After the Brexit shock, more and more Brits are looking to move away from the UK. I don't blame them. There are a lot of pros and cons when it comes to living in the UK and for the sake of objectivity, I would like to tackle all points in this article. Is thr UK a good place to live? I don't know anymore. There are too many issues which make the UK a depressing place to be.
I'm going to start by saying that it wasn't always like this. There was a time when we loved the UK, were pleased by the level of comfort this country offered. There is a lot of incentive for young entrepreneurs to start a new business here and we took full advantage of this. We created 42droids which became the pillar of our careers. We enjoyed the crazy amount of products, the fantastic range of online shopping and the quality customer service. You see, all these were just normal things in the UK.
About 12 years ago when I came to study in Manchester, Britain was a different place. I think the part which shocked me the most was how friendly everyone seemed, how customer-oriented the service was tailored and the sheer amount of prospects anyone could benefit from.
But this was short-lived because I arrived in the UK during a dark time for Romanians and Bulgarians who just joined the EU. It wasn't all bells and whistles because it took me jumping through a lot of hoops to be able to obtain what back then was called a Yellow Card. I needed to work as a student as I didn't have rich parents to support me. But that's ok, I was never afraid of hard work and long hours of study. So here you had, a student willing to work and pay taxes, and nobody wanted to help her get a NI number, a Yellow Card or a job.
This didn't stop me, though, I persevered until I got accepted. I went above and beyond to integrate myself. I even learned the slang, so I feel one of "them". And everything was perfect. What might come as a shock is that I even loved the weather! As a writer, I thrived during rainy days as melancholia hit. It created the perfect environment for me to work, write and create.
As time went by, things started to change a little. The more I integrated, the more I saw, understood and acknowledged. Oblivious as I was at the beginning, I soon realised that I was somehow treated differently than my fellow British friends. For a while, it didn't bother me, until one day, I got rejected after a two-week job trial. They told me they didn't want me because I couldn't spell. I still remember the distress and shame I felt that day. I apologised and ran out crying, feeling desperate and marginalised. Why? Because I was a Law student whereby language skills were paramount. Of course, as a foreigner, I understood my limitations, yet spelling was never a major issue.
I asked for proof to see what I spelt wrong and on how many occasions. They showed me a name. Apparently, I wrote, "Stacy" instead of "Stacey" on a reminder post-it which has nothing to do with official documentation, appointment book or customer-facing paperwork. I told my British friend about this and her reaction was: "Were there any foreigners working for the company?" And this got me thinking...in fact, no! There weren't any. To further reassure myself that my English level was adequate enough for me to get a job, I went to University and took a language exam. My results were A for reading, writing and spelling.
It wasn't until the last year of University that I landed my first full-time job with Apple. That changed everything. My peers were cool, the work environment was multicultural, everyone was smart, funny, different and awesome. I loved them and loved my job. Throughout the years, I lived a relatively calm and happy life. I had my ups, my downs, no money whatsoever, but good friends and great prospects. In the end, I left my job at Apple, moved to Bristol, got a new job with a digital startup, met my future husband, formed our own company, started travelling the world, became British citizens, got married and here we are.
But something, somewhere, went wrong...thus, we decided to leave the UK. Could it be because England is not a good place to live? Or is there more to the story?
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Moving out of the UK
So what went wrong? Why did we decide to move out of the UK? I think after a decade of living in the UK, certain things started changing a bit too much and got to us. We are a married couple with no children, heavily focused on work. When we got married we decided to live someplace else and experience different cultures. We called it our long honeymoon.
Below I will explain some of the factors we took into account when we made our decision. This is not to say that England (or the rest of the UK) is not a good place to live. It's just that we wanted to experience something a little different for a while.
There are a lot of benefits to having so much rain in the UK. Rain makes this country green heaven, which is ideal for keeping those beautiful rolling hills everyone loves. This, in turn, is fantastic for livestock, fantastic for photography and brilliant for people who love walks in nature. There is just one catch. It always rains. This means an average British person has a wardrobe full of Autumn clothing and about 10 different types of wellies. As much as you might like the rain (and I already said that I vehemently love the rain), it eventually gets to you.
It gets to you when you need to ride your bike home whilst getting wet to the bones. It gets to you when you can't enjoy the pub's beer garden during summer. It gets to you when you realise you can't buy t-shirts because, in reality, you need sweaters, thermals and raincoats. It sucks that you can't wear a dress unless you go on holiday. It's not cool that you can only wear a skirt for 5 days of sunshine throughout the year (we call that the elusive British heatwave).
The Pro: If you like cooler days and grey skies, you will love living in the UK. After living in 7 different countries, including sunny Spain and Portugal, or temperate Germany, I still love the British weather the most. Maybe I'm a little weird but it just works for me. I'm an Autumn lover so basically, I get to enjoy a constant state of Autumn.
Travelling doesn't come cheap in the UK. There are pros and cons to this. The good news is that infrastructure is relatively good in the UK. Although we need more motorways, there are well-maintained roads in the country. This means that if you have a car, you can get pretty much anywhere around the UK. Owning a car doesn't come cheap in the UK, but luckily, the car market in the country is one of the cheapest in Europe. This means that buying a great second car in the UK will cost you much (LIKE MUCH!) less than in any other country in Europe. In fact, I am in the market for a new European car (which allows me to drive on the right-hand side) and the equivalent of the car I am selling here, is 5 times the price in any other European country. Mad!
