The elephant in the room – Coronavirus

After our plans screeched to a halt back in June when my husband was diagnosed with possible MS, it all went quiet on the moving front. Once he had got the all clear we were really torn. It was my job and our mortgage and our families vs Melbourne.

Coronavirus is what really inspired us to want to move again, on a few levels. First and foremost, it was one of those things that happen that make you take stock and reevaluate. We have so far been lucky enough that the closest the virus has got to us is my brother in law’s mother testing positive after being taken to hospital after a fall, but thankfully she was fine. Despite that, seeing the death toll rise and rise, hearing the names and seeing the faces of literally thousands of people who had died, really reminded of us of how short and unpredictable life is. Didn’t we need to go and try living out there? We’d got so far and come so close.

The other factor was that we had relied on my parents when my husband had been ill, and when we first had Alex we had lived with them for 6 weeks (we had sold our place in preparation for moving abroad). This meant we did have doubts about how we would cope all alone on the other side of the world. Admittedly, I do have family in Melbourne, including 2 cousins who both have young children a similar age to Alex! We had followed the government advice to the letter so when lockdown hit, we spent weeks just the 3 of us, unable to go anywhere apart from the garden. It taught us how well we can manage alone, especially when we have no choice! But actually we felt we did well considering we couldn’t go out and do things like go to soft play or parent and child groups, which we ordinarily would have done if we weren’t at work and were looking after our son. It felt like if we could do this we would be fine!

The difficulty then came with our son’s visa. Once granted, you only have 12 months to enter the country for the first time. Because we had gone there as part of our honeymoon in 2018 we were fine, but Alex hadn’t been yet and his visa was granted back at the end of April 2019. We knew we couldn’t just up and leave immediately and we also knew if his visa was cancelled it could take a year or two (and thousands of dollars) to reapply. Thankfully, the Australian government have been amazing and allowed us an extension to entry.

My husband has heard that redundancies are likely to go ahead at his workplace in the near future and he would receive a decent payout for this. So now we’ve entered a time of real uncertainty: we want to go as soon as possible, but not before my husband gets redundancy so he doesn’t lose out financially. We’re also at the mercy of coronavirus restrictions. In the midst of this, Alex’s visa extension is only initially until December 31st 2020 and may or not be extended beyond that. Who said emigrating was stressful?!

Why Australia?

Today I thought I’d write about our motivations for moving. Partly to share but also I thought it would he interesting to look back and see if our hopes live up to the reality (if we ever get there!!).

It started out really because my husband had always dreamed of living abroad, either temporarily or permanently. I like stability and home so I’d prefer to move somewhere permanently if I were to move but it had never been a dream of mine. When we talked about it, before we’d been to Australia together, I’d said if I were to emigrate then I would want to live somewhere I could speak the language and sadly, like a huge number of British people, I only speak on language fluently – English. So for my criteria, our options would be America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

We’d both visited America, both separately and together. My husband loves it and would have moved there I think. I like it to visit but wouldn’t consider living there as I hate gun culture, I think it’s so alien to us Brits that pretty much anyone can have a gun! I’m also aware of how behind their healthcare is compared to our wonderful NHS and that they have insanely short maternity leave. Big no from me.

Canada has been a place I’ve always wanted to visit and it seems much more ‘me’ in terms of values. However, while I like winter, what I think of as winter Canadians would no doubt laugh at! A country that ranges in temperature from -40 to 40 degrees Celsius just seemed a little extreme for me.

Australia I had visited before and liked and on our first trip together, my husband and I also visited New Zealand. We liked it and there’s no doubt it’s a beautiful country but we fell in love with the city of Melbourne whereas Auckland just seemed a little less like the cosmopolitan city we were used to (London).

When my husband and I first met we were both really honest about what we wanted out of a relationship/life. So from before our first date we knew that having a family would be part of the plan. Wherever we were going to live had to be somewhere we wanted to raise our (at that point hypothetical) children.

When we compared the UK to Australia we are hoping for the following positives:

– more open space for the kids to run around in (UK is small and a bit crowded, especially near London like we are)

– better weather to enjoy the open spaces (According to Wikipedia, Melbourne gets 139 days of rain and over 2300 sunshine hours a year, with an average temperature of between 11 and 20 degrees C. London gets slightly less rainy days with 110 but only 1600 hours of sunshine a year and an average temperature of between 7 and 15 degrees C.)

