Paragliding in Spain – Day 7&8

The next video in the series of Paragliding in Spain is up. After a busy first week, we got day 7 off. Pablo was kind enough to give us a ride to Ronda, which is definitely worth a visit. Very special place! Unfortunately there was bullfight on that day, which I am not in agreement with, but I respect that this is a local custom. Hopefully someday enough Spaniards will vote to have this practice banned due to animal cruelty. Irrespective of this, Khaled, Michal and I spent a wonderful morning wandering the streets of Ronda while Josh stayed back in Algo.

Day 8 provided us with some great conditions! We flew from Levante in the morning and went back to Poniente in the evening. As we had to wait for the winds to drop, we ended up being the last ones on Poniente and had the ridge all to ourselves! Joshua, Michal and I were the last three in the air, and we only gave into coming down when the sun got too low. After doing our first tandem at Poniente just over one week ago, it was an amazing feeling to fly here by ourselves!

 

 

 

Higher expenses turning the tide for life in the UAE?

Yes, Kermit is holding Euros, but if it were Dirhams, that would be a close depiction of what I look like when I go shopping these days… pretty shocked. 

Since we moved to Abu Dhabi in 2013 things have definitely changed. Life has gotten more expensive and there is certainly a move towards making the Emirates less of a tax-free haven, but a country that is somewhat supported by moneys collected from its residents and citizens. Which, I guess, is a natural evolution. In comparison with what you would pay in taxes in other countries, it is still very low, but if you are looking to move to the UAE you may want to do your reading on this before you settle on that benefits package.

Here are some of the key areas in which we have noticed the biggest price hikes since 2013:

Continue reading “Higher expenses turning the tide for life in the UAE?”

Paragliding in Spain – Day 6

Day 6 ended our first week of training, with a fantastic evening flight along the ridge of El Bosque, lasting over one hour! When we started this course, I did not think this kind of progress would be possible within just 6 days. And it was only achievable thanks to the experience and support of the awesome boys at Zero Gravity – Jose, Javi, Pablo: thank you so much! This is a day we surely won’t forget. And thanks to all the awesome people flying with us, especially Michal and Khaled!

Hope you enjoy the video. Although it basically shows this one long flight, it gives you a nice idea of the coaching we got while in the air, the beauty of the location, and the joy of finally advancing to flying with friends 🙂

Marathon Training – Week 1&2

So, in December I found out that I won myself a spot on the 2017 Berlin marathon. It’s 10 months till the race in September, and 10 months sounds like a long time to train, but I know time will fly and I really haven’t run properly in 7 years. The longest race I ever did was a half marathon in 2009, in Bristol (UK), so the marathon distance does suddenly sound very, very daunting. I know I have a lot of work to do, and I want to do it properly and slowly, to remain injury free and enjoy the process.

In order to help me do this, the first thing I did was contact Full Potential in the UK, to ask Ben Barwick for private coaching. Ben helped Maria Conceicao train for her crazy 777 challenge (7 ultra marathons on 7 continents in 7 weeks), so I knew I’d been in good hands.

Full Potential can offer training plans and coaching via email/phone/Skype, which made this a great solution for me. Ben and I discussed my goals, current state of health and fitness, and what I have available to me for exercising (swimming pool, gym, space to run,…). What followed was an Excel sheet with a first training plan, and a flood of supporting information. The training plan covers running, swimming, and a multitude of specific exercises to improve strength, conditioning and stability. He also provided me with information on stretching, nutrition, and a detailed guide on what feedback to provide him with for every day so he can adjust my training accordingly. Thanks to Garmin Connect, I can also use my Garmin Forerunner to share my runs’  data with Ben. After our first Skype meeting, to address any initial questions, I went off on Christmas holidays to start my training plan!

The first two weeks are ticked and done, and were thankfully a lot less scary then I expected them to be. Getting back into running was daunting, but Ben’s plan has helped me make a comfortable, but challenging start, and the stretching and conditioning exercises have prevented any sore muscles to date. Which is awesome 🙂

I’m excited to see where this training will get me. Throughout January I am registering for the first little 5K races. It seems like such a short distance in comparison to what lies ahead, but I am happy to have enough time to take it step by step, so I can hopefully progress in leaps and bounds!

Thanks to Ben for getting me started so quickly, especially just before Christmas, and to Maria for her constant encouragement!

Alcohol in the UAE? Get a Liquor Licence.

Buying alcohol in the UAE? No problem.

Most of our friends abroad think that living in the UAE means that alcohol is as rare as a tropical rainstorm over here, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Just ask anyone who has been to a brunch in Abu Dhabi or Dubai before…. There are numerous off-licence shops around Abu Dhabi and bars, nightclubs and restaurants located within hotel complexes sell alcohol.

