The life of an expat holds a certain fairy tale charm. They've left the doldrums and grey skies of home behind in favour of adventure in a distant, sunny land of opportunity. If this sounds appealing to you, you're not alone: over 6 million British nationals live abroad - almost 8% of the population - including 500,000 who live overseas for part of the year.
The most popular destinations for expats emigrating from the UK include Australia (more than a million), Spain, the US, Canada and France, but countries such as China and the United Arab Emirates have also seen a steady influx of new migrants in the last few years.
So what's so attractive about moving abroad? Surveys suggest that while most people are prompted to move for work related reasons, it's actually the quality of life, weather, and culture that prove the biggest draws.
This guide is intended to inform you on how to approach the emigration process. We will help you to apply for a visa, find a home, land a job and start a new chapter of your life overseas.
Whether you're staying in Europe or planning a far-flung excursion overseas, we want to help make your time abroad the best it can be. In addition to the topics we address throughout this guide, we offer these four tips for easing you into your expat experience:
Researching your destination and visiting expat forums for first-hand accounts will help you avoid culture shock and prepare for your new life abroad.
Plan out your expenses and understand how much money you need to set aside for housing, food and utilities each month. If possible, save up a small nest egg to cover the costs of your aeroplane ticket and the initial move. Oh, and try to avoid resigning yourself to a diet of instant noodles before your first pay cheque.
In a world survey sampling over 200,000 people, two thirds of expats said they consider work assignments overseas not for a pay rise, but to broaden their horizons. If your move abroad excites you, cultural immersion and integration will come easier.
Immersing yourself in a foreign culture, learning a new language and sharing new experiences are their own reward.
Gov.uk's advice for would-be expats seeking adventure abroad.
A travel brochure published by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office containing all of the vital information you need to get started.
A comprehensive guide to living and working abroad. Expat Know How includes intercultural training programmes and advice for how to communicate across cultures and make integration easy.
A dazzling array of different personal accounts collected by The Guardian, which recount the experiences of various British nationals as they venture out into the world.
The world's largest independent travel publisher offers lots of personal accounts from those living abroad and useful advice on practically every country.
So, you know your onions. You've determined your destination and done your research. Now you need to start the ball rolling. First things first: securing a visa.
The only problem: the paperwork process for emigrants can be very confusing.
The US alone has around 70 different visas, each with their own application process. For the sake of your sanity, research your destination's entry requirements thoroughly. Applying for the appropriate visas and permits varies greatly from place to place, and there's very little consistency in how long an application takes to process, how long visas and permits last, and how much they cost to apply for.
Some visas, such as an H-1B Non-Immigrant Work Visa in the US and a work permit in Canada, are incredibly difficult - if not impossible - to secure without a standing job offer. If you have a job offer overseas, your employer will petition for these permits on your behalf.
In other cases, you may need to go above and beyond to meet a destination's entry requirements. Examples include Australia and South Africa, which require a full examination, including a chest x-ray, before you can apply for migration. The fee for this varies and you can arrange this through your doctor.
Many popular emigration destinations, such as Australia, Canada and the US also require a Police Clearance Certificate: an official document detailing whether or not an applicant has a criminal record. These certificates follow ACPO guidelines. They typically cost £45 - £80 and can be found online.
Some people get lucky, such as the 55,000 people (out of more than 15 million applicants annually) who win permanent residency in the US thanks to the Green Card Lottery. Sadly, most residents of the UK (except for those residing in Northern Ireland) aren't eligible for the lottery, and not every country features a lottery in the first place.
Fortunately, the UK has the great benefit of being one of the five countries with the most global travel freedom. According to the Henley & Partners 2014 Visa Restrictions Index, citizens of the UK can access 174 countries visa-free.
There’s more good news for expats relocating close to home - citizens of any country in the European Economic Area (EEA) don't need a visa to work in any other EEA destination, which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, in addition to all EU states.
For those with eyes set further abroad, securing a job before you leave might be your biggest boon. In a case study published by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Kaiyu Wu, an engineer and Chinese national, spent six years studying and interning in Germany, where he "would have a better chance of landing a job as a research engineer, his dream."
