30 May 2017

Julie Callahan - Expat in Several Countries

Julie Callahan - Expat in Several Countries

We’ve had the chance to talk to Julie Callahan, 59, an American expat who has moved to several countries with her husband. Mrs. Callahan who has left the US more than five years ago has now retired and became a full time-traveller. 

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I’m an American, born and raised in New Jersey.


Q: What made you move out of the US?

A: Initially, I moved to Bratislava, Slovakia for work. At the time I was with IBM.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: At this moment, I’m in a small village on the southern coast of Ireland, Courtmacsherry. But in two weeks, my husband and I will move to Paris, France.


Q: How long have you been living in your host country?

A: This is complicated. I left the US a bit more than five years ago. The first nearly four years, I lived in Bratislava, Slovakia and Budapest, Hungary and worked for IBM. When that ended, I retired. While we were living in Bratislava, we sold everything we owned. So once I retired, we decided to become full-time travellers.  


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live with my husband. Our three grown kids are back in the US. This lifestyle was more my choice than his, but he has adapted well. He is a photographer and this life gives him a wealth of opportunities to photograph people—which is his love.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: Of course I miss my family. But with today’s technology (Skype, Facetime, etc.) we can talk “face to face” whenever we want. And we return to the US a few times a year to see everyone. Last year, our immediate family came together in Ireland. The year before, in Greece. There is certainly a downside, but there are also perks.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: They are people. Like me. Like you. They have different experiences, but their dreams and goals are similar to my own.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in your host country? How did you manage to find a social circle there?  

A: We rarely (if ever) associate with expats. In Bratislava, we made friends with a family in town. We are still close. In Budapest, the same thing; we became close friends with a family in our building. We frequent the same stores and restaurants. The people I meet over and over in these places are part of what keeps me grounded in a place. For the last two years, we have moved every month or two. But we have picked up friends along the way, at times other travellers like ourselves.


Q: How does the cost of living in your host country compare to your home?

A: This is hard to answer. Of course, Hungary and Slovakia were inexpensive. We spent last winter in Guatemala and that was also quite inexpensive. Paris is more, but still not as expensive as a US city to my experience. The United States in not a cheap country to live in. Most places we choose to live have lower costs of living—which has enabled me to retire younger than I might have otherwise.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in your host country?

A: If you can, find one where they speak English! Beyond that, I have had no issues with this. Although IBM provided a service to help us with opening an account, I found it easy enough that I just did it on my own. In Hungary, I ended up closing my bank account. We often elect to bank back in the US. ATMs are plentiful. I use cash for most things.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: In Slovakia and Hungary, IBM provided tremendous support to help me through this process. However, we just completed this on our own (Visa, not work permit) for France. I found it very easy. We went to the French Consulate in Washington DC, brought everything they asked for, and had our Visa back 10 days later. Outside of these 3 countries, we have always left before a Visa was required (generally, for an American, 90 days).


Q: Would you say that healthcare in your host country is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: My husband had surgery in Budapest, Hungary and we found the healthcare to be exceptional and quite inexpensive. Outside of this, to date, we have kept the bulk of our medical care in the US. This will change next month when we move to France.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in the US or in your host country? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: We have international coverage that is for everything EXCEPT our home country. This was a requirement for us to get a Visa in France (or any Schengen country). This is, for us as Americans, substantial savings over our US based insurance policies.


Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to your host country? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: We arrived in Bratislava with two suitcases. Period. I remember bumping those huge cases over the cobblestone streets. Other than this, we have gotten rid of everything we owned (save for some pictures and Christmas ornaments stashed in our son’s basement) and hence, have never needed a mover. It’s freeing. I suggest it!


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: At first, in Slovakia, it was the language. Many Slovaks don’t speak English. We bought furniture at IKEA and then couldn’t arrange delivery. It took me 30 minutes to buy a simple annual train pass (armed with my English to Slovak dictionary). We have learned to speak more simply. I use a lot of noun rich English.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in your host country?

A: The positives are learning about people, cultures, and history. The international friendships we have developed are priceless. The negatives are missing our family.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: In Bratislava, bike to Austria. In Budapest, take in as much classical music as possible. In Paris, walk down the street as you nibble the end of a baguette tucked under your arm.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: After Paris, we plan to move to Ireland. Eventually, we will return to the US. I just don’t know when.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Try not to use expat communities as a crutch. We’ve found our local experiences to be richer than hanging with other English speaking expats.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about your host country?

A: For Paris, I follow David Lebovitz. Otherwise, no.