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A move overseas had been growing in my mind for some time and I found myself taking an interest in the various living overseas TV programs. I have three children, a boy and two girls and life was as you would expect: work, school, paying bills, planning that once a year holiday, then back to work, school and paying bills and so the cycle continued. I generally enjoyed my work though at times found the daily routine tedious. Along with many others I would complain about the UK, the weather, Government, immigration, tax, crime, the outrageous salaries the footballers were earning, all topics for conversation at dinner parties and my regular Friday weekly visit to the local pub. I occasionally discussed the idea of moving abroad with my wife and we both agreed if the opportunity came along we would consider a move.
I initially favoured somewhere in the South of France, I thought I could keep my job working perhaps 3 days per week and commute between France and the UK. The summers in that region of France are very warm and with all the transport links, train, air and road (including driving and coach) visiting family and friends in the UK would be fairly straightforward.
I was due some holiday and after a lengthy search on the internet we found flights and a Villa to rent in Paphos, Cyprus, a Country we had not visited. Even though our stay was only a week I was very taken with Paphos. It has a very similar feel to the UK, driving is on the left (or least I think it was meant to be on the left !), signs are in English, all the Cypriots I met spoke English and were incredibly friendly and the days were sunny and warm. Following our return to the UK and after numerous family discussions, including several late nights we finally decided to take a very bold step and move to Paphos, Cyprus.
Family and friends considered I was Mr Reliable, had a good job and with the mortgage almost re-paid we had few financial worries. We decided to put up our family home for sale and surprisingly it sold fairly quickly. I handed in my notice, a job I had managed to work my way to head of department and returned my company BMW. We packed our belongings into countless boxes and before long the shipping agent had removed our life’s work. I remember standing in this now empty house feeling incredibly nervous, had I done the right thing ?.
Our plan was to rent a property in Paphos short term while we looked for a home to buy. After many goodbyes and farewell parties we arrived in Paphos, in March, excited though anxious. The rental home we had pre-booked was fine with the pool being the most important element so the children were happy. We allowed ourselves 3 months to find employment and a new home though shortly after arriving in Paphos family and friends started to arrive from the UK which continued throughout the summer. BBQ’s, trips to the beach and meals out it was an exciting period and I was enjoying myself, after years of working I decided to take the time to relax and enjoy our new life though I was always conscious I should be seeking employment. With money in the bank from the sale of our property and the party in full swing I tried to ignore this essential, but most important component of our new life.
The summer was soon over and with friends departed it was time to focus. I enrolled my children into to a local, though large private school. School fees were payable and my bank account was starting to take a thumping. I was already down by £20,000 in just 6 months. With two children in school and my youngest in the local Cypriot pre-school we took a serious approach to finding a home and employment. We visited the immigration department in Paphos to apply for residency . We were asked to provide a long list of documentation. In my view the Officer was rather unhelpful (rude) and lacking in customer skills. We were sent off like naughty school children to complete our homework. We returned on two more occasions but there always seemed to be a reason why the formalities could not be completed. Our desire to become fully legitimate Cypriots had evaporated.
Houses for sale were in abundance though I was somewhat surprised, after viewing a number of properties, at the high cost / lack of value for money. I was also starting to hear of issues when buying a property such as gaining title deeds, maintenance problems and that it was almost impossible to sell. There were stories of people purchasing a property with no planning permission which was not picked up in the buying process. By now we had settled into our rental property so we decided to continue to rent. My second concern and my increasing unease was the lack of employment opportunities. Despite sending countless CV’s I did not receive one response.
Christmas was approaching and finding gifts proved more difficult than I would have expected, though a large toy store eased the pressure. We were determined to spend our first Christmas in Cyprus but decided to take week-long trip to the UK to catch up with family and friends and to purchase those essential presents. It was at this point, while in the UK I suddenly became very homesick. I was enjoying the merrymaking and was even invited to my previous employer’s festive party. We were soon back on the plane, (and paying almost UK pounds 300.00 for excess luggage due to our Christmas shopping spree) a week before Christmas, to Paphos. The return flights were over UK pounds 1,000, include the excess luggage, car hire the trip cost over UK pounds 1,600. Fortunately, goods friends were able to accommodate us so saving on hotel expenses. It was however, my first insight into the costs I would have to incur should we want to visit family and friends in the UK. It may sound idyllic living on a sunny Island but it comes at a financial cost.
