Look before you leap

Moving overseas can be the best decision you ever make - or an isolating, expensive mistake. Ginetta Vedrickas reports on a new BBC programme that helps buyers to avoid such pitfalls
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The Independent Online

At any one time, half the UK population is apparently toying with the idea of moving abroad. Most of us may be indulging in idle fantasy but, every year, around 150,000 Brits actually pack their bags and disappear into the sunset.

At any one time, half the UK population is apparently toying with the idea of moving abroad. Most of us may be indulging in idle fantasy but, every year, around 150,000 Brits actually pack their bags and disappear into the sunset.

If you're not ready to act on your fantasies just yet, however, then watching those who are may be the next best thing. The end of April sees the return to our screens of the BBC's How to Get a New Life, a 12-part series that will see 12 more sun-hungry families turn their backs on life in Britain and try their hands at living abroad permanently.

Presenters Scott Huggins and Melissa Porter will be on location all over the world, including Spain, Italy, Goa and New Zealand. After leaving university Porter became a professional relocation agent, but as the presenter of three property programmes, her relocation skills are now confined to the screen: "We all need help and using a relocation agent just takes the hassle away and simplifies things."

Relocating people can be a complex task and Porter divides the lengthy list of challenges into major and minor. The programme will show how she tackles relocators' problems, ranging from finding jobs and schools right down to restaurants and social clubs. "They range from the major, what I call my 'A' list down to more trivial things on the 'C' list but, for people moving away, they are all important in helping them settle into their new lives."

Moving permanently abroad has certainly grabbed the nation's attention and, over the years, Porter has helped countless people to emigrate for a whole range of reasons: "Some people are going so that they can enjoy a better quality of life and get a better house or a warmer climate for their own and their children's health." But some motives are more suspect: "Some appear to be running away from problems in the UK, sometimes financial or relationships, but they might not want to admit this, even to themselves."

Porter strives to remains non-judgmental but offers this advice: "Good luck to them. Who am I to judge? But I would say only consider moving if you are already happy, either in your relationship or as a family unit. If you aren't then don't go in the hope that moving abroad will improve these fundamental things as it won't, you'll be under even greater pressure when you're out there."

But there are ways to minimise risk. Porter advises anyone relocating to do their homework thoroughly; by learning the relevant language, taking holidays in your chosen destination and speaking to other British people who've done the same thing. There are practical safeguards, too: "Always rent before you buy," warns Porter.

For anyone seriously considering relocation the series is accompanied by a book of the same title, which contains practical - and emotional advice - on every aspect of planning for a new life abroad, whether in the European Union, Australia or New Zealand. The thorough checklists include a cold, hard look at the effect the move can have on finances, employment potential and even relationships.

The book's authors, Anna Elsey and Anna Coombes, agree that having the strength to cope together is fundamental for people uprooting to new countries. "There will be extra stresses and strains put on relationships by the relocation process and you will have to be strong as a couple or a family to survive. We cannot stress enough that if you think moving will improve your relationship, then you're definitely barking up the wrong tree." Psychotherapist Catherine McMaster adds: "You don't solve anything by going abroad. If you don't sort out any problems or emotional pain, you'll take it with you as baggage."

There are those for whom relocation does not work. Jane Hall recently returned to the UK after selling her house in France: "I hadn't realised how lonely I would be," says Hall. "My family came to visit often but it wasn't the same and there were so many silly things that I took for granted and I really missed, like chatting to the postman and milkman." But it was something else that finally drove her to leave: "It was the constant battle against bureaucracy, which I found very hard to deal with, especially as I'm on my own, and I never felt fully integrated into the community."

Mike Hayes, editor of Homes Overseas magazine, advises people considering permanent relocation to think long and hard before taking the plunge. "Think about how you will cope with not seeing family or friends for long periods of time. I think there are some people who really should not do it."

But deciding if relocation is for you can be difficult. Porter has watched people battle against all kinds of problems. "In New Zealand, the family had big emotional challenges as they had small children and were moving away from their support networks. But they were very mature and overcame this." In Spain, we see the clients' purchase faltering and then discover the house is subsiding. So which episode did Porter enjoy most? "Goa was great fun as the couple were so funny, completely different, but they worked well as a team."

Can Porter tell instantly who will not make it? "I'm always wrong. The people I've thought were the most wayward, woolliest of clients have turned out to be amazing, very proactive and they have taught me a thing or two when I'd originally thought that they hadn't a cat in hell's chance of making it work."

Porter is not currently considering moving abroad: "Perhaps one day I'll live half the year in one country and half in another. Spain would be good but I'd have the language constraints. Australia, where my sister, niece and nephew live, would be good and they speak English there."

'How To Get A New Life' airs on BBC2 from 27 April.

'How To Get A New Life' (BBC Books, £12.99) is published on 8 April

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