When Kirsten Pugsley’s long-term relationship came to an end in 2018, she was ready for a fresh start. 

But it wasn’t just about dusting herself off and moving on. She wanted more. A new job, a new home… a new country. 

However, as a 35-year-old with a four-bed house and a mortgage, not to mention an already pretty fulfilling career and good social life, she couldn’t help feeling like she was chasing an impossible dream. 

That was until Kirsten happened to have a chat with a senior colleague at the sports retail company she’d worked for as the associate marketing manager the last five years. 

It turned out that there was an opportunity to head up the business’s marketing team 4,000 miles away in Dubai. The rest, she says, is history. 

‘I didn’t hesitate to say yes,’ Kirsten tells Metro.co.uk. ‘While I loved my job and the people I worked with, I knew this new chance had the potential to project me further in my career than I could ever have expected.’

Kirsten in Dubai
Kirsten had a solid life in the UK, but wanted to see what the rest of the world could offer her (Picture: Supplied)

With UK Google searches for ‘move abroad’ up by 1000% in 2022 – the highest level in internet history – 90,000 British citizens made the move overseas for work last year. 

While most were in the 25-44 age group according to research from Radical Storage, women were the gender more likely to make the leap – with 45% saying they would like to work abroad compared to 39% of men. 

Giving insight into the growing trend of women moving abroad for work, careers expert Victoria McLean tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Twenty or so years ago, women didn’t have the access to education or professional development that they have now. As this has changed, it’s enabled more women to seek careers and career progression in another country.’

While moving overseas provided Kirsten with the chance she needed to start over, it wasn’t a seamless process, she admits. Leaving family and friends behind was difficult, for a start.

‘My parents know I am very headstrong and determined but I think they might have hoped there was only a small chance it would end up happening,’ she remembers. ‘It all became very real when they dropped me off at the airport – there were tears.

‘Some of my friends were sad to see me go and others understood why I wanted to. However, they were all excited about having a new holiday destination and a reason to leave their kids at home for a girls’ trip.’

Kirsten jumping in the desert
Kirsten left her home in Devon and travelled 4,000 miles to work in Dubai (Picture: Supplied)

Kirsten also admits that she didn’t really give herself much time to process her feelings. ‘I guess I took the steps to move without really thinking about it until I got to Dubai,’ she says. 

‘An old school friend of mine was out there with his wife and stepdaughter, so this provided me with a safety blanket because I had someone who I could ask questions about the process.’

Kirsten, who remained in a head of marketing role, admits that it did take time to adjust in Dubai because she was used to working in fast-paced environments and the processes there were slower than she expected. However, reflecting on her journey so far, she says; ‘Planning my life hadn’t really worked out as I thought it would, so I owed it to myself to see how this opportunity went.’

Research has also found that taking a career overseas tends to benefit women more than men, with HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey revealing that the average female expat’s income increases by around 27%, compared to 23% for men. Kirsten agrees, saying she is much better off financially since moving to Dubai.  Her salary has increased by roughly 2.5 times before tax (and therefore more, as Dubai has no income tax).

‘You do have to bear in mind that the cost of living is much higher here and there are other costs to factor in regardless of having no income tax,’ she adds.

However, Kirsten also points out that she doesn’t think she would be able to find a similar job in the UK on the salary she is currently on. ‘The cost of living has increased dramatically, which is one of the reasons why I’m not ready to move back to the UK just yet.’

While there’s no doubt the move has given her career success, Kirsten says it has impacted her social life. She finds it difficult to keep in touch with friends in the UK, and when she makes plans to visit her home county of Devon, she also has to factor in stops for London, Newcastle and Manchester, where she also has connections. ‘It isn’t easy because that’s when it starts to feel like less of a holiday,’ she explains. ‘To add to that, I feel so guilty when I don’t manage it all.’

Kirsten and her football teammates in Dubai
Even though she has a good social life in Dubai, Kirsten misses her friends and works hard to see them when she comes back to the UK (Picture: Supplied)

And although Kirsten has been able to make friends outside of work in Dubai, she says that romantic relationships have been ‘the most challenging aspect’ and ‘something she is yet to conquer with any kind of success’. 

‘I guess we can’t have it all,’ she shrugs.

Georgia Austin, 26, tells Metro.co.uk that she was working 40 hours a week as a copywriter at Sweaty Betty before deciding to go freelance. Although she loved her job, she wanted more control of her career.

After launching a freelance copywriting business and taking on a freelance LinkedIn networking role with a US-based market research firm as a ‘connector’ – offering professionals in an assigned industry and market on the site money to complete a 10 minute survey – she decided to take the plunge and go freelance full-time. But in Brazil, over 5,000 miles from where she grew up in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.

Georgia on a beach
Georgia Austin has set up her own freelance copywriting business which she runs from Brazil (Picture: Supplied)

‘With the money I was earning as a freelancer, I knew that one reliable client was all I needed to pay my living expenses. I immediately booked my flight to Brazil – a decision that, little to my knowledge, precluded the global pandemic,’ she says. 

Before deciding to move abroad, Georgia viewed her career as an exploration. She had a passion for writing and making money online. ‘I grew up as a bookworm and wrote short stories as a kid,’ she explains ‘I’ve always loved words and after landing my role at Sweaty Betty and writing for other sportswear brands, I knew I could monetise my passion,’ she says. 

Once Georgia realised that companies needed freelancers like her, it became even easier for her to make money online during the pandemic. She created an account on Fiverr, an online platform where freelancers can market themselves, and she soon was inundated with work. ‘It was spontaneous and life-altering – I never expected that things would change forever,’ she says.

