21Feb

Traveling Tips: Hokkaido

When in Japan, the two go-to choices of travelers always revolve around the cities of Tokyo and Osaka. A third option exists to advanced travelers. When you’re just about satisfied with your thirst for urban scenery and deep-rooted culture, you are now welcome to enter the snowy plains of Hokkaido.

Planning a trip to Hokkaido offers an extra challenge to all travelers. It simply isn’t easy because there’s just too much to explore. This is why there will be two parts to planning your travel: the pre-trip checklist, and your actual guide once you’ve reached your destination.

Before the flurry

It’s a fact we have to face. It’s hard to be away from home these days without internet connection. Quite honestly, having no internet connectivity while traveling In Japan will be a nightmare. From translations to map-checking, things will be more complicated. The choice is yours if you want opt for a sim card (for solo travelers) or a standard 4G pocket wifi (suited for group travels).

An efficient public transport is what drives Japan in general. Before heading to Hokkaido, get a reloadable IC card that could be used on all public transport like JR trains, and buses. Pre-purchased IC cards from other regions like Tokyo and Osaka can also be used.

Sapporo TV tower

A famous landmark in the area, this tall structure offers a beautiful view of Odori park. It is the second tallest tower in Japan after the Tokyo Tower.

They charge an entrance fee of 720 yen. Third party services such as Klook offer tickets for a relatively lower price.

Otaru Canal

Beautifully restored and a favorite tourist spot, the Otaru Canal is a sight of beauty, better at nighttime. The place is a serene body of water lit by 63 gas lamps along its promenade. If you travel during the winter period, you get to see the stone houses buried in snow, giving an appeal that reminds you of the western places.

Mt. Hakodate

Standing at 334 meters high, Mount Hakodate is a wooded mountain at the southern end of the area. For cheaper expenses, this perfect spot offers a view of the city from a high vantage point. The facilities are accessible through your choice of a 10-minute ropeway, or through a bus. They charge a fee of 1280 yen for a roundtrip ropeway and 780 yen for a single trip.

Shirugane Blue Pond

We live for beautiful turquoise waters and a sense of peace. This place is a must-visit if you’re after wintry sceneries. During the cold season, the area transforms into a magical view as it gets engulfed by artistic lighting patterns. Even without the light shows, its beautiful waters are enough to surely steal your heart.

Furano Flower Fields

Maybe it’s time to give Sunflower a break. Being in Hokkaido provides a fresh opportunity to fall in love with lavender, which has been cultivated in the area for more than half a century. Furano’s flower fields are lavender heavens which always have a lot of visitors in summer, when everything is in full bloom.

Still uncomfortable being outside your comfort zone? Overestimate your calculated expenses, particularly when you’re planning to go on a budget trip. Pull the extra strings on safety by securing travel insurance which will provide you security from the smallest hassle to the biggest of inconveniences. The snowy plains of Hokkaido will be waiting for your you, but there’s nothing wrong with a little extra precaution. Be it your first time or your 20th, it’s always best to be at ease and not worrying about anything.

7Feb

Travelling in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is easily one of the world’s well-loved and well-trodden tourist destinations worldwide, and, if you’ve visited any of its countries, it’s easy to see the reason behind its appeal.

“Diverse” is the best word to describe Southeast Asian countries. It is already known that the culture in these countries tend to be kaleidoscopic—it takes different colors and figures to make it what it is. This is from the people to the culture. However, what people seldom realize is there is diversity also exist in the activities that they offer.

Are you itching for some adrenaline and want to go to forest or ocean adventures? Is your mouth craving for a food trip? Want to look smart in front of your friends by the end of the summer by going to a cultural or history tour? Want to cap off your trip by spending the day shopping or exploring the night life of a roaring city that never sleeps? (That’s right, New York. You’re not the only insomniac’s paradise anymore.)

All of this can be done in Southeast Asia.

