Becoming an Expat

In 2014, I decided, kind of half-heartedly, that I wanted to see what my options abroad were.  I had always felt like home wasn’t really home. I wanted to see what else was out there.  By this time, I had done some pretty heavy travelling and was keen to carry on with exploring the world.

I had a friend in London who agreed to let me stay with him for a few weeks while I sorted myself out.  Originally, I decided to come to London and use it as a starting point for a move to the north – to Edinburgh.

I panicked a bit about moving to London without a job, having worked my entire life, so ended up taking a teaching contract in Bulgaria for a few weeks, whilst I job hunted in the UK.

Right, I’ve gotten ahead of myself a bit.  How did I end up in the UK?  Where did it all go wrong in Canada?!  In 2014, I made the conscious decision to start saving and start purging my personal belongings.  I informed my family that I was *thinking* about moving abroad, and that I had hoped to go the following year.  I gave up my city centre flat and moved to the suburbs in an attempt to save some money.  I stopped going out every night after work for drinks and cut down on my take aways.  I didn’t travel far, and I didn’t do a whole lot of anything for the year leading up to my relocation.

Once I made my mind up and had some significant savings, I did the visa application (Tier 5 – Youth Mobility Scheme), drove to Halifax to do my biometrics and visa appointment, and began the waiting game.

There was really nothing in Canada that drove me to want to leave.  I had a good social circle, my family was all 5 minutes away, my job was good, I had my own flat and car and everything was relatively normal.  I was dating a lot and going out a lot with my friends, and generally having a pretty great life, no different than any other average 20 something.  I just felt like something was lacking; something I wouldn’t get in my small city.  At least by moving to London, I’d have Europe on my doorstep and many more options.

A few days after my appointment in Halifax, I received confirmation of my visa and my move date was clearly listed on the visa in my passport: 13 June 2015.  I informed my family that I got the visa, and told 1 colleague.  We had a long chat before I came clean to my boss about my plans.  I was able to provide three months’ notice for my job, so was able to be a part of the hiring process of my replacement, do proper hand over and finish up some major projects I was working on.

Before I left Canada, I did a bit of research on things like bank accounts, jobs, travel, etc, but wasn’t overly prepared upon arrival.  I managed to sort a mobile out (Giff Gaff) before I left Canada, but everything else would be dealt with upon arrival.

I spent a few days in London before I went off to Bulgaria to work for a few weeks.  From there, I was applying to jobs in London, hoping I’d find something relatively quickly – which, luckily enough, I did.

My top tips for coming to the UK:

  • Save as much money as you can.  Moving is bloody expensive.  Moving to London is double expensive.  I had our payroll administrator pay my wages into 2 separate accounts – 1 would be general payment for rent, living expenses, etc, and the other went into an account ear marked for my relocation.
  • Once you’ve decided you want to embark on moving abroad, start phasing unnecessary expenses out – cut down on nights out, takeaways, travel, shopping, etc.
  • You’re not likely to find work before arriving, but send some feeler emails out to recruitment agencies.  The big ones like Reed & Hays are good, but you’ll want to register with ones near to where you’re planning on living.   With enough savings, you can really worry about getting registered when you arrive.  Take on temp jobs that are thrown your way to tie you over.
  • Don’t sign a lease on a flat straight away.  Stay in hostels & Airbnbs in different boroughs so you can figure out where you like and where you don’t.  Get a proper feel for London (or wherever you end up), before you commit to a flat (and housemates) you don’t really like.
  • Opening a bank account is a ball ache.  The money laundering laws have changed even since I’ve been here and I had a hard time opening an account in 2015.  My advice is to use Transferwise and get a borderless account.  For a free transfer, use this code: https://transferwise.com/u/erinm50
  • GiffGaff is one of the best ways to get a mobile phone (super cheap).
  • Sign up for things like Meetup.com and find facebook groups for other expats.  You’ll get lonely when you’re here, so its nice to have a sense of home when times get tough.

What are some of the misconceptions of living abroad?

  • That life is a party.  That you’re always doing amazing, cool things.  The reality is, you will need to work.  You will have to figure out work / life balance.  You’ll be tired.  You’ll want a takeaway in bed more Fridays than not.
  • You don’t travel 24/7.  Yes, there are so many options on your doorstep and crazy cheap flights, but like the point above, you will be tired.
  • London is exhausting.  Everything makes you tired.  You’ll develop a love / hate relationship with it.

What is true about living abroad, specifically in London? It’s god damn expensive, but it is lovely.  I’ve been able to do loads of travelling, have made incredible friends from around the world, and have a wonderful husband and doggy.  I’m almost into my third year of being an expat and while sometimes its a bit more tough than I would have envisaged, it has been brilliant.  I switched from Tier 5 to FLR(M) in 2017 after I got married, so will be here for the long haul.

Want more info on living abroad?  Send me your questions!  I’ll go into greater detail about switching visas, the FLR(M) visa, and what it was like to get married with the visa process looming in the background.

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My first day in London, June 2015

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