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?
Table of Contents
Why we chose to move away from the UK
So what went wrong? Why did we decide to move away from 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 what a Brit would call "middle-class young professionals". We are a newly married couple with no children, heavily focused on work. We own a digital studio which enables us to be location independent, work long hours and pay taxes in the UK. We loved it. But you know what we also love? Travelling. Hiking. Forests. Good food. Sunshine. Safety. Human Rights. Privacy. All of which are either impossible, are becoming obsolete or prohibitively expensive in the UK. Let me explain.
There are a lot of benefits to having so much rain in the UK. Rain makes this country a 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. Which 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 it 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).
Finally, it gets to you when you paid £100 a night to stay in that remote cottage in the British hills, just so you are forced to remain indoors because it's chucking it down (slang for torrential rain).
Thus, the weather got to us. It took 10 years for this to happen. TEN YEARS! That's a decade of rain. We've been eating vitamin D and Magnesium to keep afloat, but it comes a time when you are literally on the verge of depression because of lack of sunshine. In fact, when I go on holiday and get off the plane in a sunny destination, I feel like some vampire mole. Not cool!
P.S. For those of you who love the stone cottages and lifestyle images of the British country life, I urge you to spend a month living this dream. The cold, rain and mud will eat your soul. But for my own sake, why don't we run an experiment?
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. Really? So travel around the UK doesn't come cheap, nor is very efficient because trains are late and aren't in mint condition. It seems more reasonable to pay £30 for fuel to drive to London and back, especially because it's always two of us or more driving, hence we end up saving even more. Compare this with £300 for two people on a train...
Once you get to travel around the UK, there are a few more things to consider. Accommodation is very expensive. Anywhere and everywhere. In fact, I am shocked to see the number of tourists still flocking to London, whereby I know how expensive hotels are. I went to the WTM in London and paid close to £500 for 4 nights. And bear in mind this apartment was far from the city centre and rented through Airbnb. Don't worry tho, prices are just as high when you rent a cottage in the country, a hotel in Manchester or a B&B in Chester. It's the norm.
Even if we could afford to travel around Britain, the question remains: why pay £500 to be in the rain, when you can pay less and be on a sunny beach. The exception being Scotland, because Edinburgh, the Lochs and its mountains are really worth every penny.
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? I started getting tired of being invited to the pub. The drinking culture in Britain seems to outshine the science scene. Theatres are far too expensive for the ordinary worker, but the pints are accessible still, even for the minimum wage. With so much rain and cold stone houses, what is one to do after work, but to pour their misery in a glass of ale and half mumble about their too demanding job and bad living conditions.
And then, it gets worse. 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.
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 (which has been cancelled by the way). With sadness I must say, the British cuisine is unremarkable. In fact, 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. Sorry, have I forgotten something? I think not!
Don't despair, though, Britain is a great capitalist country, which means 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. The good news is that most of them are also cheap, thanks to supermarket chains which lowered the product quality to match the price demand.
But then something happens: You visit Japan and enjoy their magical street food in Tokyo. Or experience the French cuisine in Nice. Or enjoy some seriously nice Italian meal. And everything changes. That is the time when you realise that restaurants outside of Britain offer good quality food at great prices.
And so, I decided to say goodbye to the pie.
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.
In reality, it's hard to justify spending £50 for dinner for two, instead of buying food for 3 days with the same amount of money. It's difficult to understand why a cold house with zero insulation in the outskirts of Bristol costs £1000 when a fantastic apartment in the centre of Lisbon is half the price. It's difficult to understand why people should pay close to £200 for council tax when the council refuses to take your bins unless you sort your recycling to the letter. And what bothers me the most is that everyone imagines the Brits as being really rich. Let's talk about this a little.
According to TotalJobs the average salary for Professional jobs in London is £42,500. WOW. That's a lot, isn't it? Well, let's look closer. This is before any deductions. In reality, you would take home about £32,067. This means £2,672 in your pocket a month.
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 £2,401
Monthly rent for 85 m2 (900 Sqft) furnished accommodation in NORMAL area £2,075
Utilities 1 month (heating, electricity, gas ...) for 2 people in 85m2 flat £208
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.
So we thought...why stay here, when we can live somewhere cheaper, with a higher standard of living?
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 and pledged our alliance to Her Majesty the Queen. 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. I'm not too sure why, as Bristol is a relatively safe city and I live in a decent neighbourhood in the suburbs. 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...
When you are not feeling safe, it's easy to hate living in a country. England used to be a nice place and I really wish we could do something to increase the safety rankings.
Where will we move from the UK
Now that I expressed why I chose to leave the UK, I guess the next question is where am I planning on moving to. It's hard to say what is the best country to move to from the UK. Well, we don't really know. We are taking the digital nomad lifestyle approach but by means of slow travel. We won't be travelling the world from one day to another as we are aware we need a base to run our digital studio and this blog from. For now, we think our base is going to be Portugal, but this is subject to change.
Will we ever come back to the UK
Although we have a love-hate relationship with the UK, this is still our home country (as ironic as it may seem).
Will we want to raise our children in the UK? Probably not. We will be in an English speaking country, but probably on a different continent.
Will we ever come back? We don't know. I mean our kids might want to study in the UK.
Someone asked me when I told them we are moving: "What will you miss most about the UK?"
My answer was: "Scotland!"
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. We have close ties to the UK and we still consider it our home one way or another.