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Chapter 12 – The challenges of repatriation – Carole Hallett Mobbs

Carole Hallett Mobbs
Expat Life Mentor and Consultant

Expatability Chat Podcast

Repatriation after a Divorce

Repatriation is challenging when you want it, you’re ready for it and you’re planning for it. It’s even more challenging when it’s unwanted, unplanned, and unexpected.

Depending on how long you’ve lived overseas, there are certain aspects to moving back home that can be trickier than others. However, with the tips I’ll share here, you can take control of your repatriation by being prepared for this rather rollercoaster journey.

Repatriation is difficult for everyone

Everyone finds repatriation hard, regardless of their circumstances. This is mainly down to expectations and assumptions… We tend to assume that because we’re moving back to a familiar country, our home country, everything will simply be just the same as when we left. However, the country you left is no longer the same country. The friends and family you left will have changed. And, most importantly, you have changed. Living overseas has changed you and you have a global outlook that is now a huge and wonderful part of you. The way you view the world has changed and you’ll recognise this as you settle back into your home country.

If you’ve lived abroad for many years, you’ll definitely discover that ‘home’ is very different these days. Bureaucracy has changed, the general public have changed, rules have changed and even food has changed! This was the case even before Covid and Brexit, by the way, and it’s even more noticeable now.

Ex-expats who handle repatriation well are those who treat it as a brand-new move, to a different country. So, try reframing your thinking from ‘going home’ to ‘moving somewhere else’ and prepare accordingly.

OK. Time to get practical. I’ll come back to the emotional side of repatriation later. You have quite a bit to research and prepare, so let’s try and make this as easy as possible for you. The main practicalities you are probably considering right now are the actual move, finding a home, finding a school, and working out financials.

Transfer of Residence form (ToR1)

If you’re moving to the UK, and are bringing items and goods that you don’t want to pay duty for (ie most of them!), then you have to fill in the Transfer of Residence form (AKA ToR1). Complete your Transfer of Residence application in good time, as shipping stuff without a ToR can result in your items being held by customs, and then you’ll be hit with an additional charge from your shipping company. The form is here on the UK government website, along with all the information you need. My article on completing this form may help you too, as I’ve answered the most commonly asked questions here.

Getting into the ‘system’

Now, there’s a bit of a crazy circle that happens when moving back to the UK: you need to have a couple of forms of proof of identity to do anything. From registering with a GP, opening a bank account, applying to a school and pretty much everything in between, you need proof of personal identity – this is the easy bit as this will be your passport.

And then you need proof that you live at a UK address… Proof of address varies according to who needs it; some require a specific paper such as council tax bill, while others will accept a recent bank statement with your UK address on. If this is something you can sort out before you arrive back in the UK everything will be much smoother for you. Plus, the quicker you can build up your credit score, the easier life will become, financially.

The best option is if you have a family member or friend who could assist, but not everyone is lucky enough to have such a relationship. So, here are some alternative solutions, and for the quickest and best results, do most of them:

  • Get a rental contract in your name before you return.
  • Move into an Airbnb and use that address.
  • Get a ‘pay as you go’ mobile phone SIM, or a month-to-month contract, for a quick proof of address.
  • Update your driving license ASAP. If you’ve still got your UK license, update it online with your new address. If you don’t have a UK driving license, you can apply for a provisional license.

Once you have an address, register on the electoral roll to ensure you’re ‘in the system’, which will make life simpler in all official respects.

Remember, you can change your address at any time, so the temporariness of these options is irrelevant.

Opening a bank account

Once again, proof of ID and address is required for this, with the main High Street banks having the most stringent rules, meaning they may need you to jump through more hoops. If your current bank has UK branches, see if you can transfer with them first. Otherwise, there are online-only banks you can consider. Also known as digital banks, they are proving very popular with returnees: Monzo, Starling and Revolut are three you can look into.

If you’re transferring money from overseas to the UK, normal banks are very expensive for this due to poor conversion exchange rates and high charges. An option recommended by many is to use a specialist currency exchange service, such as Wise (formerly Transferwise).

Finding a home

Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket.com are good for house-finding. Be aware that rental agents may require a guarantor if you have no UK credit rating. Often they will accept an offer to pay six months’ rent in advance. The agent’s (and landlord’s) main concern is that you can pay and won’t default on your rent. References will probably be required, so if you can provide proof of successful payments in the past, this will help.

Some estate agents won’t deal with people while they’re overseas, while some will. Shop around until you find an agent that will work with you. You may need to register with an estate agent before you can view any properties. So, moving into an Airbnb is a very good starting point for anyone moving countries as it enables you to arrive and start your new life from a ‘home’, albeit temporary.