In an interview with The Telegraph, Richard Musty, Director at Lloyds TSB International, notes that "employers seem to be aware of the challenges [of relocating] and it's encouraging to see the extent to which they are prepared to help facilitate the move. Significantly, 55% of our respondents were offered a moving allowance, with a further 50% offered help with housing costs, and 43% their flights home."
If this isn’t an option, even securing a job teaching English abroad will make the application process easier.
Visa application is a chore, but we want to help make it as painless as possible. Here are some tips to improve the process:
As stated above, a job offer is often integral to the visa application process. Check out our section on "Finding a Job" for tips on how to look for work abroad.
Nobody knows the rules better than the people in charge. Connecting directly with an immigration officer or lawyer will ensure that your visa applications are filled out properly.
In addition to any academic achievements you may have, you may want to visit a language-testing organisation or a skills and professional assessment agency in order to accrue more documentation on just how qualified you really are.
Usually, only people applying from their home country will be issued an immigrant visa, so it's important to understand your destination's entry requirements before you embark on your adventure overseas.
Here you can start the application process for a police certificate, necessary for visa applications in many countries.
If you're a citizen of a country within the European Economic Area, you can apply for a certificate that exempts you from visa requirements within other EEA countries.
The most invaluable resource whether you're an expat or a vacationer. Gov.uk summarises every travel destination, giving you a brief look at crime rate, visa requirements and vaccinations you'll need, amongst other things.
Project Visa provides a comprehensive map of the world and lists visa, passport, and embassy information, including associated fees in USD.
A helpful, comprehensive guide on many countries, replete with fact sheets, relocation checklists, and visa guides.
Whether you're moving for a new job or just for the experience, where you rest your head at night is bound to be a huge consideration. Hotels, hostels or your friend's sofa are temporary solutions; eventually you'll want a place to call home.
Richard Kent, a British expat, worked and lived in South America for 16 months, during which he lived with a native family in Peru. His homestay experience allowed him to quickly adopt the Spanish tongue. He encourages travellers to avoid big cities and "go off to some rural areas, find somewhere you can volunteer, stay for a while."
While a homestay experience like Kent's is a marvellous way to immerse yourself in a new culture, it may not be every expat's cup of tea. For most people, the choice will be between renting and buying.
There are many pros and cons to both renting and buying property abroad. Which option suits you best will depend upon a variety of factors, not least your destination. Your budget, the length and permanence of your stay and proximity to local attractions are other important factors to consider.
Most first time expats opt to rent. Renting allows emigrants to acquaint themselves with a new region for a short time before making a more informed housing decision. In fact, some countries don't immediately allow new immigrants to buy property, robbing you of the choice altogether.
When you're already making a big move, buying a property might not be financially feasible. Renting can be the most cost effective option for the new expat, if only temporarily.
Rental fees are often lower abroad. For example, rent in Spain is approximately two thirds the price of a comparably sized space in the UK.
Sometimes rental fees are balanced out by other factors, such as in Hong Kong where a low tax rate offsets high rental costs.
Depending on the country, renting might be a piece of cake or it might mean a mountain of paperwork. Look into what you need prior to house hunting.
Alternatively, buying a house can prove to be a fantastic investment if you're planning to stay long term. When considering making a purchase, first compile a list of the features you want your home to have. What do you value in terms of house size, location, and local attractions? Entering the market knowing what your priorities are will help you find your perfect home.
Buying a home can be more cost effective than renting, especially for people intending to remain overseas on a permanent or semi-permanent basis.
A home abroad in a high demand area can double as a rental property or a vacation home (or both). The right locale will have no trouble finding willing renters.
Local taxes, stamp duty, and notary fees might cost you more than you expected. As an example, a property in Spain will generally cost an additional 9 - 10%.
If you purchase a home abroad, but don't plan to live in it for most of the year or keep it long term, the mortgage and maintenance fees may not be worth the investment.
