In the third installment of The Expat Mama meets… we get chatting to lovely lady and newbie expat mama Sarah Hills. Originally from the UK, Sarah has recently crossed the Atlantic and landed herself in the great US of A along with her husband Lee, and their two gorgeous children Jack (6) and Savannah (2). Sarah describes herself as a typical Sagittarius – one of the travelers among the Zodiac signs – and so no one was the least bit surprised when the move happened. This isn’t the first time she’s packed her bags and made a life somewhere new though, the difference is this time there are two little people to consider…
So Sarah, where are you from, where are you now?
From Formby near Liverpool (UK), but I lived in London before the big move to the States. I’m now in New Jersey, USA.
How long have you lived there and how long are you planning on staying?
(at the time of writing) 3 weeks and we are here indefinitely – no plans to return
What made you move?
My husband was head hunted by a U.S. firm in his field of I.T. recruitment specialising in cyber security. It was too good an offer and opportunity to turn down for him and our family and so it wasn’t a hard decision to make. The offer came at just the right time in our lives.
What has your experience been like so far?
Overwhelming. Having two kids at difficult ages made it all the more difficult, with so many more things to consider. When it’s just the two of you it doesn’t matter if you live in the best school district, or if you’re near a park or green open space, or how many bedrooms you have. For the first week before my husband started work he was at home with us and we stepped on each other’s toes. Our whole routine was turned upside down, the kids were jet lagged and unsettled, and it was a miserable time without pillows, proper bedding, and eating off plastic cups and plates. Things are now beginning to fall into place and normality is starting to return. Lee is settled into work, Jack is in school and we have more of a routine. As my delivery orders (pots and pans, glasses, plates, nespresso machine, ironing board etc. Exciting I know.) started arriving things began to get a lot easier and I could finally get back to some proper home cooking from scratch. Our belongings from the UK have reached the port in NYC so fingers crossed we don’t have any issues with customs or delivery we should have everything from home in time for Christmas (update: no issue’s with customs or delivery!). I know it will take a few months to feel completely settled but we’re getting there and have come so far!
What has surprised you most about your move?
How quickly it came around, the level of detail, paperwork, planning and checklists I have had to keep on top of, and how much I am capable of! My husband and I both have different responsibilities, and it’s been a bit of a battle of wills at times. He has had to adapt to a new job which is the pinnacle of our move, and I’ve had the kids and the entire move to organise. We are used to our roles and routines at home which have been thrown upside down in the past few weeks. Coming out the other side we are stronger than ever and more supportive of each other as we’ve both had huge amounts of responsibility on our shoulders. We’ve done a massive thing for our family and I’m really proud of us.
What has been the biggest challenge?
For my husband it has been venturing into the unknown and facing an unfamiliar commute and daily challenge. For me it has been the school process and shipping our belongings. The vast amounts of paperwork for our bank accounts, and the Visa application and interview was stressful for both of us. Not having a car is difficult at times, I didn’t realise how much I relied on it. It’s also strange getting used to the different names of things here, different brands of food and navigating the shopping in lb’s and oz’s. Co-ordinating the deliveries for when we moved in (we had no pillows or duvets for the first few days) was extremely difficult as was trying to do anything without a phone or social security number which we couldn’t get until we arrived. The banks were a nuisance constantly flagging our spending as fraud despite us repeatedly confirming who we are. The biggest challenge though was being in the limbo stage- knowing we were moving but not knowing where we would be living or where the kids would go to school.
Would you recommend the USA to someone else?
Yes, I love how patriotic and passionate the people are about their country. I want to explore the rest of the States in the future.
If you plan on moving again, what would you do differently?
I’d try not to worry too much and take each day as it comes rather than think about solving problems we hadn’t got to yet. I think I’ve done a pretty good job though!
How does the USA compare to the UK in terms of quality of life, family benefits, career prospects, healthcare and opportunities for women?
We are in the process of sorting healthcare and as everything is private it is excellent. The service when I registered the kids at the local paediatrics and I had to get Jack’s remaining vaccinations was brilliant! The quality of life here is excellent and full of opportunities for the kids. For my husband the sky is the limit and the prospects in his career are endless- one of the reasons we moved here.
What is your favourite thing about living in New Jersey, USA?
Living so close to NYC!!!
What one piece of advice would you give someone who is thinking of moving there too?
Take your time and make sure you have enough money behind you. Even with the brilliant package we were offered we have spent a small fortune! If you have a family I’d suggest using a broker or relocation agency who has experience of working with expats to help with the home search. Based on your needs they will point you in the right direction and help set up viewings with the right brokers who understand the position you are in as an expat with no credit history. Also I’d think carefully about whether you’re going to sell and buy new, or ship your things over. We did both. It’s important to weigh up the costs.
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