Home » Returning To Study And Buying A Home As An Expat In Scotland

Returning To Study And Buying A Home As An Expat In Scotland

Carlie Bonavia: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus Podcast. Some pretty big life events happened around the time Australian expat Rachael Kowald turned 30. She moved from London to Glasgow for the lower cost of living, returned to school as a mature age student, and then, she decided to buy a house!

Rachael’s studying nursing, she also works as a carer for people with spinal cord injuries and – now she’s a homeowner.

In this interview, we talk about how she got into college and then university as a foreigner, the different streams of nursing study that you can choose between in Scotland, the house-buying process and local living costs.

Rachael, thanks for joining me on the Expat Focus Podcast.

Rachael Kowald: Thanks for inviting me.

Carlie Bonavia: I have to say, I’m looking at the Oodie that you’re wearing currently, and if you are watching this episode on our YouTube channel, Expat Focus, or on our website, expatfocus.com, you’ll see that Rachel is wearing a beautiful fluffy Oodie, as they call them. That is blue and it has koala print on it, and I have the exact same one. It must be an Australian thing.

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Rachael Kowald: It is. It’s an Australian company.

Carlie Bonavia: I should have known that. Yeah.

Rachael Kowald: I have refused to put my heating on just yet, so I live in this. I turned the lights on, especially for you.

Carlie Bonavia: Oh, well I’m really, really happy. Thank you for using some of your energy bill on this recording. I feel very privileged. You are speaking to me from Scotland. Can we talk a little bit about what came first for you, going back to uni or going to uni as a mature age student or buying a house in Scotland?

Rachael Kowald: So I actually went to college first. Because I’m a mature age student, there was this thing where they were like, “Oh, you probably won’t get into uni.” So I go to college first. It’s kind of like a bridge gap thing for mature. So I am doing a nursing course, so I did access to degree nursing at Glasgow Kelvin College Springburn, and that’s a bridging course kind of thing. So they said do that and then you’re guaranteed to get into uni.

Carlie Bonavia: And so now you are at university?

Rachael Kowald: Yeah. I started in September.

Carlie Bonavia: And what motivated you to go back to study?

Rachael Kowald: For the last 10 years I’ve been working in care, so I do live in care, so you can’t really progress in that unless you want to start your own care business and that’s too much effort. So just for career progression really. And then if I do ever go back to Australia, it’s like heaps easy to get a nursing job.

Carlie Bonavia: Spoiler alert. We met actually when you were living in London, and so was I. How did you find yourself in Scotland? How did you come to be in Scotland?

Rachael Kowald: Cheap rent. So everybody asks me this, so I work for the NHS up here and all the patients are like, “Why’d you move to Scotland?” So my go-to answer is the weather and the hot men, which they just look at me like I’m bloody crazy. But yeah, it was actually cheap rent. So because I was living in London and everybody knows how affordable London is, and doing live-in care, I was never actually at home. So there was no point paying six, 700 pounds a month when I was never there. So I had a friend who lived in Glasgow and I knew he had a spare room, so I would just message him. I was like, “Do you want a flatmate?” And he was like, “Yeah, sure.” And then four weeks later I’d moved up.

Carlie Bonavia: And you were pretty confident in finding work? If I understand correctly, the care sector is, I was going to say, there’s a lot of demand for people to work in the care sector.

Rachael Kowald: And I was doing the live-in care at that stage as well. So I had kind of like a permanent client. So he was down in Yorkshire, so it didn’t really matter where I lived. So just traveling to him.

Carlie Bonavia: What’s your routine when you are a live-in carer?

Rachael Kowald: So it is different depending on the client. So I work specifically with people with spinal cord injuries and it depends on what their routine is like. So some people work, some people don’t work, some people have kids, some people don’t do anything. So just all different. I think legally you’re supposed to get two hours a day off work, but it’s not set in stone so you don’t really have any time to yourself while you are there. So last time I was at work, someone was like, “Oh, I’ll come meet up for you for dinner and on Friday.” And this was Monday. I’m like, I don’t even know what I’m doing in three hours, let alone what I’m doing in four days. So it was a bit hard to organize your own life.

Carlie Bonavia: And so how long are your stints as a live-in carer? Do you do one week on, one week off or-

Rachael Kowald: At one stage I was doing two weeks on, two weeks off, and then two weeks on, six weeks off, and then I went self-employed and I refused to work any more than 10 days in a row. So unless it’s like I had a client who was going to Italy for something and that went a bit longer, but that was a fun thing. But normally I just don’t work more than any 10 days in a row.

Carlie Bonavia: And did you just determine that was your cutoff point where you really needed a break?

