A lot of people reading this will know, from personal experience, that some people’s emigration journeys are a lot easier than others. In these Expat interviews I have spoken to many individuals who found making the decision to move the hardest part. Unfortunately, for many others, the decision is only the beginning, next will come years of battling with the financial, social and geographical issues. One of the most difficult issues is that of immigration papers and visas. And Karen, knows all about that…
‘I started looking into it to see if we were able to move. At that time my husband and me were both 38 and both self-employed so I wasn’t sure that Australia would even want us. I found out that we had to make the decision quickly since once we were 40 we wouldn’t have enough points to get the visa we wanted,’ she explains. Not being aware of this before they faced the realisation that they may never be able to move to Australia. However, taking the right steps, Karen, managed to find a loophole. ‘I contacted agents and the first two said we wouldn’t be able to get in but the third said to come and talk to him. We did and he thought of a way to get us in. It was a simple as my husband being the first applicant rather than myself. We thought that I would be the main applicant since my IT skills were in demand but it turned out that my husband’s skills as a gardener were also in demand. It was easier for my husband to prove his skill set than it was for me and that made all the difference,’ Karen recalls. If Karen had not have seen that third agent she may have never ended up with the happy life she currently leads. However, for Karen, moving was an absolute must, not a maybe.
“The first time we thought of moving was because my husband’s has poor circulation. He’s a gardener and so it was really beginning to restrict him,’ Karen says. ‘So, we knew that we would need to move to a warmer climate than the UK. We were also sick and tired of the rat race in England. We both spent all our time working and that was no life at all. We wanted somewhere where we could actually do what we want when we want to do it and be part of a community to give back. We wanted our time back!’ she recalls. Having already narrowed down their list of possible countries to one with a hotter climate it would be a spontaneous thought that would lead them to set their hearts on Australia. ‘Before 2002 we had been thinking about moving to Spain but then we went on the holiday of a lifetime to Dubai, Singapore and Australia. We fell in love with Australia. The weather was great and the people were so friendly. Complete strangers would start talking to us (a big change to living near London!) and they were proud of where they lived. It was beautiful and laid back. When we stood in the luggage hall at Heathrow in February I said “Wouldn’t it be great to live in Australia?” At that time I didn’t know where that would lead’. Karen’s of the cuff comment led to a two-year long crusade, until they could finally set up home in Australia. And the process was not at all easy…
‘One of the largest obstacles in our way was the visa process itself. Once you’ve found the right visa the length of time of the visa application can be very long. It took us two years from the time we started getting our skills assessed to visa approval. Having an agent was also great since they talked us through everything, checked everything we did and corrected it when we got it wrong! However you still need a lot of patience and your life goes on hold while you wait for the decision’.
And of course, like most people who move to another country, another massive concern was how her family would cope with the move: ‘some family members weren’t supportive which didn’t help,’ she admits. ‘I’m very close to my family so my husband said it really needed to be my decision. And that was the hardest decision – deciding to leave family and friends in the UK while we set up somewhere else. The second hardest part was telling them. My parents didn’t take it too well at first and it didn’t help that my Mum had a heart attack and needed surgery the year before we were about to go. Some cousins thought that we would change our plans due to that but she was fine after the surgery and it’s one of the things that every expat has to deal with – loved ones in another country being ill’. Her story is a great example of how much drive potential ex-pats need to have. You can’t expect everyone to be happy with your decision but as Karen exemplifies, you have to stick with it none the less.
