Krysta’s Family Navigate New Life In Sydney During Covid Times
Welcome back to our Expat Story Of The Month! In this month’s story, meet Krysta Smith, who moved her family from Worcester, UK to Sydney just before the pandemic hit in January 2020. Discover how she’s been navigating Sydney life in this incredibly honest and raw article, all expats should read.
A massive thank you to Krysta for opening up about Covid life and how it has affected her kids and her award-winning wedding planning business, For The Love Of Weddings. It was also a surprise for us to read how she’s made friends through this site and through our Instagram page – something we are so pleased to hear about!
We moved to Australia at the beginning of 2020 for my husband’s job. He was actually offered the role at the beginning of 2019, after conversations began with his employers during mid-2018 about international expansion, and so we had a reasonably long wait. Therefore, we made the decision not to tell our children until about 6 weeks before moving.
I had lived in Perth, Western Australia, in 2009 (whilst in my 20s; pre-husband and pre-babies). I returned to the UK to care for my sick mum, but I always knew that someday I wanted to come back – and that it would be a magical place to raise a family.
I felt a tad anxious when my husband’s company were deciding between setting up their offices in either Melbourne or Sydney. Whilst I am so excited to visit Melbourne, I felt deep down that to make such a huge move with the children, to move them away from friends, family and everything they know and love, the lifestyle change had to be worth it… and I believed that Sydney would offer us that through better weather and beach living.
Preparing To Move To Australia
My husband was offered the role in January 2019 and we left the UK 11 months later. It was an agonising wait whilst his employers worked out the finer detail, contracts, visas, etc… before making it all formal. There were moments when it felt like it could have all fallen through, due to circumstances outside of our control, and so we decided not to tell the girls or too many other people until we knew for sure.
During this time, personally, it felt impossible to prepare anything for the move itself without understanding all of the finances, timescales, etc. in detail. As a result, I felt as though I was in a constant state of limbo both with my wedding planning business and making any plans with friends and family in the UK.
However, once contracts were signed and visas were approved…
…it was all go-go-go and about a 10-week turnaround from actually receiving all of the relevant paperwork to leaving the UK!
We were really fortunate to have the lovely Jo from Woodhams Relocation Centre holding our hands through the moving process, and there wasn’t really a huge amount we could do until we physically arrived in Sydney. (Mentally, I was here months before scouring the rental websites like Domain daily!)
Moving With My Family
It was the 4 of us that moved – my husband, Dan, and our two daughters, Winnie and Betsy; then aged 7 and 5, respectively. My husband has been part of a team setting up the Australian arm of the company he worked for in the UK; his CEO and CEO’s wife, Helen, moved here from the UK two days prior to us.
I had actually never met them in the UK, but here in Australia without knowing a single other person, plus then having no visitors due to Covid, has meant they have become like family to us, which is really lovely. The girls adore them and we spend birthdays and Christmas together, so we feel really fortunate.
Organising Australian Visas
We are here on the Temporary Skill Shortage (subclass 482). I was quite relieved that I didn’t have to manage this process myself – my husband’s company really took care of everything and made the entire process feel quite seamless and stress-free.
However, we hadn’t noticed that Dan had provided his HR department with the wrong birth year for me; I very nearly wasn’t allowed on the connecting flight in Bangkok! It was quite hairy for a short while but the Thai Airways staff at the airport were amazing and my husband’s HR department sorted it in less than a couple of hours (which happened to be less time than our stopover time, thank goodness!) I had visions in the airport of Dan and the girls leaving me behind!
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We received 3 quotes from various removal companies and decided to send all of our furniture and possessions on a shipping container via a UK company called Pickfords. Part of my husband’s expat package was to have a container sent from the UK to Oz, and back… so it made sense to send absolutely everything in the possible scenario that, should we stay longer, rather than getting out here and wishing we had x, y, or z on top of paying for storage in the UK, we had everything with us.
However, we didn’t bring any of our garden furniture as it was all quite old and damp in the UK, and so we sourced a lot of lovely bits from the local Facebook Marketplace. We also have no carpets in the house we rent so have bought rugs again from Marketplace, Target, Ikea and K-Mart. Because it really does get quite cold in the winter, believe it or not!