– nice beaches (on the rare occasion we do have a sunny day, many of the UK’s beaches are pebble not sand, the sea is almost always too cold to go in and they’re overcrowded)

– better healthcare (NHS is fab but it is underfunded so you often have long waits, in A&E, to see your GP or for an operation. It is also in danger of disappearing altogether)

– better education (the focus in Australia seems less on results whereas in the UK it feels like exam factory central. There also seems like more of a focus on extracurricular activities and also on independence)

– better work/life balance (UK average is 42.5 hours a week compared to Australia’s 37.5 hours a week. My Aussie ex-colleague says in our profession there’s a huge difference and she’s also paid a lot less here. She says she loses the equivalent of a house deposit every year she stays here… she’s here for the European travel!)

– bigger house with better outside space (we live in a v small 3 bed house with a small garden but a huge mortgage and obviously it depends on exactly which suburb we move to, but we could get a house 1.5-2 times bigger with a bigger garden and have a tiny mortgage… this adds to the work/life balance argument as we think I’ll be able to work part time over there as we wont be relying on my salary as much, which means less childcare while the kids are small).

Nearly up to date

After moving into our new house in September and trying to settle back into the idea of UK life, we had a fairly uneventful few months. I had changed job in September and wasn’t happy there, so by October I had lined up a new place with a promotion to start in January. We celebrated Alex’s first birthday – where did that year go?! My husband was referred for a lumbar puncture and more scans after he saw a different specialist who was less confident about the MS diagnosis. Christmas was a bit of a challenge as Alex was unwell and when we ended up at the hospital on Boxing Day – poor thing had tonsillitis, hand, foot and mouth AND conjunctivitis!

We found out around the time that coronavirus kicked off that all my husband’s results had come back.

The consultant said he was almost certain that it wasn’t MS but he didn’t know what had caused his illness. It was fantastic news but also made us wonder what we were going to do now. We had just taken out a mortgage. I had just got a new job that I was really happy with. We didn’t know whether what caused my husband’s illness would come back.

Lockdown meant we had some time to think and with a backdrop of a global pandemic to put things into perspective. What were going to do?

Dreaming of sunnier climes

Best laid plans

So it’s 1st January 2018 and our visa has been granted. We’re both pretty shocked as a 3.5 month turnaround is incredibly quick. I was the main applicant and my husband, then ‘de facto’ partner, turned to me and said words to the effect of “I can leave you now, you’ve served your purpose” and we joked about us breaking up.

Fast forward just a couple of weeks and we had gone out for a dinner (to an absolutely superb restaurant in Billericay called Felix). Over dessert, my husband pulled out a ring and asked if I would do him the honour of marrying him. I had been fairly vocal about not really wanting to get married as it was just a piece of paper and as a feminist I didn’t need no man! But with the impending move to Australia we realised that if we were ever going to do it, we would want to do it here with all our family. My husband also wanted to prove once and for all that my purpose had not been served!

In typical ‘us’ style we had it all booked up and ready for early July that year. We planned an entire wedding in just under 6 months and our honeymoon would be in Sri Lanka on the way to Melbourne and our new life. Perfect.

In March, we found out I was pregnant. Which was excellent news except slightly sooner than we had thought it would happen! We then had to agonise over whether we should carry on and move halfway round the globe with me 5 months pregnant or try to move with a baby (and have to get the baby a visa). We went for the latter.

5 months pregnant and getting married!

We still flew out to Sri Lanka and Melbourne for our honeymoon, and it was nice that my cousin’s wife was also expecting a boy and was due just a month before me. I was also able to attend another cousin’s hen party (or bachelorette, whatever you choose call it!). I don’t recommend long haul while heavily pregnant if you don’t have to but it was ok and I was only asked to show my letter to say I was fit fly on the last leg from Doha to London.

In November, our gorgeous baby boy Alex was born. And our lives were exactly what everyone’s life is like when they have a newborn. Remember though that we had sold our flat the previous July though so we lived with my parents for the first 6 weeks and then went back to my father in law’s. We had now set our sights on moving July 2019 and booked our one way flights.

Alex

Some time in early 2019, my husband became really ill. He had a whole range of symptoms but the one that had the most noticeable impact on the family was horrendous fatigue. He would get up after sleeping for 18+ hour and still be exhausted. He went to the GP who dismissed it as being a new dad, despite the fact I had Alex solo all night while my husband slept in a different room in a desperate attempt to get enough sleep to function.