Over the preceding months we had made a few friends though most had returned to the UK for December. Christmas in Paphos was very different than we were accustomed to, we booked our Christmas lunch at a local tavern, it was fine though we all missed family and friends.
Winter was a very quiet time with walks along the beach and chilly evenings under the stars with hot drinks. We visited the Troodos Mountains, at that time of year a snowy resort with a small ski run, the children enjoyed their time throwing snowballs and generally messing around. We also had time to explore other areas of Paphos and travel further afield to Larnaca and Nicosia and made a number of trips to Latchi for days out. I thought certain areas of Paphos to be very rundown, considering a tourist area Tomb of the Kings Road looked very dated, shabby and well past its heyday, possibly the 80’s. All the bars face a busy main road, if playing bingo, darts, participating in quiz nights or counting cement lorries while eating a burger filled with dust and inhaling large quantities of car fumes is your idea of a holiday paradise then this place is for you but not an area I would stop at. Paphos harbour is much more modern with bars and restaurants all bidding for your custom. On one visit to the harbour we noticed a bar offering beer for euros 2.00, we decided to relax and enjoy a drink. When I asked for the bill I was shocked to find the total of euros 19.00, two beers at euros 2 each and three cokes at euros 5 each !. The bar was clearly not interested in repeat custom. I visited an area fittingly named Bar Street once, I felt very uneasy, many of the bars were either closed or shut down and one was even burnt out, definitely not a place to take your family for a night out.
Coral Bay has one of the very few sandy beaches in Paphos, which becomes exceptionally crowded in the summer months, not to be recommended in July and August. The beach become known as cigarette butt bay as each handful of sand produced a pile of disregarded cigarette ends, not pleasant for our children. The bay is some distance away from the main resort and all the restaurants in Coral Bay faced each other on a busy road, none offering a spectacular sea view or sun sets as you might expect while on holiday.
We found ourselves buying calor gas heaters at an alarming rate, (they seem to be breeding!) to try and keep the cold evenings and damp at bay. I still had mixed emotions and found myself missing the UK. We purchased A TV internet box to watch British TV as local TV was limited and uninteresting. I initially thought watching TV would be of little interest, more so given the fine weather, swimming pool and outdoor activities but children’s programmes and soaps such as East Enders, Home and Away and X Factor were all missed. TV was especially important during the winter months when there was little else to do and to while away the many hours on cold and wet evenings. I am sure watching British TV (BBC) either using Sky or the Internet is illegal in Cyprus though I never questioned it as I was no longer paying the TV licence.
By now my Greek had improved immeasurably, like almost every other Brit I considered I had a good command of the language and had mastered: “Good morning” (“kalimera”), “thank you” ("Efxaristo") and “good night” ("cahlee-neet-ah") which would no doubt impress the Cypriots. The truth was I had all but given up trying to learn Greek, a complex and very difficult language. While in Cyprus I met many nationalities, including Russians, Germans, French and Polish and all could speak at least some English AND Greek which I found embarrassing. At times it seemed the Cypriots would mock at our hopeless attempts at Greek and I really could not complain. They were very tolerable of the Brits and their brazen assumption that people of non-English speaking countries should speak English, to be able to buy an English newspaper and a full English breakfast. I felt a fraud as I wanted to embrace the Cypriot way of life.
With Christmas over, the children back at school I again faced the challenge to find employment. I began to accept offers of odd jobs such as gardening, painting and minor repairs. This was very different to my previous professional life and at first I felt a little uneasy as property maintenance (home decorating for the layman) had never been my forte. My wife was offered a job cleaning local apartments, cash-in-hand. Completely worlds apart from her career as a lawyer before our children were born but it all helped with our so far paltry cash flow. School fees were again payable and I had no choice but to continue with the steady flow of funds from our UK bank account.
