International Man members might be familiar with the Expat Blog, a gathering place for expats living abroad and for people wanting information about specific countries around the world. As frequent IM contributor Bill Drake recently put it, “Arguably, the best collection of expat blogs (representing not just U.S., but also international expats blogging about their experiences and hard-won wisdom in their country of choice) is the Worldwide Expat Blog Directory.”
It is our pleasure today to bring you an interview with Julien Faliu, founder of the Expat Blog.
International Man: Julien, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Julien Faliu: I'm 33 years old. I was born in France, but I've been an expat for about 8 years now, living in the UK, Spain (in Madrid and Barcelona) and now living in Mauritius, a small island off Madagascar.
Back in March 2005, I started working on a participative platform for expatriates all around the world, the Expat Blog.
IM: When did you first leave France?
JF: Actually, it was when I was studying IT as an engineer during school. In 1999, I wanted to improve my level of Spanish, so I decided to go to Spain for a few months. I was in Barcelona for a training period of, I think, 5 months. My idea was to spend a few months in Spain, then later on go to the US or the UK. I wanted to spend my third year internship of engineering school in the US, but by then it was 2001 and the situation was a bit complicated there. Therefore I decided to stay in France. In 2003, I had the opportunity to go to London, so I went there for 6 months initially, but ended up staying for over 2 years. After that I moved to Madrid for a year (I was working for the same company as in London, actually) then back to London again in 2006 until, finally, I moved to Mauritius in 2007. It's a bit complicated!
IM: What made you come up with the idea for the Expat Blog?
JF: I was working for an insurance company in London. We were selling health insurance to expatriates and my job was to program the website. It was a basic insurance company and they wanted to go online: I programmed the whole thing – the web programming, the online selling system – and I placed a lot of advertisements on different websites and it worked pretty well. At that time, I was buying banners on all the expatriate websites and I realized that there were many, many bloggers talking about life abroad. I thought it would be interesting to create a small website to gather all of these expatriates together, who were actually bloggers, and let them share their experiences. This is how I started it, because I had a good view of what existed at the time, and I knew that it would be pretty cool to help people to live abroad, being an expat myself.
The site was a hobby for a couple of years (from 2005 to 2008) and then I decided to work full time on the project in 2008 (and creating a formal company in 2010).
IM: Any interesting expat trends worth mentioning?
JF: First, I think there are more and more people moving abroad, and it's a good thing for us. I'm pretty happy with what I'm doing, because my main job is not to sell this or that product or advertisement; my job is to help people. And this is what we are trying to do. Everyday, our main goal is to help people to share their experience and this is very interesting to me. Experience can be good, it can be more complicated (I mean, life abroad is not always easy and not always fantastic) but it's a really good experience and it's worth trying. I would recommend anyone who has a chance to live abroad to do it.
I've met so many people who are thinking about moving abroad but say, “you're lucky, I would like to do it too but I've got my family, I've got to pay my house” or things like that. But if you want to do it, you can do it. It's just you! I've proved to myself that I am able to do whatever I want. If you have a dream, you have to live it and put the best of yourself to do it, to realize your dream. It's really important. Life abroad is a dream for many people, and I think they should try to realize that dream.
IM: Any “hot” countries right now among your readers?
JF: Well, there are Canada and Australia – these countries are attractive to a lot of people – but there are more and more people interested in and moving to Asia and the Middle East, because there are many opportunities in these parts of the world.
IM: What seem to be the main reasons people move abroad?
JF: For many people, I think the best reason for moving abroad is to find a better job or professional activity. This is why I moved to London when I was younger. It gave me a chance to learn a lot, and I would recommend that to everyone.
IM: How did you end up in Mauritius?
