|Expat life in England is proving to be a challenging one for American expat Denise, and there are plenty of lessons she has learned and is continuing to learn. Here she talks about how she came to be living in the UK in the first place, the cost of living in her part of England, and her tips for those considering a move to the UK.
Denise Smith Roeterdink
-Where were you born?
Red Bluff, California, USA
-In which country and city are you living now?
North Anston, UK
-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my husband
-How long have you been living in England?
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in England?
Well, that was an unfortunate error on my part. I had my own Real Estate Property Management business and I was doing quite well. I decided to date online. Well, I met a wonderful man who was in California in my same town visiting his brother. He was born and raised in South Africa but is Dutch and had been traveling Euorope for the past 10 years.
Long story short, we fell in love and got married. Small wedding in Reno, Nevada as I had been married before. What I had no idea about was immigration. I thought I would apply for him to stay and I knew it would take time but I had no idea what a nightmare it would become. Ignorance is no excuse and I am guilty there.
I allowed my heart to get in the way of things and I paid for that dearly. He was assisting me in my business and ended up overstaying his 90-day visa by 2 days. He left and went through Canada as he had friends there. Some Orange alert happened and they stopped him at the border and refused him entry. His flight was due to leave the next morning after his visit with friends. He was sent back and the U.S. claimed he was illegally entering so they tossed him in prison. After a ton of money and an immigration lawyer and 3 months later to no avail the government treated him as a terrorist and the judge refused to allow him out while we processed everything so I told him to allow deportation as his horrible treatment in a hard core prison for this was not worth it. Funny I wish those internet dating sites would list a bit of a warning about how immigration may not work out so easily between people from different countries.
I was then forced with a horrible decision, to divorce this man that I love and admire or give up everything I worked so hard for and leave my own country. I made a commitment, and was raised to stick to it. I sold everything I had for love and we picked England due to the fact I spoke no other language. He speaks quite a few different languages but thought it would be so much harder for me to adjust if we picked a country where I could not read or write the language. He belonged to the EU so immigration was also reasonable. Within 6 months of applying I was in. the cost was free for an EU family permit. This is also considered a Visa and it is good for 6 months after you arrive then you apply for your residency card.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?
You do need to have money in your bank account. Your spouse needs to have a full time job as well. It also helps if you have money in an account so they know you will not become dependent on their system. Not that you are allowed any assistance here because you are not. I am here on an EU Family Permit and now after 1 full year have residency. This EU Family permit allows me work and live here no different than anyone from the EU.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
I could never afford medical insurance in the U.S. So did not obtain coverage for here. Because he belongs to the EU we are entitled to medical insurance. I still must pay pay for presecriptions which is very reasonable and no comparison to the U.S costs.
-How do you make your living in the UK? Do you have any type of income generated?
We both had money from selling everything which bought us some time to get set up here. My husband landed a job fairly quickly after we arrived. But I do not make a living here. It is a nightmare. I try so hard to blend in but it does not work well. I have a business degree and a real estate license and 15 years experience which means nothing here. So for me it was like getting out of high school all over again with nothing. It took 8 months to land a very poor paying job as a receptionist in a sleazy hotel. That was when I realized how awful the labor laws were here. After 8 months, they made me redundant. That is what they call a layoff here. I am still unable to find employment. I wanted to begin my own Letting Agency but again I am a foreigner and they do not take too kindly when it comes to paying you for a service here. (Lack of trust) which is reasonable I guess. But it does not help me at all.
I think I am resented as I say what I think nicely but I am honest. They do not appear to like this much here. They won't tell you this to your face so you know where you stand it will behind your back. I am not here to put down any other culture at all that is not the point. I trusted my husband as he is well travelled and I assumed he knew the laws when he arrived in the U.S. when in fact he did not. Because of my ignorance I created a bad situation for myself.
-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Well in Yorkshire there is a very different language.
It is a type of slang and it takes a while before you understand what it is they are saying. I had a neighbor who became a friend who assisted me in this and that helped quit a lot. Yes you need to know and use the slang so you can communicate with people on their terms. It makes things easier for you. I remember my very first experience when I was asked "what are you having for Tea"? Well I have never even visited here before so for me I thought, what does that mean? I replied "I do not drink tea" of course they looked at me very strange and laughed. When I mentioned this to my husband he explained what they meant. What are you having for dinner? In a way it is kind of funny. I felt so stupid but I learned.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes? Describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available.
I miss home every single day. I have always been a history buff and loved castles and manor homes and England provides tons of that. I belong to the National Heritage and pay a yearly fee and I have a card that allows me to visit all their sites which offers quite a lot. It rains a lot here and it is cold most of the time so outdoor activities for me are very limited.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I plan on going back home as soon as we can get that mess straightened out. That will take some serious planning on my part and a separation of probably at least 2 years. But in the end I believe for me to be worth that. I want my life back and I want a career which at this point I do not believe I will ever obtain here. Maybe just a low paying job here but for me that is not enough.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We are renting, which was yet another experience here. Due to the fact I was a property manager for 15 years in the U.S. that helped a lot here. Renting is very different here and you can be disappointed if you do not investigate this in detail before doing this. It is not a common practise here to have a home cleaned or even the carpets shampooed before moving in.
It is common for an owner to leave furniture in the home whether you want it or not. Move-in inspections are basic and only list fixtures and owner items. The first place we rented was all inclusive but basically a closet in comparison. for a tiny 1 bedroom terraced house with the kitchen living combined to a very small space cost 460.00 pounds. That included council tax. The 2nd place was bigger but outside of the main city and it was 4 bedroom 1 bath 2 story home for 495.00 but the council tax is 1,200 per year, then you have your phone costs, internet, and gas/electricity on top of all that. We do have a nice yard which is not a common thing to have here without paying dearly for it.
