given a candle, a pack of matches and a box of tacks, and the task is to attach the candle to a wall so that it will burn properly and not drip wax on the table or floor. Students having spent more time living abroad were more likely to come up with the solution.

Think you have the right answer? Test your results after the jump.

Solution to the Duncker candle problem:

  • Use the empty box of tacks as a candle holder
  • Tack the empty box to the wall
  • Light the candle

Yep, it seems so easy this way, but it can be a bear when you’re faced with the problem and have to come up with the answers on your own … especially when you’re being watched!

Former costly cities like London and Seoul are now cheaper

Is there a good side to the world’s economic woes? Not if you are a stock trader or banker. But if you are an expat, living in one of the world’s major cities, there is an upside to the sad state of the global market. Example: London and Seoul, formerly two of the world’s costliest places for expats to reside, have become quite reasonably priced.

A year ago, Seoul was on par with Tokyo in terms of expense. If you needed imported goods (“gotta have my Corn Flakes”), Seoul was actually a more expensive place to live. A mere year later, expats in Korea have seen a 40% drop in prices. This is according to ECA International, a UK-based consulting firm that specializes in helping companies with the planning and logistics of sending employees to overseas offices.

London, once in ECA’s top ten most expensive cities list, has dropped to #72 because of Britain’s poor economic performance.

Who’s on top of the most expensive list? Japanese cities still dominate. Surprisingly, some African cities are expensive for expats because of the high price of imported goods. In fact, Luanda, Angola is the world’s most expensive place for expats, according to ECA.

[more about the ECA survey]