From the US to the UK
Wanting to work abroad but Australia's not your jam? Want to know more about working in the UK? Thanks heaps to SLP Sarah McElroy for sharing her experiences about transitioning from working in the US to working in the UK!!
It Started With a Dream
Written by: Sarah McElroy
My journey to working abroad began on March 5, 2018. I was on a plane from Dallas to Paris with my parents to visit my sister studying abroad in Dijon, France. After two weeks of travelling around France and Italy, I knew I had to see more of Europe. I was so jealous my sister was getting to spend five months in France! Reflecting back on my college years, I was so disappointed I hadn't been able to study abroad in Spain as planned due to switching my major from Psychology to Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at the end of my Sophomore year (much to my parent's relief because "what kind of job can you get with a Psychology degree?").
Over the summer, I looked into teaching English as a way to move abroad. I hadn't worked with kids in awhile and I thought it might be a fun change of pace. However, the basically minimum wage pay was really disappointing; especially when compared to my speech pathologist salary. And less money equaled less travel and experiences! That lead me to looking to be a speech therapist abroad. I found out that through the Mutual Recognition Agreement, I could practice in the UK, Canada, New Zealand, or Australia! I joined the "SLPs Going Abroad" group on Facebook and narrowed my focus on learning the process for working in the UK or New Zealand. I decided on wanting to focus entirely on working in the UK, but did end up submitting my resume on the website for Immigration New Zealand.
At this stage I started telling my family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers on a plane about my dream! I think sharing your dreams with literally anyone makes the dreams more concrete and facilitates turning them into goals. Everyone was really happy for me and I got so much more support than I anticipated. Picturing my life abroad brought a smile to my face, but actually talking about it was even more fun and exciting! Also, talking about living or travelling abroad with my patients was a fun communication therapy conversation topic 🙂 Over the next few months, people kept asking me about my progress which held me accountable with moving forward. If I wouldn't have told everyone about my dream, it would have been easier to quit when I hit challenges along the way.
Certifications, job hunting, job interviews, and work visas
(If the details on the process of working as a speech therapist in the UK or New Zealand don't interest you, skip to the next session!)
In August 2018, I started on my applications for the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapy (RCSLT), the UK versions of a state license and ASHA membership respectively. I couldn't send my RCSLT application until after I was a registered member of HCPC, but I printed out the forms and filled them out simultaneously as some the information needed was redundant. Not going to lie, completing out these applications was more time consuming, frustrating, and expensive than the six graduate school applications I filled out! The HCPC application was by far the hardest part of this process and it took me about a month to gather everything I needed (letters from my university, information for all the undergraduate AND graduate courses I completed, proof of my practicum hours, a letter from ASHA verifying I was a member, the paperwork confirming the completion of my CFY, and the contact information of three wonderful people willing to fill out an electronic recommendation form). Therefore, it was near the end of September before I was able to mail off my completed application with what felt like hundreds of pages of supporting documents. Two weeks later I got an email stating my application was received and that processing would begin!
Pro tip: Thoroughly review every aspect of the application before sending it off!!! I got an email a couple weeks after the initial one stating that I hadn't signed one of the pages. So I had to pay $70 to send ONE page to HCPC and that delayed my application's processing.
I had read that processing took four to six months, but by the end of January I was a little nervous as to why I hadn't heard anything. It turned out my manager still had not filled out the form sent to her via email to confirm my current employment and that was delaying the processing of my application. After she filled it out, I was registered within a week's time. I added in my HCPC registration number to my RCSLT application (a significantly shorter and easier application to fill out) and I was approved in three weeks!
Now that I was registered to work in the UK, it was on to a more fun step- job hunting! I had read in posts on "SLPs Going Abroad" that a non-EU citizen would not be considered for a job without a recruiter. I also saw some comments that it would be next to impossible to get a job in the UK due to the difficulty of finding an employer willing to sponsor a work visa. I was literally nauseated at the thought not being able to find a job and never living abroad. Setting aside a brief wave of sadness, I got on LinkedIn and found Piers Meadows Recruitment. I filled out a (short and easy!) online application with them. A recruiter set up a time to speak with me a few days later and she immediately started looking for jobs for me. It was nice to not actually have to do the job hunting myself, but also fairly frustrating that I wouldn't get any job possibilities for sometimes weeks at a time (but my recruiter was consistently checking in). Quite frequently she was telling me employers were very interested when they read my resume, but couldn't offer me sponsorship for my work visa.
One day in May, I got a random email from Immigration New Zealand about a job opportunity at a rehab facility in Wellington, New Zealand. I was frustrated that I hadn't come across any opportunities in the UK yet, so I sent off my resume for the job. A day later I had an email from a healthcare recruiting agency, Accent Health, in New Zealand saying they wanted to set up an interview for me! I couldn't believe it!!! I skyped with my recruiter who gave me fabulous interview tips and talked about how the agency would help me with every step in the process of my move to New Zealand if I got the job. The following Monday, I interviewed with the rehab facility via Zoom for nearly two hours. They asked more "case based" questions than I was normally asked in job interviews I had in The States. I felt pretty confident coming out of the interview (other than being asked about salary as I was totally unprepared for that) and was told I would hear from them in the next two weeks. That Wednesday, I had got an email from my UK recruiter wanting to arrange an interview with a hospital in Northern England to cover a maternity leave. I set it up for the following Monday morning while I would still be on vacation with my family and not have to take time off of work. On Saturday evening, I got an email with a job offer (contingent on me getting a visa and NZSLT registration)!!! I was absolutely ecstatic and couldn't believe my dream of living abroad was going to come true. And it was even more special celebrating with dad's side of the family.
