It’s a dream that many people have – leaving Blighty and setting up home abroad. It could be a happy retirement in Spain or a complete relocation of life and work to Australia, but it’s on many people’s wish lists.
According to a recent survey from Experian, 23.4 per cent of people said that they would emigrate if there were no restrictions.
Of course, deciding to pack up your life and move to another country isn’t easy – there are dozens of things to think about, not least where you’re going to live when you get there. And if you have children, their schooling will be paramount.
In 2008 Tania Mattiocco (now 36) went travelling for a year. She fell in love with Australia and decided she wanted to relocate to Byron Bay on the country’s east coast.
“I completely fell in love with Byron; it felt just right and I actually stayed there for quite a while, getting to know the place first,” she said.
Having returned to the UK, Tania discovered that there were many things she’d have to do to make her dream a reality. “There are so many things to think about before you go: finding accommodation, making sure you have enough money to see you through a set period of time and seeing what permits and visas you need, and so on. I suddenly had a list of questions as long as my arm and realised that this had to be something I really wanted to do.”
Indeed, the Experian survey echoes much of this. When asked ‘what steps do you need to take to get there (achieve your ambitions)?’, the three highest responses were: financial support (66.5 per cent), motivation (31.4 per cent) and knowledge (28.2 per cent).
Tania is now an Australian citizen, having been granted citizenship in May 2013. “It’s been a challenge,” she says. “I miss my family and friends. But when I look at the beach, a lifestyle that is more simple and laid back, and the breathing space I have, I know it was absolutely the right choice.”
Tips for emigrating
When you hear stories like this, the lure of emigrating is understandable. It’s not surprising then, that according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in May 2015, 323,000 people emigrated from the UK in 2014. Of these, 43 per cent (139,000) were British citizens.
The reasons for leaving the UK vary – in the ONS report the majority of those emigrating are doing so for work-related reasons (56 per cent). Other reasons include study, returning home after time in the UK and retiring abroad.
Here are the main things to consider if you’re thinking about emigrating:
• Be sure that you want to live there full-time. Living somewhere is very different to visiting for a couple of weeks and falling in love with a place. There are more than enough horror stories about people who pack up their lives to move somewhere else, only to be homesick a few months later. Juliette Somogyi, 56, is planning to move to Tenerife when she retires. “I’ve been going there on holiday for more than 20 years,” she explains. “I know the place and the people really well. I’d certainly recommend that people visit a place at different times of year, or for an extended period, to be sure that it’s right for them.”
• Check out work permits and visas. If you’re being relocated by your employer, then the chances are that all of this will be taken care of. If not, it is vital that you carry out extensive research and ensure that everything is in order before you leave. This can be one of the most complicated parts of the process. Many countries will give you a visa if you have a skilled occupation – Australia is such a country – but you’ll also need to check if there are any age restrictions. Under its skilled migration programme, Australia only allows entry to people between the ages of 18 and 50, for instance. Thankfully, there are many websites that offer advice on this, as well as online eligibility tests. The immigration office for the country you are hoping to move to is also a good place to start.
• Covering the costs. Depending on where you’re moving to, whether you already have a job lined up, and if you’re taking your family with you, the costs could be substantial and could run into thousands, if not tens of thousands of pounds. Not only will you have to pay for flights for yourself and potentially your family, you’ll have to find accommodation too – in some countries you may have to pay a number of months’ rent up front, as well as a security deposit. In Dubai, for example, it’s not unknown for landlords to ask for a whole year upfront (although this isn’t mandatory). You’ll also need to have enough money to tide you over until you get a job if you don’t have one already. In some countries you’ll need to prove you have enough money to sustain you – in Canada, for example, a single person with no dependents will need $11,115 to support themselves. Add the cost of shipping furniture and belongings, and the costs can soar.
• Finding a property. If you decide to rent a property the big advantage today is the internet. Unless you’re heading into the Australian outback, you should be able to find out pretty much all the information you’ll need on rental prices, local neighbourhoods, transport links and the like. Of course, there are no guarantees about the area you’re moving to and if you haven’t visited a particular area before and won’t have the chance to before you move, then check out online forums to get a local’s perspective. As previously mentioned, the terms and conditions for renting will vary from country to country. Make sure you go through a legitimate agent – perhaps one that is a member of a professional body. We will look at buying a property in a moment.
• Healthcare. When you’re feeling well the last thing to enter your mind before emigrating is healthcare, but it should definitely be factored into your plans. The UK is fortunate to have a high-quality, generally free-to-all service in the NHS. This is not necessarily true of other countries and private health insurance may well be your best option. For example, public healthcare is notoriously poor in the US, while its private medical care is arguably among the best in the world. Although emergency care is provided by law, you can expect hefty bills afterwards if you’re not insured. In Spain, on the other hand, the public healthcare service (Sistema Nacional de Salud) is of a generally good quality and expats can use it by obtaining a social security card at the Social Security Treasury Office (Tesorería de la Seguridad Social) and a medical card at their local clinic. In many countries, however, private medical insurance may well be the best option.
• Once again, the standard of education will vary from country to country, and in some instances from state to state. Both the US and Australia, for example, don’t have a national curriculum and education is managed by each state or territory individually. As in the UK, the quality of schools will vary, so it’s important to do your research. You’ll also need to factor in school fees. In Australia state schools are open to expats, but those living in the country with a temporary residency visa (subclass 457) will need to pay the fixed tuition fee charged by their state or territory. Those with a permanent residency visa can send their children to school for free, though ‘voluntary contributions’ are still expected from all students.
• Banking and finances. One of the main things to think about is setting up a bank account in the country you’re moving to. The sooner you do this the better, because you don’t want to incur foreign exchange transaction costs by transferring money from an English bank on a regular basis. In some cases it may be possible to open a bank account before you move if you have certain information to hand. In Australia, to open a bank account you’ll need identification, such as a driver’s licence or passport, proof of an address in Australia and possibly a reference from your old bank in the UK. With regard to taking out credit cards, in Australia as in the UK, your credit history comes into play and you may have to build up your financial history within that country in the first months that you are there. You may find it easier to get a credit card if you already have a job in Australia as your application may be secured against your income. Countries such as Spain offer resident and non-resident accounts, but the charges can vary significantly. Once again, do your research and speak to your UK bank to see if it has a presence in the country you are moving to, as it may be able to help you open an account.
Learning the lingo. If you are heading to a predominantly English-speaking country, the language barrier may not be a concern. Heading to France or Spain is a different issue. Not only might it mean struggling to get by with day-to-day matters, dealing with bureaucracy could also prove problematic. This may mean relying on translators, which isn’t ideal. A working knowledge of a language will stand you in good stead, even if you’re moving to a British enclave in the Costa del Sol. As Juliette Somogyi says: “I know many people who have lived in Tenerife for decades and have little or no Spanish. It causes no end of problems when dealing with the medical profession, or with places such as banks and social security. It’s well worth making the effort.”