Moving mountains. What it means to create a life in a new country, by choice or by force

7 May 2021 | Applicable law: England and Wales, US

Taking the decision to relocate to a new country can change the course of a person’s future. Yet it will entail sacrifices. The person or family relocating must leave behind their home, work, friends and family and rebuild their lives in a new place where the language and culture may be unfamiliar. To make this upheaval worthwhile there must be a powerful reason drawing them to the new location, pushing them to leave the current one, or both.

“For a lot of my clients, it is a real defining moment to move to the United States because they are able to access opportunities that they may not have had in their home countries,” says Theda Fisher, a partner in our New York immigration team.

Many of those whose moves we have supported are following a dream. One European client who had hit on an innovative technology concept signed up to an incubator scheme in California. With our help he relocated his young family, launched the business and is leading in his field.

Others move for their families’ sake. One father who recently received his green card was delighted to report that his 21-year-old son had been awarded a place on a prestigious Masters programme, and an internship at a pharmaceutical company.

“I think that a lot of people move for their children,” says Theda. “Those are the happiest cases because they have a goal for their family and they’re looking for a place where they can achieve that.”

Education has always drawn families to Europe and, in particular, the UK. However, simply enrolling your child in a boarding school and being separated by a 12-hour flight is increasingly been seen as an unattractive option for many families and the pandemic has compounded this view. Consequently, more and more parents are accompanying their children to the UK. One couple who enrolled their children in top UK boarding schools decided to move to London. With business interests remaining in Hong Kong, the length of their stay undetermined and one parent who had never visited the UK before, this was a complex move and our team needed to advise in depth on everything from tax planning to property.

“If people are well prepared then the relocation will go more smoothly,” says Katie Graves, a partner in our Hong Kong private client team. “With planning you can have greater flexibility, adapting the length of your stay until the children are settled, finish school or university or even allow the move to become permanent – especially with a wider range of visas on offer.”

“We have always seen a steady stream of people from Hong Kong, the People’s Republic of China and Southeast Asia wanting to go to the UK, particularly for their children’s education, and I only see this trend increasing in the future", she says.

Many of those in the US and UK have also become disillusioned by the rise of nationalist sentiment, with Brexit driving some Europeans out of the country and forcing others to formalise their status for the first time. “Brexit has affected everyone, including billionaires and European royalty,” says Tracy Evlogidis, partner and head of immigration in London. “People who have been here for years are suddenly finding that if they want to open a bank account, register with a doctor or put their child into school they have to show their right to be in the UK. It’s an alien concept and can be quite emotional.”

Yet Tracy and her team also see people moving for happy reasons. “It’s always a defining moment when someone gets married and we see a lot of people coming to marry a UK spouse,” she says. "I had a nice message from two academics saying how grateful they were that we’d fast-tracked their application, because otherwise they would have been separated during the pandemic.

On the flipside, a relocation can also precipitate the end of a relationship. Following an illness, a British entrepreneur decided to sell his business and start a new life in Rome. He wanted to learn more about art and history, and stood to benefit from the Italian tax regime, which is now very favourable to foreigners. His wife, however, did not wish to move. “A relocation can represent a turning point for one member of a couple but not the other. If they are unable to reach a compromise then it is difficult to overcome that, but there is always a way to move forward” says Giulia Cipollini, a private client partner in Milan. “We have to be very adaptable to meet our clients’ needs even as their circumstances change.”

Another UK client who fell in love with a tiny Venetian island was forced to choose between his new home and his collection of classic cars. “It is not allowed to drive on the island so we had to arrange somewhere else in Italy for him to keep his cars,” says Giulia. However, he quickly adapted to his situation and is now acquiring a classic motor boat. Those who are adventurous enough to relocate tend to discover new passions wherever they go.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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