Working in the UK as an overseas nurse can be very rewarding, but I bet many have found it challenging to navigate their way to thrive in a foreign country. Although we can find answers on the internet at our fingertips, we sometimes seek advice from our "kababayans", who have anecdotal experiences to share with us. Their advice can either make or break our decision-making process or dramatically shift our way of thinking about core aspects of our lives, such as career, finances and family values.
Mr Mike Junia, a seasoned Filipino UK nurse, shares with us the excellent advice he received about living in the UK and the worst ones that he thought wouldn't be helpful for him. Maybe we can learn from these as well and broaden our perspective about life in the UK.
Best advice that I value most
1. Keep your NHS job and NHS Pension.
The NHS is an excellent place to work with great job security and generous employment benefits. As an employer, it is heaven-sent to me. Working in the NHS has allowed my family and me to live a comfortable life. NHS Pension is a good value for money and provides generous retirement and life assurance benefits, including a retirement lump sum. The NHS contributes 20.6% on top of my pension contribution. Thankfully, I did not opt-out of the NHS pension from day one of my employment. Since I am part of the 1995 scheme, I have the option to retire early at the age of 55 (less than four years from now) because I have the NHS Pension. Had I opted out, I would have had no option but to work until I reach the State Age Pension, which is 67 years old at the moment. The current scheme does not have an early retirement option however the NHS pension is still a good benefit and I would advise to remain on the scheme. Remaining on the pension scheme provides assurance for your retirement years and the best part is that our pension contributions are tax free!
2. Buy a house and get a mortgage.
Buying a house through a mortgage is one of the best pieces of advice I received from a colleague when I was new here in the UK. I got a mortgage during my first year in the UK and now I only have less than three years left until it gets paid completely. Yes, it is a significant spending and tough financial decision, but I believe buying a house is a good investment. Aside from owning a property, generally, house value increases over time. So if we decide to sell it, we will be able to keep the money and enjoy the profits from its appreciation.
3. Always be grateful to our host country - the United Kingdom.
Whilst the system here in the United Kingdom is NOT perfect, I always acknowledge that living in the UK has made my life comfortable. It is the best thing I have done for my family as it secured my children's future because of free education. I can't imagine life in the Philippines as a nurse with four children to send to school, and there is no way I can afford it. To honour the UK and, at the same time, motivate Filipino nurses who aspire to settle in this country, I feel that it's my social responsibility to share my experiences in living and working in the UK. I am delighted to know that my Facebook posts about life in the UK have helped others with their decision to work and begin a new chapter of their lives.
Worst advice which led to some costly mistakes…
1. Invest mainly in the Philippines.
Investing in the Philippines is not bad, and I'm not discouraging anyone to do so. It only becomes a "poor investment" if you have spent all your resources here in the UK to invest in the Philippines. This is exactly what I have done with huge regrets. I bought five high-end real estate properties in the Philippines, thinking we would retire there. However, due to health issues within the family, we decided to retire and settle here in the UK for free healthcare. When I decided to sell my properties, it was challenging to find buyers due to the steep market value for working-class Filipinos to afford them. Eventually, I have sold all our properties below the asking price just to get rid of them. Putting all my eggs in one basket wasn't a wise financial decision. I should've diversified my portfolio and chosen carefully where to invest. In hindsight, a single real estate property investment in the Philippines would have been enough, and I should have invested my money here in the UK on a second house mortgage. My advice to all new OFW is to be wise with their investments as it will impact their decision later in life especially where they will retire - whether in the UK or the Philippines.
2. Get multiple credit cards.
Having multiple credit cards is not a good move as it could lead you to heavy debts if you are not careful. I used to have seven credit cards and was excessively using them to the point that I struggled to repay them. Since I couldn't pay the balance in full, the amount left incurred interest which seemed like a never-ending loop. It took a long time to get out of my overspending debt, but I was able to clear it, thankfully. As soon as I recovered from the credit card trap, I cut down to four cards at present with very minimal usage. For the last five years, my credit score has always been stable.
3. Make sure our children will keep the Filipino cultural values in them.
As parents, we feel that it is not appropriate to forcibly instil our cultural values into our children as it may hinder the social integration and immersion process with their classmates and the locals. We have realised that our children will live in an environment & culture different from ours. Instead of imposing, we have encouraged them to continually observe and practice Pinoy cultural values if the particular situation calls for it, like attending large Filipino social gatherings or if we are on holiday in the Philippines. This worked for us - my children were able to adapt well to the UK environment and were able to establish their own identities. Born and bred in Britain yet they know and still practice the essential Pinoy culture like doing the Mano (seeking blessing), addressing people older than them to show respect like Kuya & Ate, Tito & Tita and of course, they also like to ask for extra rice, lol!
Living abroad is definitely not easy. It takes courage to start anew, resilience to adapt to norms, and an open mind to immerse yourself in its culture without losing touch with your principles and values. It is worth recognising that every "kababayan" has his/her own narrative to tell. Seeking guidance from the right people who listen and understand your situation can still provide insight to deepen your thinking and make better decisions to fulfil the life you have envisioned for you and your family. After all, we are still in control of whether we will take their advice on board or politely brush it off. It’s your choice to take it or leave it.
About the Writer: Mike Junia is a seasoned Filipino Nurse who have been working and living in the UK for more than 20 years. He is known for his practical tips and insights on how to live in the UK, which he shares in his Facebook page.