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Life abroad: A New Zealander on relocating to the UK

The decision to move abroad isn’t always an easy one.

For many expats it takes a lot of time, thought and effort, but for others it just… happens — and this is exactly how it happened for Emma Creese, a New Zealander now living in the UK. What started out as a two-year working holiday turned into an unexpected relocation when Emma met her future husband and decided to settle down in the bustling city of London.

Emma (pictured below), who authors the aptly named blog ‘Adventures of a London Kiwi’, shares her experiences with living abroad and reflects on the benefits and challenges of expat life.

London resident and New Zealand Emma Creese runs the London resident and New Zealand Emma Creese runs the

Why did you decide to move to London, and for how long have you lived abroad?

“I came to London on a two-year working holidaymakers visa and, over a decade later, I realised that I never left. I chose the UK because I wanted to explore all the historic buildings the UK and Europe had to offer (as a way to take a break from my architecture degree). During my time here, I accidentally fell in love with an Englishman in a pub.”

What does the term “wellness” mean to you? And what are you doing, if anything, to achieve it?

“I consider wellness to be the state of being in good health, both mentally and physically. For me and my family this means maintaining a good balance of inspiration versus stress (the challenge of being in a creative job), exercising and eating well, doing things that make us happy, and giving back to the community as much as we can.”

Would you say you have a better or worse work-life balance since moving abroad?

“At times I’ve certainly had a worse work-life balance since living in the UK. I used to work in high-value property management and as such I experienced exceedingly high pressure, high stress environments that weren’t good for my mental health but were fairly typical in the industry. Now, I run my own business carrying out social media management for small businesses, which allows me flexibility, a good level of challenge and the opportunity to stretch my skills.”

How comfortable do you feel about using the public health care system in the UK?

“Very comfortable. Over the years I have had to rely on the NHS for several things — including a broken wrist six weeks before my wedding — and I’ve never had anything but kindness and helpfulness as far as the system and NHS teams can provide.”

Do you know where to go to get care from a family doctor, how to access a specialist and how to pay for your care? 

“Yes — I have a local doctor that I signed up to when I moved to London. Usually, you’re referred to specialists via your local doctor, or the hospital in case of emergencies. Payments are due on private health care, and some surcharges on prescriptions.”

How does the quality of the health care system in the UK compare to the health care system in New Zealand?

“The level of care is definitely on a par between the UK and New Zealand — the major difference is that the New Zealand system is private plus health insurance based. In the UK, things like visiting the doctor, receiving medical treatment and having procedures is free because of the NHS — but these things can take a longer time to schedule in.”

Since moving abroad, do you feel that mental health is better or less supported and recognised than at home?

“I feel like New Zealand is making great strides in the awareness and understanding of mental health conditions. There is greater understanding if you have a mental illness, both in the workplace and at home. I would feel comfortable admitting that I have a mental health condition in both countries because of the mental health services.”

Expats are more prone to mental health issues because they don’t have the same support network and sense of familiarity. What advice would you give for maintaining good mental health while living abroad?

“Developing a strong network of expat friendships, whether they are living in the country short-term or long-term is essential. It’s good to surround yourself with those who are on a similar journey. Being honest with your friends is so very important rather than bottling up your emotions - they will understand your journey more than anyone else, especially as you’re all immersed in the same culture.”

Read more about expat mental health and how to tell if you need a check up.

How would you describe the role of the expat community versus locals when settling into a new culture?

“I personally have developed a group of amazing friends who are roughly 50/50 expats and locals. Making friends with fellow expats was in some ways easier — there are some great online groups in the UK for brand new Kiwi expats, and I made a lot of friends running my travel blog. When it came to making my ‘UK friends’, I found that it took longer to establish friendships with them. I met my UK friends through work, running my travel blog and my husband’s long-established circles.”

What would you say is the best part of international life in London?

“The freedom, the travel possibilities (being able to go to Paris for lunch is something special), the opportunity to extend yourself, the history you can literally touch, and the green parks (Richmond Park is a particular favourite of mine). I have also had the pleasure of meeting some of the most incredible people in London.”

What was the worst part, or the biggest initial challenge about moving abroad?

“For me, the hardest thing was adapting to the reserved culture — but I think because I moved to London straight after university, I hadn’t settled into a particular New Zealand work ethic, which made me more adaptable. I also had my husband to lean on when I wasn’t quite sure how to act in a situation.”

How easy or difficult is it to maintain a healthy diet in your new country?

“It’s more expensive to eat well (as with most of the world it seems), but with more of an effort its quite straightforward to maintain a healthy diet. The only trouble is when you factor in long commutes and a lack of free time in demanding jobs.”

Describe the role of exercise and how it differs from your home country.

“New Zealand has much more of an outdoor lifestyle — people take long walks, play sport, go swimming at the beach, go skiing in winter. When you’re living in London you have to be much more proactive about getting out in nature and exercising — it just takes a little more organisation.”

Emma’s experiences with living abroad after an unexpected relocation will likely resonate with soon-to-be expats, new expats and seasoned expats alike. You can read more about Emma’s experiences at, or check out our UK destination guide for everything you need to know before planning your move.

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