Kerry, tell us a bit about yourself. What's your background, and how did you come to work at Pickfords?
I’m an expat myself; I followed my heart to come to the UK from New Zealand, to join my wife and childhood sweetheart, so one could call me a ‘stealth expat’! Prior to that I lived and worked in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and America.While my immigration was unplanned and my world turned upside-down in a short space of time, it was worth everything to join Bev. I came to the UK to follow my heart, without employment. I have been a relocation specialist for over 20 years; the choice to join Pickfords was a natural one given that they have a global footprint.
Having lived and worked in five countries across five continents as an expat, I am happy to share my experiences in the hope that some of the challenges I’ve faced and had to overcome may help you.
What services does Pickfords offer for individuals moving abroad?
We provide a complete support solution to expats relocating globally. These services are bespoke to the individual and the region they are relocating to. Moves are supported by our branch network of over 600 offices in 45 countries; with 40 branches throughout the UK and Ireland. We can support you wherever you’re relocating to in the world!
These tailored solutions include visa and immigration, orientation tours, home search, school search, settling-in services, temporary and permanent accommodation, spousal support and career counselling, language and cultural training and the accompanying household goods move.
For corporate assignees relocating abroad with en-cashed allowances, we offer all the above services and repatriation services for when you return home.
What advice would you give to people who are considering international relocation?
As an expat, I can honestly say that moving abroad is one of the hardest decisions you will make! Choosing to leave family and friends behind and facing cultural differences, both personal and professional, in your host country, can be an incredible challenge. Done right however, it can also be one of life’s most rewarding experiences.
To get the most out of your relocation, you’ll need to conduct as much research as you can about all aspects of life in your new host country, both private and professional.
Permanent relocations of course take the most planning and consideration, but even temporary assignments require significant time to research, so make sure you’re fully prepared before you move.
Before you do anything, you must ask yourself if being an expat is really for you, and are you prepared for the challenges you will face? What’s the purpose of your relocation; is it a permanent move or temporary assignment? What’s your end goal, will you eventually retire in your host country? In my circumstance, I knew that I would never return to South Africa, so my first test was whether I could live far away from friends and family, including missing my niece’s and nephew’s birthdays, not to mention a delicious South African barbeque (known to some as a braai)!
Once you’ve made your decision, stay committed, because your friends and family will second-guess you. Have your answers prepared so you remain positive throughout the planning phase; the last thing you need is indecision. If you have a dream to move abroad, follow it, but have a goal in doing so; don’t just move because it sounds like a good idea.
Involve the whole family in the decision, not just your partner. Get your children involved in the process early; help them to see planning your move as an exciting weekend project where they can research their potential new home. This will help them face the reality of leaving their world behind. If you have teenagers, you will likely meet resistance. You can either drag them kicking and screaming(!) or engage them early in the process so they have time to come to terms with the move.
It’s important to consider potential language barriers in your host country. If English is not the primary language, invest in a language course in your home country before you leave.
Education should be a primary consideration; there are many online school comparison sites which enable you to assess academic and extracurricular activities. The key thing to understand is the impact this may have on the children as they transition between education systems.
There are critical decisions to make at an early stage with regard to your assets: what will you do with the property in your home country? Do you have any investments? What are the implications for tax, life insurance and medical cover in your host country? Consider exchange rates before you transfer your funds, as the timing could potentially save you thousands.
Will you take your pets with you? Make sure your pet is allowed to travel; consider the breed and species, as many countries do not accept all types of pets. Some breeds experience breathing difficulties and are restricted from travel. Potential quarantine should be investigated very early, as this may affect the timing of your relocation.
If you’re considering taking a vehicle, albeit a car, motorbike or even motorised toy for some countries, it’s important to gain an understanding of duties and taxes well in advance, as many countries have protectionism in place, and shipping these vehicles may be cost prohibitive.
Visit expat forums and read blogs, as you will find there is a wealth of information from expats who have had similar experiences. I must warn you however, life is not perfect and not all expat experiences are the same, so use your discretion!
The timing of your move is important; decide whether there is a need to relocate straight away or if you’d be better off holding back a little longer. Considerations like finding the right job, accommodation or waiting for the new school term to start for your children might mean it’s better to delay for a few months.
Making a pros and cons list will help you make a balanced decision; weigh up what you love about your home country, what you will miss about it, and what attracts you to your new potential host country. Design your own relocation planner with key dates and decisions.
Once you’ve made your decision to move, determine if you will have a home country visit, set a date, and stick to it. Frequent travelling will cause too much disruption and you won’t settle well.
To help get over the initial isolation:
Get your extended family and friends set up with Smartphone apps like WhatsApp, Viber and FaceTime. The Internet calls are free on Wifi and use data when you are out and about. You can also use Skype and Facebook for free internet calls. The call quality isn’t always the best, but it’s free and a great way to stay in touch
Are there any common mistakes people make when moving abroad, and how can these be avoided?
