10 Considerations as an Expat Returning to the UK
When my partner and I came back to the UK from France and Switzerland (we were cross-border workers, living in France and working in Geneva) we noted down the top 10 things that we had to address as returning UK expats…
1. Formalising your exit – health insurance, pet insurance…. and all the rest
We worked through the admittedly essential but at times highly frustrating bureaucracy that was required to formalise our exit from France and Switzerland. Paperwork can pile as high as Mont Blanc there, so we organised this over a period in order not to be overwhelmed. Bills needed to be cancelled, health insurance rescinded and permits handed in. Our key takeaway from this experience was that it’s important to make a plan to complete this process methodically.
Our pet insurer even required proof that we were leaving permanently to cancel our contract. Surprisingly, this did not actually come as too much of a surprise to us after three and a half years of being conditioned to a certain way of doing things there.
2. Pensions – what happens to our pensions?
In Switzerland, occupational pensions are moved to a holding account when you leave an employer. We had to make sure that our pensions were reinvested with a Swiss pension company so they could continue to grow once we left. Thankfully, as a financial planner I regularly advise my clients on this subject.
However, you can access at least part of your Swiss pension when you leave permanently to live within the EU. You can even withdraw it all if you are moving outside of the EU. If you are in this situation, it is important to get financial advice on the best options available to you.
3. Have enough savings to last the initial few months
Thankfully, we managed to save some money whilst working in Switzerland and living in France. Somewhat surprising when you consider the cost of an average weekly trip to Carrefour, compared to our supermarkets back home! It was important to have some savings so we were able to settle back into life in the UK, and to buy any essentials that we needed for the move. We also sold a lot of our furniture as we could not take it all home with us, and this needed to be replaced.
Moving home is stressful enough, without additional money problems.
As a financial planner, I always advise clients to have an emergency fund of 3-6 months’ salary and this buffer is even more important when repatriating.
4. Timing – when does the new job start?
I was fortunate in that I was simply moving from our Geneva office to our Head Office in Edinburgh which made the transition so much easier. My partner is a teacher who was not able to start her new job for two months after our return, so one less income was something we had to factor into our planning.
It’s important to time your return to reduce disruption as much as possible.
5. Where am I tax resident?
We moved in the middle of a UK tax year, which begins on the 6th of April each year. It was important that we spoke with HMRC to ensure that our tax residency was noted, and that our tax affairs were in order.
Your situation may be more complicated than ours, with more assets in different jurisdictions. If that is the case, it is important that you seek tax advice as part of your return.
6. Register with your local dentist and doctor’s surgery
I have not been the most frequent visitor to the dentist, but a visit just before I left France and the subsequent filling I required, changed my outlook. I am now a regular flosser and I registered with the local dentist as soon as I was back in the UK.
Make sure you register for a local doctor’s surgery and with a dentist… and remember to buy dental floss at the supermarket!
7. Medical/dental records
My partner needed minor dental surgery in the UK so we asked our previous dentist to send us her X-ray and dental records so that we could provide them to our new dentist.
You should ensure that you get access to medical or dental records as part of your transition and supply them to the NHS.
8. Find somewhere you want to live and do your research
One of the key decisions when returning home was, “Where are we going to live?” We did our research, listened to our hearts and our heads, then decided to move to a new place that was still close enough to our old home. We now enjoy walking the dog on a beautiful beach in Northumberland.
Returning to the UK will be a new chapter for you and should evoke the same excitement you felt when you started your current adventure as an expat. Be brave and find somewhere that makes you happy to turn into your forever home.
9. Rent before you buy
Be brave but also be practical. If you are moving to a new place, take time to ensure you love where you are moving to and take time to find that forever home. This may cost more in the short-term, but it will ensure you have made the right decision and eventually purchase the best home for you and your family.
10. Prepare for the inevitable slump
Returning to the UK will most likely lead to a euphoric high. We rejoiced at the Greggs £3 meal deal, down from the 15 CHF spent on an unpalatable tuna and gherkin sandwich (sorry Switzerland, I cannot accept your sandwich fillings), we relished paying less than black-market prices for a tin of baked beans and the substantially lower cost of a pint of beer. We enjoyed embracing the nostalgia on our return.
However, this euphoric high then inevitably led to a slump and subsequent low when we remember how cold the weather can be and we realised we couldn’t buy freshly baked croissants from the local patisserie. Where were those Alpine peaks I used to see every day? Nostalgia is a double-edged sword.
We had already foreseen this though, having both lived overseas in the past and experienced it before.
If you are returning to the UK, look forward to seeing the people you have missed and doing the things you have not had the opportunity to do while you were overseas. Also, plan to experience new adventures at home with the same brave, possibly foolhardy spirit that took you to another land in the first place.
All your experiences, good and bad will have made you a stronger and more resilient person, so you will be fine.
Jamie Tulip is an adviser at Forth Capital.
Forth Capital specialises in financial and retirement planning, wealth management and pension solutions. You can speak to one of our advisers by clicking here or call us on 00 41 22 311 1441