So, if you’re considering Southeast Asia as your next travel destination (and it would be unwise not to), here are some of the must-go, absolutely necessary places to visit depending on what the over-all theme of how you want your vacation to be, along with tips in travelling when there:

Adrenaline rushers

Palawan of the Philippines is one of the most popular go-to destinations for people who are willing to dip their toes into the wild side. From parasailing, to trekking, to canoeing in a cave, to snorkelling, to full-on scuba-diving, the island of Palawan has it all. The island’s diverse marine life is one the reasons why it is continuously revisited by tourists and even locals. It would be a sin not to explore its waters when there. Prepare some cash, though, almost everything comes with a price there but, rest assured, you’ll get your money’s worth.

Other islands in the Philippines that’s slowly gaining popularity is Cebu. The biggest hassle though is the travelling in the island itself. The go-to places tend to be far apart and transportation is a bit difficult to come by, however there are cab drivers that offer their services.

Other things to explore in Southeast Asia:

  • Surfing in Bali
  • Off-road motorbike tour in Laos- this would be more fun if you know how to ride a motorbike on your own
  • Sky-diving in Pataya, Thailand
  • Spelunking in Vietnam
  • Climbing Mount Pulag, Philippines

#Cultured

Southeast Asia is layered with so much history that in any country that you choose, their historical and culture tours would not disappoint. However, here are some of the note-worthy activities:

  • Temple-hopping

One of the most marvelled temples in Southeast Asia is Cambodia’s Angkor Wat Temple. Considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, it’s magnificent and intricate design has won the hearts of many tourist and architecture enthusiast

Other temples are:

  • Hue in Vietnam
    • Candi Prambanan and Borobudur in Indonesia
    • The temples in Laos
  • Japan Culture tour

The culture of Japan captured the hearts of many people that is has reached the western countries. If you’re interested in diving deeper, you can arrange for a culture tour wherein you can:

visit Asakusa, Meiji Shrine, Imperial Palace 

explore Gion, and visit a Kimono craftsman workshop, wear an actual kimono, and experience an authentic tea and incense ceremony. You can also opt to have full-course kaiseki dinner, complete with Geisha performance.

Just want to be fat and happy

Singapore is the first place that comes to mind when somebody says, “Food trip!”

Sure, Thai and Japanese food are great, but nothing compares to the hawker stalls in Singapore. Although the city is known for being “fine” because everything there seems to be expensive and comes with a hefty “fine”, the street foods are actually cheap when taking into consideration their quality and serving. Remember that scene from “Crazy, Rich, Asians”? Made your mouth water, didn’t it?

One can map an entire tour, just based solely on your craving. And since the city is quite small, you can burn calories and guilt that came with what you just ate by walking to the next restaurant. You probably won’t, but at least the options there.

From adrenaline junkies to wannabe “cultured snobs”, Southeast Asia is ready to cater to everyone and anyone. All you have to do is do your research and know where to look.

NEED TRAVEL INSURANCE THAT COVERS YOUR TRAVEL THROUGHOUT SOUTHEAST ASIA? We help expats find the best travel insurance. Get in touch with us.

17Jan

Expat Life: Where to Live in Hong Kong in 2019

The peak of every Hong Kong experience lies in the belly of the beast: in the city itself. But when the day ends, it is best to know the perfect place to settle in.

Hong Kong never falls short of choices when it comes to areas of living. There will be a lot of deciding factors that may either make or break you when it’s time to choose. Budget always comes first, and then the level of comfort that crosses with the number of residents that will stay with you.

Kowloon Tong & West Kowloon

Photo from squarefoot.com.hk

The best place when it comes to families would probably be Kowloon Tong and West Kowloon. They are excellent for expats thanks for the accessible transports that lead to the city’s center. It is also home to different international schools, which would be great if children will be living there too.

Mid Levels

Photo from Engel & Völkers

This is the best choice for someone who highlights leisure as the main component of their stay as expats. The Mid Levels offers excellent routes and access to Soho and Lan Kwai Fong, which are basically areas filled with engagement and nightlife. Like Kowloon Tong, there are also schools nearby.

North Point

Photo from EJ Insights

North Point, by far, is the best choice for expats looking for an expanding community. This is a hidden gem, as most people prefer other areas that are closer to spots of leisure and nightlife. Immersive with Hong Kong spirit, there are a good number of traditional markets and restaurants.

