Is Kindle the Choice for Expats and Environmentalists?

By - January 28, 2010 (Updated: December 1, 2014)

The Amazon Kindle 2

The Amazon Kindle 2

Over the past few months, a number of expat blogs have been extolling the virtues of the Amazon Kindle and other similar e-book readers. Before our trip to Vegas, I was actually planning a blog post on why I would never own a Kindle. The lesson I learned – Never say Never. Andrew and several of his team members gave the top presentation at his conference. Their prize – Kindles for all.

Since we now own one, I decided to give it a fair review. The two things I was interested in:

  1. Is Kindle really a good choice for expats?
  2. Is Kindle better for the environment than a book?

Is the Kindle a good choice for expats?

Andrew started researching this question on our flight home from Vegas. Since most expats I know tend to travel by airplane quite frequently, I wanted to know how Kindle fared on the journey. Andrew downloaded a book from Amazon before we left Vegas. It was a fast and easy process, while in the States. The price however was on par with a paperback book. Andrew’s overall assessment was the Kindle is light, easy to read and has loads of battery life. A few downsides arose:

  • The flight crew views Kindle and other e-book readers as electronic devices (although technically they don’t work in the same way as a lap-top or mobile phone) and requires them to be turned off during take-off and landing.
  • The cabin reading lights cause a glare on the screen of the Kindle making reading a bit difficult.

In the interests of giving the Kindle a fair review, I decided to buy and download an e-book from Belgium. A few more issues arose:

  • When I looked at the Kindle website from my Belgian-registered account, the e-book that I wanted actually cost more than the paperback version – What the heck? Andrew told me to use his US-registered account and the price dropped to slightly below the paperback price.
  • I bought and downloaded the book directly through the Kindle, rather than via my computer, and was charged an additional 1.99$ because I wasn’t currently in the USA. (I have since learned this charge does not occur if you download to your computer.)

I am over halfway through my e-book reading experience and I must say that I am pleasantly surprised. The Kindle is light and easy to read, as Andrew said. I don’t get the eye-strain I normally experience from reading on a monitor. It’s very easy to turn pages, adjust text size and make notes (not something I normally do when I read for pleasure but good to know I could if I wanted to.)

So is it good choice for expats? I think it is, if:

  • You are able to buy and download books to your computer to avoid the extra charge for not being in the US.
  • You have a US address you can register with Amazon so you don’t pay the inflated international book prices.
  • You want subscriptions of US magazines and/or newspapers delivered globally
  • You are located somewhere with limited access to English language books (or other languages assuming the Kindle phenomenon will expand to translations at some point)
  • You have limited space for packing/storing paper books

Is Kindle better for the environment than a book?

I’ve been trying to live a greener life lately and one of my important concerns about Kindle was its supposed greenness. I’ve read several articles lately about how using the Kindle or other readers will save paper and therefore trees, thereby being much more environmentally sustainable.  I’m all for saving trees, but I have a hard time believing that any electronic device is particularly sustainable.

I did some further digging, and it seems the jury is still out on this issue. There are a lot of variables that come into play: How many books do you normally read? Do you buy second hand books? Do you read the same book more than once? What about newspaper and magazine subscriptions? A Kindle is obviously not more sustainable than one book, but maybe it is better than a year-long newspaper subscription. I found an interesting article called Books vs. eBooks – A life cycle comparison that talks about all of the different things we have to consider before we ever hope to answer this question.

My verdict

First of all I’m going to cop out by saying ‘there’s no easy answer to either question.’ I’m surprised how much I actually enjoy reading on the Kindle, but I also won’t be giving up books any time soon either.

