It's Not Just Your Finances - Key Considerations on Returning to the UK from Abroad

Insight | by Tom Tracy
Moving Back Home

Moving home after a significant period of working and living abroad doesn’t just come with financial considerations, but emotional ones too.

At Forth Capital, all of our advisers are – or have been – expats themselves, and a number of us have gone through the repatriation process. I myself have recently returned to Edinburgh after spending nearly twenty years growing Forth Capital’s international footprint in Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Dubai and Geneva, and given that we wrote recently about key financial considerations when moving back to the UK, I was keen to share my own experiences and personal insights in the hope that these could prove helpful to our clients.

1. Creating a good school transition for your children

If you have children, one of the most pressing practical and emotional considerations is ensuring that their schooling isn’t disrupted. School systems and the academic year can vary significantly around the world, and if, like us, you have teenage children, some schools won’t accept new joiners after a certain age, given their focus on providing continuity in preparation for exams. For example, in Scotland, exam preparations begin in ‘S3’, at around 13/14 years old, and we found that a number of schools won’t take children on after this point. The International Baccalaureate programme can provide continuity, but the breadth of schools that offer this option is quite narrow. Clarifying dates for the start of the new academic year and the holiday period preceding it are also an important consideration in terms of timing your move, to ensure that your children have the best possible transition into their new school.

2. Finding your ideal home

While the UK property market is showing signs of cooling, demand continues to outstrip supply, making it extremely challenging to find your ‘dream home’ on your return.

We struggled to find many suitable properties on the market when we returned to Edinburgh and we found that those that did become available, sold very quickly. As an interim solution, we settled on an apartment in the city [which I found quite tough after 15 years of enjoying instant access to a garden and the outdoors] and ultimately, we’ve built rather than bought.

3. Prepare for reverse culture shock

If you’re coming back to your home country after years away, your expectations, points of reference and outlook on life will almost inevitably have shifted.

Having exposure to a different way of life can alter your perspective – and yet the people you left behind won’t have had the same experiences and exposure, and might therefore not see things in the same way. Not in every case, of course, but I think this was something I hadn’t expected – assuming that my world view would remain the same as everyone else’s – and this can result in a ‘reverse culture shock’, taking you by surprise on occasion.

4. Get ready for more time indoors

As well as the culture, the climate in the UK can take some readjusting to – and adapting to an indoor lifestyle can be hard for those who are used to outdoor living.

I was fortunate enough to be in Dubai for a month recently and found myself wondering why I felt so different. I realised as I looked back over my daily journal that I was spending much more time outside – and had the benefit of being out early in guaranteed sunshine, every day. In Scotland it can be genuinely difficult to get enough sun between November and April – and although vitamin D supplements are a practical consideration – this self-evident but fundamental change in your environment can be challenging.

5. Plan as far in advance as possible

My final tip would be to work closely with your accountant and financial adviser before you start your move. Remember that the UK tax year in all likelihood will differ from the country that you’ve been living in, and time spent reviewing your circumstances and your planned move will ensure you don’t make any costly mistakes in respect of Capital Gains Tax and Income Tax.

I’m in the fortunate position of understanding how important this is and have seen the consequences and costs of people returning home without putting the right plans in place. I would advocate planning as far in advance as possible – and choosing a team of people who understand the nuances of expat life. At Forth Capital, we have a unique understanding of the complexities of an expat life – and the challenges facing those moving back home.

Having someone in your corner who truly knows the ins and outs of what you’re going through, and how to optimise your international finances and investments, is the best way to ensure you’re making the most of your money – and afford you peace of mind every step of the way, whether (returning) home or abroad.

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