The Peak

Photo from tripleytravelandtours.com

Its name holds what it offers best. The Peak is a scenic place to live in and that’s a given fact. Known to many as an affluent area in Hong Kong, it is impossible to miss as a good choice to live in for expats. The high area is home to various amenities for its residents such as swimming pools and tennis courts. It’s almost as if you never left your house in the West.

Repulse Bay & Stanley

Photo from Saville HK

The lack of easy access to an MTR line is perhaps the only foreseeable setback from living in this area. Other than that, everything else is a win. Between the two areas, Stanley is a more affordable choice. Nonetheless, both areas offer excellent facilities including a number of banks, shops, and restaurants. It is the choice for those who dream of living closer to the beach. Who knows, this might be the best choice for you.

Happy Valley/Jardine’s Lookout

Photo from Savills HK

These two areas provide the best range for people who are still looking for the best place to live as it offers a vast type of accommodation. The choice is at your fingertips: Be it a simple apartment to luxurious townhouses. Happy Valley is also a growing community as a lot of expats have chosen to live there as well. Jardine’s Lookout offers a magnificent view as it is higher up the mountain. It offers a sense of exclusivity with its various facilities.

Wan Chai

Photo from Discover Hong Kong

Last on the list brings this article to a full circle. If you want to live in the heart of Hong Kong, then Wan Chai may just be the place for you. This area is located in the central part of Hong Kong and is jam-packed with amenities that are maxed out for your purpose. There are plenty of restaurants, shops, and hotels and every other form of entertainment that’s meant for you.

For help on property insurance or renter’s insurance, get in touch with Village Insurance Direct today. We help expats find the best covers for your needs.

 

13Dec

Must Know Information for Inheritance Tax for Expats

Did you know that your beneficiaries may be charged a large amount Inheritance Tax (IHT) bill in case of death. The cost of IHT is almost as equally large as the amount being left. In 2012 to 2013, over £4 billion in inheritance tax was paid to the UK government including sums paid by expats from Hong Kong.

WHO WILL PAY FOR INHERITANCE TAX?

IHT liability is based on one’s permanent residence or domicile. There are two types of domicile: domicile of origin and domicile of choice.

A domicile of choice can be established if you can demonstrate that you have severed all connections with your “homeland” and established permanent ties elsewhere.

A domicile of origin may be challenge to change. Note that if you transfer one more time your domicile of origin will revive until you establish a new one. If you are domiciled in the United Kingdom, IHT applies to your global assets.If you are domiciled elsewhere, IHT is charged on your assets held in the UK.

IHT is charged through three main channels:

  • On your estate in the event of your death
  • On any gifts you present to individuals in the last 7 years of your lifetime
  • On any gifts to the most common type of Trust that you make through your lifetime

Everyone is entitled to make a certain proportion of gifts sans taxation and this is called the “nil-rate band”. Current cost is £325,000 which will remain so unti 2021. All excess above this band is charged at 40%.

Generally, property owners automatically follows the IHT net even before taking into account the total value of their investments. But note that it’s possible to reduce your exposure to this punitive tax.

Inheritance Tax is often treated as a “voluntary” tax because its impact may be mitigated. If you have large amounts of assets but don’t want to leave control over these or make gifts, you can still lower the cost of IHT by carefully planning your will.

LEAVING A WILL

Ensuring one has a will in place is a way to protect your loved ones from incurring impossibly high cost of IHT in the case where substantial assets are involved. For instance, a married couple and civil partners can do what the industry calls a “double up” on their nil rates and this implies that up to £650,000 can automatically pass free of IHT. One common myth about leaving your assets to your spouse or civil partner is that they get half if you die. This is not a fact.

Also, it is crucial to remember that minors cannot inherit money or property which means you need to assign someone to make the arrangements until they turn 18.The courts may choose this person for you if you fail to do so in your will.

Expats often have assets in parts of the world and all these have to go through the courts of the different jurisdictions. Delays can happen if one does not make the necessary arrangements in their will. There are also insurance that covers the cost of inheritance tax. Ask us about it. We help expats in Hong Kong.

