Moving abroad and creating a new life in a different country can be really hard, especially when you have no friends or family to support you. It’s therefore not surprising that expats tend to enjoy each other’s company and support, and there are many associations and groups around the world which help with this.
One of the most popular websites with expats is simply called Meetup, and the beauty of this site is that anyone can register and set up their own group for a specific group of people in a defined area. The site isn’t aimed only at the expat community, but is a good starting point for making contact with other expat families or local who share similar interests or hobbies. You can also browse through the site before you leave the UK, and start emailing or contacting people so that you have already started building up a network of friends before leaving home.
English Language Newspapers
In areas where there is a high percentage of British expats one of the best sources of meet up groups is the local English language newspaper. As well as being a valuable source of news and local information, the paper will carry adverts for groups, societies and social events for the expat community. Most of these papers will also have a website, making it easy for expats to keep in touch wherever they are living.
For families moving abroad with children, there will often be an active social scene around the local English-speaking school. For new arrivals it can seem intimidating if everyone else seems to have formed friendship groups already, but if expats make the effort to make friends and volunteer for everything going, it is possible to form a large circle of friends very quickly. Other parents can provide huge amounts of information about childcare, schooling and other issues such as accommodation too.
Caledonian and Irish Societies
Even if you don’t have a drop of Scottish or Irish blood, the Scottish and Irish societies across the globe can be great places to meet other expats as well as locals, and have a great time in the process. The Caledonian societies across the world hold Burns Suppers and ceilidh dances as well as promoting the interests of Scotland overseas. There are similar organisations for Welsh and Irish interests, but as yet there is not an established network of English societies.
It appears that Cyprus has pulled back from the brink of bankruptcy, after agreeing at the last minute a bail out deal with the EU in Brussels. Cyprus is home to over 18,000 British expats on a permanent basis, and even more Army personnel who live their temporarily. There is no doubt that Cyprus’s financial difficulties will have both long term and short term impacts on British expats and their finances.
Bail Out Agreement
Under the terms of the agreement with the EU, anyone who has more than 100,000 euros in a Cypriot bank account stands to lose a substantial amount of their savings in a one-off tax. This rule applies to everyone, whether they are a Cypriot resident or not. UK expats with fewer savings are not affected, but many people who have saved hard to fund their new life or retirement face being hit hard by the tax. The only help being offered by the UK government is to guarantee deposits of UK Army personnel who are in Cyprus and have opened accounts there as part of their military duties.
When the Cypriot crisis started, the UK government took the immediate decision to suspend all pension payments into Cyprus bank accounts, asking UK pensioners resident in Cyprus to nominate a UK bank account for their payments instead. Only a third of pensioners have access to a UK account though, leaving as many as 12,000 people unable to access their pensions and suffering considerable financial hardship as a result. Even with access to a UK account, there is still the problem of transferring the money to Cyprus and accessing it with a debit card, especially as the banks have been closed since the crisis started.
Cash, Credit and Debit Cards
The crisis in Cyprus has seen a return to a cash-only society, with it becoming common practice for retailers and other businesses to insist that bills be settled with hard cash rather than by credit or debit payments. If you can get to the cash machine and withdraw funds then this may not cause hardship, but with banks limiting the amounts which can be withdrawn and internet transfers almost impossible, many residents are finding it difficult to get hold of enough cash to carry on their day to day business, even with healthy bank balances. The confidence in the banking system has been shaken to the core, and there is no guarantee that things will get back to normal any time soon.
The current economic conditions in the UK mean that many qualified professionals are leaving the UK in search of a better life overseas. As a nation the UK needs a steady supply of doctors, engineers, pharmacists and academics and increasingly we are looking overseas to find well-qualified people to work in our hospitals and research labs. The problem is that other countries are competing for the same brain power, so how do we make the UK attractive?
Many doctors and scientists who were born and educated overseas are well aware of what it is like to live in the UK, but the government undertakes a program of advertising and public relations to raise awareness levels. This is often done through Universities, and bodies such as the British Council give information regarding postgraduate studies in the UK or research and further training opportunities. The idea is that once a foreign professional comes here to complete their studies, they see how good their lifestyle could be and then stays.
Fast-track Medical Visas
Almost 40% of doctors working in the NHS were born overseas, and the government are currently looking at ways in which to make the visa application process easier for doctors or dentists coming to complete their training or work in the NHS. The system of work permits, visas and the ability to bring a family into the UK is complex, and it appears that the system is putting off many highly skilled medical professionals.
The government system enabling people to apply for visas and come to the UK is based on points and there are different tiers of eligibility. The system is designed to make it easier for high value migrants to settle in the UK. To qualify for the highest points and Tier 1 status, migrants need to show they have exceptional talents, entrepreneur skills or are doing a job that cannot be done by a British worker. Having a position secured in a UK company and sponsorship from an employer can also speed up the process considerably.
