Travel safe!

24 11 2010

According to the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization),there were over 922 million international tourist arrivals in the world in 2008, the amount can more than double if you include business arrivals. Unfortunately a great part of these trips include some sort of incident. Have you ever wondered what could go wrong during your trip? You think you are immune to issues while you travel?

Think again.

Incidents can go from simply losing your luggage to serious health issues or natural disasters. More than 1 million pieces of luggage were lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered by U.S. airlines from May to July, 2007. The Australian Government handles over 25,000 cases involving Australians in difficulty overseas every year. This includes over 1,200 hospitalisations, 900 deaths and 50 evacuations of Australians to another location for medical purposes.

Unfortunately I was the latest addition to the statistics. After a long and tiring 30+ hour work trip, I went through one of the most annoying travel experiences a traveller can go through: I lost both my passports and was in the countryside of a foreign country without identification or a way out. One could say that “these things happen”, however it is a pretty serious situation that can have very serious consequences.

Later, I was surprised to find out that there is an average of about 600 identified cases of fraud to Australian passports every year and some 15000 passports being lost/stolen. The Australian government keeps a Document Alert List (DAL) database within the national Movement Alert List (MAL) system holding information on over 1.6 million problematical travel documents such as lost, stolen or fraudulently altered passports.

I have to admit that this information made me feel a bit better as I am not the only traveller to lose my passport overseas. However the statistics didn’t help me to solve my problem. I was very lucky to be able to rely on the FANTASTIC support of both Brazilian and Australian consulates who were friendly, helpful and supportive to ensure that I could go back home the safest way and as quick as possible.

After this experience, I thought I would share a few of my learnings. Following these tips can help you avoid issues or, if you get in trouble, to find your way out the best way possible

Here we go:

1.       First one is pretty obvious but it never hurts to reinforce: Don’t lose your passport! EVER! Keep it close and protected. Avoid keeping it your back pocket as it can fall or be stolen without you noticing. Leave it in a protected place and create your own routine to get it in and out. For you to have an idea of the incentive, a passport can be sold for up to A$10k on the black market.

2.       Let the local Embassy know that you are travelling to that foreign country, for how long and where you will be staying. A simple e-mail or phone call is normally sufficient and, in case of an emergency such as a natural disaster, they can not only find you and provide support but also let your loved ones back home know that you are safe. Regardless of what nationality you are, it is very easy to find out Embassy contact details on the internet.

3.       Get insurance. Again: GET INSURANCE! Medical emergencies are the most obvious situations where you would need this type of support, however even losing your passport can be very troublesome and expensive. You will incur in additional costs with accommodation, phone calls, flights which are very likely to be substantial. This can easily reach thousands of dollars while it usually only costs you $100 or so to get insurance. Do not rely only on the insurance of your credit card – if you want to do so make sure you check the conditions and what type of cover is being offered. There is nothing worse than being caught off-guard.

4.       Do your research. While doing your travel planning, check official travel advice from your Government. The Australian Government maintains a very good website called smarttraveller.org which provide details about safety and special conditions Australians need to be aware of when in that country. The Brazilian Governement also has a website (check) however it is not as good as the Australian one.

5.       If you have dual citizenship, consider carefully which one you use to get into a country: remember that what you use to get in is what you need to use to get out and in case of an emergency you will normally be treated by the nationality that you used to get in the country.

6.       Give yourself plenty of time at the airport. I appreciate it is terrible to wait but it is much more likely to lose your stuff when you are in a hurry. Also, airport security procedures take time and you need to make sure you do comply with all the requirements – especially immigration. As a rule of thumb, arrive at the airport a couple of hours before the flight if it is international and at least an hour if you are flying domestic. Make sure you are in front of the gate at least 25 minutes before your scheduled departure. If you are keen to shop on duty free – arrive earlier and shop with time. You can always use time to compare prices and, who knows, find a bargain?

Travel can be a great experience – a great opportunity to relax and enjoy or just to get things done if it is a business trip. When traveling be careful and travel safe. You don’t want to ruin your holiday or business trip because of a silly mistake.

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“I can’t get no satisfaction” from the ATO

3 11 2010

The famous American scientist, inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) once said: “‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.  Since the introduction of the Pay-As-You-Earn scheme, developed by the British civil servant Sir Paul Chambers (1904–1981), tax revenues have raised substantially around the world as employers have started collecting taxes directly from employees from their wages and passing them directly to governments.

Most citizens have no option but to comply, and governments use tax benefits as a way to stimulate certain areas of the economy which would generate growth and benefit the country according to the policy-of-the-day of the current government.