6Dec

Reducing the Stress When Travelling with Kids

Travelling with a child is not easy. As much as we would want to travel with the whole family, the logistics can be a great source of stress and anxiety. However, just like with anything in life, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Here are a few tips for stress-free travelling with a child:

Take care of yourself before anybody else.

Monkey see, monkey do. If a child sees or feels anxiety from the parents, then they would most likely copy the mood. It’s important to remember that in order to take care of someone, you have to be in your best condition first. So, make sure that you get enough sleep before the trip and your health is conditioned for travel. Take Vitamin Cs to boost your immunity. With all the stress that’s bound to come, you’re going to need it.

Destination, planning, and packing.

Take into account if the place you’re going is suitable for the child. You can save that Machu Picchu hiking expedition for when your 2-year-old is a little older. Also, make sure that you always have a child-friendly room where you’re going, especially if travelling with an infant.

Create a schedule and book the rooms and the places you want to visit in advance as much as possible. It’s better to have an adjustable itinerary in cases of emergency, rather than have none at all.

Pack just enough diapers and pull-ups for the trip to your destination. Book a room near a pharmacy for easy access to your child’s necessities.

Food, water, and first aid

Keep them fed and hydrated with low-sugar snacks. Make sure all their necessary vitamins, medications and formula are in your carry-on.

Distractions

Bring their favourite toy and keep art supplies within your reach for when your child starts to get bored. Load your tablet or smartphone with their favourite shows.

Keep them close

Save yourself from a heart attack and buy a kid’s harness. It’s weird to see a child on a leash but it will keep them close to you. Before going out, write your contact details on your child’s arm and make them wear a bracelet tag with the same information. At night, make sure that they’re wearing something fluorescent, like a glow stick, to easily spot them in a crowd should they stray.

At the end of the day, we just want our kids to be comfortable, happy, and safe. So, it’s important to meticulously plan a child-centred trip. Making them part of that process ensures satisfaction of not only your child but, also, yourself.

FAMILY INSURANCE

We recommend getting family insurance especially when traveling for an extended period of time. Find an international plan that covers the country you’re visiting. We help expats find the right family insurance for expats living in Hong Kong.

14Nov

Successful out-of-country childbirth

Giving birth in a different country requires plenty of preparation. Expats living abroad with their families need to ensure that there is a system is in place for a safe delivery to avoid unexpected expenses and inconveniences during such an intense period.

You can read more about the expense side of childbirth in our blog Expecting a Baby in Hong Kong.

The one plan to rule them all

“The best offence is a good defence” is the key to avoid as many of possible worst case scenarios. At this point, your answer to medical emergencies should always be preparedness.

The most crucial first step is to have a birth plan drafted out at the start of your pregnancy. This includes:

  • Getting to know your hospital of choice ahead of time
  • Familiarizing yourself with your new doctor
  • Knowing what you are looking for is a hospital

Hong Kong has one of the best healthcare systems in Asia and finding a hospital that suits your needs is relatively easy for many expats. Public and private hospitals provide excellent services so it’s usually a matter of preference and expense when it’s time to decide.

Choose your obstetrician wisely. If you have health insurance that covers pregnancy and childbirth, double check to see if they cover the hospital that you’ve chosen. Check the hospital’s proximity to your home and find alternative routes for different traffic conditions.

Common Complications

We do what we can to make sure the child is in good health during pregnancy. However, there is always the possibility of complications. Common issues to prepare for include:

  • Umbilical cord issues
  • Perineal lacerations
  • Abnormal fetal heart rate
  • Amniotic cavity problems
  • Failure to progress

C-section birth may be required during these situations and making sure you’re financially covered for this major operation is also a crucial part of the birth plan. Check with your expat health insurance provider if they cover this emergency expense.

On new territory

Pregnancy and childbirth make one of the most intimate and unforgettable experiences of life. The logistics leading up to them could be just as complicated as it is memorable, but it’s all worth it in the end.

We help expats find the best health insurance that covers maternity in Hong Kong. Get in touch with us for inquiries.