The old saying is that the grass is always greener on the other side, and despite the fact that most expats are more than happy with the move abroad, a small percentage every year will return to the UK. Also, there are many people who are only abroad temporarily and whose intention always was to return after a couple of years. There are many good reasons for returning to the UK, although the exact factors will be different in every case.
One of the main reasons for returning to the UK permanently is because of relatives. Sometimes it is simply homesickness, with expats finding it difficult to adjust to life overseas and not seeing relatives on a regular basis. Many families who move abroad discover that as their own parents age and develop health problems that they have no alternative but to sell up and move back to be closer in order to help out with day to day care.
European countries which have historically attracted large numbers of expats are some of those which have been hit hardest by the economic downturn. Portgual, Greece and Spain are going through a period of huge uncertainty, rising taxes and plummeting property prices, and many expats have taken the view that they would far rather be back in the UK where things are altogether more stable, even if this means taking a loss on their foreign property and investments.
Most of us make the move abroad when we are fit and healthy, and we don’t pay much attention to healthcare when deciding where to settle. Although the healthcare systems in countries like Spain and France is as good as here in the UK, being diagnosed with a serious condition can throw life into sharp focus and makes many expats reconsider their decision to live far from friends and family. Language barriers may mean also that expats prefer to return to their UK roots and have their treatment here.
Gone are the days when the pound sterling was worth as much as 1.50 euros. Now we are lucky to get 1.2 euros to the pound, and for retired expats who are reliant on a pension paid in sterling, this is affecting their cost of living to the extent where they are forced to sell up and come home.
The debate about the UK’s future in the European Union is heating up, with the announcement that if the Conservatives win the next election, a referendum will be called allowing the people to vote. The arguments for and against staying in the EU are complex, but expect to hear lots more from people on both sides of the argument before any referendum is called. Here are some of the main reasons why membership of the EU is a good thing for the UK.
Most of the buying and selling we do of British goods are services is with our closest neighbours in Europe. British companies are free to trade with our European partners without restrictions, and this would not be the case if we left the Union. There may also be tariffs placed on British goods, making them more expensive if we were not part of the EU.
The European Union has done more than any other organisation to ensure that the nations of Europe live harmoniously. Gone are the days where European nations regularly went to war with each other, and the period since the advent of the EU has been one of the most stable in history. There is no knowing where the potential break down of the EU would lead the UK, and Europe as a whole.
Freedom of Movement
At present, as a member of the EU a British person has the right to go and live and work in Italy, Germany or France without restrictions. If the UK were to leave the EU this right would not be guaranteed and anyone intending to move abroad would be in the position of having to apply for a visa. Job prospects would be limited and it may also leave the UK in the position of being unable to fill many low paid jobs.
Part of the job of the EU is to regenerate areas which are deprived or have high levels of unemployment. EU money has been used here in the UK to improve rail links, regeneration projects in the Highlands and to fund investment in renewable energies. Leaving the EU would mean all of this money would stop.
Making the move overseas permanently is a huge decision to take, and the exact choice of country will depend on many different factors. However, there are a few countries which consistently top the “best places to live” lists, and it’s no surprise that these countries are also the most popular places for expat Brits.
A recent survey found that Australia was the second best country to be born in and it is an eternally popular destination for British expats. Salaries are high, the climate is favourable, and the Australian economy has been weathering the storm more easily than European nations. The appeal of Australia is enormous, and although there are some hoops to jump through in terms of applying for a visa, over a million Brits have decided to make the move down under.
Switzerland has it all; it’s one of the world’s richest nations, standards of living and salaries are high, and the scenery is the most spectacular in Europe. Job opportunities in Switzerland are what attracts many Brits there, but becoming a permanent resident in Switzerland is not an easy process, unless you have a spare million or two in the bank.
The vibrant, cosmopolitan city of Singapore has been attracting expat Brits for decades. Many multinational companies have offices in Singapore and salaries offered are high for the region. English is widely spoken and Singapore is known for being clean, safe and very family friendly. The weather is warm and tropical, and transport links makes it easy to get back to the UK.
The wide open spaces of New Zealand are what attracts most expats, and the fact that there are so many expat Brits and that English is the country’s language makes settling in easy. The standard of living in New Zealand are good, and the low crime levels and good healthcare and education system means that it is a very popular destination for families trying to escape the rat race in the UK and make a better future for their children.
Moving abroad to live can be a very daunting prospect. A good support network is essential, but it can take some time to get to know people when you move somewhere new. All over the world there are British expats in the same boat, and there are some tried and tested methods of meeting people, exchanging tips and sharing ideas.
Anywhere in the world where there is a large concentration of expats, there will be a local British club or association. Typically these associations will host various social events through the year and are the ideal place to meet people. The hard bit is going along for the first time and forcing yourself to speak to people you don’t know, but people are open and friendly to newcomers and you’ll fit in easily. You don’t need to get into lengthy conversation with everyone you meet, just smile and say hello and let them know you’re open to chatting if they want to.
