The Ups & Downs of Expat Life: Settling Into Leeds

Settling into life in Leeds, UK []

Living the expat life can be incredibly rewarding. You have the opportunity to experience and immerse yourself in a new culture, you get to explore a city top to bottom, and you get to meet a myriad of new people who would have never otherwise crossed your path.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses. Living abroad can be incredibly hard, it can try your patience and test your sanity, and there are times when it is going to be downright frustrating.

After all of our struggles last year trying to adapt to life in Spain, we just assumed that everything would be easier in England. The single biggest factor in our assumption was that we spoke the language; we knew that we’d be able to communicate, to understand and to ask questions, and we just assumed that this would make for a smooth transition. But, as with most assumptions, we couldn’t have been more wrong.

Since arriving in Leeds, we’ve faced a myriad of challenges that have affected our everyday life. Some of the issues have been big, while other have been small; some we prepared for, while others completely blindsided us.

Overall, we really love living in Leeds, but as with any expat experience, it’s not without its struggles. After two and a half weeks, here’s how we’re settling into life in Leeds.

Housing - Settling into life in Leeds, UK []

We found a flat relatively easy and breezed through the approval process. We were so excited to move into our recently refurbished flat; it seemed like everything was perfect. This should have been a red flag.

The afternoon we were meant to move in, we hiked our bags through the city centre and killed time in a pub before meeting the property manager. She arrived ten minutes before our scheduled appointment to inform us that something was wrong – apparently, she’d tried to call an hour before, but wasn’t able to reach us.

She explained that unfortunately, for some reason or another, our flat was without power. They’d only discovered it the night before and were having someone sent over to sort it out that evening.

Not a problem we thought, we were just happy to not have to spend another night in a hotel. We carried our things up the stairs, surveyed the flat as best we could in the dim lighting and headed back out into the city to buy the necessities that would get us through the night. We spent the evening at a pub quiz night and came home hoping we’d be able to flick on the lights as if there’d never been a problem at all.

But that wasn’t the case. We came home to find the apartment darker than when we’d left.

We stayed the night and awoke in the morning hoping that maybe, miraculously the power had come on, but it hadn’t. So we took insanely cold showers and carried on with our way.

That afternoon, as I sat in the Leeds Central Library taking full advantage of the free wifi and power, I was given a glimmer of hope. The property manager informed us that someone would be coming in before suppertime and it should all be up and running after that.

I was cautiously optimistic but hoped I was wrong. I stayed at the library until closing, when I decided to meet my fate and started the walk home. With each passing step, my attitude changed: it will be on, it won’t be on, it will be on, it won’t be one.

I walked in the door, flipped the switch and my heart sunk: still no power, still no hot water.

As Dave walked in the door, the letting agency rang to give us an update on the situation: they’d partially fixed the problem, but would need to send another journeyman over to finish the project the next day.

One more night without power.

Again, we figured we could push through just one more night and spent the evening in a nearby pub.

I awoke the next morning early as Dave was preparing for a business trip. “Hopefully they’ll get things sorted out today,” we said to each other, both feigning that we had any hope.

After Dave left, I napped for a while before heading to the library once again. I spent several hours reading, writing and browsing the internet before I decided to head home for lunch, and to once again flip the switch in the hopes that a light will turn on.

As of this writing, we’ve just been informed that our power should be on, but I’ve heard this before. Hopefully, this time, when I flip the switch, I’m blinded by lights. Keep your fingers crossed for me reader-friends!

UPDATE: We have power!

Jobs - Settling into life in Leeds, UK []

The job hunt has been another hurdle, a small one but a hurdle nonetheless. By the time we obtained our entry visas there were only two weeks before our travel date. Knowing that we’d have a lot on our plates (e.g., jet lag, trying to find a flat) I decided to wait until we arrived to start applying for jobs. It made the most sense, and wouldn’t put me in an awkward position should I be invited to an interview while we were still in Canada.

Our first few days in Leeds were perfect. As Dave went off to work, I stayed back in the hotel checking out ads for flats, searching job boards and preparing applications, and doing a bit of writing for this ol’blog.

It was all working out so well.

About a week after our arrival, our BRP cards were ready so we went to pick them up. Because we’d submitted our Tier 2 applications after a certain date they were supposed to come with our National Insurance Number (NIN) on the back, so I was keen to pick mine up and really get going on the job search. Only, my NIN number wasn’t there—it turns out that as a Tier 2 General Dependant, I don’t receive a NIN number along with my visa application, I would have to apply for one separately. This wasn’t outlined anywhere, so this felt like a bit of a setback.

But, I pushed on. I went back to the hotel, immediately looked up how to obtain one, and was a bit disappointed when I realised I would need a mailing address before they could issue one.

Not a problem as we’d be moving in a week.

So, I (im)patiently waited, keeping up my with search, and the day after we moved in, I made the call. I spoke with a lovely woman, answered all of her questions and felt so positive about the whole situation: in just a few days, I’d have the card in hand and all would be well in the world.

Or, so I thought.

At the end of the call, I was informed that it would take 7-10 days to receive the application. After filling it out and sending it back, I could anticipate receiving the card in 4-6 WEEKS.


Clearly, this is not at all the outcome I was hoping for, but there’s nothing I can do but wait. Thankfully, I don’t require the NIN to start working, but not having one has disqualified me from one job competition, which is a bit disappointing but maybe this is just a sign that that job wasn’t right for me.

Banking - Settling into life in Leeds, UK []

Setting up a basic bank account has been by far one of the most trying experiences since we arrived, and I’m currently living in a flat without power and hot water.

We weren’t in a rush to set-up a bank account until we were informed by Vodafone that we couldn’t set up an internet connection without a bank account. And, because we can’t live without the internet, we practically ran to the nearest Barclays. As a member of the Global Banking Alliance, they were our first choice.

After chatting with one helpful gentleman we were on our way to setting up an account, at least the first bit. Unlike in both Canada and Spain, you can’t simply set-up an account in England, you have to fill our a myriad of reference forms and then come back with your passport and proof of residence, and then they’ll set you up. Yes, these are all the hoops you need to jump through for a basic chequing account.

Anyways, we filled out the forms and then waited until we had a signed tenancy agreement before going back. It wasn’t even 9 AM and we were in the Barclays lobby. Greeted by a chipper young sprite, she checked our documents and immediately informed us that they no longer accepted tenancy agreements because they were too easy to forge. Well, clearly I wasn’t going to be getting a bank account that day, but there was still hope for Dave. He’d had his employer issue a letter confirming his position, contract length, salary as well as his address. So, he produced that and then was immediately told that since it was a three-year term, Barclays wouldn’t issue him an account.

Seriously!? They provide accounts to students, but because he’s not here on a permanent contract he’s ineligible. The policy is ridiculous, but again, there’s nothing we can do except wait for a proper piece of mail to arrive and then go to another bank. This only further delays when we can sign up for the internet, but really – there are worse things to deal with.

Expat life can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also test your patience in ways you never thought possible. In many of these cases, getting mad won’t solve anything. The only thing you can do is stay calm, carry on, and maybe grab a pint or two.

Settling into life in Leeds, UK []

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