7Nov

Traveling for Food: Exploring food allergies

What draws you to travel?

What blossomed in the East started to find its way into the global palate. Expats from Europe and the US have made gastronomic trips to Asia to further understand the culture of each different country, from the bowls of spicy noodles to the more exotic street and hawker stalls.

However, there is a limit to knowing the world through cuisines. Embedded within us is a limiting agent in the form of allergies to remind us that our body can only handle so much.

Allergies are our body’s unique way of telling us what is compatible and what is not to our system. The reactions extend to the basic choices we make such as “tasty” or “not”.

By law, the FDA has listed eight categories as designated food allergens (Milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans).

The categories seem easy on first glance until you realize that food allergies vary individually. Recent researches highlight the stark contrast with allergens through regions, such as in the West versus the East. This is vital information for travellers.

Here are a few common food allergies to help backpackers, expats, and casual travellers be more cautious while they explore Asia through food.

food allergies while travelling - Village Insurance Direct Hong Kong

Shellfish

According to a paper written in 2013, shellfish tops the list in food allergens in Asians, particularly in children, mainly due to its availability and demand in the region. A 2014 study from the Singapore Medical Journal, also reinforces the idea. While a lot of Asian cuisines is built on shellfish, a large chunk of the population remains highly allergic to it.

Peanuts

Peanuts remain as the top allergen in America and in some parts of Europe. The total number of cases in Asia is relatively low, but in some areas like in Singapore, the statistics prove otherwise. A good 15 years ago, peanut allergies had lower cases and aren’t considered a top allergen, until recently. This is a testament to the changing diets Asians have had through the years.

Wheat

Rice is the staple carbohydrate of every Asian. But to have wheat included in the list makes you want to feel bad for craving for bread as much as the next guy. Japan and South Korea, two countries famous for revolutionary modern takes on bread, suffer from prevalent cases of wheat allergy. They also rake in high numbers of anaphylaxis cases from this specific allergen.

Travel as much as you like, and eat as much as you like. Food allergies exist to make you aware of your limits, but not to scare you to crawl back to your comfort zones. Be bold and stick NOT with what you’re always comfortable with, but with what you’re COMPATIBLE with.

Serious allergic reaction to food can cause some people to be hospitalized. To be more secure during your travel, make sure you find a travel insurance that covers emergency hospitalization in the country you’re travelling.

We find the best travel insurance for expats living in Hong Kong.

18Oct

How cancer burns through everything including your savings

Cancer takes more than lives. It also goes after a hefty amount of your savings.

In just a span of two years, half of all US cancer patients breeze through their funds, accentuating a total of $92,000 in twelve months.

This is all detailed in a new study called “Death or Debt? National Estimates of Financial Toxicity in Persons with Newly-Diagnosed Cancer” which was published this month. According to its findings, these heavy costs are mostly of risk to be shouldered by the elderly and those without insurance, among others.

Killer expenses

In the US, cancer comes second to heart disease as the undisputed title-holder of the most notorious killer.

But unlike heart disease which has a pool of research and funds dedicated to it, the cost of cancer treatment, for any country is financially unfathomable. Annually, 1.6 million new Americans are diagnosed with cancer. From this, 600,000 barely finish treatment and die.

The healthcare system credits to spending $87.8 billion yearly for patients. Specifically, unfinished treatments resulting in death leads to a $130 billion cost.

A huge portion of treatment expenditure still falls on the patient. The American Cancer Society along with the Cancer Action Network reports that as of four years ago, findings revealed that patients still shouldered a total of $4 billion on their end just for seeking cancer treatment.

Crunching beyond the numbers

The core of the study took 9.5 million patients and 16 years to see completion (1998-2014).

Setting aside the statistics, the medical study delineates the kinks that needed to be worked out when it comes to medical budget and productivity.

The journal is an updated study from the same set of authors from five years ago and is published in the American Journal of Medicine. Initially, in the study’s first findings, it revealed that cancer, specifically, breast cancer, accounts for 33 million sick days among the US working citizens annually.

