Help! I want to leave the UK!
Considering taking that job abroad - or just fancy a change of scene? Make sure you consider all the factors.
The weather has started to turn colder and evenings will soon start drawing in – which makes many of us yearn for warmer climes. And with so many firms advertising roles abroad you may just feel tempted to up sticks and leave.
Indeed, many British expatriates (expats) would cite emigrating as the best move they ever made. And a recent survey by Moneycorp revealed that 80% of British expats believe their children have a better quality of life abroad. Indeed, as a British family who relocated a year ago, I can honestly say we made the right decision.
But don’t underestimate the upheaval involved. Moving a single person hundreds or thousands of miles away takes a lot of work – add on a partner and children and the considerations increase exponentially! Can you all cope with leaving family and friends to adapt to a new life/culture/language? How will your kids feel about leaving their pals and moving to a new school?
So before buying that one-way plane ticket, take a bit of time to research and seriously consider what you’ll be letting yourself in for.
First up – you need to decide why you want to go.
Is it to move to pastures new, to give your family a new experience, to help your/your partner’s career, earn more money or improve your children’s education?
Define what you (and your partner) realistically hope to achieve and you’ll be in a better position to decide if the upheaval of a move abroad is really what you’re looking for.
If your company has offered you an overseas role the “where” has been decided for you. And if not, you probably have an idea or two based on your own, or colleagues/friends experiences.
But either way, it’s time to do some extensive research. Moving country is not like an extended holiday. Dismiss those fond memories from backpacking trips or holidays abroad – living and working in a foreign country, particularly if it involves a different language and culture can be extremely challenging, especially if you have a whole family to consider.
Try and imagine living there – would you have a car or is the public transport good? What’s the climate like – could you (and the family) adjust? What are the pollution levels like? How about education? You can find lots of information on sites such as Britishexpats.com.
Cost of living?
One big draw for moving abroad is often money – after all, who wouldn’t like a bit more left over at the end of the month? Why not head to a country with lower tax rates? But things aren’t necessarily that simple.
For a start, lower taxes usually mean fewer free services (such as healthcare and even schools) so you’ll find yourself paying for many things you previously got for free. With a family this can all add up.
And taking medical insurance as an example, even with insurance many things are not included – 3 routine vaccinations for my son recently cost £125. And foreigners (annoyingly) very often have to pay for things citizens get for free.
Then there is the real cost of living.
Check out Mercer’s annual “Cost of Living” survey, which measures the comparative cost of items including housing, transport, food, clothing and entertainment, worldwide.
Prices are compared to New York, not London, but they are still very useful. Indeed, many multinational companies and governments use it to determine compensation allowances for expatriate employees.
The 2011 survey revealed that currency fluctuations and price movements in the past 12 months have had a significant effect, worldwide. Rising petrol prices, and a lack of expat rental properties (while demand is high) are two reasons routinely given for an increase in cost of living in many cities.
Unsurprisingly, cities such as Tokyo, Moscow, Geneva, Singapore and Hong Kong are in the top ten most expensive cities, with London at position 18.
But Australian cities (home to many British expats) have witnessed some dramatic leaps up the rankings, largely due to the Australian dollar strengthening against the US dollar.
If you can, speak to expats who have moved to the city of your choice and ask about their real cost of living – how much do they spend on food/rent/bills/car etc?
Now set up a spreadsheet and start filling it with your approximate monthly costing. Have you noted all the taxes payable? How much would you need to earn to make it worthwhile? Spend some time doing this early, as the last thing you want is to be exceeding your income far from home.
If you will be relocating with your company, your visa requirements are likely to be handled for you.
If not, you’ve got more research to do. Note that many countries including Australia, New Zealand and Canada work on points-based systems where you’ll need a certain number to apply for a visa. Some are even age sensitive.
Many countries will look more favourably on those who have a job lined up. Take a look at your country of choice’s embassy website to find out how to apply – and bear in mind, visas can often take 6-12 months to be processed.
And of course, there are the kids. Young children are very adaptable – our three are under the age of 6 and have taken relocating in their stride. But things can be very different for teenagers.
Involving older children in decision making from an early stage can be helpful – as can including other family members.
Can you cope?
Finally, while finances and logistics are important, happiness is arguably more so. Moving far away from family and friends can be very lonely, in particular if one partner will be staying at home to look after the kids.
And while Skype and social networking sites are great for staying in touch with friends back home, most of us need friends around the corner too!
You really have to be prepared to put yourself out there to meet people and create a new social network, in a way you never would at home. Are you happy to do that? And if one partner is putting their career on hold as they sure they are happy to do so? Spend some time laying all cards on the table early, and you can avoid problems when you’re far from home.
Relocating can really be an amazing experience, but not one to be taken lightly.
Happy decision making!