When deciding to buy or rent, it's also important to pay attention to local culture. While in the UK, there's a real ambition for people to own their property, there is a prominent renting culture in most of Western Europe.
In Switzerland, for example, homes are often viewed as permanent investments instead of stepping stones; when a young couple buys a house, they plan to live out their lives there. Consequently, it's not unusual for families to rent exclusively until they are ready to purchase their family home.
In other destinations - such as parts of France and Spain - British buyers will outnumber local homeowners, who prefer to rent. This has created a false market, with more luxurious holiday homes being marketed exclusively at foreigners - at much higher prices - while locals own modest properties that lack the appeal sought by overseas buyers.
Two creative alternatives to consider are homestay experiences and long term house-sitting. Cecilia Haynes, a writer for Go Overseas, says: "There are a ton of people who own property but only use the houses or apartments for a week or two a year. The rest of the time they need someone to rent it to."
If at all possible, look into housing options at least a year before you plan to move. Whether renting or buying abroad, we have four tips to help you make the most informed decision:
The last thing you want is to make a big move only to learn that your property listing "neglected" to mention the nearby sewage treatment plant, or the skyscrapers completely encircling your two-bedroom bungalow. Make sure that your house lives up to the pictures you see online.
A beautiful house won't do you any good if you can't afford to pay for its utilities. Compare your current cost of living to the projected cost of living abroad, and figure out how much you can afford to spend on living costs. Shelter Offshore published an article on living abroad for less than £1,000 a month, in which they list numerous countries, such as Turkey, Belize and Argentina, which have a lower cost of living than the UK.
In addition to the house itself, make sure you consider your other needs, such as the house's proximity to your job, local schools, and any attractions that may appeal to you.
Preferably one who's friendly towards you. Ideally, seek the aid of an English-speaking lawyer familiar with the land laws of the country you're emigrating to; they're the most qualified person to read through the terms of your mortgage or rental contract with you before you sign.
These sites allow you to compare the cost of living between your home city and your dream destination. They're constantly being updated with new data - great for budgeting.
A gov.uk resource with guides on how foreign income is taxed and how tax on your UK income works if you live abroad.
Two websites that list long-term international house-sitting opportunities.
Mortgage advice and tips for buying property abroad. A great resource for expats looking to make a long term investment.
A comprehensive look at moving abroad, World First gives great advice on finding a home, including links on how to find English speaking solicitors across Europe.
Unless you've found a golden goose in the form of a vast inheritance or a winning lottery ticket, the chances are that sooner or later you'll need a job. Career opportunities may even be driving you to consider life abroad in the first place. Or maybe you need to find a job due to restrictions in some countries, such as the US, which won't issue you a visa unless you've already secured employment prior to immigration.
Depending on your reasons for living abroad, there are many avenues to consider as you search for a job. If your aim is adventure and cultural immersion, the travel blogger known as Nomadic Matt suggests so-called "holiday schemes" such as bartending, table-waiting, or secretarial work. These jobs are often in the service industry and they're generally low-wage, but they provide supplemental income for the adventurous expat who wants to fund continued travelling.
For those seeking a more exotic experience, teaching English abroad is a superb option. These jobs are abundant, well-paid and often come bundled with great benefits. While these jobs are less relevant in English-speaking countries, teaching English is a great way to immerse yourself in a new culture.
Carrie Kellenberger, a Canadian expat, funds her travels throughout Asia by teaching English, and says: "Aside from education rewards and the opportunity to travel, teaching abroad is a great way to make and save money. Pay packages vary from country to country, but one thing that all ESL teachers have in common is that they tend to live quite well overseas."
Of course, you could be moving for so much more than a job. Maybe you're seeking a career. The UK Office for National Statistics found that "the evidence suggests emigration is mainly for work, and that the most common destinations for British citizens are Australia, Spain, the United States and France." Its study found that of the 323,000 emigrants in 2014, 56% moved for work.
Work-related reasons for emigration hold especially true among new graduates. Reports indicated a 27% increase in British graduates who found their first job abroad after the recession of the late 2000s. During this period, unemployment rates in the UK skyrocketed and over one million 16-24 year olds were claiming unemployment benefits.
