We asked a British expat, Russell Ward, how he kept in touch with his friends and family back home in the UK when he moved to Australia:
When I left the UK eleven years ago, I missed the pubs, roast dinners and the TV. I also mourned the loss of family and friends. In those days, Facebook or Skype didn’t exist and the only way to keep in touch was via a phone card and a sketchy international connection that would often drop out.
Times have changed since then and it no longer takes three months to receive a care package of English chocolate. It’s now far easier to remain connected to the people you’ve left behind and keep in step with the big events and little cultural curiosities from home that you find yourself pining for.
Thanks to the many marvels of modern technology, here’s how I prefer to stay connected with home when I’m living abroad.
1. Social Networks
According to a NatWest Quality of Life report, social media has been a game-changer for most British expats (78%), who believe the main benefit of personal technology is that it allows them to stay connected with friends and family.
Facebook continues to be one of the best ways to follow life events from home and to share your own personal moments from that new life abroad. With the advent of Instagram plus networks such as Twitter and Pinterest, you no longer have an excuse to lose touch.
2. Online Messaging and Face-to-Face Calls
WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are the dominant messaging systems – and they’re both free! Install them on your smartphone or computer and message your contacts in real-time.
However, the real winners for me have been Skype and, more recently, FaceTime. Never before has it been so easy to click a button and instantly reach loved ones from afar. The only challenge is figuring out the time difference to ensure you don’t wake any sleeping souls.
3. Virtual Private Networks (VPN)
You’ve learned how to keep in touch with family and friends online but what about following British television programming from your overseas base? There are a growing number of VPN subscription services that allow the subscriber to watch television channels from the UK on a computer or iPad from anywhere in the world.
These services connect you to the host’s VPN servers so that when you visit websites such as the BBC or ITV, you appear as a resident of the home country. This means you have full access to their UK-only ‘live TV’ or ‘on demand’ services without getting any of the usual error messages blocking you because you’re not in the UK.
4. BBC iPlayer
Already a fan of the Beeb and its regular supply of quality programming, I was initially sceptical that the BBC iPlayer iPad app would deliver given possible limitations when compared to the traditional television set. However, I’ve enjoyed being able to access a great range of shows I know and love through the iPlayer interface.
The app is easy to navigate, streams the content relatively smoothly, and allows me to watch as many programs as I like under my monthly subscription. This one is worth giving a try.
5. Apple TV
Apple TV is a fantastic little black box that plugs directly into the back of your TV. Through the box and over a wireless network, you can access your iTunes account to watch movies and television series, YouTube clips and stream most iPad applications directly onto the TV through the magic of AirPlay.
While this has been something of a revelation in our household, the real benefit has been the ability to watch both the BBC iPlayer and VPN service programs on a regular TV screen rather than on an iPad alone. Eyesight saved, job well done and a much happier expat.
Russell Ward is a British expat living on Sydney’s Northern Beaches where he writes about his search for a life less ordinary at www.insearchofalifelessordinary.com, one of Australia’s leading expat and travel blogs. He can be followed on Twitter and Instagram as @russellvjward.