Living and Working in Ukraine Blog

I live in Kherson Ukraine with my wife Anna and my stepdaughter Sveta. This blog chronicles my life, love and learning with my family, friends and work in the country I now call home. I work with various Ukrainians, foreigners, Ukrainian businesses and foreign businesses to help them succeed in Ukraine.

Caravela Ukraine Services Page

Visit this page to see a listing of our translation, language courses and consulting services.

Caravela Helps Ukrainian Startup

Tom Laughlin and Sveta Zorina, of Caravela Ukraine, were recently given a contract to supply executive, marketing and sales management services to Designs by Vorinina, a Ukrainian clothing company.  Oksana Voronina of Kherson Ukraine was given a grant from The New Generation Community CenterKherson Local Employment Partnership which she used to buy an embroidery machine to start a clothing manufacturing company.  The grant is part of the Inclusive Labor Market for Jobs in Ukraine project, implemented by the International Labor Organization and funded by the Government of the Kingdom of Denmark.  She named the company Designs by Voronina which offers custom embroidery services and is creating a line clothing and household accessories.

Instagram/Facebook @designsbyvoronina

IELTS and a weekend in Odessa

Lesia and Sveta took the Academic IELTS test in Odessa this weekend.  They took the test so that we can work together to help people prepare for the full range of English proficiency tests including IELTS, TOFEL, and other English proficiency tests.  See more information on our Services page.

Protecting Your Money In Ukraine

This post captures the lessons I have learned about the ins and outs of financial transactions in Ukraine, and other countries, and the strategies I use to protect myself.  I am not a lawyer, financial expert or computer expert so anyone reading this should take that into consideration.

The way I move money to Ukraine has evolved since I first came here in 2016.  On my first trip I brought sufficient cash to pay for most of my expenses, used my credit cards for some transactions, used my ATM card to get cash and activated the international service on my cell phone so I could speak directly with my bank.  

The first rule I use when I travel is, I carry as much cash as I want but never carry any of credit or ATM cards unless I plan to use them at that moment.  If you are robbed and you have cash they will take the cash and leave you alone.  If you have cards then they can choose to coerce the PIN numbers from you and take cash from an ATM machine.  If you're really unlucky they can kidnap you to prevent you from reporting your card stolen and max out your cash limit the next day or two.  If your credit card does not have a PIN number then you are in even bigger trouble because there is no way for you to prove that to them and they may choose to torture you to make sure.  Today, I have Google Pay on my phone.  This is not 100% protection against someone taking my phone and forcing me to give them the PIN to my phone but it can't be used to get cash and it's easy to turn off as soon as I can get onto the internet.  Also, if I lose my phone I can turn off Google Pay without canceling my card.  Finally, banking laws in the U.S. and many other countries require the banks to reverse any charges that are fraudulent on a credit card, even if you lose control of your card.  I never carry a debit card and I usually use my credit card to get cash because of the fraud protection.  I have also found that banks block ATM cards in many countries but I can still use my credit card to get cash if I need it.

Now that I live here I need to regularly move money from my bank in the U.S.  Even though I use Google Pay as much as possible I still need to bring cash here.  I use Western Union for that.  There are less expensive means to move money but I have not found any to be as convenient and reliable as Western Union.  I can also send money directly to other people if necessary which means I don't actually need to handle the cash or do a domestic bank transfer to pay rent and make other substantial payments.  This also means that I have documentation for the payment.  The other reason to use Western Union, and other similar services, is that it does not require that I have a domestic bank account.

Banking is Ukraine and other countries can be tricky.  The banking laws in Ukraine and the banks themselves leave the consumer with significantly less protection than other countries.  Customer service is also lacking and the banking systems don't work very well.  I have an account here because it makes paying phone and other bills much more convenient.  All you need to open an account is a Temporary Residence Permit and a Ukrainian Tax Number.  For help with these things I use Zalizniak and Associates in Kyiv.  If the account is compromised my exposure is limited to the balance of my account.  I do not, nor will I ever have, a credit card from a bank in Ukraine.  My wife had her credit card information stolen and within an hour they had maxed out her card at a business in Russia.  The people at the bank did everything from accuse her of trying to cheat the system to saying that the matter was under investigation but it would take at least three months to complete the investigation.  The bank issued her a new card and soon raised her credit limit.  When she tried to get them to decrease the credit limit they told her that the limit was up to the bank and they would not change it.  She canceled the account and never got resolution to the money that was stolen.

Managing bank accounts remotely is also risky.  My wife had her credit card information stolen because she used public WiFi to access her banking app.  Yes, it was a rookie move but the bank app did not have adequate security to prevent fraud.  She should have used her mobile internet which is significantly more secure.  In addition, you have to be careful even when putting your information into your computer on a secure private network.  Tracking programs can record keystrokes on your computer so you need to have an up-to-date virus and malware system on your computer.  The most secure way to manage your bank accounts is by phone.  For only a few dollars a month you can get calling to North American from anywhere with Internet on Skype and doing your banking by phone will be more secure than by computer or a phone app.

Finally, there are real estate and business financial transactions.  I never, under any circumstances, make any substantial payments for anything in Ukraine without consulting my lawyer, period.  Real estate and contract law in Ukraine is substantially different and the legal system is very weak compared to most western countries.

I hope this is helpful.  If you have any questions on this or other aspects of living and doing business in Ukraine feel free to write us.

No Water for Two Days

Each year in April in Kherson they shut down the entire water system and sanitize it.  Although it's a bit of an inconvenience it does allow us to have safe tap water, unlike Mexico City where we used bottled water even to brush our teeth.

I was almost arrested at the airport in Ukraine...almost!

I used to carry a short (16 inch) collapsible baton in Ukraine for self protection, primarily from the stray dogs in the small city where I live. On a trip back to the U.S. I had it in my luggage and the security screening at the door entering the airport noticed it. Here's what happened.

  • The person running the x-ray machine asked me to take out the baton.
  • She called over her colleague and they chatted for a moment. Then she asked me to wait.
  • An airport security guard came over, shrugged and called someone on his phone.
  • A second airport security guard came over, they talked, he shrugged and he called someone on his phone.
  • A third airport security guard came over, they all talked and he said to me, "criminal" while pointing at the baton. He called someone on his phone.
  • Two airport police officers showed up, looked at the baton and they called someone. I used my phone to translate a question, "will I make my flight?" They shrugged.
  • Forty minutes after this all began two men in officer uniforms showed up. One was clearly the person in charge.
  • Here's what happened next. 

The guy in charge picked up the baton with his thumb and index finger as if it were a dead rat. Looked at the two police officers and said something in Ukrainian that I didn't understand. From the look on his face it looked like he was saying something like, "Are you stupid?" Then I heard them say something about a "military weapon". He then held it between his index fingers and said something like, "It's only this long." By now the security guards had scattered and the two police officers where clearly looking for some way to do the same. The officer in charge handed me the baton, said something in Ukrainian, and shook my hand. I said thank you, smiled and never brought that baton to the airport again.

In Ukraine, like many cultures and societies classified as "formal", there is always one person in a position of authority who interprets the rules and has wide discretion in their application. Submitting to their authority is usually the best initial strategy. You can always argue later. If you begin by arguing you'll be challenging that authority which is rarely a good idea.

I hope this is helpful.  If you have any questions this or other aspects of living and doing business in Ukraine feel free to write us.

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