There’s a fork in the road for every expat: the looming date of an expiring expatriate visa.
It’s inevitable. Any country where you live and work as a non-citizen requires some sort of approval and that approval comes with a time frame. For us, Americans in the UK, our visas are for three years, and that three year mark is rapidly approaching. The tension around an expiring visa is never without stress. The choices feel big because they are big. The large passport sticker granting easy access to a country becomes even more precious.
Now, I (as a lover of action and adventure) really appreciate the deadline because it makes change inevitable. Despite our deep love for London – and if you’ve read this site at all you know how obsessed we are – an expiration date on our time has made the experience that much more heightened. I guarantee that we would not hop around Europe with quite the same ferocity if we knew we had a lifetime to see it all.
As guests in a country, we are not legally allowed to skate along forever, languishing in jobs that are fine but not great, living in a place that is comfortable but not stimulating, choosing-but-not-really-choosing because it’s easier to stay than move.
We have to choose, deliberately, and by a specific date.
In our situation, we don’t actually have to leave the UK. My company would happily help us renew our visas and we could stay on for another two years. But even making the decision to stay is a big one. It requires a mountain of paperwork, contracts, and negotiation.
So we’ve drawn the line in the sand. We’ve picked to leave. Our visas will expire, and we will be off on another adventure.
It’s hard to admit but now that I think about it, I haven’t met much uncertainty in my life. I’ve never moved without having a job lined up. I’ve never stopped one thing before identifying the next thing. In hindsight, I’ve made a few choices that I can see were probably risky: getting a puppy, going to grad school two states away, moving to Maine to be with Drew, but at the time those decisions seemed completely brilliant and I had no uncertainty at all.
Today I’m living with uncertainty. Wallowing in it. Trying to get comfortable.
Some days, I am. I feel a sense of freedom and excitement about what could be. Other days, I’m not comfortable at all. I worry about my stuff and my career and if what’s next will be as happy as what is today. And I know that this is all unknowable. Being here or there doesn’t guarantee anything. Staying put doesn’t make happiness certain just as moving doesn’t inherently put happiness at risk.
The bottom line is this: I don’t know where I’ll live one year from today. Full stop.
To celebrate (or distract ourselves), we plan to spend the summer relishing in everything London. The bucket list has been written, a date for our going away party has been (tentatively) set. All of the big things, like, you know, moving and furniture and landlords and leases will be sorted out in the next couple months.
It’s a little scary – where will we ship our stuff? what if I can’t find the next great work opportunity? what if we regret leaving London after all? can we be forced to ‘go home’? But it’s also a little thrilling.