The Stones are tax-savvy. Shouldn't we all be?

An interesting curiosity is the band Rolling Stones recognising this and fighting back. Guitarist Keith Richards said recently that  “The whole business thing is predicated a lot on the tax laws”…“It’s why we rehearse in Canada and not in the U.S. A lot of our astute moves have been basically keeping up with tax laws, where to go, where not to put it. Whether to sit on it or not. We left England because we’d be paying 98 cents on the dollar.” This might not be an exaggeration and Governments are constantly trying to find ways to make sure they collect as much taxes as they can. However there is more than one way to do things.

Countries like Singapore and Dubai have very favourable tax regimes in order to encourage investment. Even China does that in Hong Kong. They rely on foreign revenues and revert it in infrastructure and development – creating an upward spiral of growth. On the other hand, countries like Australia and the United States try to make sure that they hold on to as much tax revenue from their ordinary citizens as they can. Australia for example, assesses income tax for their Citizens on worldwide revenue – if you are Australian and have revenues in other countries, even if it has nothing to do with Australia, you must declare it and pay the tax man. This can be a contradiction to the principle of income tax, as the revenue might not have been generated or related to anything in Australia. Although there are mechanisms in place to avoid double taxation, I personally believe this to be perverse and unfair – a country should tax revenues from its citizens but should only be allowed to do so if it contributes to it.

Naivety apart, governments just want to maximise their return. In order to achieve that, different rules apply to organisations (i.e. companies). While an individual is often taxed total (with some deductions permitted), corporate income taxes often tax net income (the difference between gross receipts, expenses, and additional write-offs) which are most of time audited by independent parties and declared on stock exchanges.

It all has to do with incentives. According to Steven Levitt, who wrote the best seller Freakonomics there are three types of incentives: moral, social and economic. Although the tax man doesn’t want us to know that, the ability for them to audit our revenue is limited and that is why they withhold our tax in advance from individuals. In regards to companies, heavy penalties apply if they misreport tax – so they feel compelled to comply. Also, the fact that most organisations need to report their net revenue to stock exchanges makes it harder for them to misreport.

Regardless, taxation has always been a controversial and complex topic and I would rather see a simpler approach. Taxation is indeed part of life – as Ben Franklin said we can’t avoid it – but why make it so complicated? We should all indeed contribute to our Government so we have decent public services and I would like to do it in a fair and simple way – is it too much to ask? Isn’t there is a way to make it simpler? I would love to see schemes like Hong Kong’s being replicated…





!Me encanta Colombia!

31 10 2010


It’s been almost ten years since I have been to Colombia. Last time was in 2003, when I came to Medellin to deliver of a project for a Unisys client. Although I didn’t have much chance to explore the city, I was delighted by the relaxed and friendly nature of the Colombians, not to mention the fantastic coffee and food. Parrillada, a local latin roast, is well worth trying.

This time I came to work in the countryside, in the small village called Montelibano, however I was able to enjoy Bogota on my way in and out which proved to be an amazing experience.

Bogota is the capital city of Colombia, as well as the most populous city in the country, with an estimated 8 million people living in it. It is a fantastic city; however it still has a bad reputation from the last century, when it was considered to be one of the most violent cities in the world. If you add issues with security in the countryside, where paramilitary groups still operate and fund themselves through drug trade, you must be very careful when going around.

However, during the last 10-15 years, the government has invested heavily in improving the security situation and manage the bad reputation. I have to admit I was impressed by the amount of police and military in the street and, although I was always careful (same I would be in Brazil) I felt relatively safe while going out in DC. Colombia is a great place for tourism and I would recommend it as holiday destination, especially if you would consider places such as Cartagena and Santa Marta.

However, this post is about recommending a place I loved in Bogota. Andres Carne de Res is a restaurant/nightclub in Calle 82 (apparently there is a better version in Chia, which I didn’t have a chance to go). It has amazing food, beautiful people, great music, friendly and helpful staff. The restaurant has a very informal layout and serves the most amazing meat. Their mojitos are served in a bow decorated with Colombian drawings and the abundance of fruit (they serve you coconut instead of peanuts) in all drinks is a very interesting curiosity. Colombians love to drink, and I did try their “aguardiente”, a sugar cane rum-like spirit which I wasn’t brave enough to go past the first shot.

The bottle had a picture of the Virgin Mary on the back – probably a warning that you might meet her in person if you drink too much of that stuff…

So if you ever have a chance to come to Colombia, make sure you head there for a good night in town.

Saludos!





That “flip” thing

7 02 2010

It had to be a viral… smart advertisement companies are using the web to come up with better way of selling products. And today I found that that “Bondi Got Flipped” video I enjoyed is just another viral.

