3 Women Reveal What it’s Really Like to Move Abroad

What it's like to move abroad

Have you ever fantasised about packing up a suitcase and starting a new life on the other side of the world? It certainly feels like our generation are citizens of the globe – not just of one particular nation – and I often feel the temptation to emigrate and experience that sense of freedom and adventure. So I invited three friends who are living away from home to reveal exactly what it’s like to move abroad. Some of their answers may surprise you…


Olivia Phillips, Fashion Features Editor at Emirates Woman magazine, moved from London to Dubai in 2014

Olivia Phillips

“I miss adverts on telly. I miss chatty cabbies. I miss ridiculous, bitcoin-fuelled hipster pop-ups. And I really, really miss Pret’s Italian chicken salad.”

What inspired your move to Dubai? To be searingly honest,  it was a bad breakup. I was in London, making a right pig’s ear of moving on, when I got an email from my now-Style Director saying I’d be perfect for a job on Emirates Woman magazine. If that’s not a sign that you need to skip town and start a whole new life, I don’t know what is.

What was your first week in Dubai like? I arrived in July, during Ramadan. It was 50 degrees outside with a strict ban on eating and drinking in public during daylight hours. You’re also required to dress respectfully during the Holy Month, which means covering your knees and shoulders. Bear in mind I’m originally from South London and we enjoy a rather irreverent, take-it-or-leave-it relationship with clothing. I spent the first week semi-cowering in a corporate hotel ordering room service.

What was the most challenging thing about moving abroad? One of the most challenging things is that, as much as I love the shiny new life, a big part of my heart is always going to belong to the grime of London. They say comparison is the thief of joy, so it definitely won’t do to constantly compare my lives, but your heart is forever in two places.

What surprising thing do you miss most about home? Walking. You can tell so much about what’s going on in London just by walking down the street. Here, everything’s behind closed doors so you really have to dig for any underground scenes. I miss adverts on telly. I miss chatty cabbies. I miss ridiculous, bitcoin-fuelled hipster pop-ups. I miss when the weather hits above 20 degrees and everyone gets next-level giddy. And I really, really miss Pret’s Italian chicken salad.

What’s your top tip for anyone thinking of emigrating? Really think about your reasons behind wanting to move, then just do it anyway. Life’s too short to always wonder what if. It’s a leap of faith – but the most worthwhile things never come from playing it safe.

Follow Olivia at newfavouritething.com and @favouritething on Instagram


Emily Johnston, editor of Fashion Foie Gras, moved from South Carolina to London in 2002

“I cried every single day and called home to tell my mom I’d made a huge mistake. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have a place to live and I didn’t have a job.”

Emily Johnston

What inspired your move to London? Naivety. I had just graduated from university and one of my best friends was heading to London on a student visa. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I decided to follow her lead. The rest is history.

What was your first week in London like? I cried every single day and called home to tell my mom I’d made a huge mistake. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have a place to live and I didn’t have a job. There was only £1000 in my bank account. Dire times! Everything turned around for me one day when I was crying in a cafe and the waitress brought over a cup of tea with the promise everything would look better by the time I was halfway through the cup. And she was right.

What was the most challenging thing about moving abroad? Not knowing anything at all, including the fact that I needed to be paying taxes in both the U.K. and USA. I also didn’t realise how hard it would be to do simple things like get a new phone or bank account. Times have changed, but in 2002 it all seemed impossible. It took me two months to really get into the swing of things.

What surprising thing do you miss most about home? Driving. I don’t drive in London because public transport and Uber have me covered. But I miss jumping behind the wheel to do simple things like go shopping or take off for a weekend in the country at a moments notice.

What’s your top tip for anyone thinking of emigrating? Read everything you can before you go. I was like a deer in the headlights. The more you know, the easier the transition will be. A friend of mine suggested asking friends and family if they knew anyone local that could offer advice. In hindsight, I wish I had actually acted on that tip. I blame my youth!

Follow Emily at fashionfoiegras.com and @fashionfoiegras on Instagram


Elena Perry, Marketing Manager at Retail Apparel Group, moved from London to Sydney in 2015

What it's Like to Move Abroad Sydney

“The first week was easier than I expected. Once I’d had a good cry over numerous glasses of wine it just felt like a fantastic holiday.”

What inspired your move to Sydney? I’ve always liked the idea of living abroad, and I spent a month in Australia when I went travelling after university. I immediately fell in love with Sydney because it’s an amazing city with a great beach life, and I went back to visit a few more times before emigrating last year.

What was your first week in Sydney like? The first week was much easier than I expected. Once I’d got over the heartbreaking goodbyes and had a good cry on the plane over numerous glasses of wine, it just felt like a fantastic holiday! The reality of the move didn’t really sink in until I’d been living abroad for a couple of months.

