Expat Dad Jamie Shares His Move To Sydney From London
In this month’s Expat Story Of The Month, meet Jamie Summerville-Hind, who is sharing his move to Sydney from London. Find out how he swapped London life for Sydney’s beaches with his wife Mia, 6 year old daughter and 3 year old son in December 2019.
After arriving in a smoke filled Sydney during the worst bush fires Australia has ever seen, find out how Jamie’s family have learnt to slow down, make some fantastic friends and settle into Sydney life, even with the pandemic thrown in.
It’s also interesting to hear how Jamie has literally done a 180 spin on his career. After running a successful set construction business for film, TV, fashion shows and photoshoots in London, he launched The Family Business Balance in Sydney – an online business helping parents grow their businesses whilst spending more quality time with their kids. I wonder whether this would have been his path if he hadn’t have moved to Sydney?
If you’re interested in Jamie’s new career, check out this podcast with Rebel & Create where he talks about helping dads create value and purpose in their lives.
Anyway, a big thanks to Jamie for taking the time to tell his expat story, it’s a must read for all expats! Make sure you follow Jamie’s expat adventures on Instagram at @jamie_hind.
Let’s get stuck into it, and find out more about Jamie’s move to Sydney, which includes an insight into the differences between the schooling system in England and Australia.
Table of Contents
Why We Decided To Move To Sydney From London
We decided to move to Sydney from East London at the start of December 2019, as it was the only city we had previously visited in Australia. We already knew a couple and their kids who had moved to Sydney 2 years before us. We’ve known them since early twenties, and shared childcare back in London, so it was good to have that friendship there already. My wife also has a fair bit of family in Sydney, which was good to know we had a support network there if we needed it.
The reason we moved is pretty much, because we could! We visited Sydney 2 years before moving there, just as a holiday, and just fell in love with it. My wife has dual nationality, and the kids were still very young, so we decided to give it a go and have a big family adventure for a few years.
I sold my company, and my wife works on feature films (which tend to be 6-9month contracts), so we didn’t have any work commitments. We just decided to give it a go so we wouldn’t have any regrets later in life.
Preparing To Move To Sydney
It’s funny because I never had the desire to even visit Australia before.
There’s no particular reason why I never considered visiting Australia, there were loads of places that were further up my list of desired destinations. But we decided on visiting Sydney in January 2018 as an add on during a visit to The Philippines to visit my wife’s family.
Within a couple of weeks of being in Sydney, we were already starting to have very low-key thoughts and discussions about the possibility of moving here. It was obviously something that was going through our minds for both of us, and we had a few discussions with friends about how they went about getting visas, or getting citizenship.
When we returned home to London in February, we started to really talk seriously about it, and making plans of what we would have to do if we were to make this idea a reality. We finally landed back in Sydney on a one-way ticket in December 2019. So in all, it took just short of 2 years from deciding we wanted to move, and touching down at the airport with our bags packed and our bleary eyed kids still in their pyjamas, all ready for our big adventure!
Sorting Out Australia Visas
I got a the Partner Visa because my wife has dual nationality through descent. She was born in London and has never lived in Australia before now, but she got her citizenship at birth via her Mum. Her Mum is actually Filipino, but moved to Sydney when she was about 20 to study and to be a nurse.
After a few years in Sydney, her Mum gave up her Filipino nationality (as they wouldn’t allow dual citizenships at the time) and became an Australian by Residency. Shortly afterwards, she met my wife’s English Dad who was backpacking round Australia at the time. About 18 months later, they moved back to London, where my wife was born soon after. As such, my wife gained Australian nationality at birth, but never actually lived there, until now!
The process for me and the kids was quite straightforward, and a lot quicker than we had anticipated, based on reading other peoples experiences on forums, and on info from the Australian government website.
We paid the fee for myself and the kids, and worked our way through the paperwork. There were a lot of forms to complete, and a lot of background information to provide in order to validate our relationship. But we had been together for 18 years, and married for 3, before we applied.
We have 2 kids together, own a house together, have all joint finances, and all our adult experiences have been shared. So there was a lot of documentation to provide, which was very time consuming, but it wasn’t difficult to find all the documentation that was required.
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We shipped most of our possessions to Syndey. We left some furniture in our house in London and rented it out as furnished. But we took some key furniture items with us, we took bikes and scooters for the kids, we took computers and hi-fi equipment, and most of our kitchen crockery and utensils.
After landing, and moving into the apartment we are now in, we bought a few bits of furniture from Ikea, some from Gumtree, some from eBay. And have incrementally bought more bits like body-boards, wetsuits, furnishings. The items we shipped took 3 months to get from the UK to Sydney. We planned it so that we shipped our things about 2 months before we left London, so we had to make do without some things for a while, or borrow bits and pieces from friends and neighbours until we left.
