Here is an article written by Grace Jennings-Edquist from ABC Life, August 6, 2018
Grace interviewed me for the article and as it addresses a pertinent topic for many of us, I thought I would share it.
I can’t remember which way to look before crossing the road anymore.
I keep expecting to find wine on the supermarket shelves. And it’s taken me three weeks to get a broadband connection in my new home because I don’t have a credit rating.
I’m not a recent immigrant to Australia. I lived in Melbourne all my life until I moved overseas in 2015. But fast forward a few years and I’m feeling like a foreigner in my home city.
I made the move back in April after three years living in New York and London, and while I’ve slotted right back in on a superficial level, the subtle differences in this land of blue skies, tall men and self-deprecating humour have left me with a touch of reverse culture shock.
And I’m not the only one. I talked to a bunch of other returnees — and two transition experts — to gather tips on how expats can plan a move back to Australia.
When you’re in a cramped apartment in Delhi or London, it’s easy to daydream about life in sunny, spacious Australia. But taking off the rose-tinted glasses before your move can help reduce disillusion later on.
“It’s important to be as realistic as possible and not to romanticise coming back,” says Lauren Sokolski, a counsellor and clinical social worker from Individual and Relationship Counselling in Melbourne.
“To somehow prepare yourself emotionally by thinking, ‘I’m excited about coming back, but I have to give myself time, and not to expect that everything’s going to just fall back into place’.”
Sure, you may have a soft landing in Australia. But equally, don’t be surprised if you find the process emotional.
Any major transition can have all the elements of a grief cycle (denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance), explains Emily Rotta, a counselling and careers practitioner at Transitional Support.
“It’s normal to feel blame or guilt or anger,” Ms Rotta says, adding that feelings of resentment can bubble up if you returned because you ran out of money or because a relationship broke up.
Start preparing the practical stuff as early as possible
As someone whose move back involved six trips to the vet with my cat, nine phone calls to Optus, two applications for a new driver licence and fee-laden bank transfers between three jurisdictions, I can vouch for the fact the administrative side of the move can be a headache. So it helps to start preparing early.
“We kept all our bank accounts up and running while we were away,” says James Calder, 33, who lived in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore before returning to Melbourne in February.
James also recommends putting your health insurance on hold while you’re abroad. This way you keep your rating with the company and “if you have pre-existing conditions … you don’t have to go back into the waiting period. If you have a pet, you’ll need to start the import process at least six to eight months before your intended move date.
Rabies shots have to be administered a good few months before your return. We learned the hard way: my husband had to stay in London for an extra week to meet the post-shot waiting period. You’ll also need time to arrange the government-mandated microchip and quarantine.
Also, read up on your tax obligations while abroad — an oversight made by a number of expats I know, including Amy Harrington, a 26-year-old remedial massage therapist.
“Because I was naive, I didn’t realise you had to do a tax return even if you weren’t living in the country, so on my return to Australia I was hit with a $4,000 plus bill as they were still charging me tax when I was away,” Amy says.
I hired an accountant to help navigate this tricky tax stuff and I recommend you do the same.
But in short, you may have to file two tax returns: one in Australia and another abroad. That’s because you’ll remain an Australian resident for tax purposes if you don’t set up a permanent home in another country, an ATO spokesperson explains.
That means you’ll have to lodge an Australian tax return and declare all your foreign employment income, even if tax was taken out in the country where you earned it.
Take the initiative with your friendships
Regardless of how active you’ve been on Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook during your time away, don’t expect your relationships to be the same once you return.
“With some friends, their lives have been going on and they’ve closed the gap where you were. They have to create a gap again and that may take some time,” Ms Sokolski says.
“You may have to take more initiative to be calling people and organize to get together, rather than sitting back and thinking, ‘They should be calling me.’
Other friends may have gone down a different life path to yours which may alter the dynamic of your relationship — especially if your friends have started families.
“Be aware that most of your friends might have had babies,” says Anna Rabin, a 30-year-old political risk consultant who returned from Tanzania to Melbourne in July last year.
Amy felt the same when trying to slot back into her Gold Coast social group: “Everyone’s coupled up and is doing their own thing and nobody really parties anymore.”
Make new connections
Australian society is busy, and our cities are not quite as transient as some of the major international hubs such as New York or Tokyo. I’ve found it harder to make new friends in Australia since social circles are already set.
But forging new friendships is possible if you put in the time.
“It’s about joining some social activity you enjoy,” Ms Sokolski says. “It might be dancing … [or] lunch on a Friday with some work colleagues.”
In my case, each time I’ve moved cities I’ve joined a book club, local art studio and volunteer group. I’ve also attended alumni events, and I’ve met a few dog owners after adopting a puppy since returning home to Melbourne.
It’s too early to say whether I’ll form any long-term bonds that way, but it feels like I’m on the right track.
Use your ‘When I lived abroad…’ stories sparingly
As a recent returnee, it’s tempting to chip into every conversation with an epic tale of climbing that mountain, meeting that celebrity and finding that undiscovered beach.
But in all likelihood, doing so might make you sound like a boastful tosser, so you might want to tone it down or save your tales for fellow former expats.
Plan your money
Take it from someone who dipped into overdraft in her savings account in her first week home: it costs a lot to move, and Australia is probably more expensive now than when you left (there’s a reason everyone’s freaking out about house prices here).
“The biggest adjustment moving back is that it’s expensive here,” says Anna. “Food is so expensive.”
Amy agrees: “I’d definitely say to anyone coming back to Australia, make sure you have a bit of money saved — I started putting money away six months before I moved back — so you’ve got that security so you can unwind and not stress about working.”
The transition process may sound daunting, but for me the move has been more than worth it — to be close to my new baby niece, to enjoy lots of Vegemite on good-quality toast, to live life at a slightly slower pace, and to endure winter with fewer than three layers of down clothing.
The space in Australia feels luxurious, says Emma Cameron, a 38-year-old lawyer who spent two years living in New York before moving home to Brisbane last year.
“We have a five-year-old son and coming home to a four-bedroom house, as opposed to a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, was wonderful.”
For Simone Amelia Jordan, a 37-year-old journalist who returned home to Sydney in 2016, living in New York made her appreciate Australia’s health care system. She ultimately returned because her Crohn’s disease became too expensive to manage in the US.
“I’m beyond grateful to come home to a country where I can be treated without major financial burden,” she says.
“Listening to others complain about Australian politicians and tax issues [now I’m back], I’ve just got no time for it.
“Savour every moment of returning home to fresh food, stunning beaches and a general sense of safety. We can and should never take these things for granted.”