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.

A Romantic Story For Valentine’s Day

The Owl And The Pussy Cat (In French)

Written by Edward Lear and translated by Francis Steegmuller

In 1975 my great-aunt, Wylly Folk St John sent me this book in a birthday gift box for my fifteenth birthday. She always sent the best presents, and packages from her were special even when I was uncertain as to why she gave me certain things.

I collected owls or owl themed items when I was growing up and since I did not speak French, this may have been what led her to choose The Owl and the Pussycat translated into French as a gift for me, or perhaps she imagined I might consider taking French in high school. Having a terrible facility for foreign language, I went with Spanish which was said to be easier than French and saved this book  for sentimental reasons even though I could not read it.

When I moved to Cornwall I had loads of books that had to find a new home. This one made the cut because Aunt Wylly had given it to me and it found a home on a bookshelf that my husband John built for me after we married. I displayed it in a way that made the cover visible and it sat there looking pretty next to a little owl that had been a gift from her as well.

A few weeks ago, just before our fifth wedding anniversary, I looked up from my desk and saw it on the shelf and it occurred to me that while I still did not speak enough French to read it, my British born husband did.

John seemed a bit surprised when I brought it in as we were getting ready for bed and asked him to read it to me. I think his exact response was,  “Now ?”

Even though the poem was not new to me it sounded pretty sweet to hear him read it in French, 39 years after opening it on my birthday.

I know most would argue that it was just a bit of coincidence, but I can’t help but wonder what my aunt would think about our love story and how the romantic in me never gave up on finding lasting love.

The Owl And The Pussy Cat (In French)

Today is the sixth anniversary of our meeting face to face having met almost “by accident” online six weeks earlier. I flew to Cornwall in 2008 on Valentine’s Day and when my visit was over two weeks later, we both knew our future was set.

Despite an 18 year age difference that created loads of initial objections from my family and friends, I think we both would agree that the ocean between us, a five-hour time difference, and the limitations imposed on the amount of time immigration would allow me to stay were some of the bigger issues in our early relationship.

Being wooed from across the sea was full of surprises and I can still remember when John quoted these lyrics not long after I had returned to the US from my two-week long Valentine’s Day visit.

How could I not fall madly and deeply in love with a man who said such reassuringly sweet words.

At 17 he falls in love quite madly
with eyes of azure blue,
At 24 he gets it rather badly
with eyes of a different hue.
At 36 you’ll find him flirting sadly
with two or three or more;
When he fancies he is past love,
It is then he meets his last love,
And he loves her as he’s never loved before.

~ Peter Dawson

Please feel free to share your own stories  in a comment or links to a blog post you have a special one for today.

I have told our story in different places on my blog, but I will include a few links for those who might be here for the first time. The highlighted words above will take you to other earlier posts if you wish to know more.

The Gift You Keep

Will You Stay With Me Will You Be My Love

Remembering The Day We Met – Valentine’s Day 2008

Buttercup Madness and Mid – May Diversions

Added Family, The Gifts You Gain By Sharing Your Family History

Francis Victor Winchurch c.1939You may not know it, but my husband, John does a bit of writing too. He tends to focus most of his efforts on his genealogy pages having picked up the research bug that bit his father years ago. One could easily say that his dad’s initial interest actually started when faced with a question from John that he couldn’t answer about a relative listed in the family bible.

Today marks what would have been his father’s one hundredth birthday and John has written a lovely piece about his dad who was born in the same year the first world war began. If you are interested in seeing more images and learning a bit more about his life, you can find it by clicking on the name,

Vic Winchurch.

I love the way internet links are able to act as a kind of map helping those with common ancestors find each other and connect to family lines that might otherwise be lost to history.

John’s genealogy pages have brought him into contact with other relatives who having searched for family name found their way to his site. Especially poignant to me was an email not so long ago when a cousin in Canada contacted him after seeing her grandfather, George Arthur Gadesby Smith’s face in a photo for the first time after her search led her John’s website. Her grandfather was brother to John’s maternal grandmother and after George Smith died during WWI leaving a wife and two children,  his widow remarried and immigrated to Canada causing that link to be lost until a few years ago.

Having met John later in life, I never had an opportunity to meet his dad, but I’ve heard enough stories to be able to see where some of John’s gentle nature and compassion likely come from.

If you have an interest, the blue links will take you to John’s website and the sweet birthday piece he wrote to honor his dad.

John and Vic Winchurch

A Lot Can Happen In Five Years

Wedding Day - John Winchurch & Elizabeth HarperThis photograph was taken a few minutes before John and I married five years ago today and despite all that is happening in the background, it remains one of my favorites.

I use to moan about the car, and the way our family and friends are all doing their own thing in the background, particularly the two people right behind us. I even tried to edit the couple out with Photoshop, but it never looked right.

John hates feeling like he’s the center of attention so when he asked that we forgo a professional photographer, I agreed thinking if we had one decent photo of the day that would be enough for me.

I figured if a handful of folks were equipped with a camera we would surely have a few we would like from the collected effort. I wrote about the outcome of that decision in a post titled, Everyone’s a Wedding Photographer and there are loads of images there if you’d like to see more of our day.