-What is the cost of living in England?
The cost of living is expensive and the wages are very low. It costs us around 700 pounds per month not including car tax, insurance, gas and food to live. You are lucky if you have a job where you work on average 48 hours per week for a monthly income of maybe 750 pounds. They do not pay over time here. Keep in mind if you are a teacher, doctor, lawyer/solicitor, you can do ok here; if not be prepared to struggle a bit. This also depends on where you live too. London is very expensive and the wages for what I am maybe qualified to do are very low there as well but the cost of living is even higher than here.
-What do you think about the locals?
Well, they are very curious as to why I would have moved from California to here. They always say why on earth would you move here? They do not seem to like it here much either funny enough. It is all about the great weather in sunny California for them. I am remembered in the local pub. They are genuine and polite and I enjoy them. Where I live there are no other Americans that I am aware of.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in England?
Wow, where do I begin. The positives, well lots of green countryside. It is very green here all year around. When you go shopping because it is a small village the shop owners are nice and say hello. The weather is mild all year around, so if you do not like hot weather you do not get that here. This community has lots of parks all over and so you will see lots of people walking their dogs. I enjoy that as dogs are always happy to see you.
The negatives, well it rains a lot, you fight moss and mold. The one thing I just have a heck of time with is getting anything done. For instance when you need to call for a question about your bank statement, phone bill or anything those calls cost you money per minute then if you are lucky you manage to obtain a customer service person who really is rude and doesn't help you then as I have found out they tend to always tell you they will call you back. Guess what, they never ever do. Bad customer service all the way around here is very difficult to understand. It really frustrates you to no end. But you just have to accept it which I still have not come to grips with here.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in England?
Well, yes of course. Please do not do what I did. Everyone has their reason for leaving, but even though I read everything I could get my hands on about life here before arriving, they do not mention the tiny details. I guess some small details may not make a difference to most people but it certainly did with me.
I lived without hot running water for over a year. That is not illegal here. Again everyone will experience something different. But that made life almost umbearable for me. Your shower or most at least has its own electrical box that heats the water up so you do or can take a shower.
The housing laws are very lax here. Obtaining a driver's license is yet another nightmare and very, very difficult to obtain not to mention expensive. I am still trying after 2 years. Where I live I need to drive and still I can't. I was used to being so independent for most of my life and since I arrived here I am not. I can't drive anywhere, I cannot obtain employment and it makes things very very difficult and lonely. Please, please take into consideration all the tiny things you take for granted that just might not be so easily obtainable here. Think about how you would feel when you send out 150 CV's per month and you might get a call and then they say they will call you back and they just never ever do. It is a weird feeling. I know at times it would happen back home but not to this degree did I ever experience this. I also know the economy is struggling but the reality is they will hire their own over you as this is logical.
You do not have anywhere near the space inside a home or apartment that you had. No electrical outlets allowed in the bathrooms. I mean these are things that are not mentioned really and you would never think it would make a difference but when you experience these things they add up. Shops do not stay open late unless you are in a large city. You need to plan ahead for weekends and especially on Sundays. Again not too big of a deal but still. Where I live the main weekend thing to do is to head to your local pub to get drunk. That is about the highlight of it. Drinking and getting drunk is huge here. Not all do this but most do and it is an accepted thing to do.
For me personally moving here has seriously changed me. I will never take anything for granted again. I appreciate America for everything it has to offer and the reasonably easy life I had there. I appreciate how people in America are such entrepreneurs and think to the future and they say what they think so you always knew where you stood with people. It is not like that here at all.
Just really consider everything to the absolute fullest before making a life altering choice for yourself. If I could go back and would have had the knowledge I now have I doubt I would have jumped in. Age also I think has a lot to do with my negative experience. If I were in my 20's I think I would have enjoyed this so much more. When you are young and going to school your mind is open, you make friends easier and you have lots of time to establish yourself. At my age, it is not so simple. Employers want younger people to hire and not really foreigners either. Education and degrees between the U.S. and here are different so because they are so conservative thinking here they tend to stick with what they know.
Neither of us have family or friends here so that also makes it hard. If you have money or your spouse has a good paying job and one of you has family here I think that makes a huge difference in your experience. Most people that have moved to a different country it has been because of school or a good paying position. Becoming a teacher allows travel and they always need teachers in many countries.
Be aware without a specific degree in a profession accepted worldwide can have drastic results in trying to just make a living and can be incredibly difficult in another country. My Real Estate License and all that experience gets me nowhere here. All that money and time I spent to get it is now simply gone.
If you want to be an exchange student this would be a great experience. If you are coming to teach again a great experience. Make sure to have a good job that pays well and a recognizable degree for here before you even think of just coming here. Jobs are far and few between for foreignors and they pay very low wages.
Again maybe if my situation would have been different my experience thus far might have been a better one. Not everyone can adapt to a different culture. For those who have embraced it I admire you.... One more very important piece of advice. Do not say what you really think. They simply do not like that. Being completely honest as you were taught in the U.S. does not work here. You must really think before you open your mouth or you will be doomed. Once you say it you can't take it back. You need to learn to read between the lines of what they say to you. What they say is not exactly the truth. Their culture has taught them to be overly polite to the point you will not know where you stand. Getting the truth is very difficult. Until you know the difference it is better to walk on egg shells.