Rachael Kowald: You’re 24/7 with the same person. I like people. I just don’t like people that much.

Carlie Bonavia: I mean that’s a lot of people, a lot of the same person.

Rachael Kowald: It’s a lot of peopleing.

Carlie Bonavia: Lot of peopleing. So now that you’re at university, are you still doing care shifts or have you kind of stopped that for now?

Rachael Kowald: Yeah, so I have gone away from the live-in care and I do shift work now. So I have a guy I work with, I do eight hours a week with him. So four hours on a Monday and four hours on a Friday, and then I’m on someone else’s rotor and I just kind of fill in when I’m free and when he’s got gaps. And then I have two jobs within the NHS as well. So I am a band two, which is the healthcare worker. And then I’m trained for the vaccinations as well.

Carlie Bonavia: You’re doing quite a lot.

Rachael Kowald: Yeah, it just fits in. You just have to be good with your time management. And at the moment, uni’s only two half days a week, which I thought was quite weird.

Carlie Bonavia: And are you on campus?

Rachael Kowald: Yeah. So they told us it was hybrid study, which I thought maybe some of the classes will be online. So I think technically we do have three modules this term, two of them are on campus and then once a week, and there’s other one’s once a month and that one’s online.

Carlie Bonavia: How are you finding the university experience?

Rachael Kowald: It’s good. I find that you need a lot of motivation, which I struggle with. So they give us pre-reading to do before we go into a tutorials. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. They upload a lot of things that it must be from a throwback from COVID when everything was online. So they use a lot of the materials from there. So it’s all COVID relevant. Sometimes the links don’t work.

Carlie Bonavia: University, not exactly at the top of its tech game all the time.

Rachael Kowald: Well the university I go to also had a cyber attack in the summer as well, so a lot of things are getting blamed on that.

Carlie Bonavia: Well, you got to blame something. So tell me more about this enrollment process. You said that you were advised to enroll in college first as a pathway to get into your university course. What’s the intake at the Scottish University? You’re right, in terms of mature age quota and how difficult was it to get a place?

Rachael Kowald: I’m not sure what the quota is, but it does seem like there is a lot of more mature students. I’ve only really met someone, one or two people who are straight out of high school. Everyone else has got a bit of life experience behind them. I know in my cohort, so my uni has four campuses, and the campus I am, there’s about 150 adult nursing students. And then I think everyone in my college class got accepted to what they applied for.

So I applied for three unis and I got conditional offers for all of them. So it was conditional and passing college, which was another issue as well because there was teaching strikes. So we never got our grades from college, I’m assuming we all passed, because we all got offers from uni, but I emailed them last week and we were like, “Are we ever going to get our grades?” So apparently the strike has been over, so they’re collating it now and they’re like, “Oh yeah, you’ll get your certificate eventually.”

Carlie Bonavia: And being an Australian, did that change the process, the enrollment process for you at all?

Rachael Kowald: I don’t think so. So in Scotland, if you’ve lived here for three years as a permanent resident or citizen, I’m a permanent resident, so if you’ve lived here for three years, you get free education. So actually I just applied for college on a whim kind of thing as well. I knew I wanted to do it, but I wasn’t really all that keen. I’d already written a personal statement, so I just kind of sent it as I was chatting to my dad one day and I just didn’t read it or didn’t read any of the things they wanted in the personal statement. I just sent it off and I got in. And then, because I think nursing and doctors mainly, both get a bursary, so I actually got paid to go to college.

Carlie Bonavia: Wow, that’s nice.

Rachael Kowald: So they pay your tuition. So I think it was two grand for the year and then the college bursary was 5,000 I think from memory, a year. And then for nursing, I think it’s just under 2,000 pounds a year as well. And we get a 10,000-pound bursary.

Carlie Bonavia: So do you have any out-of-pocket costs to be studying in Scotland?

Rachael Kowald: Not at the moment. So I think with placement it’ll probably just be fuel and I heard from other people… So I’ve put down to do a rural placement, which hopefully I get because that’d be cool. And then I’ve heard from people in previous years that they had to pay up front for their accommodation costs and then they get reimbursed. Some girl was like, she had to pay four grand up front for a six-week placement. I’m like, who has four grand sitting around?

Carlie Bonavia: Well, especially now that you have a house, which is where I’d like to go next.

Rachael Kowald: Yes.

Carlie Bonavia: Did you decide to buy a house before you decided to go back to study?

Rachael Kowald: It was kind of like in the works. I think I turned 30 and I was all like, I have nothing to show for my life.

Carlie Bonavia: I’ve been there.