"The only available jobs I could see were hospitality or general low-entry jobs - nothing for a graduate," Lindsay Kendall, an alumni of Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire, told The Guardian. “So I decided that if I'm going to work in a bar or on reception, I might as well do it in a new country as part of a new experience. I'm heading to New Zealand to start my working holiday visa, and hopefully it shouldn't take me too long to find a job."
While unemployment rates have improved drastically, the BCG found that Britons between the ages of 21 - 30 are still 15 - 20% more likely than other UK citizens to seek employment abroad. Engineering and telecommunications students are especially susceptible, because the world is hungry for their talents and it's not as if the oil fields or Silicon Valley will come to them.
Fortunately, there are many ways for enterprising souls to find their dream job abroad. A 2010 report compiled by the ESCP Europe Business School surveyed 3,000 professionals, and found that everything from recruitment companies to headhunters helped expats settle in overseas. Surprisingly, only 7% of people were relocated by their employer - a drastic change, when it used to be the most popular reason to set up camp on foreign soil!
28% found their job through a recruitment company.
16% responded to an online advert.
14% responded to advert in press.
11% heard about their position through a colleague or a friend.
11% headhunted by a recruitment company.
11% headhunted directly by their new employer.
7% were moved abroad by their current employer.
2% unaccounted for.
The thought of leaving the familiar behind to work on foreign soil may make some think twice, but, for so many others, it is one of the most enriching experiences life has to offer. Whatever your destination, here are four simple tips for any adventurous expat seeking employment:
This means bringing copies of your CV, references, and any certificates in your possession. A business card wouldn't hurt either!
Work comes easily in some places, such as developing countries, but in others, securing a career might be one of your greatest challenges. Searching for a job both online and locally will help flesh out your options.
Meet new people and attend as many events as possible. Talty's article on Forbes relays the story of British expat Richard Kent, who "reeled off emails to every language institute in Bogotá before arriving, [but] all three companies I ended up working for were all word of mouth from friends [in Colombia]."
BUNAC offers work abroad and volunteer abroad programmes. They also feature gap year destination packages, for students wishing to take a break in their studies and experience the world.
The CIEE offers short-term work permits to students and new alumni seeking to study abroad. While they won't find you a job, their advice and support is invaluable.
A service specifically for UK citizens looking for work abroad. Not only will they help you find a job, they will advise you in financial matters, walk you through emigration differences by destination, and guide you through visa applications.
A great guide dedicated to helping expats and new graduates find jobs overseas. Offers up to date previews of the job market and growing industries in many popular destinations.
A website that helps you find English Language teaching jobs abroad.
In 2014, Canada made UK headlines when newspapers caught wind of a British food shop ordered to stop selling products like Marmite and Irn-Bru due to "illegal additives." Though the reports turned out to be false (a fact not as widely publicised), the lesson remains that a move abroad might result in some culture shock.
Beginning your life as an expat means exposing yourself to new customs and cultures. Don't be so afraid of making mistakes that you avoid soaking up the new culture that surrounds you, though. Naturally, you'll make some mistakes, but a cosmopolitan attitude and a little common courtesy goes a long way towards smoothing ruffled feathers.
In their exhaustive report entitled Global Brit, Tim Finch, Holly Andrew, and Maria Latorre found that all emigrants who successfully integrated into their new environments shared four common features.
Being employed overseas exposes you to a whole new culture and will introduce you to a host of interesting people.
In addition to earning money to fund your adventure abroad, your working life will help you learn a new language and get insights on a different culture.
Depending on why you move, this may not always be an option - but that doesn't stop you from making new friends. Often this is as simple as getting to know your classmates or co-workers and finding people with similar interests and experiences.
Try attending local cultural activities and visiting the favourite haunts of locals in your community. You can also take a class in something you're passionate in, whether it’s cooking, art or learning the language. Even social networking sites can help you meet a wide array of people - just don't live on your Facebook page or you'll miss the life that surrounds you!