I thought my wife had settled though one evening she became very emotional and admitted she was missing home (UK). She had also not recovered from finding a snake in a pile of washing she had pick up, the snake fell out !. It took me hours to complete a reconnaissance of the house, checking under beds, chairs and in cupboards to ensure it had gone before I could coax her back (though I was never really sure the snake was not still in the house !). She missed visiting various shopping malls / centres; a pastime only women can appreciate and meeting up with friends and family. Communication technology is an excellent way to keep in touch, Skype was our valued link to the UK but could never really replace personal contact. We would follow our family and friends on Facebook, they all seem to be having a wonderful time which only further added to us missing the UK. After a long chat we decided to give our new life a further six months and our goal within that period was to secure employment.
By now spring had arrived which was welcomed after a surprisingly very wet and cold winter, almost non-stop heavy rain seemed to last for months. We had made a few friends but found, one by one they were returning to the UK for various reasons but mostly due to a lack of finances. There were no plans for friends to visit us again this year so making new friends was important.
My younger daughter, unaware of the changes in our family life had adapted to her new surroundings. My other daughter also settled, was happy and had made a good circle of friends. My son (the eldest of the three) was struggling and missing family and friends, most of his evenings were spent on the internet chatting to his friends back in the UK. He joined a local football club which at the time was run by a restaurant owner and a few Dads. In my view the coaching was poor and not to the same standard of his previous club in the UK, it came across as a money making scheme but perhaps I was being a little too sceptical. I also found out he was being bullied by some local Cypriot lads, I spoke with their parents and was told bluntly if I don’t like Cyprus then leave. One of the Cypriot parents also told me if I wanted to live in her Country then speak her language – fair point.
I started to notice there was an underling struggle as everyone was trying to find a way of making a living, a few Brits had managed to start their own businesses, a favourite being Property Maintenance, pool cleaning, gardening and Villa cleaning. This work mostly finished when the holiday season was over. One or two bars owned by the Brit’s survived though this I believed was a minority. I also found the British serviced the British therefore a very limited employment market. The few jobs that were advertised asked for applicants to speak both Greek and English. With my Greek only extending to “good night” I am not sure if this qualified me for such posts !. Bars, taverns and shops were closing down at an alarming rate, It seemed to me that the Country was heading for a recession but everyone I met dismissed the suggestion.
Even though I still missed the UK I found I was enjoying my time; I am not normally a regular drinker but would end the day with three or four beers and maybe a bottle of wine. As my TV package did not include sports most Saturday and Sunday afternoons I would make my way to a bar that offered Sky Sports to watch football or rugby. I enjoyed the atmosphere and debating with others the progress of the match. My wife and children would join me after the game and we would drive to a Cypriot tavern for dinner. I always felt the cost of meals to be pricey, I was paying around euros 60.00 (1 course and a few drinks) for a family of five. This may sound reasonable but when your income is almost nil it is a lot. We all enjoyed the summer, though it can become unbearably hot and humid during July and August. Visits to the water park, beaches and occasional invites to birthday parties and BBQ’s all made for an enjoyable time. We even tried camping at a campsite, when we first arrived it reminded me of a refugee camp I had seen on TV !. After the initial shock and doing our best to avoid the shower / toilet blocks (and believe me they needed avoiding) we settled into this surreal experience. Music was played into the early hours of the next morning and with mopeds being raced around we barely got any sleep.
We visited a tavern in the Akamas, a very remote and isolated region and untouched by tourism. There was no menu, we were offered chicken and pork or chicken or pork ! with the customary chips and salad. No other menu was available. The tavern is set on the side of a hill with grapevines for shelter from the sun and marble tables, the views are stunning. It was a very enjoyable afternoon though once again I thought the cost, more so given the limited menu to be excessive, we paid euros 80.00 which included drinks. I always enjoy visiting new places and did find our lives were becoming a little repetitive, being an Island we found we were repeatedly visiting the same places. There are or course 100’s of restaurants, mostly for the tourist, true Cypriot taverns were few.