Rachael Kowald: Which is a lie, because I’ve been to over 40 countries and traveled and done this and I’ve moved continents kind of thing. But then you see people at home and they’re all like, “Oh, we built a house and we have a family and we have kids.” And I’m just like, that’d be nice, but also I am just going to go to France for the weekend.

Carlie Bonavia: And so when you decided… You turned 30, you had this crisis of maybe I need a house. Did you think, okay, it makes sense for me to buy where I am in Scotland or-

Rachael Kowald: Well, I looked at the prices here and the prices at home. So I am from South Australia, and I think you’re from Melbourne, aren’t you?

Carlie Bonavia: Yes.

Rachael Kowald: Yeah. So I remember the housing trust houses, so the semi-detached that no one ever wanted to live in, they were all dodgy areas. They were gone for 430,000 at home.

Carlie Bonavia: Back in Australia?

Rachael Kowald: Yeah.

Carlie Bonavia: Wow.

Rachael Kowald: Yeah. So I’ve bought a three-bed Mason Air, so it’s in a flat building, 75 grand, which works out to be 150,000 Australian.

Carlie Bonavia: 75,000 pounds?

Rachael Kowald: Yeah.

Carlie Bonavia: Wow.

Rachael Kowald: Yeah. So I told mum that, because she was like, “Why won’t you buy at home?” And I’m like, “Because of this.”

Carlie Bonavia: Just tiny price difference.

Rachael Kowald: Fair enough. But I always thought even if I do go home, I could always rent it out and become an international entrepreneur.

Carlie Bonavia: So you found this great property opportunity. What was the process like to be able to buy? Did you have to go to the bank and get approval first for a mortgage before you could make an offer?

Rachael Kowald: So I knew I wanted to buy eventually. So I found a mortgage advisor and I asked her because I had no idea what the process was in Scotland. I don’t really know what the process is in Australia either to be honest. And I was like, “What do I need? What do I need to do?” She said, “Here, it’s kind of like you find the property first and then you apply.”

Carlie Bonavia: So you go to the bank and say, “This is the specific property I’d like approval for.”

Rachael Kowald: Yeah. And then they can figure out your wages. I was quite lucky because the time I did it, I was just self-employed at that same stage and was making a ton of money so she could use that rather than my now student budgets.

Carlie Bonavia: I was going to say you skated in before you choose.

Rachael Kowald: Yeah. One of my favorite pastimes is just scrolling through Zoopla, just having a look to see what’s available. Oh, that looks nice. Never afford that, but that looks nice. And then I found this place and I just arranged to have a look. I brought my friends because, again, don’t know anything about Scotland houses.

Carlie Bonavia: You need a second opinion.

Rachael Kowald: Exactly.

Carlie Bonavia: You need someone to validate your choices. Absolutely.

Rachael Kowald: That’s it. And then I went back to the mortgage lady, put in an offer. No, I went back to the mortgage advisor and then she sent me to a lawyer, a solicitor, and then you have to put in an offer through the solicitor. So I viewed the house in 18th of December and then I put in an offer the 22nd, and then I think I got a phone call the 22nd, 23rd.

Carlie Bonavia: It was the Christmas house?

Rachael Kowald: Whatever day was, the Monday I think it was. Because I was down at work and I was telling my client that I’ve bought a house, and I got this phone call and he’s like, “Pull over.” Because I was driving at the moment. He’s like, “Pull over. Pull over to answer it, see what happens.”

Carlie Bonavia: How exciting. So is it like a silent bid where you kind of have a price guide from the seller and then you just have to submit your offer and wait and see?

Rachael Kowald: Yeah, so they do something called a home report. So it’s pretty much like your MOT. So it has advisories like, “Oh, you should update your windows.” It’s got your energy report in it. It’s got other things that suggest how to up the energy rating and something else in a… Just tells you what’s wrong with the property kind of thing. And then it’s got the market value of it. So I think it was 70,000 from memory. So I think I put in 72, and then that lady emailed me, I was like, “Are you sure? Are you sure that’s all you want to offer?” So then I put in 74 and a half, and then I was like, “Oh, I’ve got to save that money.” Because you still have to pay the solicitor and the mortgage advisor. So I think the solicitor’s bill was like 1,500 and the mortgage advisor was 500.

Carlie Bonavia: And did you know if there were other bidders?

Rachael Kowald: There was another lady who’d come to look at the property at the same time I did. And then the estate agent said, “Oh yeah, well you know what.” I guess they just do it to up the ante though as well. “Oh yeah, someone’s putting a bid and someone’s on this.” So I think there was two.

