The Ersatz Expat

I am a 30 something global soul, a perpetual expat.  I was born in the Netherlands to a Dutch/Irish Family.  Since then I have lived in Norway, Nigeria, Turkey and Venezuela.  I went to school and university in the UK and settled there for some years, married an English man and had very normal English life for a while.  Then we decided to have an adventure and took our children and the dog to live abroad, firstly  in Kazakhstan and now at various different locations around Malaysia.

Life as a 21st century expat is very different to my life as a child; we have mobile telephones, the internet and skype so the world is a much smaller place, but  some things remain the same.  There are things you cannot buy away from home, normal everyday things you suddenly hanker for or cultural expectations that lead to strange situations. 

This blog is about how we muddle through daily life as expats and how things have changed from the adventures of my childhood.


  1. Hi Ersatz Expat,

    Not sure if I've been in touch before but I am a Producer on the US travel show House Hunters International. I found your website when looking for expats who might be interested in being a part of the show, I hope you don't mind me contacting you?

    I thought I would reach out to see if you or anyone you know might be interested in taking part in House Hunters International?! Ideally they should be outgoing and fun, aged under 45 and have bought a property within the last few years or are renting a property.

    House Hunters International is a half-hour TV show currently airing on the Home and Garden Television Network (HGTV) in America. The series is designed to de-mystify the international home-buying / renting process, by going behind the scenes of a house hunt where expats and their real estate agents tour 3 homes. At its core, House Hunters International is a travel show concentrating on the idiosyncrasies of the locales and what makes them special and different.

    Here are some examples of the show that you can watch on Youtube: - Barcelona from LA - Vienna from California – Panama from Pennsylvania

    Please do get in touch if you or anyone you know may be interested in the show.

    Best wishes,


    Michelle James
    1-3 St Peter's Street, London N1 8JD - +44 20 7704 3300

  2. Hi i love reading about your adventures. I blog here: and I am looking for people around the world to take part in a little adventure and photo challenge: it would be fabulous to feature Kazakhstan!
    Email me if you are interested.

    1. Dear Anabelle

      Great to hear from you and I will get in touch.

  3. Hello,

    I am the content editor for and have been following your
    blog since you listed it with us at BlogExpat. I think it would be great
    in our series of expat interviews. This would entail questions about being
    an expat, a few pictures, and it would link back to your blog.

    Here is an example of some of the best answers from our anniversary issue:

    If you are interested, just let me know and I will send the questionnaire.
    In any case, keep up the good work!


    Expat Guides, Forums, Classifieds, Job Listings & More:
    Expat Blog Directory: /
    Expat Interviews:
    Expat Author Interviews:
    Expat Services Site & Guide:

    1. Dear Erin

      How wonderful to hear from you and thanks for your interest. I will get in touch separately. All the best


  4. Hello Ersatz Expat,

    Love to read about your adventures here in Kazakhstan. I am a student of the University of Amsterdam and at the moment I am residing in Astana for about 2,5 months in order to get a grasp about the life of the people in Astana, since Kazakhstan is a beautiful unknown spot on the world map that has much to offer. In order to get a better grasp on the lives of the people around here, I would like to hear about your story as an expat as well. Is it possible to meet anytime soon? You can contact me by email:

    Love to hear from you soon,



    I saw that you are born in the Netherlands as well, so maybe we can talk in our own mothertongue!

    1. Dear Giancarlo -glad to hear you are enjoying your time in Astana. It is certainly a wonderful place to live. If you are ever at the AIC meetings I am usually along.

      All the best


  5. Hi - ran across your blog and very interested in picking your brain...Hubby is being courted by a multinational firm to head up an iconic construction project. We are from the USA (Florida), have lived in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and currently in Gurgaon India...

    We are currently living in a 4,000 sq ft 4 bedroom/5 bathroom villa with yard, pool (probably more a large spa than a pool - but several people can hang out in it at the same time)..and servants quarters. We have a car and a driver, live in maid and part timer. We have our dog Sophie with us (cocker spaniel) and a self furnished house (mostly Indian styles).

    What are some questions/expectations we should have for his potential employer? How difficult is it to find western style housing? What about fresh meats and vegetables? What is the expat community like? What about the ladies who lunch? What is the makeup of the expat community? ..would love to hear from you on life in Astana! Thanks!

    1. Dear Anonymous

      Astana is a very interesting place to live but different to all your previous postings.

      Your current house sounds large by Astana standards. Most people live in Apartments because they come the the best security, covered and heated car parks and are cheaper and more efficient to heat in the winter. Our apartment is one of the larger ones I have seen and is 200sqm (about 2,000 sqft) with four bedrooms. Four bedrooms is about the maximum size of an apartment. Houses are available but are more costly so you should ask the prospective employers about your housing allowance. Corporates generally have a good allowance that gets a fairly luxurious apartment with car park space.

      Apartments are generally available furnished and the landlord will furnish to your specification but whether or not you want this will depend on your relocation allowance - Astana is an expensive destination. Most housekeepers/nannies tend to be live out here so the houses do not come with separate living quarters. Before we came out I was sent photos of various accommodation options by our HR. The photos from the Estate Agents were poor in quality and I had to ask for photos and measurements of every room. It is worth insisting because three years later we are the only people we know of the many who arrived with us still living in the same apartment. If you end up somewhere you don't like it is easy to move as the notice on the contracts is usually very short. This means you can move in to an interim apartment before your shipment arrives and use that time to find a longer term let. Some apartments are decorated in a very Kazakh style but more and more are neutral and all seem to come with good kitchens/bathrooms etc.

      Most expats get a car and driver. We didn't and bought our own but Astana has good public transport and cabs are easy to use.

      The dog was relatively easy to import - I needed a certificate from the veterinary health authorities in the UK and my vet filled out the Kazakh import forms. When we arrived we were prepared for her to have to go through a veterinary inspection but she was just handed over to us at Luggage Reclaim - in fact her immigration took less time than ours. The best thing is to get your vet to speak to the Indian authorities who should be able to liaise with Kazakhstan. DEFRA in the UK were very good and will email you the forms if you ask them (just pretend to be in the UK).

      All meat is available here (although pork can be difficult to find). It is generally tasty but watch out for the chicken in the supermarkets - sometimes defrosted chicken is palmed off as 'fresh'. I buy chicken the same day I want to eat it, beef is better quality and keeps a few days. Halal meat is easy to find and is clearly identified if you want it (or to avoid it). Fresh fruit and vegetables is available year round although the prices rise and variety falls in the winter. The bazaars have a better selection than the supermarkets. I have yet to find a meal that I want to eat an cannot make from the ingredients available in the supermarkets/bazaars although sometimes I have to make an ingredient substitution or do some extra prep (grind the sugar from granulated down to caster/ chop my own nuts etc).

      The expat community is getting larger by the day. Three years ago when we arrived it was quite small but as Astana is gaining prominence over Almaty more and more embassies and companies are relocating here. The community is generally friendly and there are groups for just about everything so you will not be without potential friends.

      All in all Astana has been my easiest non European posting so far, I love life here - we are leaving in just a few weeks and I am going to miss our life here very much. I hope this has answered some of your questions but do let me know if there is anything else.

      All the best


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