What Kindle is good for:

  • Saving space in the suitcase when travelling – I normally pack two or three books for a trip of a week or more. Now I can download a few books to the Kindle before I leave home and I don’t have the added weight of extra books I may not have time to read.
  • Saving a few cents on book costs – I say a few cents because currently the biggest complaint about Kindle is the cost of the books. Since I no longer am buying a physical entity, I would expect to pay significantly less; currently that’s not the case. I am cautiously optimistic that the prices will come down as ebook readers catch on, making this a real benefit.
  • Textbooks and manuals – I’ve read that Kindles are being used in schools and universities now and I think this is a HUGE plus. I would have loved to carry all of my university texts on one little device, being able to highlight important passages and make notes without worrying if this would ruin my re-sale value. I think this is where the ebook readers will really excel if used to their full potential.
  • Quickly finding that quote you forgot to mark – Ebooks are searchable so finding the information you want is fast and easy.


What Kindle is not good for:

  • Art books – As a photographer my shelves are filled with books of artistic inspiration. That little greyscale Kindle screen isn’t going to cut it for those.
  • Guidebooks – Similarly I have amassed quite a collection of heavily illustrated guidebooks that I won’t be viewing on Kindle.
  • Reading in the bathtub – You could do it… but I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • Saving the environment – I’m still not convinced that Kindle and its ilk are better for the environment overall than buying used books or going to the *gasp* library…
  • Booklovers – I love books – the feel, the smell, looking at the covers lined up on my shelves. I’m just not ready to give them up yet. I also love bookstores and the Kindle is putting one more nail in the coffin of independent booksellers.

PS – While I was writing this, Apple finally announced the launch of the new iPad (do they not have any women on the team who could have spoken to them about this name…?) Already there is discussion about how green it is.

What are your thoughts? Do you own a Kindle or other ebook reader? Would you?

Looking for more resources for living abroad? Check out our Expat Resources page.

If you like this, you might like:

Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
- 1 day ago


  1. Comment by Laura

    Laura January 28, 2010 at 16:11

    Well done on scoring a freebie.

    Fear of electronics in the bath means that I will always need to buy some real books too. I’ll try to buy those from independent or charity shops in future though, rather than shovelling money into the gaping maw of Waterstones in Brussels.

    Of the books I’ve downloaded so far (both fiction), one had line drawings which appeared perfectly but the other had family trees that I was unable to zoom into – Argh!
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..Poor Ben* =-.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison January 28, 2010 at 17:16

      Ugh, I agree. Waterstones is so overpriced. Not sure if you make it to Amsterdam often but The American Book Center is great, cheaper than Waterstones and also carries some second hand books. Filigrane’s also has a decent English section, although it’s pricey.

      I do enjoy the screen saver drawing on the Kindle. They’re very detailed. But I agree. Some sort of zoom-in tool would be nice.

  2. Comment by Lilacspecs

    Lilacspecs January 28, 2010 at 21:38

    I don’t have one, but if there was one that was actually compatible with living in Europe, I’d love it. I am a book lover, but my collection grows so fast and takes up so much space, it’s just not practical.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison January 29, 2010 at 09:46

      I think Amazon is going to have to change their policies pretty soon re the International costs. Honestly so far, ours works fine over here as long as you do your shopping via the computer rather than the Kindle. If you know someone in the US whose address you can borrow for you account then it’s even better.

      As the book lover, the other place you should check out is the Stonemanor book sale in the spring and fall. Second hand books for 1 euro an inch!

  3. Comment by Laura

    Laura January 28, 2010 at 22:00

    Alison – I’ve not been to Amsterdam yet; it’s on the list of potential birthday mini-break spots though (along with Paris and Lyon, Am will prob remain unvisited, given the options). I ducked into Filigranes to escape a freak hail storm a while ago, I was really too soggy to appreciate it though, must go back. They have zoom in tools – they just only work on the actual text – too frustrating.

