I didn’t expect to fall hook, line and sinker for Berlin. It was meant to be a brief five-week affair to source a few stories (I’m a freelance journalist) and experience a new city, but within days she pulled me in with her cool, laid-back attitude. The cost of living in Berlin is significantly lower compared to money-guzzling London: my gym membership was all of €20 per month, a bottle of red wine would set me back just a few euros, and most importantly, thanks to rent control, I could find a one-bedroom flat in a trendy area of the German capital for the equivalent of £400 a month, with most bills included. While I absolutely adore London – my home of 10 years – I’m fed up of watching a huge chunk of my earnings thrown on rent every month. So I’m hatching a plan to quit London for the much more affordable Berlin.
I’m not the only one plotting an escape from the British Isles. Priced out of buying and rents spiralling nationwide – the average rental price in London is an eye-watering £1,238, according to letting agents Your Move and Reed Rains – an exodus of young women are moving abroad, according to Ben Tyrrell, head of international moving site MoveHub. “The UK's continuously soaring property prices and general high cost of living are making staying in the UK less appealing and instead of putting up with it, it seems these young professional women are just seeking new opportunities elsewhere."
Katie McCrory, 32, head of communications for a global sustainability think tank, had been living in London for ten years when she decided to leave the city for Copenhagen with her husband. McCrory says the stifling cost of their two-bedroom flat in north London forced the pair to leave last July.
“I was really happy there, until – one day – I suddenly realised I wasn’t. My half of the rent and household bills was coming in at around half my freelance earnings every month.” She says the idea of buying was “laughable” as they were both freelancers and didn’t have either the kind of deposit or income required.
Instead, they packed their bags and moved to Copenhagen, where the couple rent a two-bedroom apartment that’s 50% bigger and a third cheaper than their old flat in London. McCrory enthuses about her new life. “I now have a full-time job, in a sector I’m hugely passionate about, I take free Danish lessons every week and I cycle the five minutes it takes me to get to work every day in protected cycle lanes.”
Elle Robinson, 26, a medical writer and ghost writer, swapped her six-bedroom houseshare in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, for a one-bedroom apartment with mountain vistas in Zagreb, Croatia for half the price she was forking out in the UK. Robinson says the “crazy rents” in the UK and the opportunity to live on her own spurred her to move overseas. Now, with rent no longer such a burden, Robinson says her life is much more fulfilled. “I don't really struggle for money,” she says. “I work about 25 hours a week so I have time to go to uni to study the Croatian language and culture.”
All of the women I interviewed spoke of the improved work-life balance gained from living abroad. “As a creative person, to live in a city with a much lower cost of living has great benefits,” says graphic designer Lauren Kelly, 27, who last year moved into a two-bedroom flat in Berlin with her boyfriend. It costs less than the £800 a month they splashed out for a room in a warehouse in Hackney Wick, which they shared with 12 people. “The ability to work less, enjoy life more, and indulge in more personal work like my blog is fantastic. In London, it felt like you were working all the hours to pay the man, but in Berlin the onus is on quality of life and enjoyment.”
Starting a business while living in London was a struggle for Becki Enright, 32, a travel writer and blogger. She left the capital in 2012 and spent 15 months living in Asia before relocating to Europe. “I still adore London, but growing a business means having less security financially and renting full-time in London was not an ideal option.” Instead, for the past 14 months she has been living in Athens, where rent is significantly cheaper and is moving to Vienna this month. “I'm able to save more, despite growing a business,” she says.
Initially living in London before temporarily moving to Lincoln, Karli Drinkwater, 31, a journalist and producer, left for South East Asia last August after breaking up with her fiancé. “Becoming a single person again made me wonder what quality of life I would have now that I’d be finding a new place to live [on my own]. When I did the maths, I worked out that I’d be back to barely being able to make ends meet and I couldn’t face that again.” After qualifying as a scuba diving instructor in Bali, she’s now relocating to Koh Samui in Thailand.
However, despite the associated glamour of living overseas, there are challenges with upping sticks and living in another country. “When you move, you have to start from scratch and after calling London home, you crave the social elements and the big city life that keeps you occupied and happy outside of work hours,” says Enright. “There's also the bureaucracy of setting yourself up in another country – the paper work of temporary residency, etc. Different countries have different rules, so the more you move the more you have to start again.”
Those looking to move abroad should get their finances in order before they leave, advises Richard Musty, expatriate banking director at Lloyds Banking Group. “It’s likely you will be liable for tax in the location you are moving to and will need to consider income you may be due to receive from the UK if you are renting out your property or have other sources of income in the UK.” He also suggests opening a bank account in your new country of residence in order to pay local bills and for receiving any wages.
Despite living in hip Berlin, Kelly says she misses the creative scene in London. “The progressiveness, opportunity and passion that drives the scene in London is unrivalled. I never realised how great it was until I left. If it was more affordable, we probably would have moved to a smaller unit for just ourselves and stayed in the area.”
However, moving abroad is helping Kelly and her boyfriend achieve their long-term goal of getting on the property ladder. “We are now saving for a house deposit," she enthuses. "And that's something that we would never have considered, or managed, while still living in London."