Energy and Resources
Relocating to another country is always a new adventure, full of anticipation and excitement. Previous to this move to Oxford, UK, I have packed up and relocated from Melbourne (hometown) to Canada, The Netherlands, South Korea and Perth (feels like another country sometimes!!).
This time however, was my first time relocating with my growing family – pregnant wife and dog, and the experience was TOTALLY different. We have experienced many twists and turns, so below are some practical tips that may help you in your future moves.
1. VFS Global
Many countries subcontract their visa administrative work out to a company called VFS Global, countries which use this service include France, Germany, India, Denmark, Australia and of course the UK, to name a few. They are desperately inefficient and unbelievably impotent in their capacity to influence their client, the UK Home Office. My advice on this is to complete your application and conduct your biometric scans as soon as possible – do the walk in, don’t wait for your scheduled appointment, as the processing time for your visa does not begin until the scans are submitted. In particular, ensure this is done as early as possible for your dependent visa applications as our one was horribly delayed in being processed, so much so that despite purchasing priority service ($411 fee, 7 – 11 business days turnaround), we had to withdraw the application after waiting 14 business days, resulting in costly delayed flights and my wife entering the UK on a tourist visa instead.
Moral of the story: Be extra vigilant when dealing with VFS Global for processing visa applications and especially so for dependent visa applications. Here are some reviews of their service provided around the world.
2. UK National Health System (NHS)
Our son’s expected due date is early November, which means our relocation was at the start of the third trimester. First bit of advice – avoid relocating this late if you can! As I am on a Tier 4 student visa, I pay a surcharge which allows me to use the public health system free of charge, and if my wife had successfully obtained the spousal dependent visa, she would have had free access as well. But as she had to revert to a tourist visa, we were unsure as to whether she would still be able to use the National Health System (NHS) or not. After many costly calls to the UK visa and customs office, we confirmed that she does have access, but will be asked to pay 150% of the cost. Which then meant the costs associated with delivering a baby will be in and around GBP10,000, approximately AUD20,000!!!
Moral of the story: Take out international private health insurance if you are on a tourist visa to the UK as it is not free. For those planning to give birth in the UK, ask for the waiting period of the pregnancy benefits to be waived. Bupa International waived the pregnancy and outpatient benefits for us as my wife was with Bupa for 2 years prior on a benefit that included pregnancy. This also then proves to the UK customs officials that you have no intention to abuse their health care system, as by law they must treat you regardless of your ability to pay the 150% cost.
Bonus tip: obtain a medical certificate from your gynecologist/obstetrician prior to flying in the third trimester, as the airline will ask for it once you get on the plane. As our flight to Dubai was 11.5 hours, the Emirates staff on board was very quick to ask for our medical certificate.
One of the worst things to experience when abroad is losing your hard earned money to poor foreign exchange rates and nasty commissions, which was hard to avoid in the past, but can now be significantly and easily mitigated through using platforms such as Transferwise. This online company has been a blessing (thanks Jayne/Jeremy for the tip!) as I set up an Australian, UK and EU bank account without ever having to enter a branch, it also provides you with very transparent exchange rates that are only slightly lower than the spot rate. As an example, exchanging AUD1000 currently will save me almost GBP30 as compared with exchanging through Commbank’s travel money card – it all adds up!! It also means that I am able to pay rent and conduct other direct debit transactions directly from my UK bank account through Transferwise!
Moral of the story: if travelling to a country where Transferwise has a footprint, download the app ASAP!
We have a Miniature Dachshund named Hunter, and he has flown over to the UK with Malaysian Airways. This was organised from start to finish by Jetpets and was the one aspect of our relocation that was managed perfectly.
Moral of the story: when flying your furbaby, just use Jetpets!
5. Renting in Oxford
I have been told that the Oxford property market is one of, if not, the most expensive real estate market in UK. After property hunting for 3 months, I would attest to that! This place is bonkers, the rent is excessive for what you get, and once you convert the Pounds to Aussie Dollars, it just makes you want to cry. This would have been largely avoided if we lived at Keble College, though unfortunately with Hunter, our baby, and mother in law due to come for 2 months, we had to find our own accommodation.
What has been most alarming is that due to not having any UK credit history, for us to rent and pass the reference checks in Oxford, we either need to provide evidence of having 30 times the monthly rent in annual salary (which for a full time student is ludicrous), or provide evidence of having 36 times the monthly rent in savings in a UK bank account for at least 3 months (crazy, I know!). The only option we had as we couldn’t meet any of those criteria, was to pay the entire tenancy upfront, with an additional 5 weeks’ rent for deposit. For someone that’s already burning cash like it’s nobody’s business just to move the family over, this was a serious shock to the system.
We were incredibly blessed to have stumbled upon a property that was managed by Lucy Properties which turns out to be an agency that actually owns all their properties, meaning they were much more lenient on credit checks and only requires us to pay monthly rather than all up front, phew!
Moral of the story: when planning to rent privately in Oxford through an established agency, bring a truckload of cash, or retain a decently high annual salary, or better yet, find a property managed by Lucy Properties!
6. Having a baby in the UK
The UK is a great place to have a baby, although there are some differences between the two systems. Below are a few that we have experienced so far:
The majority of births in the UK are delivered through the public health care system, where a much higher proportion of births in Australia are delivered through the private health care system. We discovered this when asking for private costs at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and was blown away by the fee, mounting up to a total of nearly GBP20,000!!
Organising a visit within the week to see the GP is not a matter of just booking an appointment online as it is in Australia, but rather, you need to line up first thing in the morning to try snatch an early appointment as the next available appointment to book would be weeks away.
Furthermore, you can’t just rock up to any GP, you must register to a GP in your area, and hope that they actually accept you. We have tried to register with a few GPs closer to the business school and have been turned down as our residential address was not in their ‘zone’.
In the UK, the midwife plays a much more pivotal role in the process leading up to and during the birth of your child, so much so, that the doctor or obstetrician does not intervene unless medically necessary.
Moral of the story: trust the UK NHS system as it is a very well oiled machine for preparing and delivering babies, but do your best to get yourself registered with a GP and midwife as soon as possible to not face any potential delays in care due to the backlog of patients that they have. This can only be done in person, so take this into consideration.
Bonus tip: if you are temporarily staying at an Airbnb, you can ask the landlord to write you a ‘proof of address’, this will suffice in proving your residential address during registration at the GP.
These are some of the more poignant experiences and learnings that we have had so far, I hope that it helps you in navigating your journey to either the UK or the next exciting destination that you have planned!
This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn. View the original post and more from Kenny here.Back to top of article