I had a bizarre experience following one of the few shopping trips I made. My mobile phone decided to take a dip in the pool, no amount of drying it’s components in the sun would resuscitate it. After some research I purchased a new mobile from a well-known supermarket in Paphos. Back at our Villa the phone would not switch on. I returned to the shop the following day, the sales assistant informed me he could not replace the phone as it was broken !. After an extensive period of trying to convince him that he sold me a broken phone and it should be replaced he eventually agreed to send it for repair. Four weeks later the phone was returned, it worked for about a week then the same fault returned. This time the phone was assigned to the recycle bin.
There were a few occasions when we needed to visit the Doctors, children’s ear infections and occasional upset tummy’s. Our first visit was to the General hospital in Paphos, similar to a UK NI hospital. It was reminiscent of a London train station, people everywhere and no apparent order. We waited hours until finally, more through verbal force, managed to see a Doctor who promptly prescribed antibiotics for my daughter's earache. Thereafter, we sought treatment from one of the private hospitals. The care was prompt and generally very good, consultations were thorough though frequently antibiotics were prescribed. Of course, being private this all came at a cost.
In the UK I was a keen sports person, golf being my favourite pastime though I was only able to play a few times in Cyprus to keep our expenses under some control. I went to watch a few Paphos Rugby games and did consider joining, a sport I played during my school years but due to the limited number of teams in the league there seemed to be a lot of training with very few matches. The summer soon came and went and if I am honest my initial efforts to find employment had slowly diminished though I was still earning a little money gardening.
I was due to pay school fees for the new term and was offered a discount if I paid a full year in advance. I did visit some local Institutes which were cheaper though I was concerned as even though they made promises of licences being issued the information was imprecise and clearly they were operating illegally. I was told via a friend he knew one of the teachers who was a former junior school teacher though was teaching IGCSE maths at the Institute which did not reassure me. I asked to see examination results, teachers CRB reports, police reports, safeguarding children certificates and professional references, none were offered. The buildings they occupied were residential properties and not designed for commercial use or to accommodate a large number of people (consider a 3 bedroom property housing 30 or more children plus teachers and electrical equipment). There was also health and safety issues and being unlicensed, would insurance policies still be valid in the event of a claim. I was informed Government action was being taken against the owners of these Institutes and court cases were pending. One of the Institutes was trading in a former hotel and claimed that licences were in place. I contacted the Cyprus Ministry of Education and asked if this particular Institute would be licenced ? “of course not” came the reply in a tone that suggested I was stupid enough to even think they would be given permission to operate a school from a hotel. It surprised me that parents would take such a devalued view towards their children’s education and safety, I guess they had succumbed to the adage “but this is Cyprus” which I heard many times while in Cyprus to justify an Illegal activity, dishonestly or an injustice. I was not prepared to expose my children to any risk. We decided to keep our children in the Private School though only pay for the coming term only (a decision we would soon be grateful for).
With the children back at school my wife and I took some time to consider our future. Our financial resources had reduced alarmingly, in just 18 months we had so far spent over £50,000, this figure did not including shipping costs or the car we had purchased. We calculated, without finding employment which would pay a reasonable wage, our children to complete their schooling (private) we would have to invest at least another £180,000 (one hundred and eighty thousand euros) plus rent and living expenses, the proceeds from the sale of our home would all but be gone.
I had become very undecided if the education offered to our children, more so being private, was better than the education they had been receiving in the UK. A friend in the UK sent his children to a private school and there seemed to be an extensive difference in the education they received against the now private education my children were receiving. Some people I met tried to water down the costs of school fees by saying they were “paid for education”. However you define them, they work out to be incredibly expensive for two children can exceed euros 100,000. The Paphos School offered many amenities and the teachers I met seemed supportive but I was just not convinced the education was any better than a UK state school. At a parent evening it was suggested that my son receive additional afterschool lessons (at a cost). It was also recommended my daughter be referred to an educational specialist for an assessment; this also at a great cost. A worrying period for us as it implied our children had learning disabilities.