If you don't own a car in the UK, I am very sad to tell you that train prices are ridiculous. I still remember wanting to go from Bristol to London and prices being close to £150 for a return ticket. So travel around the UK doesn't come cheap.
Having said all this, it's worth mentioning that the UK is a beautiful country. So many people prefer going abroad when there are so many wonderful places to see within the country. Think beautiful places in Scotland, stunning beaches in Cornwall and romantic places in England. It's a hiker's paradise, there's so much green, with ancient woodlands, rocky formations and medieval villages. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and lots of National Trust locations for wonderful days out.
When I first came to the country, I said to my British friend. "I love the British culture". Whereby his reply was: "What British culture?"
This got me thinking. What British culture was I referring to? Here I am, ten years later, puzzled by the same question. I'm still searching for the answer but got lost somewhere along the way.
The great things about Britain, are the sheer amount of bright minds this country had during its history. There are myriad of inventors, writers, musicians, bands, rock stars, scientists...All British! I can probably tell you something fantastic about a lot of them. And it was because of these bright minds that I chose to become British too. It took me years of hard work before I could even begin my application as a British citizen. But I wanted to show this country that I respect its traditions, its cultures and its laws. Furthermore, I respect the people who in my mind, made Britain awesome (Like Mick Jagger, David Attenborough or Maggie Smith).
But the more you integrate, the more you see the issues too. What country is perfect, aye? The governments have decided to further cut budgets for education, science and academics. Outside brilliant minds are no longer welcome to contribute to the Great British societies and money is being invested in privatisation and corporations as opposed to a stable economy, educated, informed and healthy population.
The culture in Britain has moved from brilliant to that of hate, racism and ignorance. The great educated gentleman is obsolete and the fine lady is on a verge of collapse.
There are two sides to the British culture. The one you get to see as an outsider and the one you experience once you are on the inside. Britain is the best example of what it's like to have a split personality.
But there's always hope. And that's something we continue to experience in this country. For every ignorant comment, there is a kind person who welcomes foreigners. There are new ideas on the market all the time, and inventors are trying hard to come up with ideas on how to push the UK further. We need to stand together and show the world that love prevails. Vote for the party that helps people, understands and values human rights. Try to help your community and form connections because it's the only way to fight the bad.
Since we are talking about culture, I must touch base on the food. The core of the British kitchen is the oven, as you might already know from the Great British Bake Off. Let me tell you about the art of British food. We have pies (a variety of them), we have the mighty Sunday dinner, the toad in the hole, the stew, sausages and mash, fish and chips.
In recent years, however, many restaurants focused on British products, and new ways to innovate by using locally sourced, seasonal products. I'm surprised by how much better the food has gotten. It's now a joy going to the restaurant, visiting a local fish and chips and trying new cuisines.
You can purchase anything your heart desires from the supermarket. This results in you learning to cook a variety of world dishes. I can cook Cantonese, Japanese (my favourite), Thai, Indian, French, Italian, Spanish and what not! So although Britain has a limited amount of dishes, it comes with a great variety of ingredients.
As you know, I am a foodie as I wrote about magical street food in Tokyo or the French cuisine in Nice. Or how we enjoyed some seriously nice Italian meal. Before, I used to think that no restaurant in the UK can match the quality and brilliance of the food we experienced abroad. However, times are changing indeed. We seldom feel the urge to travel for food, when there's so much local food to be discovered.
As you might have gathered thus far, the prices in the UK are rather high. There are cheap things too but expect to get what you pay for. Rent prices are high, and when you add utilities, the internet, council tax and all the rest, you end up with most of your salary gone. If you are not careful, it can be a cruel existence whereby you work to live and you live to work. But the vast majority of people in the UK seem to be relatively well off. At least in comparison to other European countries. The economy is still favourite for young entrepreneurs, hungry consumerists and investors. Or at least it was before the Brexit idea, but more on this a later in this article.
According to CWJobs the average salary for Professional jobs in London is £52,500. WOW. That's a lot, isn't it? Well, let's look closer. This is before any deductions.
According to Expatistan here are some things you have to take into account:
Monthly rent for 85 m2 (900 Sqft) furnished accommodation in EXPENSIVE area £2,391
Monthly rent for 85 m2 (900 Sqft) furnished accommodation in NORMAL area £1.696
Utilities 1 month (heating, electricity, gas ...) for 2 people in 85m2 flat £154
Unless you share your accommodation, you are extremely rich or live in a partnership with someone, you can't essentially live in London. Please bear in mind that these prices are without internet, food, transportation, clothes, personal care or any sort of entertainment.
The good news is that we live in a time when remote working is becoming more and more accessible. There are so many digital nomad jobs so you don't need to live in London anymore. You can live in a place like Bristol for example, where the cost of living is much more affordable, thus enabling you to have a decent life in the UK.