Carlie Bonavia: And as a permanent resident, did that mean that all of the mortgage conditions and process was the same as if you were a Scottish person applying for a loan?

Rachael Kowald: I think so. I got a 95% mortgage. So the way it works is your mortgage is based on the home report, so anything that you pay above the home report, you have to pay out of pocket. So I am not very good at math. So 70 grand, my mortgage was 66.5, and then I had to pay the extra four and a half out of pocket.

Carlie Bonavia: So we talked about the crazy price of homes in Australia and that was your motivation for buying in Scotland instead. And you said you bought your place for about 75 grand. So is that pretty typical of house prices in your area?

Rachael Kowald: I had never been to this area of Glasgow before and I just saw on super, I thought, oh yeah, it’s a decent price, I can afford it. So talking to some of my friends, it is not the best area. I don’t have any problems. I’m surrounded by old people that I’ve lived here 30, 40, 50 years, so I’m fine. But I think relatively around that, and then I think the most expensive place was probably 120 odd. But then if you go to other areas in Glasgow, you’re looking a lot more. Because I lived in Shorelands before, which is a gentrified area. People were like, “Why didn’t you buy there?” And I’m like, “Because you can get a two-bed flat for 240K.” Three beds-

Carlie Bonavia: Compared to three bedrooms in-

Rachael Kowald: 75.

Carlie Bonavia: … under 100. Yeah, just call it up and coming, in another 10 years.

Rachael Kowald: Exactly. Yeah. Well they said that because this is kind of like a village and then 10 minutes away is the main town of Paisley and they keep going on about how that’s rejuvenating and going to be the next big Shorelands kind of gentrified area.

Carlie Bonavia: So through this process, was there any part of it that you found a bit odd or was different to what family and friends in Australia were telling you, the home buying process was typically like?

Rachael Kowald: I think all my friends in Australia have pretty much built their own properties, and then my parents have bought their houses. But the thing I found weird was when you move into a property here, you only have seven days to see if there’s any issues. And then if they’re over 400 pounds, then it’s the seller’s responsibility to fix. So I moved in and I had issue with my plumbing.

Carlie Bonavia: But did you find it within seven days?

Rachael Kowald: Luckily, yeah. So I didn’t even know about this course, so I was like, “What?” So I messaged my solicitor, I was just like, “I’ve had this issue.” And he is just see what it’s like, get someone in if it’s more than 400.

Carlie Bonavia: So you found the plumbing issue within the seven days? Were there any other issues that are cropped up? I’m hoping not.

Rachael Kowald: More plumbing issues.

Carlie Bonavia: Oh, no.

Rachael Kowald: More plumbing issues. I had a bath one night and I could hear this noise. I was like, that doesn’t sound right. But I was already in the bath so I was like, I’ll wait till I get out four hours later. I got out. I went down into the kitchen. So I’ve got two stories, and I went down into the kitchen, there’s water coming out of my down lights.

Carlie Bonavia: Oh no. Oh wow, that’s dangerous.

Rachael Kowald: And then, yeah, I think it only cost it all up, it was like 250, 300. So it was under the 400.

Carlie Bonavia: So based on your experience with this buying process, looking back, is there anything you would’ve done differently buying another home in Scotland?

Rachael Kowald: Probably have more of a deposit. Because every time I look at my mortgage, you pay so much and then the interest gets put on. So my mortgage is 330, so I put that and it goes down, which is exciting. And then the interest gets put on and that’s 285. So what I’m only paying 50 quid a month. So that’s [inaudible 00:19:08].

Carlie Bonavia: Can you make extra repayments? I know here in France if you want to pay extra on your mortgage, the bank can actually penalize you.

Rachael Kowald: Yeah, same here.

Carlie Bonavia: For paying it early, which was a completely foreign concept to me from Australia. I don’t think they penalize you for paying early in Australia.

Rachael Kowald: Yeah, so it’s quite similar here. I think especially with a fixed mortgage, I think you can only overpay a certain amount before they penalize you. But I think if you’re on a variable, I don’t think they do, but I’m not 100% sure. This is one of those things where they’re like, “Oh, you should know this.”

Carlie Bonavia: I feel like in Australia, if you’re moving into a new rental or a new home, it’s professionally cleaned, it’s ready for you. Here in France, they don’t tidy the house for you, so it’s covered in dust, sometimes there’s stuff left behind that the owner hasn’t taken with them and it’s up to you to deal with that. Is that sort of the same in Scotland? Did you move into an empty home or did you move into a clean home?

