Category Archives: Living Abroad

Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Meltdowns


Epicentre to my place: 1075km

I’d like to say thank you to all who have emailed to make sure that my family and I are safe. I thank you. We appreciate it a lot. Luckily, the quake had no direct effect on us, as we live a good thousand kilometres from the location of the quake, tsunami, and reactor. To put that distance in a Canadian context, it’s about the same as a flight from Toronto to Fredericton.

To be sure, it was a massive quake, and caused a remarkable amount of damage. As terrible an event as it was, however, I have to say that it probably would have been several times worse had this event happened in any other country. The Japanese quake predictor system sent out a message one minute before the main quake, and I can only assume that that helped many people prepare even slightly. Architecture in Japan is also designed with earthquakes in mind. And while the old wooden structures of Sendai were no match for the tsunami, all the buildings of Tokyo held up exceptionally well.

Beyond this technology, though, is the sheer calm of the Japanese people. It was remarkable to watch the events on TV of people walking calmly to shelters, or waiting patiently for the few buses that were running. No rioting, no looting, no fighting for places. A true testament of oneness… we are all in the together.

The Canadian Embassy has done a great job of sending out emails regarding the quake, evacuation and reactor to those of us registered, but I found this article a little surprising and disheartening. It estimates that there are about 12,000 Canadians in Japan, yet only 1773 are registered with the embassy. I registered when I first moved here, and can’t recommend it enough. If you live abroad and haven’t done so already, here is the link to register.

Again, thanks for your thoughts everyone.


Fear and Respect

As a factual resident of Canada, I submit a tax return each year to the CRA. Due to a tax treaty between Japan and Canada which states that there shall be no double taxation, I am generally exempt from Canadian income taxes. My world income is input on one line, and a corresponding deduction is entered on another line, resulting in zero taxable income from salary.

My return has been filled out the same way for years, and there had never been a problem until last year, when they kept my 2009 return for review. They agreed with my return, but said any return could be re-reviewed at any time.

They took themselves up on that offer by sending me a letter in January saying that my 2007, 2008, and 2009 returns were under review.  After complying with their request for information, my returns have been left as they were (which is a relief) but at least this time I think I know what was setting off the CRA’s alarm.

I submit my statements of earnings from my Japanese sources with my return. I also submit a legend that tells the CRA what each box means (income, pension payments, taxes paid, insurance premiums paid etc.) as well as receipts for local taxes paid,  but I had never thought about translating the addresses of my various employers. This seems to have been the rub, as their January letter specifically asked for the translation and telephone numbers of my sources of income, as well as a description of how the income was earned.

I submitted the information within the 20 days given to me, and they wrote back saying that since I sent in that information, no adjustments would be made to my returns, and that everything looked to have been filed correctly.

As I prepare my documents for my 2010 return, you can be sure I will have an extra page inserted with my forms giving the addresses in the Roman alphabet, the phone numbers and a brief description of how I earn my money. Regardless of how right you think you are, it can’t stop the feeling you feel when you receive a letter from the CRA.

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Interview With a Canadian Trade Commissioner: Part II

(At the end of September, I was fortunate to be granted an informal interview with one of the Canadian Trade Commissioners abroad. This is Part II in a series of articles based on that talk. )

There are several ways in which the Department of International Trade can help Canadian companies and the Canadian economy. While Japanese export to Canada is not a focus, the Trade Office does deal with it a lot because of Japanese companies coming to them for that reason. Their main mandates, however, fall under the goals of Canadian export to Japan, and Japanese investment in Canada (or the country of said Trade Office).

In the case of a Canadian company wanting to sell its product or service abroad, they would first go to their regional trade office. While we did not get into the specific details, we did talk in general terms, and Research in Motion came up, so let’s use them as an example.

Research in Motion would go to a regional Trade Office (say in the Kitchener-Waterloo area) and state their desire to sell Blackberries in Japan. They would register with the Trade Office to gain access to the database of market research. The regional office would contact the office in Japan and pass on any important information to them. From that point onward, RIM would be in direct contact with the Trade Office in Japan.

The Trade Office would then introduce RIM to the big cell phone players in Japan, and it would then be up to RIM to decide which provider is best suited for their needs. As Blackberries are only available on the DoCoMo network, we can guess what their decision was.

Another route for Canadian companies to gain access to a foreign market is through trade fairs. This may be as simple as setting up a booth at a foreign fair (think Bombardier sending planes and staff to the Dubai Air Show to gain orders) or in the case of at lease one Canadian company, being more proactive and setting up something yourself.

Clearwater Seafood of Canada, for example, was very proactive in Japan. In July of this year they sponsored the “Homard Festa,” in which they teamed up with about 80 restaurants in Fukuoka Prefecture, to highlight Atlantic seafood for the entire month.