Annoyingly, I hadn’t considered the size of the plug converters and so it’s impossible to have two British appliances side-by-side as the plug converters are too big. Very frustrating and neither of us are brave enough to attempt to change the wiring, nor do I think would it be advisable!
Before moving, we had all of our immediate family over for Christmas on Christmas Day, and then spent Boxing Day packing 8 large suitcases to travel with, before Pickfords arrived on the 27th December and spent 3.5 days packing our entire house onto a lorry. The container was supposed to take between 8-12 weeks but took 16 weeks due to Covid (after speaking with other expats, I think this is probably the most realistic timeframe, subject to quarantine!).
We were so lucky to receive our shipment just as lockdown kicked in. It was like Christmas for the girls unwrapping all of their books and toys.
Although, as winter came, I really regretted giving away all of our coats! Prior to our shipment arriving, we hired minimal furniture and basic utensils from a furniture rental company via Woodhams Relocation Centre. I may have also popped to K-Mart and Target (sort of the equivalent to TK Maxx….) for the ‘odd essential’…
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We were quite anxious telling Dan’s family and my brothers about the move. In fact, we tried to hold off causing any unnecessary heartache until we knew for sure that we were definitely moving. I am pretty certain they guessed something was up once Dan started flying to Sydney for work every other month throughout 2019.
I lost my mum in 2017 so I was particularly nervous about leaving my brothers – the three of us are so close, so I struggle with feeling like I have abandoned them. They have both been incredible, however; and never, ever let me know they’re sad about us leaving – but constantly remind me how proud they are of me for giving our girls this lifestyle, and that they can’t wait to come and experience it, too.
Dan’s dad and step-mum have a holiday home in Thailand and so we focused a lot on being able to meet them plus Dan’s sister and our nieces there (until Covid happened…). I think we were most nervous about telling Dan’s mum as we saw her on a weekly basis; it took a lot of courage to build up to telling her.
That morning we went to break the news to Dan’s mum, she stopped us before we had a chance to say anything, and told us she knew what we were about to tell her. She had had a dream about it and that everything was OK. That gave her a lot of comfort and in turn, she became a great comfort to us (and continues to be!).
Our closest friends were and still are incredibly supportive. Flying from the UK to Australia sounds so far but the way we tried to rationalise it was that it’s ‘only a day’s travel away’. Therefore, Covid has definitely made things harder…
I am not sure we would have been as excited about coming here had we known we most definitely wouldn’t have seen our loved ones for at least two years…
…based on the international borders not opening until early-2022.
Making Friends Through Londoner In Sydney
My biggest fear was feeling really lonely here – whilst most of my closest friends are scattered around the UK and abroad, I belonged to an incredible community back home in Worcester. I always say ‘it takes a village’ and I was blessed with an amazing village around me; our children had friends that felt more like cousins and my friends held my hand through difficult times, like losing my mum.
For about the first 6 months after arriving in Sydney, I would drop the kids at school and then sit in my car and just feel really lost, especially knowing everyone back home was asleep and I couldn’t call/text. I have since made some really gorgeous friendships; I’ve been so blessed to share the experience of moving with my husband’s boss’ wife, who became my first friend here.
And then, rather unexpectedly, I made a beautiful friend through Instagram, after reading this story on Londoner In Sydney regarding her family’s move here three months prior to ours. Our daughters are similar ages, so we both pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones and agreed to meet at the beach for a lunch playdate. It actually turned into an all-day/evening playdate – sitting on the sand as the kids played in the water, sharing our stories and experiences.
During our first year and throughout Covid, we came to depend on one another rather like family; we even have a WhatsApp group with our husbands titled, “Aussie Fam”.
I then met a few more wonderful women and their gorgeous families through the Londoner in Sydney Instagram page, and we’ve since taken unforgettable road trips together with more in the pipeline.
But, I’ve also been really, really lucky to have made some lovely friends through the girl’s school. Most, if not all, of Winnie’s friends are Australian and their parents have sort-of taken me under their wing quite a bit, showing me the ‘Aussie way’. I also put this down to Winnie joining sports clubs – it’s impossible to stand at the netball sidelines and not get chatting to the mums and dads, plus we were lucky to get a few sports socials in before lockdown. It wasn’t really the way we did things back in the UK but the school community has definitely become a big part of our lives here.