Because I know how much a professional photographer can add to your wedding day memories, the photographer in me has been a bit wistful occasionally when looking back at the images we have especially the one above, but five years on I can see it from a different perspective and I don’t mind the activity in the background so much.

A lot can happen in five years and some of the people in the photo are no longer in our lives.

The couple that I tried to edit our photo who on that day seemed destined for a little wedding day happiness of their own, they got engaged a few years later, but decided to go separate ways a few months before their wedding.

The woman in purple with the white hair was our friend MIJ.  She died a year after this picture was taken from a reoccurrence of breast cancer after having been in remission for 20 years. She had no idea she was even ill until a few months before she died. I wrote about her several times in The Last Walk – Measured Steps, and Memories and Music in a Full House.

I’ve written a great many posts about John’s granddaughter always masking her identity with the name, Jersey Girl.  She’s the little four – year old girl you can see in the arms of John’s eldest daughter. JG has a little sister now who will be three not long before JG turns ten. Some of my favorite posts have involved fun times with Jersey Girl so click here to see a list of some you might enjoy.

I told John today that nothing has ever seemed as easy as the decision I made to marry him and while not all of the 620 posts at GOTJ are about us, there are more than a few that show why it was the right one.

Temple Church In Cornwall, A Place Of Refuge And Worship

Temple Church, Cornwall

Two weeks ago I attended a candlelight Christmas carol service in a place where there has been a church since c.1120. Temple Church began as place of refuge for pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem when it was first founded according to several websites, by the Knights Templar. This link has some great information if you would like to know more about Temple church.

Temple Church, Cornwall

Temple Church,

Even though I was at the back of the church with my camera in silent mode, my friend’s son was curious about what I was doing.

IMG_0233Afterwards, I posed for a quick photo with my friend Lara who had invited me to the service. I had been very interested when she first asked me, but as Sunday evening approached, I began to come up with reasons why I should give it a miss. It had been a tough week and I felt fairly antisocial preferring the quiet of home. In the end, I went with her family and I was so glad I did.

Putting Out The Lights, Temple ChurchI would have missed this sweet photo of the children helping to put out the last of the candles just before we walked out in the dark. You cannot see it, but there is a young girl holding up the boy straining to reach the light and this combined effort and gentle way they took turns, was fitting close to a lovely service of worship. Here’s a lovely video if you’d like to see Temple in the daylight.

The clock has rolled over into a new day, it’s Christmas Day, although it is still night and I am soon ” for bed ” as some say here.

If you celebrate Christmas, I wish you a merry one.

My Magpie Fall Into Winter

Mushrooms

See what happens when you leave things untended for too long, you come back to find mushrooms sprouting everywhere. Seriously, my spam folder is full of little gems and none so nice as these lovelies found growing in our back garden.

I did not mean to abandon GOTJ, but my everyday life wrapped its arms around me and slowly seduced me away so that every time I thought I might stop by and leave a word or two, something else caught my eye. Like the easily distracted Magpie, I have filled up the days and minutes of the last few months with whatever shiny distraction looked more appealing in the moment.

It would be great to say that the distracting moments have all been golden, but dark shadows have passed over our sweet village with one terrible secret coming too close to where we call home. The fallout is ongoing and has felt overwhelming at times, stirring up old ghosts for me as the details have been revealed. I know I am being vague and I promise it is not with intent to tease, but rather a desire to wait until things have worked their way through the legal system.

Things are ‘all go’ here as John and I make our home ready for a quiet Christmas and I promise to be back with some more seasonal photos over the next few days beginning with images from a lovely candlelight Christmas carol service I attended in a tiny village church nearby.

Hand to heart, I shall endeavor to do better by my blog and my readers in the new year and if any of you are still out there, I would love a little roll call or a cheery hello.

What Do You Do When The Lights Go Out?

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With our dinner only half-cooked last night, the power suddenly went off and we had to make do. Having a gas range made it easy to finish cooking most of our meal, leaving the frozen garlic bread the only casualty.

For most people losing power is a blip, a minor inconvenience that is sorted almost as quickly as flipping a switch at some central location miles away. Last night our house  went dark for a little over eight hours. I know that’s nothing to people who can go without for days and weeks due to bad weather or for those in countries where electricity is a luxury not the norm, but I have to tell you, I was getting a bit twitchy after about four hours without an internet connection. Our home phone was out too and since we don’t have a need for cell phones that do more than make calls and text, I felt a little anxious being disconnected from the rest of the world.

At first we used flashlights to get around once the sun set completely and then I remembered the candles. Clearly we had not been using them enough because they were not the first thing I thought of as we settled in for our evening in the dark.

Kindle By Candlelight

In total, I spent a few hours reading my Kindle by candlelight and the rest of the time John and I spent talking in that old-fashioned way before computers and other linking devices, by actually looking at each other while speaking.

We found the evening so enjoyable that we talked about setting a date once a week to turn off the power and the distractions that go with it.

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I’ve got a few ideas for what to do when we take our planned, ‘lights out’ night, but if you have any suggestions to share, feel free.