The product is a small videocamera called MinoHD, which records video in HD. Selling point is that it is small, easy to use, relatively cheap and records video in good quality. I like the ad, so don’t mind giving the manufacturer some space on the blog. 🙂

They have created a online community where people with their Mino’s can upload their videos and share content online.  If you want to find out more about their product and the online community click here. Below the official video which got released a few weeks after the first one.

I found a nice review of the product. Not bad…

Hope you enjoy it!





MBAs and GMAT

25 01 2010

I have been flirting with the idea of attending an MBA. The benefits for someone to attend such course at a top business school far outweigh the cost (i.e. it is a great investment). It would not only boost your career but provide an opportunity to focus on a different area in line with your life plans.

The admission process for a decent business school has different criteria depending to where you are applying. As a rule of thumb, most schools require some sort of reference letter and demonstration of academic and professional excellence (e.g. transcripts and your CV with real achievements). All this evidence is required to measure your aptitude to succeed academically in graduate business studies. The most reputable business schools in the world require you to do specific tests to assist that evaluation. One of the most relevant ones is the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

The GMAT is computer based exam which takes advantage of adaptive techniques to evaluate student performance. By adaptative I mean that the test “learns” from your answers so the next questions will become harder or easier depending on how well you are performing. The exam mainly focuses on logic, mathematics and English and it is delivered in test centres pretty much anywhere around the world. You can find a list of authorised test centres here, including Brazil, Singapore and Australia.

The exam is divided in three areas: Analytical Writing Assessment, Quantitative Section and Verbal Section and the examinee has four hours to complete all three. Scores are valid for five years from the date the test taker sits for the exam to the date of matriculation (i.e. acceptance, not until the date of application).

The maximum GMAT score is 800. Over the 3 years concluding in October 2009, the mean score has been 538.5. However, if you want to attend one of the top Business Schools, you would probably need something between 600 to 700. There are no minimum requirement for schools such as INSEAD and Harvard, however mean INSEAD score was 703 in 2007. In the Harvard Business School 2009 class the lowest GMAT score was 700 and highest was 740.

Happy studying!





Where should you buy it? Try Mustafa*!

22 12 2009

Singapore has some unique experiences and Mustafa Centre is definitively one of them. Imagine a store where you can find everything from the latest electronic gadget, groceries for the week, sports clothing, brand new luxury and not so fancy watches, office supplies and even intimate toiletries. Right, I know you have also been to a shopping mall before however it is not exactly like Mustafa.

The shop looks like a 4 storey 24×7 flea market spread across 2 blocks of Little India. Traffic in front is chaotic and, if you have a backpack or big bag, you are required to either leave it at the door or wrap it with hellerman tape. With shelves full of merchandise that almost fall over you, it is crammed with people from all nationalities trying to find a good bargain.

There doesn’t seem to be much logic on how merchandise is displayed  throughout the store. I wasn’t able to find sense in having the electronics department right in front of groceries and shoes. Sales staff is not that friendly and knowleageble of the products and if you are looking for electronics, don’t expect to have someone at your service explaining what the differences between product TX47a and TY48 are (try Funan, close to City Hall MRT, if you are looking for electronics) Also, not sure if it was just bad luck, but there was a lot of people with strong BO. Couldn’t figure why as the shop has a pretty good deodorant section.

However I have to admit: if you do your homework, know what you want to buy and don’t mind crowded places then it is actually a good shopping experience. Prices are generally low (not everything is “dirty cheap” as some people would say to you) and you can find a few bargains around the shop. Also, I found the informal “supermarket-like” atmosphere of the shop really care free as I could walk through the aisles and look for the goods I was after. It is really different shopping experience which is definitively worth a try (at least once!). Shopping at Mustafa has made it to my “list of things to do in Singapore”.

Mustafa is located at 145 Syed Alwi Rd, Singapore 207704, Singapore Tel: 65 62955855.

* no, I didn’t make a penny or get a discount for this post 🙂





Bondi got flipped!

1 11 2009

Now, I have missed the dust storm but this is too much to miss. Bondi got “flipped”…

Aparrently, this is a new surfing phenomenon which was started today and is called “Towel Surfing” !?!?!? According to the poster of the video below over 200 people joined in synchronous dance on their towels in a perfectly choreographed routine that amazed onlookers. Have a look:

Now that looks very much like the T-Mobile video where a number of dancers stunned people in Waterloo station in the middle of the day when the speakers that normally tell train times started playing music:

So do you know what that this Bondi thing was all about?