The update to the study echoes a more heartbreaking revelation: half of the cancer-afflicted patients within their study have started and been easily sunk into bankruptcy due to treatment expenses.

This brings a new reality to the table: that the economy pulls a really tensioned string even to cancer patients who struggle with the cost of treatment.

When toxicity seeps to your finances

A big danger lies in the fact that the risk for financial toxicity goes greater with cancer treatment. After years of fluctuation in the economy, one would think that the financial burden on the patients would’ve lessened but has so far remained consistent.

Grant Skrepnek, one of the paper’s writers believes the results were “shocking,” seeing as to how figures have reached higher levels, which he has seen in his 20 years in cancer research.

Despite the advent of immunotherapy, which is pegged as a vital tool for the possible elimination of cancer, Skrepnek believes that it also has downsides, such as its ability to hamper predictions for cancer trends.

Jennifer Singleterry believes otherwise and sees a bigger threat in short-term healthcare plans.

Singleterry, a senior policy analyst from the American Cancer Society is concerned with the coverage of these health care plans, which have a limited coverage and “caps” – which hurts finances as it doesn’t include cancer treatment.

She adds that dependency to these short-term plans will only be harmful to those afflicted will illness, who will be left with even higher insurance premiums.

What this ultimately reveals is another layer of fear added to cancer: first the diagnosis, and now the financial horrors.

Village Insurance Direct helps expats in Hong Kong find critical illness insurance. Contact us for inquiries.

 

5Oct

Is C-section the way to go?

In this day and age, Hong Kong stands strong in offering a lot more than tourist attractions and sparkling history. On par with many first-class countries, it prides itself with an excellent healthcare system. For both its residents and expats alike, it has become the place of choice for maternity and childbirth, owing to the structure in its services.

The Hong Kong health system, like many others, is categorized into two: the public and private sectors.

Being a Hong Kong resident with an “identity card” provides you with numerous benefits, including full utilization of their public health system.

Some say that it gets trickier and more complicated when it comes to foreigners, but there’s always no reason to feel lost and left out. Local or not, there’s nothing a good preparation can’t solve.

Adjusting to a childbirth in a foreign country is the first step. As mothers near their delivery, the next logical step is to figure out whether a C-section or classic delivery setup is the way to go.

Crunching the hard digits

In general, the World Health Organization suggests a 10-15% rate in C-section deliveries vis-à-vis a country’s healthcare status.  Since last year, numbers of C-section deliveries have been steadily increasing around the world. Currently, the Dominican Republic holds the top spot with 56.4%. According to this October 2018 research, Hong Kong currently has a Caesarian birth rate of 35%. It stands toe-to-toe with other countries like Turkey and Brazil, who each report rates of over 45%.

The good versus the bad

It is the expectant mother’s choice as to how she wants to have her baby delivered. However, in some cases, it is the doctor’s call whether to perform the surgery or not, particularly when the necessity arises in the situation.

C section deliveries are beneficial for mothers who are unable to bear the stress of the labor process. It is also recommended if more than one baby will be delivered. The procedure helps minimize the risk of having the baby contract a disease from passing through the vaginal area.

However, it also offers a balanced number of downsides. Mothers who opted for the surgical process tend to stay longer in the hospital for recuperation. There is an increased risk of pain or infection following the surgery and soreness is almost guaranteed. Staggering levels of blood loss may also provide low levels of Hemoglobin.

The rates

As an invasive procedure, C-section deliveries generally cost way more than vaginal births. Rates within Hong Kong vary with different hospitals, ranging from standard HK$ 17,000 to pricey lengths such as HK$ 141, 000 for high-tier private hospitals. As of June 2018, for example, the fee for a C-section surgery in St. Paul’s Hospital in Causeway Bay starts at HK$ 18,000 versus their fee for a vaginal birth which starts at HK$ 15, 000.

Ultimately, the choice rests upon the mother’s shoulders. There may be slight differences between private or public hospital settings but one thing remains the same: This is Hong Kong, and both options carry a high standard when it comes to medical care.

Village Insurance Direct provides expats in Hong Kong with health insurance that covers maternity expenses. Contact us for more information.