Things To Know Before You Go – Expat Tips From American In England

The Return

About a week ago I was approached by HiFX who asked me to submit a tip to their new expat tip page. Submitting my tip made me realize that I have loads of quality advice for those thinking about a life abroad, so I thought I would share with you some tips I think everyone should know before living an expat life.

As many of you already know, I met my husband through a UK dating site six years ago and left my country for his. I will admit that despite the sweetness of my life with him, there have been a few challenges over the years most of which have involved money.

So let’s start with a few expat money-saving  ‘ Know before you go ‘ tips.

1) The high and hidden costs of shipping your household goods.

Any move is costly and when your move is one that takes you and the accumulated contents of your home to a distant shore, you already know that it is going to be considerably more expensive than renting a van for an across town move where you pay your friends for their labor with cold pizza and warm beer.

It can be difficult to know what to believe when searching for a shipper to safeguard your household goods. I shipped two, 200 cubic ft containers several years apart after my initial move to the UK and both taught me expensive lessons in what to avoid. My advice is pay close attention to what people are saying in online forums and dig deep to find both the good and bad experiences of others.

Be sure you completely understand certain details such as shipping timelines after your arrival date in your new country because your costs can double if you overlook areas that are easy to miss in online sites particularly, as in my case, with the UK Customs website.

Once found, some sections may be difficult to interpret if you’ve never shipped anything to another country and despite having two container moves with the same shipper, the company I chose never mentioned several issues that were very costly for me.

2) Do not put off your getting a driver’s license in your new country.

I did, and it is a decision that has cost hundreds of pounds and I still don’t have a UK license yet. When I moved here, I was allowed by law to drive for a year on my US license and I did, but I put off getting one in the UK for a variety of reasons most of which had to do with money. I remember being more than a bit shocked by the multiple fees and high cost and because I had so many other expenses that first year, such as multiple visas, shipping fees and a laundry list of other items, I just put it off.

My delay of five years made it necessary to hire a driving instructor to gain time and experience behind the wheel again. I wrote about this a few years ago when my husband discovered the cost of insuring me as a new driver under a provisional license. You can read my tale of woe by clicking on  ‘ What Do You Mean I Can’t Drive Your Car! ‘

3) Staying sane despite banking drama and a loss of financial identity.

When you move to another country you can kiss your financial history goodbye. You have no credit, no work history, and no easily verified qualifications such as your high school diploma or university degree. If you move for love as I did versus being brought over on a work contract, you may struggle to find employment that suits your skills and work experience.

Even volunteering can be difficult due to the expense and time factor in getting the almost aways required police background check. When an organization has a group of people to choose from, even an education degree won’t make you more desirable if your background checks involve contacts in another country.

As for banking and new accounts, go back in your mind to your earliest banking experiences and double the stress involved in setting up even the most basic of checking accounts like those they generally reserve for people too young to have needed one before applying.

All of the above can be disheartening when you are trying to build a new life, but sometimes you find a business that is all help and no hassle and those are the ones who help make the transition easier.

My ‘Know Before You Go’ list has increased during my time as an expat and I am always interested in the experiences and advice of others who’ve left home to create one in another country.

Please share an expat tip you wish you’d known before you made your big move or if you are considering a move abroad, feel free to ask me a question and I will try to help.

8 thoughts on “Things To Know Before You Go – Expat Tips From American In England

  1. This is all really good. The whole credit history loss was really shocking to me….not to mention ZERO understanding of or appreciation for the work history I brought (at age 30) to New York City journalism. Until I had a NYC editorial job on my CV, it might as well have been blank. That caused me a lot of stress and I wish I’d been warned about that.

    • Shocking to me too, Caitlin. We’ll have to compare stories sometime. Moving to another country is like assuming a whole new identity unfortunately it’s a blank slate which is a bit tough after fifty. Too bad I can’t pull open a drawer like Jason Bourne and pull out an identity with a bank account, driver’s license, and work history in the UK. :-)

      • Indeed! I went at 30, and even then (with a terrific resume already) had to start from scratch. I would never have the nerve you did! If I’d know how hard it was going to be, I am not sure I would have leaped so easily. But then…

  2. The magic words to ask for when shipping internationally are “Door to Door” pricing. Then the hidden “inland freight”, “Customs Broker” etc. are all included. If you just ask for an ocean freight quote you may even be charged extra to get your container unloaded from the boat. You’ll still be charged if customs decides to inspect, or fumigate (wish I were kidding about that one). You have a set number of days in which to receive and return your container. It’s about $75 per day after that, even if it’s the shipping company’s fault.
    Another tip would be to get insurance on the contents. We had one container seized under maritime laws of salvage, when the ship had an engine fire and had to be towed. This is why Captains remain with their ships as long as possible. He who rescues owns the lot! Our other container arrived in Los Angeles intact and then rolled over and spilled on the freeway in a truck accident. It was raining, of course. Boy, you brought back memories…

    • Door to Door pricing is important, I’ll give you that, but the bigger issue for me was when my shipment arrived in port and they sent me a letter with two reasonable sized delivery trucks to choose from neither of which was ever a real option.

      The only real option was a disarticulated lorry, aka an eighteen wheeler. Now I ask you, how many bloody places in the UK can a big monster truck roll up to your house and unload? That little change added another $500 to an already huge shipping cost. There’s more to share than that, but I’m saving it for a blog post.

      Still, your shipping woes definitely beat mine. Maritime laws and engine fires, almost sounds like legalized theft. You must have felt hexed to have the second container spill on the freeway. I’m still irritated over mine and it was nowhere near as horrible as your experience. * shudders *

  3. My advice would be patience and lots of it. In the US, we are all used to calling or going into the store, picking out what we want and its delivered in a reasonable amount of time (like no more than two days or else there are calls to the customer service department). In the UK, that doesn’t quite happen (not in my experience anyway). I would say this also applies to work being done to your house. For example, I had my kitchen redone…new wood floors, granite countertops, cast iron sink, oven and dishwasher. The installation process took three days (should have been only two but there was a huge problem with removing the old floor underneath the tile). In contrast, my aunt who lives in Scotland is having her very tiny bathroom (her words, not mine) redone. She was quoted 8-10 weeks and that is if everything goes smoothly. This is her only bathroom. Let me reiterate…her ONLY bathroom. The amount of time didn’t phase her at all…I, on the other end of the phone, stopped breathing for a minute. There are so many postives about living in a different country, but people need to go into these moves with their eyes wide open and realize that life will be different and not everything will be done in the same way or same time frame.

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