So, what other advice does Karen have for those wanting to emigrate? ‘Talk to people who have made the move. I wish I had had a place like the Expat forum to go to for advice and support when we were moving. Talk to migration and financial agents. The best piece of advice we were given by a financial advisor was to buy a house as an investment before moving. He said no one would give us a mortgage since we were both self-employed and our excellent credit record wouldn’t transfer to Australia when we moved. That’s what we did otherwise we would still be renting,’ she points out. ‘Join groups when you get to your new home so that you get out and meet people. Don’t expect Australians queuing up at your door to invite you out – we found that you have to go out and meet them and then eventually the invites will start happening’. And Karen also has a lot of advice for the period when planning your move: ‘plan as much as possible in advance since there is a lot to think about when moving country. I used a plan from an emigration paper as the basis for our plan. Work out your finances – I would say that being a finance coach but it does worry me how little people think about finances when moving country. Moving country can be stressful enough without having to worry about money! We actually took two years to move from the UK to Australia to get our sort out businesses and get our finances in better order so that we wouldn’t have to be in the rat race when we got to Australia. Sometimes people rush over here (and I can understand that!) but when you’re here you don’t get any benefits and if you don’t have a support network that can make life very hard,’ she says. And her last point of advice is a familiar one: ‘Potential expats need to be aware that being on holiday in a country and actually living there are very different. When you move country you still have to pay bills just like you did back ‘home’ and often you don’t have a support network’ she says.
So, having got through the lengthy process, would she do anything differently? ‘We stayed with my parents once we had sold our home and that was a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I really got to know my parents in that time since none of us was working. It was a curse because it made us miss them and they missed us even more when we left’.
Despite the difficulties of leaving her family and the emotional roller coaster involved, Karen would not go back on her decision and wouldn’t really consider moving back to England. ‘I wouldn’t consider moving back to the UK. I will visit once we have our citizenship but I can’t ever imagine moving back to the UK to live. Here we are creating the life that we always dreamed of so why move back to the UK? I think that e may be shocked when we visit the UK since we are so used to the life here and people here seem so much happier,’ she says.
There surely must be some things though she misses about home? ‘How can I miss my home when Australia is my home?!’ she asks. ‘We stopped calling the UK home as soon as we moved. The only things I miss are family and friends’. However, it’s not too long before she mentions one of the major things Brits miss when away from home….food! ‘My husband misses some of the biscuits that he used to buy there and we haven’t found anything similar here. Mind you we live in a regional area in South Australia and that’s our choice but living in a regional area also has some issues that we hadn’t thought about. Food seems to be more expensive here and there is less access to medical services. We still have a hospital but for anything really major people tend to be flown to Adelaide which is over 400kms away’ she says. Karen seems to be happy to except that with the peace of her new life comes less choice, something some Expats can’t cope with. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t the odd thing that frustrates her about her new home. ‘I got into the habit of just stating that I didn’t know how things worked whenever I went somewhere like the council offices, so I could get basic help. Otherwise people would make assumptions that we knew things when we didn’t have a clue,’ she states. ‘The language is also different. I went to buy some sheets and towels when we first moved. I asked the assistant where they were in the shop and she replied “Manchester’s over there”. I have a London accent and assumed she must have thought I was from Manchester. It was only when I went to the section that I found out that sheets and towels are referred to as ‘Manchester’. I still have no idea why!’.
The only other downfall is the cost of living. Although many expats assume that England is one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in, that isn’t always the case. ‘The day-to-day cost of living is higher than the UK and higher than we expected. We do live in a regional area of Australia and that does make a difference. Books and some other goods are cheaper to import from the UK or USA than they are to buy locally, which is sad. Although food is more expensive we’ve found that on the whole the quality is a lot better too than the UK’. Again, Karen seems happy to accept that the grass isn’t always greener and that there are some drawbacks to moving. But on the whole, she is incredibly happy with her new life: ‘the best thing about our new life is having time – for ourselves and for our community. We are actually busier now than when we were in the UK but we’re busy doing the things we want to do. When family visit we can take time off to really spend time with them. We’ve had great support from our Rotary club and some of the members are my husband’s best customers now,’ she says. And her leisure time certainly seems to be far better spent now she’s in sunnier climes: ‘Last weekend we were part of the local Christmas Parade with our Rotary club which kicks off the Christmas Season properly and that was great fun. We go for long drives in the country to see local wildlife or go to the beach for lunch. Sometimes we will simply do nothing but enjoy the weather and go for a walk around our local lake, which turns vivid blue from November to March’.
Karen still finds the distance between her and her family difficult, especially since flights to England from Australia are so expensive. But she seems happy to accept that some sacrifices have to be made. And the bigger picture for her is a much happier one, since she has emigrated.