    Lilacspecs – The Sony one isn’t incompatible with Europe… it just isn’t as good as it should be (not sure if it would be better in US or not). I’m angry that Borders (UK bookshop, not sure if they were international) has gone bust as I’m limited to Waterstones and WHSmith online now).
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..Poor Ben* =-.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison January 29, 2010 at 09:49

      I love Amsterdam but if you’ve not yet been to Paris it’s pretty incredible. Borders is still alive in the US because I went to one in Vegas. Odd that the UK version is gone now. I’m not sure if either of you has tried De Slegt (I’m sure I’ve spelled that wrong). It’s a Dutch chain that specializes in end of line and second-hand books. The bigger stores have quite a good selection of English books. Still pricey for second hand but cheaper than Waterstones.

  4. Comment by Danielle Barkhouse

    Danielle Barkhouse January 29, 2010 at 13:46

    I love my Kindle, although mine is not the international version.

    One more pro when it comes to using Kindle for textbooks–the text is searchable. I’ve used this feature doing the questions at the end of the chapters in a real estate course.

    One more con–a Kindle cannot be used during aircraft take-offs and landings.
    .-= Danielle Barkhouse´s last blog ..Apology to Fellow Foodies =-.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison January 29, 2010 at 14:04

      Yes, Andrew actually tried having a discussion with the airline hostess as to why his Kindle wouldn’t affect the airplane’s navigation system… he didn’t win 🙂

  5. Pingback: Tweets that mention Is Kindle the Choice for Expats and Environmentalists? | CheeseWeb --

  6. Comment by expatraveler

    expatraveler January 30, 2010 at 03:19

    Interesting review and glad to know that it wouldn’t be your choice. I don’t want to see book businesses close. There are many reasons for that, even with the enjoyment of going into a store to choose a book! I don’t see myself being able to choose one online unless I’ve already been to the store to read it a bit to see if I like it…
    .-= expatraveler´s last blog ..In Need of Some Soul Searching =-.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison January 30, 2010 at 12:47

      Absolutely! I love going to book stores. I think shopping on-line is fine if you know what you want already and are looking for something specific. Book stores are so much more fun to browse. I really miss Chapters and some of the small local book shops in Halifax.

  7. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  8. Comment by Andrew

    Andrew February 1, 2010 at 13:51

    I was always doubtful about using the Kindle as I expected it to be a lot like using a hand held device with a back lit screen. However I’ve found that I do like the e-ink technology as it works a lot like regular text in that it relies on reflective light and contrast. As Alison notes it does have a bit of a reflection of the screen when using a direct light but you can adapt the angle to fix that. The battery life is very good as well (haven’t recharged it yet) because the screen is not active; the Apple iPad will last a lot less longer than a kindle. Another nice feature is that the kindle will play MP3s, so you can combine the kindle with music so you don’t have to carry both an MP3 player and book.

    What is definitely lacking is WiFi. The GSM/3G is good… works fine… but with WiFi being pretty easy to find these days (at home, office, coffee shop, airport, etc) it feels like someone solving a problem that doesn’t really exist… especially as you can have many books on the device, thereby reducing the need to spontaneously download a book. This feature also contributes to the price of the books, because the ‘free’ WhisperNet service costs real money that must be paid. And if you’re not in the US, it’s an additional $1.99 to download a book via WhisperNet. This leads me to my next point…

    I know that I may be expecting a lot, but if the paperback price is the same as or more expensive than the e-book, then it makes it harder to convince people to pay $250+ for this device. The Apple iPad will only be $100-$200 more than a Kindle and although the reading may not be as easy on the eyes as the Kindle, the device will be infinitely more useful. Making this even harder to swallow, big publisher Macmillan is forcing Amazon to sell their books at an even higher price (Amazon Macmillan E-books); this makes the purchase of a Kindle even harder to justify. On top of all this, despite the Kindle being ‘global’, there are a number of surcharges you need to know about; this goes back to my point about WiFi. Sure, you can avoid the international costs by downloading the content to your computer and then copying it over to the kindle, but then you would have paid all that money for device that has a key feature you don’t use.

