Once You've Tried Expat, You Never Go Back
Amy Gordon shares the trials and tribulations of the American expat experience
by Amy Gordon
Amy Gordon is an American expat, mother and working professional based in the UK, dedicated to working with HNW/UHNW individuals to create bespoke philanthropic strategies that are tax-effective and personally rewarding. Here she shares the trials and tribulations of her expat experience and encourages fellow expats to embrace the opportunity with a giggle and a tea pot!
If you’re an expat then you will know the “moment” it all started. It would have been just a normal day in your normal life. Then wham… by the end of the initial conversation, it’s gathered bits along the way and is now a small rock. As we all know, by the time you move to your new home, that small rock is now a formidable boulder juggernaut and nothing is ever the same! Now, saying that nothing is ever the same is not an indictment on the expat life. It’s just a fact. Once you’ve tried expat you never go back… well actually you often do go back but you are never quite the same as you were on that last normal day!
I’m familiar with the cycle having lived through it. I arrived in London in 2009 from Chicago with three kids. By the time I had arrived, I had endured an epic drama, which included the familiar tale of no room for all my kids at one school. Of course, two of my three got very enthusiastic welcome letters and my daughter received the “we are so sorry” letter. After we overcame that hurdle, through the help of an educational consultant, she had a coveted spot. However, our school holiday travelling plans were then dashed by conflicted term dates. I know this sounds familiar to many of you. You’re flashing back to the internal debate we all have; is it more important to travel as an expat seeing the world with your family or to be a good parent and not pull an eight year old from school for a few days? I am going to get ridiculed mightily, but I admit to having done that. I made myself feel better by buying Amazon school skills workbooks for the plane… hahahaha… enough said.
Being part of a welcome team at my sons’ school, I learned about what we face during this adventure. I have honed my advice and become empathetic to the weary facing predictable dilemmas: ‘still no tv/internet after six months’, ‘can’t get banking’, ‘my flat is the size of my old garage’. The shared experience creates a special bond. We all have funny, but not funny at the time, memories of our own journey. There are a few things I have learned along the way. London is now my home, and I am my most happy self here. I have gone native and those things that made me crazy now are mildly amusing and often just charming. I can say with total certainty that as an expat, you need to remember to keep two things nearby at all times…your sense of humour and an electric tea kettle. My utterly adorable 80 year old friend helped me buy all my white goods when I first arrived. After hours this sweet man asked me something which has stayed with me all this time. He asked whether I planned to have any friends in London. WHAT? He said it would be unlikely as I had not yet purchased an electric tea kettle!!! How right he was…
Speaking of advice, here’s mine. Being an expat involves complicated taxes and finances. I have a generous soul as do many Americans, who have a heritage rich in philanthropy. I’m a sucker for a good auction. However, I always faced the dilemma of where can I take my deduction? Can I get UK Gift Aid? And is it worth giving to a UK charity if my main point of taxes is the US? And now I know that a smart, tax-effective charitable giving vehicle exists for expats who file tax returns in the US and UK. Thanks to this donor advised fund, you can get the 25% Gift Aid increase on your donation where applicable, give to global charities, and be tax-effective in the US and the UK. I know, shocking! I am singing its praises. Check out the Charities Aid Foundation American Donor Fund for more information. It’s one of the few simple choices for expats with a great result!
I sign off with a nudge to all of my fellow expats. Remember how it felt to be new. There must have been that kind soul, who showed you the ropes and warned you of the pitfalls. Be that kind soul to someone else. This opportunity to live abroad is a gift and we become more than we might have been. We adopt a broader perspective of the world, we meet extraordinary people and see breathtaking places. We make terrific memories with our kids. Embrace the opportunity with a giggle and a teapot!