Finding a school

I expect you have an idea of where you’ll be moving so this fabulous tool may be very helpful to help you find a school – Locrating [https://www.locrating.com/]

Narrow your school search down to a few options as many will not have spaces. Some local councils may have a list of schools where places are available but do your research to see if these schools work for you and your kids.

Depending on the age of your child, and when you move, you may be applying for an ‘in year’ place. What this means is that your child has already been in a school somewhere, i.e. they aren’t joining at the start of school age or the start of the school year. I recommend contacting your chosen schools directly, either by email or phone, as they may have School Managed Applications (SMA) for ‘in year’ admissions, This means you can apply for a place directly with the school, which will be much more straightforward for you.

If you have chosen an independent school the admissions process is fairly uncomplicated. Applying for a state school place, however, can be ‘interesting’. Usually, you have to apply to the admissions team through the Local Education Authority. Full details are here on the government website.

Of course, there are many other practicalities to consider, but these main ones are key. Just take one step at a time, one day at a time and you will get there.

Managing the move and your mind

Now, back to some expert tips to help you mentally manage the move back home for you and your children.
Involve your children in discussions about the move, putting a positive spin on absolutely everything. Acknowledge their worries; don’t dismiss their concerns but don’t dwell on them either. Depending on their age, you will have different conversations with them. There are so many tips I can share on this topic, but I’ll end up writing an entire book! Check out my Expatability Chat podcast for key points on this, particularly on how kids of different ages cope with moving.

The important thing to remember at all times is that your home country isn’t necessarily their home country.

Think of it like this; you are going home, but your children are not going home. Home is where they were before – your host country. ‘Home’ is where their house, their school, and their friends are. Home is familiar. Yes, they have a link to your home country through their wider family and from holidays, but it’s not their home. Visiting a country for a holiday is not the same as living there, as you well know. Your child probably hasn’t even lived in your home country for any significant length of time. If you work out the proportion of their life spent in your home country compared to the proportion of their life spent overseas, you’ll see what I mean. Expecting them to understand home as ‘home’ simply isn’t going to work. Therefore, you need to prepare them for a move a whole new country.

Their peers will expect them to be ‘locals’ – they look and talk like a local, but they are not. They spent their formative years abroad. They are global kids. So, they may feel like outsiders for a while until they get used to their new life.

Encourage them to look forward, if possible. However, children aren’t too good at looking forward so this can be tricky. They’re better at looking back at something that they know. Or living completely in the present. Kids are comforted by the familiar, by what they know. Conceptualising the future doesn’t come naturally to kids of any age, but if you can wrap the ‘looking forward’ part in something that is familiar to them, you’ll be on the right track. Perhaps investigate new hobbies they’d like to take part in, places to visit, something that will spark their interest to look forward to.

Having said that, expat kids are truly amazing people and usually make new friends very quickly. Plus they’ll have very cool stories to tell their new mates!

Riding the rollercoaster

Acknowledge their emotions. This applies to you, too, by the way. Please understand that it’s OK and totally normal to feel angry, scared, excited, worried, and sad all at the same time. Leaving a country triggers a form of grief, and this is made particularly painful if you’ve had to return home unexpectedly. Recognise the loss and understand that grief follows a well-trodden path from which everyone emerges at some point.

It may take you a while to get used to the climate, especially if you particularly enjoy the heat. This year, the British weather has lived up to its cold and wet stereotype; I recommend a tumble dryer as one of your first purchases! Then, when the weather does turn hot, you will miss the cool air of air conditioning. Remember that it’s the rain that creates the “green and pleasant land” so enjoy the refreshing air and stunning countryside.

Perseverance is the key as you adapt to a different way of living. Ultimately, though, you’ll find life so much simpler as you’re dealing with everything in your native language. Take one day at a time, try not to look back too much. Look forward as much as you possibly can, and find a new project or a new hobby to keep you occupied. Plan some short getaways to reconnect with your home country by exploring somewhere new.

Treat being back home as a new international assignment; go into it with the open-mindedness that you would have done overseas. Understand that it can be difficult, and actually quite boring at times. You’re basically entering foreign territory all over again, so it helps if you and your children can view this move as a fresh start; one more step in your life.

Celebrate the amazingness of having more than one culture in your soul. You’ve had the strength and resilience to cope with everything and anything that life’s thrown at you, and you have survived. You will do so again now. This is just a blip, and this too shall pass.

If you would like some individualised support, I offer a one-to-one ‘Power Hour’ chat with me – someone who truly understands how you’re feeling – which you can book here: Expat Espresso.

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