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The Life & Adventures of Laura The triumphs and tribulations of UK living & teaching.

We're not in Kansas anymore Toto

UNITED KINGDOM | Friday, 19 June 2015 | Views [376]

On the 30th of June, Pete and I will celebrate our 6 month anniversary of being expats. Unlike most people who go to live in the UK, we are not neck deep in other Aussies and Kiwis on the same adventure. Out here in East Sussex, we are something of an anomaly. Just the other day a waitress at our local restaurant asked if we knew Olivia, because she was also Australian. Apparently being few and far between also means you stick together. Unfortunately in our case, no.


Although I have somewhat settled into ‘British Life’ (well I have reluctantly accepted that 23 degrees is boiling hot and apparently I should carry a bottle of water and not get on a train if I am feeling poorly from the heat) I still catch myself comparing life here to Australia. When confronted with differences or red tape (B for bureaucracy not Britain here I’m afraid!) I find myself muttering ‘well in Australia we….’ So far people have looked at me with an empathetic expression. Not so the Turkish kebab man who firmly told me, “we’re in England love, if you want your kebab in a wrap, you’ve got to ask for it.” Lesson learnt.


A colleague at work was surprised that I still think of the cost of items in England in terms of Australian dollars. To be fair, it does make me feel a bit better when I double the numerical value of my salary to match it’s dollar value, however unfortunately that also means doubling the cost of whatever I am buying. It can be hard not to fall into the trap of thinking of pounds as dollars, particularly when shopping for clothes. No that £90 dress is not $90, its $180 and if I googled a similar dress in Australia, it’d probably cost $120. Que Sera hey.


These past few weeks, Pete and I have been on the hunt for a car. I handed in my resignation a few weeks back and have accepted a position at a school that is either 35mins away by car, or just over an hour away by train. Pete suggested a car…. I didn’t hesitate to agree.  We’ve agreed on a robust, tank like Volvo station wagon that is economical, difficult to break and in our price bracket. Well in our price bracket until we started researching insurance quotes.


We quickly turned to Google to find a forum to work out which company would treat Aussies a little less harshly (and see us for the careful and awesome people that we are, not the donut throwing hoons some of us are!). We were put onto a website called ‘Skippy’. The hold music was from the show – “winning” we thought to ourselves. After a 30 minute painful conversation to a call centre in India, we were rewarded with a quote of £2000 a year. Way more than the cost of the car, and that 3rd party fire and theft would cost the same as fully comprehensive.  (We were also told that because Australia is not part of the European Union our no claims bonuses could not be recognised – it was at this point Pete might have questioned why on earth they were called Skippy). Apparently people here have been known to buy cheap cars, only take our third party insurance and then run riot, so most companies charge the same price for both kinds of policies (make sense…. no it does not). Luckily, after a few more frustrating calls, we got onto someone who charges under £700 a year (oh yes, you also can’t get an accurate quote without the registration number of the car, so you have to essentially buy the car and then work out if you can afford to insure it…. are you seeing a pattern here??) and would charge less if you have a British license.


A British license you say. Reciprocal rights you say. Yes, you can ‘swap’ your license here. Essentially it means handing over your Aussie license (apparently to be returned to Australia) and you will be sent a British license in return (for £43, not for free of course). Thinking that it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle, we decided to apply. Unlike Vic Roads, the DVLA do not have offices that you can visit, you can only post them your documents (i.e. your passport and driver’s license, or essentially your only photo ID of who you are) via post and hopefully get your license and passport back within 5 weeks (but no promises hey, just let us know if you don’t hear back after 3 weeks and we’ll look into it). I was worried I wouldn’t get my passport back before the summer holidays, so Pete became the guinea pig to brave this process. Let’s hope Australia let us have our licenses back when we return! I don’t fancy taking my test again.


On a happy note, we’re off to Eltham palace this weekend to be a part of a medieval carnival weekend. I’ll admit they had me at ‘jousting’. I’ll let you know how much they want for their jousting sticks after the weekend, but rest assured I’ll tell them ‘they’re dreaming’ regardless of the asking price.

Tags: bureaucracy, car, east sussex, england, expat, frustration, uk

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