The Trade Commissioner and I didn’t talk about the results of this endeavour (as it was only a couple of months ago, so not enough data is in) but my assumption would be that if a restaurant experienced consumer satisfaction resulting from the Atlantic seafood, they may add it to their permanent menu, in which case they would continually import from Clearwater.

In both of the above examples, we have situations where Canadian companies have made efforts to sell their products abroad. Of course, it is not always that direction. Sometimes foreign companies want to invest in the Canadian economy.

And we will deal with that in the next post: specifically, Japanese companies wishing to invest in Canada’s infrastructure.

Interview With a Canadian Trade Commissioner: Part I

(At the end of September, I was fortunate to be granted an informal interview with one of the Canadian Trade Commissioners abroad. This is Part I in a series of articles based on that talk. )

Walking into the office of the Canadian Trade Commissioner, I am met with memories of home: maps of Canada and the individual provinces line the walls, a small Canadian flag sits on the cabinet by the entrance, about 20 bottles of Canadian wine and maple syrup are on display, and the assistant to the Trade Commissioner (who doubles as receptionist) ends her sentences with eh.

I’m thrown for a little bit of a loop, however, as I quickly realize that all three of the people who staff the small office (The Commissioner of International Trade, The Commissioner of Foreign Affairs, and their assistant) are Japanese citizens. Through my talk with the Trade Commissioner, however (whose Blackberry sat on the table throughout our interview) I found out that there are two types of employees working at Canadian offices abroad.

The Canadian Basis Staff (CBS) are Canadian citizens and are brought over from Canada. CBS make up the various Ambassadors and Diplomats that act on behalf of Canada abroad.  Locally Engaged Staff (LES) also represent Canada, but are hired by the Canadian government in the foreign country.

What I found interesting from this is that while LES are mostly citizens of the foreign country in question, anyone could become a LES. A Canadian citizen in China, for example, could be hired as a LES if he or she spoke Chinese at a native level. In practice, however, LES are almost always citizens of the host country, as not only language ability, but also a deep understanding of the local culture is very important when dealing with international trade.

The Trade Office works under the Canadian government and Embassy as “The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade,” which is a merger of the two departments. The International Trade department is further broken down into two components: Regional Offices located in Canada, and Foreign Located Offices located abroad; the two offices work closely together.

The main function of the International Trade Department is to give assistance to Canadian companies in establishing links abroad. A company wanting to sell its product or service abroad would first go to the regional office in Canada. After determining certain criteria, the regional office contacts the foreign located office, which then offers further and more specific advice to the company.

During this process, the company would register with the Trade Office to gain access to a government database of local market data where they could research market reports, gain more understanding of a region’s area and market timing, as well as see lists of trade shows in the area.

The government and Trade Office provide this service free of charge. They can help regarding advice on local logistics or to introduce interpreters, but they do not act as mediators or agents, and are not involved with any ensuing negotiation. Most importantly, they can introduce Canadian business people to Japanese counterparts through Embassy sponsored events. It is these introductions and networking opportunities that are the seeds of international trade.

Part II of this series will deal with some of the company to company, as well as country to country, connections that can occur.

Changes to Canadian Citizenship

In April of 2009 a new law came into effect that not many people know about, but may affect your descendants if you live outside of Canada. It limits Canadian citizenship to one generation outside of Canada.

What does that mean? It means that if you are a Canadian citizen and have a child outside of Canada, that child will be Canadian, as before. But if your son or daughter then has a child outside of Canada with a non-Canadian, that child (your grandchild) will not be granted citizenship.

When the bill was proposed, its claimed purpose was to curb terrorism (as someone could go to Canada, get citizenship, then move back to their country and pass citizenship on though the generations – those people would enjoy all the freedom of movement that any other Canadian has) and, similarly, limit the cost on the government to evacuate Canadians from danger zones (remember the sudden appearance of 30,000 Canadians in Lebanon in 2006 that requested to be evacuated?)

Fair enough, but what the bill didn’t really consider were the number of Canadians who legitimately live abroad for a certain amount of time, and who may have children who follow in their footsteps.

Of course, by the time this really becomes an issue (say 20 or 30 years out) the law may be amended. Until it is, and if you have a child outside of Canada, just be sure to make them aware of everything in the future.

Edit – I had initially assumed that this amendment to Canadian citizenship would be effective from the date signed, but that was only half correct. Those born before April 2009 would not be affected, yes. But what was unclear is that the rule would be backdated for the parents. So the issue is not 20 or 30 years out, as I originally said, but causing problems now, as this article about a Canadian man born to Canadian parents in Scotland shows. He is now a teacher in Peru, and could not pass citizenship onto his son who was born after the April 2009 deadline.