Even before you move you can get online and start getting ideas and tips from people who are already living overseas. Internet forums for expats are all over the web, so look for one specific to the area you live in or for parents with young children or whatever applies to you best. Facebook can also be a good way to research what is going on in the city or region where you live overseas and using the internet to make new contacts is free, simple and something which can be done from the comfort of your sofa.
Office or School
If you are living overseas with children, school or playgroup can be a valuable source of contacts with the other parents. Many British expat children attend international schools, so get onto the PTA and make contact that way. International companies which employ a large number of expat staff also have an active social scene, and many will have staff dedicated to helping new arrivals settle in and to help with all of those local customs and peculiar laws which newcomers find hard to grasp.
Two of the most popular overseas destinations for UK nationals heading abroad are Australia and France. It is estimated that there are over a million British-born people living in Australia, and over a quarter of a million in France. But what are the factors which keep them from coming home?
Many people who move overseas permanently do so to escape the cold and wet of a British summer, and the fact that we have just had one of the wettest years on record does nothing to encourage them to return home. The outdoor lifestyle is something which most emigrants to warmer climes wish to experience, and once you have had a taste of being able to eat outdoors most of the year it’s hard to imagine returning home.
The world economy has gone through turbulent times in recent years, and the value of properties, salaries and other assets have fallen or risen in value. Many expats take the view of “better the devil you know” and don’t want to risk losing out by moving back home and then being unable to find a job or afford a property in their preferred location. Australia in particular has weathered the economic storm far better than other parts of the world, and staying put may well be the sensible option.
Gone are the days when getting to Australia meant 6 weeks on a boat. Now we think nothing of hopping on a plane, and the simplicity of travel means that moving abroad is no longer the wrench it used to be. Flights are competitively priced, and as more of us start to travel by air, increased competition means the service is getting better too.
Inventions such as Skype and internet mean that keeping in touch with loved ones in the UK is far easier, wherever you are in the world. Homesickness is far less of a factor when you can email pictures every day, or have a Skype call whenever you feel a bit lonely. The cost of this technology is coming down all of the time, and makes being overseas far more affordable.
Living abroad isn’t all endless parties and lying on the beach. Although most people who move abroad do so for a better lifestyle that they can get in the UK, that doesn’t mean that all the day to day boring things like managing your finances can simply be forgotten. In order to make things a little easier, specialist firms offering expat insurance have sprung up in any place where there is a high concentration of foreign residents, such as the south of Spain.
Dealing with insurance can be complex and confusing enough in English, but when you are trying to compare policies in a foreign language it can be totally baffling. A specific expat insurance product or company can either offer policies written in English, or can explain and translate policies written in Spanish. If you ever need to claim on your policy, you will be able to deal with English speaking staff throughout the process.
An expat insurance company or underwriter will be staffed by people in exactly the same position as you. They will know the ins and outs of the Spanish legal system, and how it compares to that of the UK. They will be able to advise on what level of cover to purchase, and how best to protect yourself and your assets against things like fire, theft or even ill health.
Many expats own a home in Spain and also have other properties which they rent out, or manage on behalf of others. There is special holiday rental insurance available through the expat insurance market which is specifically designed to cover houses which are let over the holiday period and this cover is essential for anyone involved in this market.
Most expats living in Spain will take their UK registered car with them when they move, and only buy a Spanish vehicle later. Getting insurance on a UK registered vehicle can be very difficult unless you go to a broker working in the expat community, and they can also help get competitive insurance quotes when the time comes to buy the first Spanish vehicle.
Apart from family and friends, the thing that Brits living overseas miss the most are the peculiarly British food, drink and sweets which are just not available abroad. If you simply can’t live without your favourite brand of teabags or breakfast cereal, there are several options in the USA for getting your Brit food fix.
There are several websites offering the chance to buy all of the products you are familiar with from home. Shopping online is very easy and most companies will deliver anywhere in the United States or Canada. Shipping charges are quite steep though, and you will also pay far more for the products than you would in a UK supermarket. The convenience and ease of purchase though makes it the ideal solution for anyone living miles from a UK food shop.
If you live in areas where there are a lot of British and Irish tourists, you will probably be able to pick up your British favourites such as cans of beans, bottles of diluting orange squash or jars of pickle in the supermarkets along with the rest of your groceries. This is especially the case in the Orlando area, which is popular with both expats and visitors to the theme parks. The selection isn’t enormous though, and for specialist products you will have to look elsewhere.
Small Outlets and Delis
The greatest concentration of specialist shops selling British products is again in Florida. Some sell the tins and packets which you can find online, whereas others specialise in a niche of the market, such as Scottish products or confectionery only. There are also a number of British restaurants or cafés where you can indulge in fish and chips or a cream tea. If you are struggling to find the product you are looking for in stores closer to home or online, and you have no visitors coming over the pond to bring you what you need, many of the smaller independent stores will be happy to take an order over the phone and then send it out to you.