But we then only had 1 month in Sydney until our container arrived, which was a perfect time frame as it allowed us time to find our feet, and find an apartment, so that we could give the shipping company an address for delivery.
If you’re thinking of shipping your things to Australia, check out our shipping guide here.
Telling Friends & Family About The Move
Myself and my wife were just super excited throughout the process. At times, a shade of guilt about taking our kids away from their grandparents, but overwhelmingly excited. Our kids were generally excited. Our 5 year old daughter only had moments of uncertainty as we would down to our last few days in our house before moving out, and her last days at school. But she was almost always excited about it. And our 3 year old son wasn’t aware enough of exactly what was going on. But he always expressed excitement.
Our parents were very supportive, and understood our decision, and why we wanted to do this. But they were definitely personally sad about the move, and the distance from not only us, but mainly the distance from their grandkids.
My wife’s parents met in Sydney in the late 70’s, so they at least had a familiarity with where we were going. And my wife’s mother still has a lot of family here, so that lessens the feeling of the distance a little. Our siblings were very supportive, and almost envious at times of the adventure that lay ahead of us.
Finding Work In Sydney
I got a part-time job in Sydney about 1 month before we flew out, so we had some work lined up. We landed on December 1st, and my job started on Jan 13th, so we had plenty of time to settle in as a family, and be there to support the kids in the move. I am working part-time in a photographic studio down near Sydney airport.
I work 4 afternoon/evenings a week. So I do all the kids stuff in the morning, getting them ready and off to school and day-care. I then do a bit of my own projects, before heading to work late afternoon. I then have 2 days with just me and my son all day, and then I collect our daughter from school.
In my down time, I’m studying a Diploma in Life Coaching, drawing on my experience of founding and building a company back in London, and finding a good work/life balance to try to help others create the same balance in their lives called The Family Business Balance. It is still taking off, but I will soon quit my job and focus on coaching full time.
My wife got a few daily jobs in her film/TV industry by mid-feb, and was meant to start full-time on a film at the end of March, which was amazing. But then Covid restrictions hit, and the film was pushed back, and back. It finally stared up at the end of September. So it took longer than expected, but no-one saw Covid coming! She is now working on a great feature film until mid-next year, and will hopefully get onto another film once that project is finished, much like she did for the last 10 years back in London.
Working In London vs Sydney
My work life differs a lot. In London I had founded my own company 12 years ago and I ran it as sole Director. So there was a lot of work, quite a lot of stress, a lot of responsibilities. I managed to get a reasonable life balance, only ever working 4 days a week for the last 6 years. But it was of course a very full-on role.
When I finally took the decision to sell my company, the release of stress was felt really physically. People talk about a weight being lifted from their shoulders, and for me, that was such a physical sensation. I don’t think I realised how much stress I was under, until I left.
I sold my company before moving to Sydney, and am now working part-time in a junior role. This means no responsibilities outside of work hours. Almost no work stress. And a lot of time for family, and for growing my coaching business. So it has been quite a change for me.
For my wife, she is still working on feature films out here in Sydney, so she knows the work very well, but is just getting used to the slight differences in team structures, and also getting her footing in Sydney itself. As a Buyer, she had an encyclopaedic knowledge in London of props houses, small independent stores, artisans, prop makers… So in Sydney, she is building up this knowledge from scratch.
Making Friends In Sydney
We had some great old friends from back home who have been living in Manly for 4 years, so we slotted back in with them, and our eldest kids know each other, so that really helped. My wife also has a lot of extended family in Sydney, so we had an instant support group, and social activities. And again, a few cousins the same age as our daughter, which helped her too.
We moved into a small block of 4 units, and 2 of the other units are families with young kids, so our kids were again able to make friends with them and play in the back yard. We get on really well with our neighbours, which is great.
And just having kids helps with friends. The kids make instant best friends with anyone they meet…in the park, on the beach, in the supermarket… So lots of times we’ve made friends through our kids. We feel that we have slotted in well, made some good friends already, and the kids have good groups of friends too. It’s been quicker and easier than we thought it might have been.
Settling The Kids Into Australian Life
The kids were excited before the move. Our son is only 3, so he’s taken it in his stride and has settled well at day-care. He seems to be loving life! Our daughter was excited before leaving, but had a wee bit of a wobble immediately before leaving. But, she settled in really well.
We had a couple of months after we landed of just the four of us. No work, no other commitments, so we treated it as a big holiday for the kids, gave them all our time and attention (along with trips to Centrelink and signing with GP etc…), and I think that really helped.
Our daughter was a mix of nervous and excited about starting her new school, and she made friends really quickly. She settled in so well. She has only shown one moment of having a wobble, and expressing that she missed her old friends, her old house, her old playground, her old daily routines.