Try living life in the shoes of a native - attend their community events, look up cultural holidays, and visit local hotspots. Observe how the locals live and try to absorb as many of their customs as you can.
Figuring out a few key points will go a long way towards successful integration. Specifically, try to suss out how to greet and share a meal with locals. You should also figure out what specific actions are considered offensive, in order to avoid them!
Rae Earl, an expat residing in Australia, found that Australians "actually like doing 'stuff' ... shacks in the bush, parties in the yard, just chatting in the back garden." She says: "Saturday nights aren't about TV - they are about human beings actually talking to you. This may be healthy and right - but if you're British this comes as a shock." She also adds, that as a consequence "Australian TV ... is awful."
Perhaps the greatest advantage you can give yourself is to learn the local language. If you can't understand your neighbours and colleagues, you'll never feel that you belong.
Consider taking language classes or living with a homestay host family for a while, until you've more fully grasped the native tongue. Learning a new language can also be a great way to meet people in a foreign city if you find someone interested in tandem language learning (learning your language while you learn theirs).
When you are doing your best to integrate, try not to fret when life doesn't click immediately, such as one expat's experience of integrating in Vienna. He went to buy groceries from the supermarket when he accidentally entered a showdown with a cashier:
"Her tone made me realise she was livid - her disdainful looks told me I’d inadvertently done something idiotic - but I was damned if I could fathom what she (and now the shopper behind me) were trying to tell me! All I could see was that a bunch of bananas seemed to be the offending objects?"
Though he'd brushed up on his German, he found the local dialect completely incomprehensible and cultural integration proved to be a chore. Eventually, though, he did learn how to fit in, including that the Viennese expect you to bag and weigh your produce prior to reaching the checkout.
Mastering cultural etiquette - never mind a whole new language - takes time. Stay in good cheer and maintain your adventurous spirit, and integration will come in time.
Sharon Clark, Legal secretary
“The employment and housing situation in the UK was pretty grim in the early 1990s; mortgage rates were rising and it was getting harder to make ends meet. My dad had lived in California since the 1970s and offered to sponsor my now ex-husband and I to emigrate with our two young children.”
“Initially, I tried applying for jobs advertised in local papers, with no success. I eventually signed with an employment agency who got me a job in an attorney’s office. They liked me and asked me to stay permanently. Having lived with relatives for a few months, we looked at rental homes and found one close to good schools and our jobs. We had to pay a larger deposit as we had no credit or references, but it worked out well and we eventually could afford our own house. Initially the cost of living was so much better than in the UK. We were able to afford much more, but California has become very expensive compared with other states.”
“Driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road - and learning new road rules - was a challenge for a while. As was trying to look in the phone book for a DIY centre, for example, and not realising it’s called a home improvement store. “We thought we would be fine with the language, but then realised we do not speak American! You also work longer hours and get less holiday and sick time.”
Malcolm Holmes, Retired
“In 2008, our daughter and husband moved to the heart of the Swiss wine-growing area. We visited them in November, sat outside in a café, stood on the balcony of our daughter’s new apartment and my wife thought: “We are retiring soon, why can’t we do this?” It was some months later that my wife mentioned the idea of moving to Austria, as it is less expensive than Switzerland.
“After a three-week stay in West Tirol, we found the perfect house, not in Tirol, but in the Montafon in Vorarlberg, a three-minute drive from the ski lift in Vandans, a good-sized village with plenty of amenities and just 30 minutes from the Swiss border. “We moved most of our savings from England to Austria, to balance any effect on our pension income, which is in pounds. The pound has risen, but at least our income is better in Euros.”
“The most difficult aspect of the move has been understanding the Vorarlberg dialect, which is different from the rest of Austria. Nevertheless, we have integrated quite well; we’re members of a choir, a line dance troupe and my wife goes to a local church. Recently, we have also met up with a few English speakers, which is nice from time to time.”
Robin Souter, Retired
“I was brought up in Spain. We’d often go to Ibiza and for years I’d wanted to buy a place over there. I’ve come to a point in my life where I can manage to afford a place, so I took the plunge.