Georgia in a helicopter
‘It felt like a puzzle piece fitting right into its spot,’ Georgia says about her move to Brazil (Picture: Supplied)

But why Brazil? Having visited the country a few times, Georgia says she felt like it was the right fit for her. On one of her visits, she taught English in Rocinha (South America’s largest favela) during the Paralympics. During this time, she had already begun to build a strong network of friends and connections – including her future husband’s family. 

‘I met my husband in the first week of arriving in Brazil, at the carnival. There was a two-hour queue to get in and we almost left the line due to boredom. Then we met inside and started talking,’ recalls Georgia.

And while others might have felt nervous about packing up and moving to a different continent, Georgia insists it was a breeze. ‘It felt like a puzzle piece fitting right into its spot,’ she insists.’ If I could live and work anywhere in the world, why would I stay in the UK where taxes are high and my money wouldn’t go very far?’

Georgia and her husband
Georgia met her husband at the carnival in Brazil (Picture: Supplied)

Since the move, Georgia has worked hard, scaling the freelance business she set up a few years ago to generate $2.1million in total revenue in just over two years. ‘I had the business model down and a great service offering, so I took things to new heights by onboarding industry experts to help fulfil demand, which ultimately tripled my earnings each month,’ she says.

Now, following the success of her agency, Georgia has founded a spin off company and bought a home in Florida. ‘My long-term plan is to scale and sell my company then settle down in the US while spending a few months each year travelling around the world. Although I don’t foresee a permanent return to the UK, I will always cherish the relationships and experiences I’ve had there,’ she says.

Victoria McLean, CEO and Founder of Career Consultancy City CV, adds that she believes the pandemic has had a part to play in the rising number of female expats. 

‘COVID-19 gave us better professional mobility. When you have the option of working from anywhere in the world, it’s easier to move abroad or work for companies that are based anywhere in the world,’ she explains.

‘Women have long asked for better flexibility and I think it took a global pandemic to deliver this. Over the past few years, there has been an increase of opportunities in female-led industries, like healthcare for example.’

When Sarah-Jane McQueen had the idea of moving from Croydon to Australia for work floated to her by a colleague, the first thing she did was discuss the move with her long-term boyfriend, who had always lived in London. ‘We then went through the process of applying for our visa. Due to the backlog from Covid, it took about six months for our entry to be granted,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.

Sarah-Jane at work
Sarah-Jane McQueen moved from Croydon to Australia (Picture: Candlefox)

As the visa took a long time to arrive, Sarah-Jane admits there was a lot of time to question the move, with many nights spent weighing up the cons of thinking what could go wrong. ‘We didn’t want the opportunity passing us by. We got through it together with a pact that if we were miserable after six months, we would come back home to London.’ 

However, while she hired a relocation consultant to help with the logistics, Sarah-Jane, who is now a COO of education marketing company CoursesOnline, knew that making the move wasn’t just about her and her partner. She had to think of her eight-year-old daughter too.

Having only ever lived in their family home, she says her little girl struggled with such a big move. 

‘Once we started sharing where we were going and involving her in finding our new house, she started to get excited,’ remembers Sarah-Jane, 42. However, once moved, reality hit and it was hard for the family to see her go from being the popular girl in school in the UK to being an outsider. 

Sarah-Jane and colleagues at Christmas time
Sarah-Jane says she loves her knew workplace and colleagues (Picture: Candlefox)

Sarah-Jane admits that seeing her child being excluded from birthday parties and play dates was heartbreaking. 

‘We did have a few incidents on the playground at school because she got angry or lashed out, which is why we enrolled her in other activities outside school like swimming and yoga,’ she explains. ‘I had mum guilt, but over time she’s found her place. Almost a year in and she’s the happiest I have ever seen her.’

With a relocation package that also enabled Sarah-Jane and her family to turn their London home into an investment rental property, it’s safe to say they’re financially better off. Another bonus is that the income taxes and other taxes are better off in Australia (UK contribution is 4% whereas Australia is 11%).

Even so, Sarah-Jane admits to FOMO when she sees pictures of her friends during nights out or events. ‘Not seeing my family all the time is difficult, but I do my best to make it work,’ she says. 

Sarah-Jane and her husband
Moving to Oz has made the family ‘closer than ever’ says Sarah-Jane (Picture: Supplied)

It’s also been hard as her grandmother had a stroke 18 months ago, and she admits not being as close to her as she’d like, is her only regret about the move. Other than that, Sarah-Jane describes her journey as a ‘wild adventure’, adding ‘We’re closer than ever as a family unit and my career has gone from strength to strength.’

According to Victoria McLean, while this trend for Brits to move abroad for work looks set to continue, there are some serious negatives that go beyond FOMO and feeling homesick. 

‘While a move abroad might be a real career boost for women, there might also be a knock on effect of reduced gender diversity in the UK with the hardest impact felt at senior level,’ she explains. 

‘There are a number of ways this trend could impact the UK labour force but the most important is probably “brain drain” or the loss of education and skills.’

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To counteract any potential critical drain on talent in the UK, Ray’n Terry, HR Director at Totaljobs advises that British employers ‘evaluate their offering for international workers and how they can compete on a global scale. 

‘Whether that’s giving workers greater flexibility to work anywhere they want in the world or developing relocation packages that highlight the quality of living aspects of your location,’ she explains.

As for Sarah-Jane’s plans, she and her family expect to stay in Australia until their visa is up in 2026. They also have a pathway to permanent residency – a process they can start next year. 

‘Moving back to the UK will be likely when our parents need us to help look after them,’ she explains. 

‘At the moment, we’re just taking each month as it comes. Because at the moment, everything is great where we are.’ 

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