I think I’ve been weirdly lucky to have had a child in Kindergarten during Covid as all of the Kindy mums and dads really pulled together, with it being the Kindy kids first experience of school-life, and a surreal one at that. I have definitely pushed myself out of my comfort zone trying to integrate (sometimes rather awkwardly) into groups of parents stood at the school gates, accepting invites when my immediate reaction is to feel shy and want to stay home. I’ve even found myself volunteering to be Betsy’s soccer coach, despite knowing nothing about football!
Living here really makes you feel like you can try your hand at anything, and I am conscious that whilst I urge the girls to be brave and try new things, they really need to see me doing the same.
My Kids Didn’t Take The Move As I Expected
Ironically, I was more nervous about our oldest, Winnie, moving to Australia than I was our youngest, Betsy. I kept telling myself that Betsy was just happy to be wherever Dan and I were, but that Winnie would feel more unsettled; she had already completed Reception, Year 1 and the first 3 months of year 2 when we left the UK.
Winnie Loving Aussie Life
Winnie had some really gorgeous little friendships that she was sad to leave behind, but she’s also a stickler for routine and the ‘familiar’. She became unsettled whenever I moved her bedroom around and so I began to dread how she might feel once we began packing, moving, house-hunting, etc.
However, she completely shocked us all – she spoke constantly about the exciting adventure we were on, how lucky we were, how she was going to learn so many new things, try new foods and sport, and make lots of new friends. I could sense she was nervous but she was excited, too. It was such a relief and quite honestly, a year on she is still living her best life; she has the most gorgeous group of school friends, has learned to play netball and touch-footy and has already decided which high school she wants to go to!
Although, we had a cat, Ziggy, who went to live with my brother and his girlfriend, and that was absolutely devastating watching her say goodbye. Just when I think she’s moving on it will come up and we see some big emotions. Ziggy used to sleep on her pillow every night and I think we broke her heart not bringing him with us (cats have to be indoor cats here). I think in hindsight, it was easier for Winnie to deflect all of her sadness at missing friends and family onto Ziggy.
When we first arrived here, she was unable to speak to people on FaceTime and had no interest in writing to anyone in the UK. I don’t think she was able to rationalise quite how she could love two places at once. Now that she is more settled, she is often the one that asks to call home.
However, Betsy has really struggled and a year on, still asks how long we will be here for. She still asks for her best friend, Nucha, every single day – and when they FaceTime I do feel heavy-hearted watching them giggle together.
We decided to keep her back a year when we moved here, in the hope to take some of the academic pressure off and focus on building her friendships and settling her into life down under. But then Covid hit and unfortunately her class had five different teachers, which I think added to her anxiety.
As a result, drop-offs have been traumatic and bedtime on school nights can be difficult and drawn out. However, I believe she would have felt this, if not more, had we stayed in the UK and endured what our dear friends have been through during lockdown and home-schooling.
Despite the homesickness, Betsy is actually flourishing – her swimming is incredible; she swims constantly, which is very easy to do so here on the Northern Beaches. She skates up and down Manly beach front and has even camped with her school friends on the Hawkesbury River.
I have to wear two very different hats when approaching the girl’s homesickness. With Winnie, we avoid talking too much about the UK but I have to constantly reassure Betsy; we will see everyone again, but in the meantime how wonderful to have friends in two places and to have homes in two parts of the world. Both seem to work!
The Hardest Thing About Leaving England
Undoubtedely, leaving behind friends and family was the hardest part about moving to Australia, followed closely by the unknown. Not knowing whether at the end of our visa period, we will be able to renew our visa, or qualify for permanent residency; whether we will want to or whether one of us will and the other won’t… So we try not to think too far ahead. Who knows what could happen, which can be said about anything in life – but I think that approach has never felt more relevant.
Covid has most definitely added to the uncertainty; we feel so incredibly grateful to be here, yet it is devastating watching our loved ones struggle through Covid in the UK; the Government’s handling of it and extended lockdowns. When lockdown initially happened here last year, we panicked at the thought of someone close to us falling seriously ill back home and not knowing whether we’d be able to get back in time. And that if we were granted exceptional leave, whether we’d be able to get back in to Australia – so we made a rule to put it out of our minds unless it actually happened.
