When I heard that Gretta Nance had previously lived abroad in Solihull, UK, I knew that she would be a great person to interview as she always gives honest, transparent feedback.
Gretta Nance is well known in the Raleigh area as the Brand Director for Amelia Aesthetics. Along with the @amelia.aesthetics Instagram account, she is very active on her own personal account, @grettanance. She always tells it as it is and is great at engaging with the community.
Gretta loves traveling (I have found that this is a common theme for people who have lived abroad!) and to this day, her family tries to take at least four trips a year.
So let’s jump right in and hear Gretta’s story about her move abroad to Solihull, UK!
Original Home Location Before Living Abroad: Raleigh, NC, USA
Abroad Home Location: Solihull, UK
Current Home Location: Raleigh, NC, USA
About the Move to Solihull, UK
When did you make the move to Solihull, UK?
Gretta: January 2005 the offer was presented to us and by March of the same year we’d rented our house, gotten our Work Visas and were living in the UK!
Why did you decide to make the move? / What motivated you?
Gretta: We’d always known we would have to move around a little bit for our jobs to continue advancing in our careers. One night we started looking at locations that had offices we could actually apply for and found a job opening in the UK. We literally had to Google where that was and what the difference was between the UK, Great Britain, and England was! (still confused lol)
We truly thought it would be similar to just moving to another East Coast city… I mean, they speak English, how different could it be!? We didn’t have children at the time and thought, let’s at least explore this opportunity.
How many times did you visit your new country and city prior to your move?
Gretta: The hiring manager in England was also American and we all had some great conversations about the job and his move which made it seem more feasible. Almost immediately they’d booked us flights and accommodations for a 4-day trip. We were embarrassed to tell them we didn’t even has passports! We’d literally never been out of the country! I remember what a cluster it was to look mature and professional for this interview while scrambling to get emergency passports sent to us in time to actually fly over there for the interview.
We managed to make the 10 hour flight and arrived in Birmingham England in mid-January. In hindsight, I can’t believe we agreed to move there after visiting England in January… what miserable weather! We basically stayed jet-lagged for entire 4 days but really enjoyed the hospitality of the expat couple who were interviewing us.
Within 4 days we’d accepted the job and actually put an offer on a 2-bedroom ‘semi detached’ house in Solihull (about 20 minutes outside of Birmingham.)
In hindsight, this was an insane move. We had no idea about home ownership in another country or the cost of living! But I was just so excited to really live like a local.
How did you break the news to loved ones?
Gretta: I don’t remember this being incredibly tough. We had planned on being there less than 2 years and we didn’t have children yet. I think some of them were excited to come visit!
What was the hardest part of moving / what did you find frustrating during your move?
Gretta: Our company was very generous with helping with the move, which was amazing. Since they were paying, even though we were moving from a larger American home to a 900 sq ft flat, we (stupidly) moved everything. EVERYTHING. What was I thinking? I even bought new furniture before we moved because I knew it was cheaper in the US. They fill a shipping container and it takes 2-3 months to cross the ocean and go through customs before we would see it all again. So we had to pack for living out of a suitcase for a solid 3 months. Not easy.
It was in a great little village though, which was so cool to me. We had a pub, grocery store, Indian restaurant and even a hair salon within walking distance. I do miss the village mentality England has.
Did you decide to ship your belongings or to store your belongings?
Gretta: We actually couldn’t move into our new home until 2 months after we’d arrived in the country. So the company put us up in a 1-bedroom efficiency in the city center where we lived out of our suitcases. In March. In England. I seriously think I lived the first 2 months in a fog of ‘what the hell have we done?’ Knowing our stuff would arrive eventually and we’d be able to move into our own home kept me going!
Did you have any pets? If so, did they make the move with you?
Gretta: We had 2 dogs. Lo and behold, the UK doesn’t have a rabies problem and wants to keep it that way. At the time they required all dogs coming in from the US to be quarantined for 3 months! This was a MASSIVE debacle and very stressful to get someone to keep them for us at home and go through the documentation process of multiple vaccinations for the chance the could be turned away at the airport or not let into the country. I had to fly back and get them and turn right back around and fly them back with me. I had read horror stories of animals dying in cargo on long flights (they were 14-lb rat terriers) and it was one of the most stressful and exhausting days of my life. All went well though and they adapted to UK living well.
About her Home in Solihull, UK
How did you find your home when you lived abroad?
Gretta: I so wish we’d just rented instead of purchased. I had NO idea of the town and where I’d actually WANT to live before pulling the trigger. I think we maybe toured 3 homes in a single afternoon and I just picked the best one. They were all so different than what I was used to! The cost of living was so high, even for something we thought was so expensive everything was soooo tiny! Tiny kitchens, postage stamp sized backyards and no closets were the norm.
Describe the home – apartment, house, etc:
Gretta: We paid 250,000GBP at the time for our 900 sq ft townhouse. It had a ‘conservatory’ on the back, which is pretty common over there. I guess we could call it a sunroom. It had the tiniest backyard but with 2 little dogs, that was all we needed! It came without appliances (which apparently is common) so we immediately had to buy a fridge, washer dryer, tv, microwave, etc. Everything was so small! We quickly realized as well that it could only accommodate a combination washer dryer. LIKE TOGETHER. You put your clothes in, it washes them and then dries them – all in one machine. It was in the kitchen and so strange.
Lifestyle Abroad in Solihull, UK
Why did you choose the country and specifically, the city that you moved to?