He eventually got referred to a neurologist who did scans etc and told him he may have multiple sclerosis. At that point everything was put on hold, we knew it would be crazy to emigrate when he could a lifelong debilitating condition and we would be moving away from our immediate family who could offer childcare support.

July came and went, and instead of flying off to Australia, we were buying a house round the corner from my parents. It looked like it was all over.

Happy new year!

We had been granted permission to apply for a visa in August 2017 and thankfully we had already looked into most things so it was a matter of submitting lots of paperwork, as much of the hard work was done the year before.

Best example was that I had sat an IELTS (English proficiency test) back in June 2017 as despite being a native English speaker, from England and having an English degree from an English university, we couldn’t get ‘points’ for the ability to speak English without the test. So we already documents like this and a certificate to confirm my qualifications.

We didn’t know when our application would be granted though and my husband would check the estimated times obsessively on the government website. We knew we could be waiting over a year but saw that as a positive since we could save save save.

On 1st January 2018, less than 4 months after applying, our visa was granted.

Let’s Go Again

A year of thinking and discussing and we’d decided we definitely wanted to give Australia a go. We had been looking at visas and had considered taking a state sponsored one as they were a lot cheaper. With my qualifications/career (secondary teaching) I knew that Perth was a good option as they have a teacher shortage in some areas. We thought that we could always move to Perth initially and then relocate to Melbourne at a later date. The only problem was that we’d never been to Perth. So we went on another trip in July 2017, visiting Vietnam and Bali as stopovers and Melbourne and Perth as our Aussie cities. We had also sold our flat together and would be moving in my father in law’s on our return, to allow us to save as much as possible with a view to moving out to Australia July 2018.

Vietnam

When we landed in Perth, I think within about half an hour we had reached the consensus that this wasn’t going to be the place we wanted to live! There’s nothing objectively wrong with it but it wasn’t somewhere we were willing to fly halfway round the world and leave all our family for. We’re used to having London a 20 minute train ride away and Perth was just too ‘small town’ for us – things were shut because it was a Sunday!

Bali

Being back in Melbourne though reaffirmed that this was the place we wanted to be and while we were there we put our application into the ‘pool’. Anyone familiar with the process knows you have to apply to even apply for a visa. You go into ‘the pool’ and every fortnight they have a ’round’ where they allocate permission to certain people in the pool to go on an apply for a visa.

I remember that we were staying at my cousin’s, we had all had a good evening of drinking and catching up and when my husband and I went to bed, I said that tonight was our first round in the pool, so at midnight we would find out if we could apply or have to wait in the pool. We didn’t have our hopes too high as we’d read on immigration forums that some people stay in the pool for ages before being allowed to apply. Nevertheless, we anxiously waited for midnight.

Melbourne

Midnight arrived and we received confirmation that we were allowed to begin the visa application process!

Our first visit

Back in July/August 2016, we decided to go on a ‘holiday of a lifetime’ and go to Australia, where I have quite a lot of family, most of whom I’d either only met once or not at all. We flew via Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, partly because direct flights are more expensive and partly to see more of the world. Before my husband and I met I wasn’t very well travelled, although I had been lucky enough to go with my parents on their once in a lifetime trip to see family in Australia. My dad absolutely hates flying and travelling, so we’d had one 2 hour stopover in Singapore to get the whole thing over and done with as quickly as possible. Singapore airport was therefore the only place in Asia I had seen!

Hong Kong

We both really enjoyed Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur but we were really looking forward to Australia – the main event. At this point the only conversation we had ever had regarding moving was maybe we would move out of our local area and my husband had said that he had always wanted to live abroad – maybe we would retire to Madrid one day? It had been our favourite city so far.

Kuala Lumpur

We visited a few cities on our travels: Melbourne (where my family are located), Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sydney. It was when we were sat in a hotel room in Kangeroo Point when we both had our ‘let’s move to Melbourne’ moment. We loved Queensland but felt that it would he too hot, plus with the pull of our family down in Melbourne it made more sense to aim there. We also absolutely loved the city and could really see ourselves there. We looked up how to apply for a visa and the cogs started turning.

Melbourne
Brisbane
Obligatory Sydney Opera House picture!