As I mentioned before, we had comforted ourselves with the knowledge that the UK was only one day’s travel away. Whereas now, we have no idea when the International borders will open again and when they do, what that looks like for visa-holders, or anyone wanting to visit us on holiday here. So for me, the hardest thing is definitely missing loved ones and not knowing when we’ll see or hold them again.
Understanding Cultural Differences
Then there are the tiny seemingly-insignificant cultural differences like, like how on earth do you keep bananas fresh for longer than a few days during summer! Remembering to keep bread in the fridge, especially during summer!
I’m trying to lean to tell the difference between harmless spiders and spiders that are dangerous.
Spotting a rip in the ocean, when at the beach. First-world expat problems, lol… I didn’t once consider how much money I would spend on trying to keep warm here – we have electric blankets on our beds and Ugg slippers during winter.
We have learned to budget for pest control on an annual basis (we had a company spray the outside of our house because we were waking up to so many cockroaches, which is apparently normal.)
We also have a possum in our roof, which is impossible to deal with and can often keep us awake at night. Possums do not often survive relocation so due to these factors, it is illegal to catch and release possums into areas more than 50 m away from where they were caught in New South Wales, and more than 25 m away from where they were caught in Queensland. So even if we caught it and got it out of the roof, it would find its way back to us…
I am still getting used to everything closing so early (because they open so early!) and there not being as many pubs or ATM machines as there are in the UK but these are such insignificant things, just little observations. When I asked Dan this same question his response was, “closing things down, such as bank accounts”. A very practical answer, there!
Feeling Settled In Australia
I do, actually feel settled in Australia. I’m not sure whether this is heightened by how terrible we know things would have been for us had we stayed in the UK. Both of our jobs would have been unbearably stressful; I can’t begin to imagine how I would have coped trying to keep my business float whilst postponing and cancelling so many weddings, at the same time as home-schooling both girls and supporting Dan in his work.
I know Covid is by far a bigger risk there, and the anxiety I felt when shopping for essentials here during lockdown won’t even scratch the surface of what people have experienced there. It is what I try to remind myself when I feel homesick.
It was hard during winter (because it DOES get cold here!) watching everyone enjoying their gorgeous summer evenings (the sun sets no later than 8.10pm at the height of summer) seeing everyone getting together knowing that even when our summer comes around, we won’t be able to have any visitors.
But I think it’s been a weird sort-of blessing, too.
I believe that had we been inundated with visitors from the UK, the girls would be more confused about throwing themselves into life here, and that the airport send-offs would have unsettled all of us again and again.
This way, we can just focus on settling into life for a while here knowing this is where we will be for the foreseeable and counting our blessings every single day.
Tackling Homesickness With Two Kids
Weirdly, I have learned that trying to keep in touch with everyone back home heightens my homesickness. I truly believed with all of my heart when we moved out here that I would have no trouble at all in keeping in touch with friends and family regularly, but the truth is, it’s just not that easy. I try my best and wish so much that I could talk to more people and for longer.
I definitely had my rose-tinted glasses on when I was saying bye to everyone, telling them that we’d talk all the time. I truly meant well but it’s just not possible. Thankfully, I am blessed with incredible friendships that have stood the test of time and various bouts of either party being off-radar whilst ‘life’ happens. But the time difference means there are only small windows of opportunity to sit down and chat to anyone for any length of time.
Discovering New Ways To Keep In Touch With Friends & Family
Dan and I would often wake up at 5:30am/6am last year to chat to family and friends. When I do find myself keeping on top of chatting to people back home, it’s usually at the expense of getting up and out on a Sunday morning with the girls, or I am having to pour myself a coffee at 9pm to stay awake to chat. It just means I have to plan chats in as I would planning lunch in person with a friend. There’s no point saying, ‘let’s catch up next week’, I have to book it in, work the kid’s bedtimes/activities around it to make sure it happens and is a nice experience for them and for us.
The other way I try to keep in touch is through WhatsApp voice-notes; my loneliest moments are usually during the day so when I am walking home from the school run, or walking our puppy, Peggy, I will leave my best friends voice notes. They then listen to them on the way to work or whilst getting ready in the morning and then by the time I wake up the next day, I have their reply.