She had a good cry, and was a little ‘down’ for a couple of days. But we rallied around her, supported her, and she hasn’t looked back. I think it may come up again, but she’s done so wonderfully well at settling into her new life, and really thriving. We’re super proud of her.
Schools In Sydney vs London
The schools take a little getting used to, and I must admit that I still haven’t fully understood it all! They have different academic years, different term structures, different age group intakes, different class structures, and different level of parent participation in terms of both time and finance, and day-care has different structures in the number of days they offer, and the length of each day. And the subsidies for day-care are different, and a little laborious.
Here some examples of what we’ve had to get our heads around with schooling differences:
The academic year is January to December, whereas it’s from September to July in UK.
There are four terms in Australia, whereas there are three in UK.
There is a potential 18 month age range within each year, whereas it’s 12 months in UK.
You can choose wether to send your child to school when in the year they turn 4, or the year they turn 5, whereas there is no choice in England.
Our daughter went into a class where they put two classes and two teachers together into one really large class, which is going to become the norm across NSW in the future. There are no classroom assistants, so parents are asked to go into class when they can (what they call Literacy Days) to help the teachers.
Parents are much more involved in the day to day as well, with a parent Class Representative being the main point of contact between parents and the school. Parents also make regular small payments for things like stationary and books, which wouldn’t be expected back in the UK.
For day-care, there isn’t the same choice and flexibility in terms of which days you can do, and how long the days are. You can send your child from Monday to Wednesday, or from Thursday to Friday. There is no possibility of overlap, or days outside of that structure. And the longest day you are likely to find will be 8am to 3.30pm.
So after school care is essential for working parents. Back in the UK, we could choose to send our kids for up to 5 days a week (dependant on timings and availability), and from 8am – 6pm. So there was a lot more flexibility for working parents in the UK.
Settling Into Sydney Life During Covid
In all honesty, I haven’t found much about the move to be particularly hard. After selling my business, I had no work ties to the UK. My family have been split up all over the place for quite a while, so I am used to going quite long periods without seeing them too much.
And I am quite pragmatic in how I view the impact Covid has had. Even if we were back in the UK we would mainly be seeing my family via Zoom, so why not do that whilst living in Manly next to some of the most stunning beaches around! I also feel very grateful to be in Sydney during Covid rather than back in London.
So all in, I feel like we made the right move at the right time, which has created a certain ease to it. I will say that I am now at the stage, one year in, where I would like to see my family again. My mum was meant to have visited us back in October, and we were planning to return to the UK for Christmas, but those plans were obviously put on hold. So I would relish the chance to see them again, but not to the extent that it is dampening my experience and enjoyment of being here in Sydney.
Personally, I haven’t felt homesickness yet. I think Covid helped with that in many ways because even if we were back in the UK, we would only really be able to talk to family on Zoom, or see them remotely.
And if we are going to be isolated, I’d rather being doing it next to the beaches of Sydney rather than zone 3 London!
My wife hasn’t felt explicitly homesick, but I think she misses her family a little more than I do mine. We saw her family quite regularly at home, and her mum looked after our kids one day a week for the last 6 years, so it’s a bit of a change. I only saw my family quite infrequently, due to distances between us, so it’s not been quite the same change for me.
I would say that making specific time for getting through all of the paperwork that is needed is essential. It can be easy to get a bit overwhelmed by everything you need to do in order to move.
So it helped to spend some time creating a really specific timeline of exactly what is needed, and when. Some things had a hard deadline, some were more flexible. So we created a timeline spreadsheet with the hard deadlines inputed and clearly prioritised, and then added the soft deadlines around that.
We also created a shared folder where we could both allocate all of the documents that were required. Once we had the timeline, we blocked out regular times in the evenings that we dedicated to getting through the paperwork.
We split tasks between each other, and would give each other regular updates of what we had achieved, or what we were struggling with and wanted help with. Being very clear and intentional with this process really helped us to keep focused, and to be productive.
Feeling Settled In Sydney
I feel pretty settled to be honest. I’m here with my family, I’m near the sea, I have a job, I have free time, I am surrounded by breathtakingly beautiful scenery, by incredible wildlife.
I lived in London for almost 15 years, and it took me about 13 years to feel as settled as I do in Sydney after only 1 year.
There are of course elements of London that I miss, like the diverse food, the diverse cultures, my friends… but none of those things have distracted from how I feel about now living in Sydney. And I feel calm and settled here.
A big thank you to Jamie for sharing his incredible insights for moving to Sydney. Would you like to share your expat story and help thousands of expat readers? Simply fill out our expat form to be considered for next month’s Expat Story Of The Month!