I was very lucky to have one of my good friends from school living in Sydney already, and they introduced me to lots of new people. I also went on quite a few ‘friend dates’, which had been set up by contacts at home who knew someone in Sydney. I made a lot of friends that way.

What was the most challenging thing about moving abroad? It’s so hard to leave family and friends behind. And it’s particularly difficult in Australia because it’s not possible for friends and family to visit often, if at all. I’m very lucky to have made some fantastic friends in Sydney, and when you live abroad your friends become your family. But it’s still incredibly hard.

What surprising thing do you miss most about home? I actually miss the cold. And I never thought I’d say that! Sydney does get a proper winter, which I don’t think many people realise, but the summer lasts for such a long time that eventually I crave cold weather. I also really miss British pubs and being able to sit in front of a fire with my friends, a roast dinner and a great glass of red wine.

What’s your top tip for anyone thinking of emigrating? It’s such a big commitment, so I definitely recommend visiting the place first. You need to really love it if you’re going to uproot your life. Also research the job market. I work in fashion retail and Australia is not really the best place to be at the moment. I’ve been very lucky and found a job that would sponsor me so I can stay, but it was harder than I had expected.


Have you moved abroad? What was your experience like? Feel free to share your story in the comments section below – I’d love to hear from you!

P.S. 5 life lessons you learn from travelling the world in your twenties

Featured image via West Elm

  • I’ve just finished with uni now and the other day my sister texted me saying we should move to new york for a year and it sounds so EXCITING! but i’m mainly basing my decision to move on satc, friends, mindy project, you’ve got mail…are these strong enough reasons 😉

    • cocos_tea_party

      Haha those are totally strong enough reasons! I originally planned to move to New York after graduation, but in my last year of uni started suffering really badly with a circulation issue that would make it impossible to deal with their winters. So now I’m thinking Austin Texas. And that is purely based on TV too – this time Friday Night Lights.

  • This blog post was really interesting to read. Thanks for sharing 🙂 x


    • cocos_tea_party

      So pleased you enjoyed reading it!

  • Such a great post Ella!

    As an expat myself (I moved from Australia 7.5 years ago), I can say that moving halfway around the world was simultaneously one of the scariest and best things I ever did. There were tears, moments of sheer loneliness (and wondering how on earth I’d ever make any friends and if all the people I’d left behind would still remember or care about me), but also a wonderful sense of newness; suddenly I looked at everything with a fresh perspective and new appreciation. I grew up fast, and I don’t regret it for a second (even if I still miss things from home terribly).

    Briony xx

    • cocos_tea_party

      So glad you did make the move, because now I get to call you a friend! And really hope I get the opportunity to be as brave and try living somewhere else at some point in the future xxx

  • cocos_tea_party

    Eek! I bet the weather was a shock to the system when you moved!

  • Hope Xiao

    I moved from China to United States six year ago. I am not a permanent residence so I have to work extra hard to stay in the Country. Just saying though, you have no idea how much easier it makes when you speak the same language as the country you are planning to move to. For me, since English isn’t my mother tone. I am less confident, outgoing and started to doubt myself when I moved here by myself when I was 16. All of these is so I can have better human rights and more freedom than I did when I was in China.

    • cocos_tea_party

      It must be so hard to move somewhere new when it’s not your first language. I don’t think I would ever be brave enough! It’s so awesome you’ve made that journey though, and I hope you’re starting to feel more confident! xx

  • Love this post! I moved to Canada from the UK last year. My boyfriend is Canadian, he was an expat in Aberdeen and I moved back with him. The first 9 months were really tough as I didn’t have my work visa so it was hard to meet people etc. I feel more settled now that I have my work visa but we are still waiting for my permanent residency which is a long process in Canada.

    – I miss being able to walk everywhere but I am learning to drive so I can have independence!
    – I miss Pret sooo much.
    – I miss good Indian curries.

    However, I am living in the sunniest city in Canada so I can’t complain too much 🙂

    • cocos_tea_party

      Hi Katie! How exciting for you. I love Canada, the people there are so nice and Canadian men are possibly the most handsome on the planet (so good job there haha!).

      It’s funny to hear how much people miss Pret when they leave the UK. And interesting the driving thing is an issue for you. I would quite like to move to the US in the not-so-distant future and will definitely need to learn to drive first.

  • Danielle Elsen

    I’m an American who moved to London in 2005. It was just going to be for a two year degree course but I fell into an amazing job that eventually got me my visa and permanent resident status. I was there until 2014 when my soon-to-be (British) husband got a work transfer to the US.
    As hard as it was moving to the U.K., it was a million times harder moving back! Thank heavens for in-laws as a built in justification for coming back regularly!

    • cocos_tea_party

      Hi Danielle. Thanks so much for sharing your story. And that’s so interesting and unexpected to hear it was much harder to move back home. Glad you have a reason to return to the UK whenever you feel like it though!