Here are some key things to consider, if you want to purchase alcohol in Abu Dhabi:

  • Alcohol may only be purchased by Non-Muslims who are over 21.
  • You should not be seen drinking or acting drunk in public. Penalties can be severe, including jail, fines, and deportation. Zero tolerance.
  • Do not drive after drinking any alcohol. Zero tolerance. If a police officer believes that you have had alcohol prior to driving, you will be charged as such. No “but I only had one a few hours ago” will get you out of jail. Literally. Again, penalties are severe.
  • If you are a tourist, holding a tourist visa, you may drink alcohol in your hotel bars and restaurants. You may not purchase alcohol from off-licence stores.
  • If you are a resident, holding a resident visa, you have to hold a valid liquor licence in order to drink in hotel bars and restaurants, and to purchase alcohol in an off-licence.
  • Note that restaurants located outside of hotel complexes are generally not licensed.

Warning: Each Emirate has ist own liquor licence and variations of this law. Sharjah, for example, does not permit any alcohol at all! If you plan to travel around, do your reading!

If you reside in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, you can apply for a liquor licence at the Special Licence Office online. You need the following documents (see full length pdf for more detail: liquor-licence-requirements):

  • digital passport picture
  • scanned copy of your Emirates ID
  • scanned copy of your Passport front page and visa page
  • salary certificate addressed to the Special Licence office (min. salary AED 2501) or other proof of income.

Go to www.auhsl.ae, register, and upload all of the above documents. After a few months (yes, months!) you will receive your license at your selected location.

Bottoms up! 

 

 

 

WARNING: Expat Pension Schemes & Life Insurances – Beware of the hidden costs!

In the past I wrote about our experience with financial advisers, and the pension schemes and life insurances of large insurance companies that they sell to expats (Standard Life, Zurich, Generali, etc). If you live in the UAE, ask around – most expats fall into the trap of investing into at least one of these products. So did we. (Un)fortunately, after 3.5 years, we have finally come across a book that answered all the questions our financial adviser didn’t answer, confirmed all our concerns about the pension/insurance schemes we were buying into, and finally led us to a more enlightened path for investment. This book is a must read: The Global Expatriate’s Guid to Investing by Andrew Hallam.

If you already have an investment portfolio, are thinking of investing your money, or even if you are not interested in investing at all – it doesn’t matter. Just spend an afternoon reading this book, as a guide on how you can invest money for long-term saving goals without being taken to the cleaners by ridiculous hidden fees. All written in language that a lay person can understand. It also provides examples for people of different nationalities / countries of residence, which I found very helpful.

Some key insights we gained from the book:

  • Always be cautious of people who contact you. Reputable financial advisers will not be the ones cold calling you.
  • Stay away from complex pension schemes and life insurances, even from large and well known insurance providers, which are full of hidden charges that will eat away at your investments like a caterpillar. No matter how high the market growth may be, this will seriously reduce your profit. And if the markets don’t do so well, the fees will end up eating up all your hard earned savings. Don’t feed the caterpillars!
  • Alternative investment strategies exist. Without hassle, hidden cost, or experience in the stock market, you can make up a simple portfolio of index funds and bonds, that offers you a safer and cheaper way of accumulating long-term savings. The book provides a step-by-step guide, based on your nationality. Investing is still gambling, but if the fees are low and understandable, the stakes are different.
  • Buy from USA exchanges with limitations. If you buy anything through a USA-based exchange, even if it is stocks from e.g. New Zealand, you will be charged tax on these investments by the USA after you die. Even if you have no other connection with the USA – no passport, no residency, no green card. They will still ping the person who inherits your investment.
  • The book provides a list of international, expat-friendly banks, with exceptionally low fees. You can pick one that suits your nationality/location.
  • A clear translation of financial terms is provided that a layperson can understand. I had no idea what an index or hedged fund is before I picked up this book…

Read the book, do the math, and research your alternative options, such as those suggested in this book. If you are already invested in one of the greedy caterpillar-like pension / life insurance schemes, it may still be better to pull out of the contract now and cut your losses, than to keep it going for another 10++ years.

Other countries, such as the UK, have already started cracking down on cold calling and the sale of these high-fee pension and life insurance schemes. Hopefully the UAE will follow suit soon. Upon meeting with our ‘financial adviser’ to cancel our pension scheme contract due to the ridiculous fees, he did sheepishly admit that the law was cracking down on them, and that this will affect the products being sold in the UAE as early as next year.

So, read the book. Or go straight to the author’s webpage at www.andrewhallam.com to find out what his approach and his warnings are all about. Even if you don’t follow his advice on index fund investments, it may still save you money simply because you’ll be wise enough not to invest in the dodgy schemes that are being sold to expats like candy.

[As the original post about financial advisers was graced by one of Ryan McGuire‘s awesome photos, I had to go with another one of his that sums up the story perfectly. Thanks Ryan. I owe you coffee!]

 

Paragliding in Spain Day 2

The second video of our Paragliding in Spain series is up on YouTube. Day 2 saw us running down hills, to learn take off and landing procedures, and then lugging ourselves and our gear back up the hill for another go. Again and again and again… The reward was that we got to do our first little “hops” in the evening. Enjoy!