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What is it like to be a British expat abroad?

British Expat in Quebec City, Canada

If you are thinking about retiring abroad, then you might be wondering how you will cope with the adjustment. Here, we speak to a number of British expats to find out what made the move easier, and what challenges they were faced with.

Retiring to a warmer climate is a dream many of us have considered at some point, but the reality of being a British expat can be daunting. Leaving your family and friends behind, selling your home that you might have lived in for decades, deciding which country to move to, all major life-changing decisions to make.

On the other hand, the benefits of retiring abroad can be plentiful. You could enjoy a slower pace of life, a lower cost of living, more ‘bang for your buck’ when it comes to buying your new home, and the exciting opportunity to start afresh in a whole new community.

Whatever it is that tempts you to retire abroad, what challenges are you likely to face when moving and settling in to a foreign community? We asked some British expats to share their experiences of retiring abroad.

Learning a new language

Perhaps one of the biggest factors that puts people off moving abroad is the language barrier. Not so much a problem if you are relocating to America, Australia or New Zealand for example, but for most of us heading to a country where the first language is not English, a challenge lies ahead!

One British expat, Andrew Greenfield, was so keen to learn the native French language in his new home in Quebec City, Canada, that he took up a local job where he could practice the French Canadian language as much as possible. Andrew said:

“I spent a good deal of time at night school and earned a bit of money doing various jobs. I didn’t see them as jobs though – I certainly wouldn’t have done them for the money alone – but I saw them as opportunities to practice speaking a new language, and I was being paid for that, so everyone wins!”

Making yourself feel at home

Home sickness could be a challenge once you retire abroad, too. Once you have said the hard goodbyes and made the journey with all your belongings to your new home, the next step is staying there, and to do that, you need to make yourself feel well and truly at home.

David Wright, a British expat who moved to America in December 1999, has some advice for anyone wondering how to feel more at home after the big move.

“It really helps to become emotionally invested in your new home and country immediately,”

says David. He believes one of the best ways to achieve this is to think of yourself as an ‘immigrant’, rather than an ‘expat’.

“My experience is that people who have an ‘expat’ mindset are much less likely to make a success of an international move than those who adopt the ‘immigrant’ mindset. Start thinking of your new home as ‘home’ and where you came from as ‘the old country’.”

Embracing the customs and language of your new home is also important. David recommends you

“watch local TV news – don’t cling to the media of the old country. Stop watching the BBC. Sure, watch your favourite old TV shows on Netflix, but don’t get a VPN to watch new stuff on iPlayer etc.”

Making new friends

Amanda Adorni, a British expat in Santorini, Greece, has worked hard to make new friends and get to know more people in her new community. She believes using your hobbies and interests to meet people is key.

“I have a dog, so I have dog walking friends, I also volunteer at the local dog and donkey shelter so there are more friends there”, says Amanda. “I talk to everyone in the village, and in my seasonal summer job I know lots of people from hotels and villas.”

David Wright has some further advice for prospective expats looking to move abroad:

“Work is often the easiest place to start, and if you are religious, church is another great place. Look to your hobbies, too, and revive ones you haven’t pursued in a while. Book clubs and neighbourhood groups are also great.”

“Even if you weren’t very neighbourly in the UK, make more of an effort in your new home – host a pot luck [a Jacob’s join style gathering] for your new neighbours, or a BBQ.”

He believes integration is key for British expats settling in and making friends:

“Avoid making too many British friends, they may help with the culture shock in the short term, but having too many will get in the way of integrating into your new home, so keep such friends as a small part of your new circle. In short, integrate!”

There are great online resources for British expats looking to meet new friends in their new communities – is one such forum.

Missing your home comforts

Another challenge of moving abroad is missing the home comforts you have enjoyed for most, or all, of your life. Cadburys chocolate, McVitties biscuits, PG Tips, all staples in a typical home in the UK, but sadly, not abroad. So how do British expats cope with their cravings for home comforts?

For David, sampling and learning to love the staples from your new home is vital. He recommends

“choosing a handful of things you will have visitors bring for you that you can’t get here, but think of them as treats, not staples.”

“Don’t let yourself think of aspects of life from the UK as ‘better’ – they aren’t, they are just more familiar, and different,” says David. “Avoid specialist grocery stores that cater to old favourites and find new staples that are mainstream in regular grocery stores.”

The benefits of moving abroad

It isn’t all challenges of course. There are many benefits of retiring abroad and being a British expat. So is it the warmer weather, a slower pace of life, or the cheaper cost of living, perhaps? For David, it was a combination of factors that made him decide to up sticks in 1999 to the United States, and he hasn’t looked back. It was the prospect of a

“new life, better opportunities, a better place to live, and a more positive society to live in”

that contributed to his decision to emigrate, after he became “disillusioned with UK society”. And once he had settled into the USA, he realised the benefits were even greater than he had imagined.

Speaking about the best part of moving to a new country, David said the highlights have been:

“More money, a better standard of living, a bigger house, a bigger yard, it’s much safer, less crime, nicer people, less dishonestly, more optimism, less pessimism, a can-do mentality, more friendly people, and a way better healthcare.”

There may be challenges to face when you retire abroad, but for every challenge there is an adventure to be had, a new experience to be enjoyed, or an opportunity to grab with both hands. Or as British expat, Andrew Greenfield, says:

“Go for it. It’s a great way to start over, and you’re never too old to do that”.