JF: It's pretty funny, actually. A member of the Expat Blog offered me a job here. I was in the UK at that time and there was a guy creating a company in Mauritius. He had a blog where he shared his personal experience about launching and starting up a company in Mauritius, and he really appreciated what I was doing on the blog. So we discussed a little bit, and he told me, “I want you to come to Mauritius, but at the moment I haven't got any money. I will try to raise funds and, if I succeed, I will get you to come down here.” I said, “OK, call me back,” and he actually did that one year later, when he succeeded to raise funds. So I came down and stayed 8 months in this company, then decided to stay here and focus on the Expat Blog project.
IM: In your mind, is Mauritius closer to the culture of some continental African countries or to other tropical islands found in Oceania?
JF: Mauritius is very multicultural. We have people from all origins in this country … it's very impressive, actually. There are 1,200,000 on the island and it's mixed with people from Africa, India, Europe, China – all of them are Mauritians. It's an interesting melting pot of cultures and religions. People are also very open-minded in this country and I really like that.
IM: How do you like it there?
JF: It's very interesting. I have the chance to live in a small paradise, I would say. We've got beautiful weather, beautiful colours everywhere. I've always dreamed about living close to the beach, and now, every morning I can see the ocean with the lagoon, with all the colours – it's fantastic! I really enjoy my life here. Every day I can go to the beach and swim, and I really like scuba diving. But, of course, I miss my family, because we are pretty far in Mauritius: it's something like 10,000 kilometres away from France.
IM: You mentioned before that you registered Expat Blog as a business back in 2010. Was it difficult to set up your business in terms of bureaucracy and paperwork?
JF: When I first set up my business, it was pretty easy. But now, it's changed and to start working alone you must bring a minimum of USD $35,000. And if you want to create a company, you must now bring USD $100,000.
IM: Are you a permanent resident?
JF: I've got what they call an “occupation permit.” These permits are valid for 3 years, and we have to renew them every 3 years. It's not that easy to get a permanent visa here.
IM: I've heard that Mauritius has real estate investment programs available – can you elaborate?
JF: They've got two different programs for people who want to invest in real estate. For example, if you buy property for USD $500,000, you can get a permanent residency visa. That also means you'll be paying your taxes here in Mauritius – which can be very good (taxes are more or less 15%). This is the RES program [Real Estate Scheme].
Another program (the IRS program) allows you to buy property, but you cannot be a resident (i.e. you can not live here more than 6 months). It doesn't automatically give you the residency permit. Of course, you can (as I'm doing now) walk here with a visa and with your occupation permit, and buy an IRS villa. And there is also a third program now, you can buy some hotel rooms and rent them to the hotel. It is called the Invest-Hotel Scheme.
IM: OK, switching gears… We have a number of readers who dream of doing what you do – setting up an online business that can be done anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. Any specific advice for people who want to make their money online as you do?
JF: It is very important to prepare a business plan. A few years ago, a good friend of mine told me, “Prepare your business plan. Take your time, but do it. Write your business plan.” It took me about 2 or 3 weeks to do so (wrote a 20-25 page document) and it's been 4 years now, but I've realized almost everything that was in my plan. So at the very beginning, it's very important to define your ideas, to say “OK, it's gonna work like this, we're gonna develop these different services, we're gonna earn money with these customers from these destinations” and so on so forth. You need to write it down on paper at the beginning of your project. It's good for investors and potential investors too. Really, I would strongly recommend this to everyone.
IM: Any parting words of advice?
JF: Prepare – do not move to escape, move for a specific reason. Take your time to choose your country and your destination. It can be because of a passion – for example, I came to Mauritius because I like the sea and I like multicultural behaviours and things like that. Then go on the Internet and look for information, because the Internet is really the best media today for finding information about life abroad. It's not perfect and people misrepresent but you won't find the real expatriate life day-to-day information on TV or in books. Everything is available on the Internet, so go and read online and share your experience. Try to ask questions, prepare the most you can – and then go for it!
IM: Lastly, where can our readers go to find more about you and your project?
JF: Have a look at www.expat-blog.com. They can get information on the country or city of their interest. I also would like to mention that it is not compulsory to be an expatriate to participate. Local people can also share their information and tips about living in their country.
IM: Great. Thank you for your time.