The most common mistake is to move without being fully committed or planning sufficiently. Overseas relocation can be incredibly expensive, if you don’t plan properly, and if you’re not committed you run the risk of giving up too soon and taking on the costly and added stress of moving everything back home again!
It’s not just you who needs to be completely committed; your partner will need to be fully on-board as well. Family dynamics may well change in your host country depending on the culture or your new careers.
That said, however much you plan, you may still encounter unexpected costs before or after your move. Prepare for this by setting up an emergency fund, and make sure your bank accounts are set up before you go. In addition, make sure your whole family undergoes a thorough health check before and after you move, to avoid unanticipated medical expenses.
Make sure that you can still get hold of any prescriptions in your host country; if not check if your doctor can fill a few prescriptions for you to tide you over and the name of the best alternatives. Australia for one requires you to declare all medications, even if they are over the counter drugs. Most countries do not accept food being shipped, but if they do, try to take some comforts of home with you (though check the current customs regulations beforehand).
Another pitfall is expecting to have a rewarding experience without putting the effort in. Making the most of your expat experience means being prepared to adapt to your new environment, being socially active and making the effort to do different activities and fit in with the local population. Make weekends an adventure; don’t become an insular family unit, make sure every family member is out there and involved in the local community in some way.
Don’t sit at home, get out there on weekends and explore; there are many things you can do on a low budget or even for free.
Pickfords also offers relocation options for small, private businesses. What are the unique challenges associated with moving a business abroad, and how do Pickfords address these?
The best advice I can offer is to check in with the local trade organisations and do your homework, as there are many important considerations to take into account. Embassies also have trade advisories who can help with questions.
Does your visa permit you to run a business in your new country? Our visa specialist can help clarify that for you.
Your business may not provide the same level of income and financial security that you enjoyed in your home country; consider foreign exchange well before you go, your host country’s economy, tax laws, insurance and other running costs, local competition and marketplace demand will generate enough business to support you. You may need to change your marketing message, or introduce or drop products altogether to make it a viable operation.
We are able to provide cost of living reports and assist with foreign exchange transfers you with your budgeting exercise.
Your products or service may be perceived differently in your host country. So making sure that your brand will be well received should form a key part of your business plan. Consider the culture or local climate as your product or service may not be as desirable. Are your products and practices compliant with local laws and health and safety regulations? How similar is your offer to that of local competitors?
Thoroughly investigate legal requirements in terms of business registration, health and safety compliance and labour law. What level of support will you have from your suppliers if your product fails or has recalls?
If your business will require local labour, research the experience and skill set of your host country’s labour force so that you are certain they will satisfy your requirements. It’s important to factor in things like your host country’s employee rights and the minimum wage.
Setting up your business in your host country while continuing operations at home will present its own challenges; can you realistically manage UK operations or manage British clients while overseas, or will you need to hand that responsibility to someone else? An another important consideration is the tax laws of both countries.
In your experience, which are the hardest transitions and why? Likewise, which are the easiest?
There are several factors which can make an overseas relocation difficult for individuals.
Generally, the further your host country is from your home country, and the more different the language and culture, the harder the transition will be.
Cultural differences such as how to introduce yourself, dining habits, tipping culture, how to behave as a guest and business etiquette can be overwhelming at first, especially if you haven’t done your research beforehand. Equally, learning the local dialect, not to mention the different meanings of posture, hand signals, facial expressions and so on, can be tough when you first relocate. But after your first year or so you may well have leant enough to feel less of an outsider and more like a local.
You may not start at the same level you were used to at home, particularly if your qualifications and skills are not equally recognised in the work place, you could also experience a role reversal where your spouse becomes the bread winner so be prepared for a lateral movement.
Differences in work ethic and other business practices can also make it difficult to transition so try learning as much as you can about the local job market before you go. Equally, your children might not be in the same academic year, and may struggle at first with the local language taught in their host school. With all relocations prepare yourself to settle over the first two years and be prepared for life’s little surprises. Don’t back out through fear however; I’ve been scared of the change before, but that’s the spice of life; you may regret never having done it.
On the flip side, similarities in culture and climate, and close proximity to your home country make transitions far easier. Similarities mean there are fewer things to acclimatise to, and it can be comforting to recognise elements of home amidst other aspects of the new culture which are unfamiliar. Countries that offer similar social activities, sports and so on mean you can unwind more easily and spend your downtime doing what you love. And of course, transitioning to a nearby country means easier travel when you do decide to visit home.
Finally, what do you do in your spare time?
Bev, my wife, has lived here for 18 years so for me, I am still in tourist phase, we love exploring London’s sights, visiting museums and other places of cultural interest. We try to mix up our routine with different social events and meeting up with friends. I also enjoy a few physical activities such as martial arts, downhill biking, road running and fire-fighting competitions.
Pickfords Move Management is a UK-based removals and storage company, helping individuals and businesses relocate both within the UK and internationally.