3 October 2016

Estelle Van de Velde - Expat in Brighton, UK

Estelle Van de Velde - Expat in Brighton, UK

We’ve had the chance to talk to Estelle Van de Velde, 28, a Belgian expat who has moved to the UK with her fiancé. Ms. Van de Velde who has been living there for almost two years, now works as a writer.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: I am originally from Dour, in Belgium. It’s a little village near the French’s borders.


Q: What made you move out of Belgium?

A: I had quit my job and was looking for something else. My boyfriend, now fiancé, dreamt of living in an English country and we discussed it a lot before making the step.


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

A: I now live in Brighton, in the UK. We chose it because the country is close to our home country. It’s easy to just take the train to visit our family if we feel homesick.


Q: How long have you been living in the UK?

A: Almost two years.


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

A: I am living with my fiancé, who is Belgian too. We are pretty happy with the expat lifestyle right now. I guess it’s because we got used to it.


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

A: Of course, I miss my family sometimes. My sisters and I are really close, so it’s difficult actually to see each other often. And I have a strong relationship with my mother, which makes it even more difficult. She is the one I tell everything, and we had to cope with digital ways to communicate. But even if we keep in touch (we actually talk to each other every day), we can’t hug, and that’s the difficult part.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: I have rarely met a British. I lived in London for a year and a half, and the city is so international that I’ve met lots of different nationalities. Now that I’m in Brighton, I think it will be easier to meet the locals. But people are nice and welcoming, even with everything that is said about the Brexit.


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

A: For socialisation, I use a website called meetup.com. There are lots of diverse groups in which you can register, and then you can attend the meetings and meet people. I’ve met a few people like that. But I’ve met my closest friends by going to social events through work. I think that if you get an active life, you can meet people easily.


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

A: Overall I think the price is quite the same in the UK than in Belgium, except of course living in London. The rent is so much expensive in London.

  • Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: Depending on where you get your cup of coffee, it’s between £2 to £3.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: You can get a nice meal for two for around £25 in a cheap restaurant.

  • Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: I remember paying £70 for a dinner for two, which was really expensive for us.

  • Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: I don’t drink nor smoke, so that’s a bit difficult to answer that question.


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

A: Some banks have a special deal for expat, so keep your eyes opened for those. Also, if you don’t have a fixed address yet, you can register online. This is the easiest way.


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

A: I don’t have any experience with these because I am European. But I had to apply for a national insurance number, which went pretty quickly because I could show all the papers needed. As long as you can answer all the questions, that will be ok.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in the UK is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: In the UK, they have what is called NHS. You can get free health care with it, but it can take time before you get an appointment with your doctor. That’s why you can also get your own independent doctor, but of course, it’s more expensive.


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

A: I’m not aware of everything in that matter. But I continue to pay for health insurance in Belgium while I live in the UK. I guess I’ll pay for one in the UK once I set up my career here, as I am currently a student.


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

A: When we moved, we just had one luggage each. We bought a Eurostar ticket and a room via AirBnB for a month. And we started like that. It was scary at the beginning because we came from nowhere. But my fiancé found a job quickly, and we started from there.


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

A: Hunting for a job, finding a flat, what paper do I need to get another paper... There are quite a lot of things to do when you want to live abroad. But I think the job question is the hardest one, especially when you’re not working in the IT, haha.


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

A: The positive side is that you get to meet people from other countries. I mean, you’re becoming more open-minded to other cultures, you’re discovering new things, and that’s so great. The negative side of it is that, when you go back home to visit your family, sometimes you feel that you don’t belong in your home country anymore because people can be so narrow-minded. Some of them don’t understand that you have changed, and others don’t speak to you anymore because our paths have separated.


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

A: In London, there are a lot of things to do. But what I recommend is to have a walk in Hampstead Heath or Richmond’s Park. Those two parks are so lovely; you could spend the day there. In Brighton, I recommend Brighton Pier, so fun to do.


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

A: Going back home is not an option, but we think about moving to the USA in the future. But we’ll wait until the presidential elections before thinking about it more seriously, haha.


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

A: Be prepared and have lots of savings, for your future deposit and rent.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about the UK?

A: I really love to follow some French blogs called Les Petites Joies de la Vie Londonienne and French Girl in London. Those two are really funny, and they have good advice for expats, but you need to understand French, haha.


Photo: Sébastien Santarelli – 2015