The internet was flooded with articles about where should the Brits move now that the Brexit happened. I was in Madeira when I saw the results for Brexit. I still remember talking to my husband the previous night, saying that the world is not that stupid. Nobody is going to vote "leave" and nobody is going to vote for "Trump". I guess Einstein was right after all..only two things are infinite...you know the saying...
As we were already British citizens, we too participate in the vote and yes, we voted "stay" in case you were wondering. Unlike many others, we understand the importance of being part of the EU. And since the article is not about this, I'm going to refrain from further comments. However, there are few things which surfaced with this whole Brexit situation. We learned that the vast majority of people in this country is racist. Politicians are liars (we've been promised more money for academia and the NHS...). Politicians are trying to get rid of the Human Rights (read about it if you don't believe me) and without a flinch, the great British government passed "the most extreme surveillance law in the history of western democracy" (to quote Snowden).
After the Brexit vote, people started attacking immigrants, and even immigrant looking Brits. Sadly, the internet is full of these instances so there isn't much point me going through them. What is even sadder is that we (although both British) felt the effects of this.
And finally, let me make something perfectly clear. I am what you call a naturalised British citizen. This means that I was born abroad, came here and worked very hard to integrate myself to the point I would be accepted and deemed to be called a British citizen. I don't complain about the process, due to the fact that I understand why any country would only want skilled migrants and high-quality citizens. However, it is shocking to still hear people moaning about immigrants coming to Britain for the sake of benefits, whereby it is the vast majority of immigrants who pay the most taxes. It is the immigrants who maintain Britain afloat, and it is because of the immigrants that we have good doctors, dedicated teachers and hard-working baristas in the local cafes. Nobody is claiming anybody's job. If you are willing to do it, you are better than the rest and are happy with the salary, then the job is yours. Getting a job is a competition and may the best one win!
Throughout my university years, I inevitably made friends with a lot of politics students. We loved exchanging views on politics and weekly debates were something I looked forward to. Perhaps, the main reason I loved these, was because we were all like-minded young individuals, who dreamt of a true democratic UK which had the Labour party at the core. This was mainly because we loved and believed in Tony Benn. He was an inspiration to us all.
What I always find hard to believe is how humans fail to learn from previous mistakes. People always blame it on individuals and never on parties, politic beliefs or societies. It's always one to take the blame. And so, nobody ever remembered the severe damage the conservative party did to this country throughout the years. And before you jump to my neck, I am a young professional with a business, whereby I, in theory at least, should benefit from conservative promises the most. Yet I fail to agree with the current leadership on issues such as Brexit, potential lack of Human Rights, surveillance laws, lack of funding for the NHS and academics...
Attitude towards immigrants
The most heartbreaking part is the attitude towards immigrants which Britain seems to have adopted. Despite the handful of people who try hard to make xenophobia go away, there are so many who still claim immigrants are bad for this country.
I get it, nobody likes foreigners. Nobody likes the idea of having someone around who is totally different than what we are used to. But let me tell you, though, you shouldn't see immigrants as a problem, but as a solution. Immigrants are the people who are willing to give up their rights, liberties and cultures, in order to work for the sake of your government, your country, your society and your benefits. These are the people who if we invite here and we teach them how to adapt, are going to work hard to pay taxes, and maintain the lifestyle which every born and bred British citizen believes they deserve.
If you still believe this is not possible, take me and my husband as examples. We were both European expats who came here to study. We adapted, changed and integrated into British society. We both naturalised to become British citizens. We both worked hard to build a decent life for ourselves and formed a company. We are both honest people, law-abiding citizens who pay taxes as individuals and as a company. We contribute more to the country than many others. Do you see? If allowed to succeed, immigrants will go above and beyond to prove themselves worthy of your acceptance.
This brings me to the last point, which is safety. I used to feel safe in the UK, but for a while now, I am afraid to go around at night. But in reality, I stopped feeling safe in the UK a few months ago, when people started assaulting immigrants in the street. From Downton Abbey, the UK became more of a Harry Brown.
But don't just take my word for it. According to the Global Peace Index, the UK is the 47th safest country in the world (and the 26th in Europe), well below Romania, Hungary, Germany and Botswana. Portugal is the 4th safest country in Europe...
England used to be a nice place and I really wish we could do something to increase the safety rankings.
Where did we live?
So far, since we left the UK, we have lived in Japan, Portugal, Spain, Hungary and Germany. We've left Germany for good a couple of months ago and we're now back living in England. We're in North Yorkshire and we absolutely love it here. Maybe it was our experience with Bristol and London. Maybe we didn't find our space in the South. But I can assure you, we love our life in the North and we are seriously considering going further up, to Scotland.
Having lived abroad for so long, we've learnt a lot of things about ourselves, other countries and the UK. And we've come to the conclusion, that there's no place like home.. Turns out, the UK has always been, home, our home. So we might as well make the most of it.
Where would you like to live? Would you come and live in the UK or would you rather take the road somewhere warmer? Leave a comment and tell me all about your experiences.
This article was first published on the 13th of January 2017 and updated many times since. Our last update reflects that we chose to move back to the UK. The UK is our home and we are proud first-generation EU immigrants and British naturalised citizens.