Monday morning, my whole family was packing up to be out of the house we rented by 10:45. But I had a 9:30 job interview- while wearing a summer dress because I didn't have anything business professional to wear! I interviewed with the hospital from Durham, England via Skype. The interview was going well (again a lot of "case based" questions), but about 40 minutes in we lost our connection. It took about 15 minutes to reconnect. Luckily, I was only asked a few more questions because my dad kept poking his head in the room mouthing at me to hurry up because family members wanted to leave and were waiting for me to say goodbye. I didn't feel as confident about this interview, but wasn't concerned because I already had a job offer. Later that day, I applied my visa to New Zealand. Since I was under 30, I was applying for a one-year working holiday visa. I filled out the application in about 30 minutes and had my visa approved in less than 48 hours! I was all set for New Zealand!
Two days later I had a job offer from Durham, England as well! After months of wondering if I would ever get even a job interview, I literally could not believe that I had TWO JOB OFFERS! I excitedly told everyone I knew (especially my patients) and then wondered how I was going to make a decision. This was certainly the most fun hard decision I have ever had to make. Deep down in my heart, I think I always knew it was going to be England. However, when I asked people (including waiters and cashiers) which one they would choose, 90% of them said New Zealand. I questioned if I was wrong for not wanting to go to New Zealand, especially since I already had my visa and would get more support from the recruiting agency there. But why settle for easier when I had already done (what I thought) was all the hard work for England? So I sent a heart-felt letter to the staff at the rehab facility in New Zealand saying why I could not accept the job offer and moved full steam ahead to preparing to move to Durham!
In order to relocate to England, I had to apply for a tier 2 work visa. There is a 3-year and 5-year option and I chose the 3-year one as my contract was only for a year. The visa application was fairly simple, but longer than the New Zealand one. I had a delay in completing the application as I was still waiting on my Certificate of Sponsorship. Just a heads up for those of you applying for a visa in England, you are charged a 400 pound (~ $500) healthcare surcharge for each year you are in the UK- an unwanted surprise cost for me. Because I needed my visa sooner than the two to four week processing period, I had to pay an additional $800 for one week processing. Plus, I had to make a trip from Dallas to Houston to get my photo/fingerprints taken and application reviewed/sent out along with my passport. In total, the visa ended up costing me just over $2,000. Speech and language pathologists were added to the job shortage list a couple months after I applied, which would have saved me $350. I got an email saying a decision had been made regarding my visa on Sunday. I freaked out thinking it had been denied because it hadn't said that my visa had been approved. But a quick Google search reassured me that I was unable to be told the decision of my visa application via email. Sadly, my flight was the next day. Unsure of what time my visa would be delivered or if it had even been approved, I rescheduled my flight to two days later. When the UPS package arrived, I tore into it like Pizza Hut box containing a stuffed crust pizza. I saw all my paperwork, but no approval letter. But... at the back of the paperwork was my passport and in it, my work visa!!!! Tears of relief streamed down my face and I couldn't believe that I actually held a work visa that I knew was so hard to get.
I finally move to across the pond!
Because I had to change my flight last minute, I now had a quick layover in Dublin. So quick that my two suitcases didn't make it with me to London. I had four hours before I had to catch my train, so I waited two hours to see if my bags would show up. They didn't, so I took a taxi to King's Cross station. From there, I had a three hour train ride to Durham. Upon arrival, I had a shot of whiskey in the train station bar after calling Aer Lingus and being told my bags still had not been located. My Airbnb host, Gemma, was kind enough to pick me up at the train station and take me to a store to get clothes since I didn't have any. I ended up having to wait a whole week for my bags and I stayed at the Airbnb for over two weeks before I could move into a flat of my own.
Despite all the challenges along the way, I wouldn't change anything! I work in the acute wards at University Hospital of North Durham and see patients at their outpatient clinic on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. My work/life balance is so much better than in The States! I get weekends and holidays off in addition to four and half weeks paid vacation. I've already gotten to explore England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and the Canary Islands with my time off! Also, it is so amazing to not have to worry about billing correctly or meeting productivity standards. The documentation/paperwork still sucks, but I guess you can't escape that anywhere. At least in England it is encouraged to sip some tea while documenting! I just now have to use British spellings, which took a couple months to adjust to. Overall, I would say the culture in Northern England is very similar to Texas; everyone has been so welcoming and friendly to me. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else!
Also, I just so happened to meet the love of my life on November 3, 2019, but that's another story 🙂