“It is daunting, and the systems over there are really different. I think having a good is probably the most valuable bit of advice I can give. Online research is great, but with no one to say exactly what you are liable to pay, you end up stitching everything together and making your best guess. “I was not misadvised, but there was miscommunication from the solicitor. The process went on for four months, so you can imagine that there were huge trails of emails. There’s stuff you will forget, stuff you will miss, and you need handholding - it’s pretty complex.”
“Although a lot of people think that it’s a 24/7 party place - it’s actually a beautiful island just to sit back and relax and travel around the beautiful beaches.”
Andrew Le Coyte, Retired
“My parents used to go down [to St. Tropez in the 50s]. I started going down there in my university days with a VW combi van and a few friends. When my wife (Amber) and I got together, we started going every year. We were always looking in estate agents windows and one day Amber said: “Let’s just buy something!”
“We went to an estate agent, saw this little townhouse in La Croix-Valmer, had a look at it and bought it. [We did the house up] but we were still looking in estate agents’ windows. We spotted a plot of land - and in St Tropez there aren’t many plots of land for sale - so we thought let’s put the house on the market, see how it goes, and go for the land. “Nobody came forward with an offer, so we just got on with our lives. A year later, the estate agent rang up and said: “We’ve sold your house”.
“I think it’s important to at least try to speak a little French. If you don’t speak any, I think you would struggle. The French like you to try, if you try they will come back with the English if they speak it. “We’re part of an expat community, which includes some French, German and Dutch expats, where you meet friends, but also if there are issues, you can ask them and they will know somebody who knows what to do. Isolation is not good.”
Owain Lloyd-Williams, English teacher-turned-journalist
“As a literature graduate working a dull admin job at the height of the recession, it just felt right to throw myself into the unknown. I always had an interest in Asia, and China seemed like an exciting place to live in.”
“Finding work was relatively easy to begin with as I signed up with an online course that guaranteed a teaching position after training. There’s such high demand for native English teachers in China that moving jobs is fairly smooth, but when I branched out into journalism it was more competitive and took some time to build up a portfolio before I landed a proper role. “In my first year, accommodation was supplied by the school, but when I moved to Beijing I paid 3,000 - 4,000 yuan a month (£300 - 400) to rent. You can certainly live very frugally in China, but if you want to live ‘healthily’ - by avoiding bad food, pollution and allowing yourself some general comfort - it can be pretty pricey.
“The language barrier wasn’t such an issue once I’d gained a decent command of Mandarin, but there’s a lot of bureaucracy to deal with, which makes everyday problems - like paying rent or getting documents signed - rather arduous at times.”
Danielle Dowling, Banker
“I came to Sydney about seven years ago and have always wanted to come back to live and work. I finally had an opportunity through work and the guts to do it. It’s the only place I’ve ever wanted to move to, I love the mild weather and beach lifestyle.”
“I was lucky to be transferred through work and managed to get a good wage. Sydney is expensive, but as I am on my own I have no one else to think about. “I went through Airbnb for the first month - renting someone's spare room. Then I looked online for something more permanent. It worked out well as the Airbnb flat was with a really nice girl of a similar age - we are still good friends nearly a year on.”
“Out of work I have met mainly English people. Aussies in Manly, where I live, stick to themselves but there are other nationalities around. “Work has been tough, going from a really friendly and bubbly team in London to quite a cold, frosty team in Sydney. I work with two people who are very cliquey.”
Choosing to live abroad doesn't mean losing your right to vote in UK elections. You retain this right for up to 15 years after leaving the country, and voting from overseas is exceptionally simple. Sadly, according to the Electoral Commission, only 15,849 of the estimated 5.5 million Britons overseas were registered to vote in UK elections as of March 2014.
A gov.uk resource that informs you on which health benefits you still enjoy while living abroad, and how long your health coverage lasts.
A comprehensive look at different countries, sorted by ease of integration. British expats live all over the world, but some destinations are simply easier to be absorbed by than others.
A wide array of suggestions on how best to integrate into a new culture.