Gretta: We knew absolutely nothing about the area so just took recommendations from the expat-couple we’d met. They helped us choose the ‘suburb’ of Birmingham called Solihull – which is where they lived.
How long did you live abroad?
Gretta: We ended up being there for just shy of 4 years!
What have you missed the most about living abroad?
Gretta: I absolutely miss the ease and convenience of traveling so easily throughout Europe. We could snag a 45GBP flight to Rome or Paris or Spain and be there in an hour or 2. It’s necessary when you need sunshine!
I do miss the ease of walking. Everything was so compact you could truly walk almost anywhere. I lost almost 15 lbs the first year just due to walking so much!
What was the most surprising thing to you when you moved there and then when you moved back?
Gretta: Everything felt so hard the first 6 months. Figuring out the currency. The train protocol. Buying a car. Driving was IMPOSSIBLE. Even understanding the language that I thought would be so similar. It drizzled everyday and never was sunny. I had a really tough time at first. I had always had a fairly easy time meeting people and making new friends, but the language barrier and background differences often seemed to make it tough to find connection with others. I felt very isolated in the beginning until I really started working.
I also was surprised by how many other expats there were! I found an expat women’s group called NAC (North American Connection) and we had 75 of us in town! When I needed to commiserate about the lack of Mexican groceries available to the lack of Thanksgiving and had a place to turn.
Moving BACK from England was an absolute breeze compared to moving there. Well, actually not exactly a breeze. Even though we’d only planned on living there for 2 years, it ended up being closer to 4 thanks to 2007 and the economy. The uncertainty and the feeling of being somewhat trapped with a newborn baby was stressful. When we finally sold our UK home for exactly what we owed (phew!) packed up our pups and now 1 yr old son I couldn’t have been more excited to hit US soil again!
What do you love about your current city?
Gretta: I absolutely LOVE Raleigh! I’m from the DC area and i’m so grateful for the more affordable cost of living, less traffic and close proximity to beaches and mountains – while still having access to amazing restaurants and culture.
What did you have to sacrifice to make living abroad come true?
Gretta: We definitely missed out on some important big family moments. And it was tough not having more support after our son was born in the UK. But I’d do it all in again in a heartbeat.
Had you ever lived outside of your home country before?
Gretta: I had never.
What did you do for fun in your city abroad?
Gretta: I feel like there was SO much to do! The ‘pub culture’ and beer gardens were so fun and different than what we were used to. There was always some sort of unique place to visit! We got into exploring castles – there were hundreds within just an hour or 2 drive. Or we could be in London in just 2 hours by train.
What did you like/dislike about living abroad?
Gretta: The time difference actually made it surprisingly tough to easily and regularly talk with friends and family. When I needed to chat – they were asleep or at work and vice versa.
Personally, the weather was tough on me too. I didn’t realized how much I craved the feeling of warm sunshine! The few days out of the year that would happen in the UK were few and far between.
What were your favorite spots in the area?
Gretta: Warwickshire Castle was a fave of mine. One of the most complete castles in all of England, it was only about 20 minutes from our house and I took everyone who came over to visit! I easily went 15 times. Same with the Cotswolds. Wandering through villages who’s homes still had thatched roofs was amazing.
Did you have your own mode of transportation, a car, bike, etc?
Gretta: You do so many things just because ‘well, that’s what I did at home.’ So I bought a car. I ended up selling it about 14 months later because I rarely used it. Driving was difficult and parking was crazy expensive. It was easier to use the train most of the time!
When you moved back, what do you feel like you gained from living abroad? / How did the experience enrich your life?
Gretta: I swore multiple times a day I would never take the conveniences of living in the US for granted EVER. AGAIN. I truly felt like I came back a different – a better – person. With more perspective. More grit.
Advice and Benefits of Living an Expat Lifestyle Abroad
Is there any advice or anything that you wished you would have known before your move that you would like to share with someone who may be considering an international move?
Gretta: I definitely wished we’d spent the first 6 months or so there just getting a feel for it. Not diving headlong into home and car ownership. I spent quite a bit of time with other woman living the expat life and they had nothing but incredible stories to share about it. I’m so lucky I had the opportunity so many will never have.
Are there any items, apps, or tools that you have found to be helpful when navigating your lifestyle and city abroad?
Gretta: Ha! This was 2005 baby. Apps weren’t a thing. I remember using the website TripAdvisor A LOT when researching our trips abroad though. And we used VRBO to rent most of our European accommodations when we vacationed.
Any other recommendations or words of wisdom?
Gretta: I would talk everyone into diving into this adventure if they have the opportunity! It was one of the most challenging experiences of my life – yet hands down the most life-changing and memorable.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Gretta: The UK is an incredible base to hop to France, Italy, Spain – so much of Europe! We even took a 7 days trip to Egypt while we were there.
Put your hands together for Gretta! I want to thank Gretta so much for joining me and for sharing her story about her move abroad to the UK!
I love how Gretta went all in – bought a house, a car, moved all of her belongings, and her two dogs with her. Sean and I planned on quite the opposite – renting an apartment, not having car, storing all of our belongings, and not bringing our cats with us so this was a very interesting story and perspective.
On the other hand, Sean and I are planning on traveling to nearby places like Gretta did. I love how she got to see so much of Europe!
Want to read more? Visit Expat Chats to read all of my interviews with people who have chosen to live internationally and to lead an Expat lifestyle.