Interview with an Expat: Living it up, London-style

Have you ever dreamed of living abroad in an exotic city?  Maybe you’ve been thinking about it since taking a foreign language course…or maybe you have given it serious thought after a great trip overseas.  An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing (Wikipedia).  I interviewed my favorite expat, Renee Sterling, to give us insight into the intoxicating world of life overseas.  Renee has lived in London for 3 years.  While I was sad to see her move, I was excited for this new phase in her life.  Ironically, I see her now more than I did when we were both living in the same city!  Whenever I am overseas, she makes it a point to meet up with me in whatever fabulous country I’m visiting.  Renee has been the best travel buddy a girl could ask for and has inspired me to move abroad as well 🙂

Q.  What inspired you to move abroad?

A. Really, it was the idea of living in another country and experiencing its culture.  I have always wanted to do this before I settled down and started a family.  It also gives me the opportunity to travel the world.

Q.  How did you decide on London?

A.  I learned that Goldman Sachs was sponsoring a “City Fellowship Program” where it recruits minorities with 2 to 3 years of experience and places them in a Finance or Operations role for 1 year in their London office.  At the time, I felt that this was superb because I would gain great work experience with a global investment bank and if I didn’t like it, I could return home after my 1 year commitment was up.   

Q.  How did you prepare for your move (i.e. visa, what did you do with your car, phone, etc.)?

A.  Prior to moving, I had to considering a number of things.  Such as getting my property rented, selling the furniture from my apartment in Atlanta (the properties are much smaller in Europe and they may not accommodate the large-sized furniture sold in America), sorting out which items to leave behind, organizing my financial documents so that I could set up a bank account, and reaching out to friends who live in London and to ask about areas to live.  Fortunately, I did not have to prepare much with regards to visa because my firm sponsored me.  However, if one wants to move to the UK, one can apply for Tier 1 Visa.  The details and requirements can be obtained from UK Home Border Agency website (Editor’s note:  the Tier 1 General Visa was discontinued as of April 6, 2011 so you will need to apply under a different category).  If you live in Zone 1 – Zone 3 in London, you do not need a car.  It is actually pointless to have a car because there is a daily congestion fee if you drive through the city and parking and gas are expensive.  You are paying gas by the litre! With regards to cell phones, initially I was on a pay as you go plan in the UK.  I did this because I was unsure on whether I would be staying in London.  Once I decided to stay for the long term, I entered into a 2 year contract.  I believe one has to be a resident in the UK for at least 18 months before signing into a contract. 

Q.   What factors should people take into account when considering a move overseas (i.e. job, salary, living conditions, etc.)?

A.  Prior to moving, make sure that you have money set aside to account for property search and consider additional expenses.  In the UK, the tenants pay a council tax.  Additionally, if you have a television and wish to subscribe to cable, you will have to pay a TV license.  (Editor’s note:  You should try to find a job where the company will sponsor your visa and negotiate a salary based on the cost of living in London…not your current cost of living). 

Q.  What’s the best way to go about renting a flat in London?  How do you decide on what area to rent in?

A.  There are a number of ways to go about renting a flat.  When I arrived in London, I was placed with a property locating agency compliments of my firm.  Which was great because the agent was given a budget and she found properties based on my criteria.  You can use estate agencies (which can be costly), websites (such as gumtree or Flatshare), and internal correspondence.  I moved a year ago and the flat that I now live in is from an internal post. The property market in London is in a class by itself.  If you see a flat, you need to get it ASAP.  Also, in order to secure it, you have to pay one week’s rent in advance.  In London, the rent is quoted by the week so do not be deceived.  In addition to paying one week’s rent, you will also have to pay for a background check and, if approved, you will need to make a 6 week deposit.  Assuming it is a respectable estate agent, if you leave the flat in a good place, you will get your money back.  On the other hand, if you go with a private landlord, it may be cheaper but you are not as protected.   

Q.  What’s the best thing about living abroad?

A.  I love living in London because there is always something to do such as catching a show in the West End, attending a musical festival, or checking out an art exhibit.  Additionally, it provides me with opportunities to see the world.  Since I have been there, I have visited so many countries such as Cyprus, Holland, Scotland, Thailand, Italy, Spain, France, Czech Republic, Germany, and Belgium and I still have so many more places that I want to check out.  Lastly, I fell in love with a great guy and we are still together 3 years later.

Q. What’s the worst thing about living abroad?

A.  The worst thing about living abroad is that I miss my friends and family who are unable to see me because it is too far.  While Facebook has allowed us to stay in touch, it is still not the same as sharing these moments in person.

Q.  What’s your advice to people considering a move overseas?

A.  If it is in your heart to move overseas, you should do it! I would definitely say to make sure you have a sizeable budget to account for moving expenses and, if applicable, try to find a job before moving.

2 thoughts on “Interview with an Expat: Living it up, London-style

  1. KJ says:

    Good interview! Great to hear people loving their time in London-town, as well as having the guts to build a life in a totally new country. Inspiring!

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