    All in all, I like the experience of the Kindle: it’s convenient, the text is clear, it’s easy to use, can hold a lot of books, and the battery life is excellent. However, if you’re not traveling a lot or have a reason to carry around a lot of books (like in school), I find it hard to justify the overall cost.

  9. Comment by PATRICIA

    PATRICIA February 26, 2010 at 15:05


  10. Comment by Nancie (Ladyexpat)

    Nancie (Ladyexpat) June 9, 2010 at 01:09

    Living outside of the U.S. and not having an American or Canadian address makes it difficult to download books. I often get the message from Amazon….”not available in your area”. It all depends on copyright and publishers don’t seem to have that figured out yet. I know you can get around this by purchasing Amazon gift certificates, but such a pain. I use my ipod for some reading when I’m on the road. The screen is good, although small. Battery life is the biggest issue for me.

    I worked in the publishing industry for many years, and sadly publishers probably will not (maybe never) pass the physical cost savings onto the consumer. It has to be cheaper to produce an electronic e-book. You have no paper costs, no storage, no shipping and handling, etc. I’m sure there costs involved with the electronic side, but I’m doubtful that they’re as ongoing as those related to paper books. I hope that the authors are receiving increased royalties!

    I now carry a computer, and Ipod, and all my camera equipment when I’m traveling. I’m not sure that I even want to add another gadget to my bag 🙂

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison June 9, 2010 at 09:19

      Hi Nancie, I’m optimistic that Amazon will extend the e-book network into some of the other stores; France, Germany, UK etc. But I agree the prices should be lower but probably never will be. I travel with a lot of gadgets too and I agree, adding one more is not ideal. I think for me it’s a bit of a space saver on longer trips as I normally travel with multiple books. As I said in the article though I wouldn’t have bought one yet myself. I think the technology is still evolving and will improve with a bit more time.

  11. Pingback: Favorite Stumbles for the week June 7th – June 13th | Budget Travelers Sandbox

  12. Comment by jessiev

    jessiev June 22, 2010 at 18:10

    what a great review. i don’t have one, but my mom does and doesn’t use it that much. i just prefer to HOLD a book!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison June 22, 2010 at 18:18

      I’m with you. I love the feel of books and I find them much more convenient. That said, the Kindle does save room in my luggage! Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Comment by Andrew

    Andrew October 24, 2010 at 14:32

    A quick update after a few months of using the Kindle. First, it seems that Amazon has started to ‘include’ the WhisperNet charges as part of the book price, so international downloads don’t incur the extra charge. However, Kindle books do seem to be more expensive than the physical versions, perhaps to cover the extra costs, but more likely because publishers don’t want to cannibalize their existing market.

    Also, I’ve discovered that the introduction of the web browser on the Kindle allows you to check your web mail (like Google) from wherever there is a GSM signal. Makes it convenient when you’re sitting in an airport and just want to check for important mail or other sites.

    I have grown to really like the flexibility of being able to order a book immediately and receive it wirelessly wherever I am. Now that the prices are built-in it isn’t as aggravating.

  14. Comment by Nancie

    Nancie November 19, 2010 at 04:31

    I am now the proud owner of a the new generation Kindle and I love it. Copyright issues seem to be easing. Publishers seem to realize that their product has to flow across borders easily in this digital age. I’ll be traveling with mine this winter, and really looking forward to not having to cart books around.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison November 19, 2010 at 09:18

      Great to know things are getting better! Keep us posted on how it works. As Andrew mentioned above, we’ve noticed Amazon is getting better about some of the extra charges for international users and I’ve also seen is now selling the Kindle and ebooks, so things are definitely changing.

  15. Pingback: Where to buy english books in Brussels | Expat Life in Belgium, Travel and Photography | CheeseWeb

  16. Pingback: The Plantin-Moretus Printing Museum, Antwerp | Expat Life in Belgium, Travel and Photography | CheeseWeb

Comments are closed.

Go top