Brexit: ‘Lockdown let me live the dream and move abroad… now I have to move on’

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In less than 12 months, the way we see and think about the world of work has changed dramatically.

For many of us, we’re now working from our make-shift home offices, firmly planted at our kitchen tables or in our bedrooms – our beds even – as the world embarks on an unavoidable work-from-home experiment, necessary to tackle the spread of Covid-19.

Jess Batten, who is in the middle of her own work-from-home experiment abroad, started her working day surrounded by more than ten gorgeous dogs on a husky farm near Jörn, a small locality 11 hours north of Stockholm.

It’s certainly not where she would have expected to find herself a year ago, but it’s where the lockdown breeze took her after seizing the opportunity to work remotely.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many people to rethink their lives and how they live them.

And for some, the advent of remote-only companies and extended work-from-home policies brings with it a plethora of new possibilities.

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Brexit notwithstanding, never has there been a time so largely accommodating for the nomadic and digital workforce.

While working from home certainly has its challenges and can leave you with an acute sensation of groundhog day-level monotony, remote working also offers up myriad opportunities for flexibility.

Fancy a workation? Why not. Is your dream job in another country? That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to uproot your life, although that may be exactly what others may want – and unattached to a physical office space, now find they have the freedom to pursue.

Jess Batten, 23In March last year, Jess Batten, 23, seized the opportunity to move abroad when her team were told to prepare to work from home for the foreseeable.

“WHAT IF HOME WAS IN ANOTHER COUNTRY?”

“The whole team was told that we should prepare for this to be a long term situation. So I asked my boss, what if home was in another country?” Jess explained.

After having always dreamed of moving abroad, she hardly expected to be able to fulfil that dream only weeks after accepting a new job role based in the UK.

But with coronavirus came an acceleration towards this new era of remote-only working, wherein workers can reap the benefits of a nomadic lifestyle, a non-existent commute or the occasional ‘workation’.

After getting the green light, Jess started to think more seriously about life as a nomadic worker – and found herself living in Stockholm, Sweden, a few months later.

“MY OFFICE IS WHEREVER MY LAPTOP IS”

“The goal was Amsterdam, but finding a room there was like gold dust, so I decided to give Stockholm a try as my brother lived there and I could crash with him until I found a place”, she said.

“The biggest obstacle is usually finding a job, so the fact my office is wherever my laptop is, is pretty convenient.”

Months down the line and Jess hasn’t regretted the decision – as she looks out across the snowy wonderland where huskies roam.

“Sweden’s restrictions have been much more relaxed than in the UK, no masks and shops remaining open. The messaging here has been wash your hand thoroughly, work from home and cancel your plans. So I’ve mostly been picking up new crafts, cooking Swedish food and getting to know Stockholm’s suburbs and nature with my flatmate and her dog.

“Of course there have been highs and lows”, she explained – but the experience of new food, landscapes and culture provided Jess with a welcome distraction from the inescapably “doomy and gloomy” side to the pandemic.

But as Britain heralded in the New Year and with it, Brexit, Jess was confronted with a new challenge.

As she doesn’t fit the criteria for Swedish residency, and due to Brexit taking away her freedom of movement, she has no choice but to leave.

From January 1 2021, Jess was left with 90 days to stay in her adopted city, after which time she would need to find somewhere else to go.

Flatmate and dog on a frozen lake

Keen to continue with her chosen lifestyle of nomadic working, Jess booked flights and accommodation for a move to Amsterdam at the beginning of January, but with the introduction of a ban on non EU or Schengen area citizens, her plan soon crumbled.

In the knowledge she will have to get moving before March 31, Jess considered her options. Her friends and family are “dotted all over the place” she explained, which meant she had no real base in the UK and gave her an impetus to try somewhere new.

But the world wasn’t as much her oyster as it had been this time last year.

“EDINBURGH STUCK OUT LIKE A GLITTERING GEM”

And so, Jess, still wanting to make the most of not being tied to a location because of work, turned her attention to Edinburgh – which she said “stuck out like a glittering gem”.

“Im not really sure how realistic this venture is, but I’m also not really sure where else I can go! As my exit date is approaching here, I’m going to give it my best shot.

“My memories of the city are so fond, I remember stepping out of the station and being overwhelmed by how rich the scenery was”, she explained.

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“Hills popping up over the urban landscape, ginormous trees marking their territory and cobbled streets bustling with diversity and culture.”

It’s a city she’s desperate to experience further now she has the option to work from anywhere.

“I know the reality of moving to Edinburgh during a pandemic won’t be full of such rosy scenes”, she added.  “But I’m optimistic that if I stick it out for a few months, it will be a real experience to witness the city slowly come out of hibernation and return to its preexisting charm.”

The view from Ms Batten’s work station near Jörn, Sweden

There are undoubtedly big changes facing UK citizens like Jess keen to live, work or study in the EU, since they no longer have an automatic right to do so.

Spain will require a work and residence permit and visa for workers, as well as a guarantee the employer is fine to cover accommodation and travel costs.

Workers keen to move to France will need to obtain a seasonal worker permit for up to six months, as well as a long-stay visa.

Croatia also requires residence and work permits, as well as limiting the number of foreign nationals who can work, much like in Italy where a quota is in place and workers will also need authorisation and a visa.

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UK students will no longer be privy to the Erasmus scheme, however the UK government has announced a new programme called the Turing Scheme which is due to begin in September 2021.

Otherwise, travel from the UK to EU countries is still possible, as long as it is for no longer than 90 days in a 180-day period, with the exception of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania, where it will not count towards the 90-day allowance for other EU countries.

Any visit longer than that will mean applying to individual countries for a visa.

You can check the immigration rules of EU countries in full here.

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