Trying Not To Compare Australia To England
My biggest tip for tackling homesickness – and this was passed onto me by a friend from the UK who has lived in Australia for over 10 years – is try not to compare Australia to the UK all of the time.
Lots of people’s perception seem to be that Australia is the same as the UK, just in the heat; but really, the two aren’t that similar at all.
What you may crave from one, is hard if not impossible to replicate in the other. For example, we lived near Birmingham in the UK, known for its amazing curries. I am yet to find a decent Indian curry here in Sydney (believe me, I’ve tried!) but the poke bowls and Acai bowls here are inimitable – I wouldn’t even think to try to compare these to the UK.
For us, it’s family Vs lifestyle. Whilst in the UK, we had all of our family within a 2 hour radius, but our lifestyle as a foursome was not making us happy. Dan worked away for most of the week and everything felt like a long hard slog.
Here in Australia, Dan is home every night, which for us is not something you can put a price on. Even if, as a family we had relocated to London, he still wouldn’t have made it home before the girl’s bedtime simply due to where we could have afforded to live and public transport. As a family, we have never been so active; everything we do revolves around the outdoors – from either walks in the National Parks to swimming in the ocean pools, and all of the sport.
We Tried To Find A Similar Home In Sydney
Rentals, especially in Sydney’s surrounding suburbs, are extortinate compared to anything in the UK. I remember being so shocked that the fees were weekly and not monthly! One thing I have come to realise is, though, you don’t need a huge amount of space as so much time is spent outdoors.
If I could go back I would have chosen a smaller house and a bigger car to fit the bikes, body boards and whatever else we may add to our collection down the line (Winnie would like a SUP, whereas Dan would like a kayak!).
What we would have saved in losing the spare bedroom/office, we would have been able to put towards more than a few guests visiting and staying in a nearby hotel (and probably have money leftover!).
Whilst supermarkets seem more costly than the UK, especially when comparing fresh produce, I actually find you can have an incredible meal eating out for less than it would cost in the UK. However, wine, beers and spirits are so much more expensive here in the bottle shops. We definitely drink less as a result!
Try to trust the process when moving to Australia. You can’t control everything; focus on the things that are within your direct control, and try to let go of the things that aren’t. For example, you can’t control how each and every person will respond and react to your news and eventual departure.
All you can do is focus on doing the right thing by you and your family. If you have children, involve them in the decision making – take them to the house viewings and let them give you their feedback, choose their bedrooms, etc.
Try to manage your expectations; you won’t achieve the ‘Australian dream’ within the first 6 months or year – it takes time.
The first house you rent may not be the one you stay in; and the same can be said for suburb and possibly even city. I really thought we needed to replicate the house we had in the UK – a year down the line, I actually think we would have been absolutely fine in a 2-bedroom apartment – I just couldn’t picture it at the time as we knew no different.
Don’t try to make Christmas feel like Christmas would in the UK – create brand new traditions. Get on the front foot with obtaining Medicare; as well as receiving reciprocal healthcare cover, it is also one of your most important forms of ID and helps to create an important identity here.
Get an Australian pay-as-you-go sim/contract as soon as you arrive; there’s so much you try to sign up for that requires an Australian number. If you live in London, or can get to London, you can actually visit one of the Australian banks such as NAB and start your Australian bank account from there so you hit the floor running as you land.
Signing up to Go-Get cars also helps, especially if you want to freedom and flexibilty to explore suburbs.
Be gentle with yourself. If you feel lonely, know that it won’t last forever…
You will meet people, and eventually, you’ll find people that make you feel at home. Don’t be afraid to try new classes – Australian people are so welcoming and embrace people trying new things. Even if you only try once and move onto something else!
Oh and remember, when parking on the side of the street, you can only park on the side that your car is facing! Whilst on the subject of driving, try to learn what the street signs mean so you don’t get as many tickets as we have, and watch out for pedestrians when the lights turn green on a crossroad/T-junction.
And of course, ALWAYS wear sunscreen!
If you’re struggling with feeling homesick in Australia, read our guide below:
A big thanks to Krysta for sharing her detailed emigration story with us on Londoner In Sydney. If you would like to share your story and help thousands of other expats, fill out our Expat Interview Form here.