Rachael Kowald: I moved into an empty home, but it had been freshly painted and new carpets, which I had out because one of the neighbors who’s lived here forever knew the old tenants because the owner had rented it out and she was like, “Oh, there was two people on the lease, but apparently 10 people lived here and they never opened windows.”

Carlie Bonavia: Oh my gosh.

Rachael Kowald: Apparently. So it was all freshly painted and new carpets and stuff. I just had to kind of wipe out the cupboards and stuff before I put anything in them. But it’d been sitting empty for three or four months, garden shed outside and that had a few things, like some old paint and some garden tools and stuff in it. So I was like, “Oh, cool.”

Carlie Bonavia: We found some very useful step stores actually that we use throughout our renovation and we’re still using the old owner’s garden tools and brooms and random things like that as well. So some of it comes in handy.

Rachael Kowald: Exactly. Stop having pay that extra five euros out to buy yourself a new broom.

Carlie Bonavia: And Rachel, how do you find being a homeowner and managing a mortgage with being a full-time student?

Rachael Kowald: So my bursary covers my bills. So I actually do a budget spreadsheet, because I love spreadsheet. I do spend too much money on food, but I think all my actual bills that needs to pay, so like my mortgage, my electric, what else do I pay? What’s that thing you call it? Connects you to internet. Your internet.

Carlie Bonavia: Your Wi-Fi?

Rachael Kowald: Your Wi-Fi, that’s the one. My Wi-Fi, my home insurance, I think it comes to just over 500 a month. So my bursary is about seven 770, so that pays for the actual things that I do actually need to pay for. And then I just pick up shifts and if I can, so I normally about 400 from the guy I work with twice a week. So that pays for everything else really. So it’s not too bad.

Carlie Bonavia: It sounds like you’ve got the budgeting down much.

Rachael Kowald: I try. But then the other day I was like, I’ll do an online shop instead of going into Tesco because I always go in for milk and end up with 90 quid worth of food. So I was doing an online shop, still spend 95 pounds.

Carlie Bonavia: Story of my life.

Rachael Kowald: I just don’t have any self-control. Apparently I need two pallets of coke.

Carlie Bonavia: And what’s the ultimate goal once you’re done with studying? Will you be staying in Scotland? Will you become a nurse? Where do you see your career taking you?

Rachael Kowald: I don’t know. So I also recently got myself an extra 95 kilos full of man, so that could-

Carlie Bonavia: That’s a really big dog.

Rachael Kowald: Could also influence my choice, but I don’t know yet. So I am doing adult nursing, so it’s a bit different from Australia as well. So in Australia you just do nursing, whereas here they put you into stream. So you have to choose if you want to do adult nursing, mental health nursing, pediatrics or learning disabilities. I picked adult because I just thought it’d be easier if I do want to go home, it’s easier to transfer your qualifications. I also thought travel nursing would be quite cool as well. So I don’t know, there’s just so many options and I haven’t done any placements yet, so I don’t know what kind of clinical area I want to work in yet.

Carlie Bonavia: You might fall in love with rural Scotland.

Rachael Kowald: I do. I do actually love the Highlands. Already there. That’s what I put down to put a rural placement. I was like, “Send me to the islands. I can practice my Gaelic as well.”

Carlie Bonavia: So just finally, Rachel, what’s your advice for anyone else, A, looking to study in Scotland, or B, looking at the housing market?

Rachael Kowald: Say for studying, wait till you live there for three years, because then you can go for free. Which is the best advice.

Carlie Bonavia: That’s a pretty good tip. Yeah.

Rachael Kowald: Especially when it’s like if you come as an international student, I think it’s about 12 grand a year. And I think even if you come from the rest of the UK, it’s still quite expensive. And for house buying, just wait till you find something that you actually like as well and that meets your requirements. So I did mine, it has to have a bath, it has to have a garden and it has to have parking. So I have two out of three, although it does take me about three hours to heat my bath, but-

Carlie Bonavia: Oh my gosh.

Rachael Kowald: I know.

Carlie Bonavia: I think we need a whole another episode on what is going on with heating in Scotland. Just looking at you right now, in your [inaudible 00:24:41] Oodie.

Rachael Kowald: I’m actually sweating too much now. I was like, “Oh, you’ve got me dressed.”

Carlie Bonavia: And then she can’t warm up her bath. My gosh. Well Rachel, thanks so much for sharing your experiences on the Expat Focus Podcast.

Rachael Kowald: Thanks for having me.

Carlie Bonavia: That’s it for today, if there’s a country or subject that you’d love to hear about on the podcast, let us know on social media, we are ‘Expat Focus.’ Head over to expatfocus.com and subscribe to our newsletter to never miss an episode, and I’ll catch you next time!