Even though a few years away I was starting to think of the career and employment opportunities in Cyprus for my children when they left school. There seemed almost no possibility of finding work other than perhaps seasonal work and everyone we met said their children would be returning to the UK once they had finished their schooling though conceivably before.
By now my wife was feeling trapped and missing her family. She also admitted to being very nervous when I was away from the house due to the number of burglaries in the area and she did not feel safe, it seemed to be not “if” but “when” your home would be burgled. In our Village in the UK break-ins were very rare, in the area we lived in Paphos we heard of a burglaries almost every week. When I spoke with other Paphos residents about the burglaries they were generally very dismissive normally declaring it is worse in the UK if somehow to make themselves feel better.
I was becoming very uncomfortable with the number of ex-pats who thought nothing of drinking (alcohol) to excess and then drive, my wife and me would always share the driving so one of us was not drinking. One person I met told me he was a retired policeman, on the occasions I saw him he would drink, frequently to excess then drive home. My respect for our law enforcement has somewhat dipped.
The decision was made for us. We informed our children we would be returning to the UK, it was no surprise my son was pleased, my elder daughter a little less so but was understanding. Finding a home for our two adopted stray cats took some work and I was grateful I did not give into family pressure and adopt a dog. We arranged for our personal belongings to be shipped back to the UK, the cost for the outward and return shipping was over £5,000 (perhaps I should have invested in shipping !).
There was a final sting in our Cypriot tail, our landlord refused to return our deposit claiming damage to the property. I thought I got on well with him and during our time there we would occasionally pass gifts between us such as wine and fruit. When I told him we were returning to the UK his attitude completely changed and became rather aggressive, I was quite shocked and saddened.
Back in the UK initially staying with friends it took me a while to find employment, the addition of pool cleaning on my CV did not impress potential employers. With the monies we had left we purchased a home, smaller than our last plus I had to take out a 10 year mortgage to top up our funds which I found a upsetting, before we moved to Cyprus we owned a larger property and had almost repaid the mortgage.
When I take a moment and think about our move to Paphos I invariably get annoyed with myself, given the many holidays I have taken over the years for which I am usually well prepared for looking back we did very little genuine research. I gave almost no prior thought to finding employment; I just thought I would secure some form of reasonably paid work. More importantly, I dismissed budgeting properly for an income I would need to cover our living expenses, which taking into account school fees was far greater than the UK, I should have also included financial target dates. With money in the bank from the sale of our property I felt no pressure to find work. I uprooted my children and just expected they would be happy, in general they were though my son missed his family and friends from school.
Perhaps 20 months is not enough time but I just could not justify the money we were spending. UK pounds 55,000 would have brought my family a number of exclusive world holidays in the same period plus I would still have my job and home. I am sure it will be the same in other European Countries though as Cyprus is an Island you are very much confined to work opportunities, if any that are available. After the first year when family and friends had visited I gave no thought that perhaps our new life would not be their annual holiday destination and I found myself missing them.
I deeply regret selling our UK family home though whether it was luck, good fortune or just fate I am extremely grateful we never purchased a property in Cyprus. We met a couple who purchased a property though soon after moving in discovered the building had serious defects and the developer had become bankrupt owing substantial monies to the bank, they were on the verge of losing everything, apparently without any recourse.
For the retired, Cyprus can be a nice place to see out their remaining years, most refuse to learn the language and with a pension or other financial income supporting only two people they can enjoy their twilights years. They can also pass many hours indulging in their favourite pastime, that of complaining about the UK !. Perhaps when I come to retirement I may again consider a move overseas, somewhere a little closer to the UK and not an Island. We met a few people who were able to maintain their UK business from Paphos via all the technology available and they seemed to be happy.
The UK has many, many failings but I am pleased to be home. I view my time in Cyprus, 20 months in total, as an extended though very expensive holiday, I try not to think too much about the money we spent. What the trip has done is make me realise I want to travel more, there are so many places in the world I now want to see.
HC and family
> A Personal View
Our life in Paphos - A true account of one family and their Cyprus experience
Winter was a very quiet time with walks along the beach and chilly evenings under the stars.
A Personal View
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