Six Scots living abroad tell us what they miss (and don’t miss) about home

Soldiers from the Scots Royal Dragoon Guards and 1st Battalion The Highlanders entertain bathers at Sydney's Bondi Beach. Picture: PA
Soldiers from the Scots Royal Dragoon Guards and 1st Battalion The Highlanders entertain bathers at Sydney's Bondi Beach. Picture: PA
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Scots have sought to find their fortunes abroad for centuries, and today is no different. Six expats tell Alison Campsie what they miss about Caledonia

Mel Sinclair, 34, chef and mother, from the Orkney Islands, lives in Cannes, France

Mel Sinclair is a proud Orcadian but lives in Cannes with her husband and two children

Mel Sinclair is a proud Orcadian but lives in Cannes with her husband and two children

Moving to the south of France was never meant to be permanent, but the opportunity to work on yachts was a great life experience for me - cooking for a living, while meeting new people and seeing new places.

Fate however had other plans, and it wasn’t long before I met my now husband, Frédéric, who was at that time a professional volleyball player in Nice. Despite moving to the north of France with a new team, we knew we wanted to return to the French Riviera to start our married life together. We’re so lucky to have so much on our doorsteps. We can drive to Italy for lunch and Monaco for dinner.

In the other direction, Barcelona is a five-hour drive away and the ski resorts are 90 minutes drive from the beach. The outdoor lifestyle is fantastic. It is also fantastic for our boys, aged five and two, to grow up bilingual.

There is a very large expat community from all over the world on the French Riviera but I’ve come across very few people from Scotland as yet. My best friends here form a broad spectrum of nationalities ranging from Mexican, Swedish, Italian, Dutch, Irish and Brazilian.

We can drive to Italy for lunch and Monaco for dinner

Mel Sinclair

On the downside, life is very expensive here, especially on the coast. You get very little for your money and we often have a good moan about it and how much cheaper life is back in Scotland.

The downsides? Taxes are high in every respect. The second is probably bad service. If people don’t know you, you’re likely to be treated terribly. Thirdly, as with anyone living abroad, we have no family to call on which is sometimes difficult.

I probably come back once a year, perhaps more if there’s a special occasion.

It can be very emotional, very nostalgic. Sometimes I wonder if life would be better at home. When you’re in Scotland amongst your closest friends and family there’s a real yearning for more of the same and wishing it were possible more often.

Robert Mullan, of Ayrshire, moved to Dubai five years ago

Robert Mullan, of Ayrshire, moved to Dubai five years ago

I do miss the food and people in Scotland. I’ve argued with countless people about food from Scotland. Not just French, but many nationalities. It’s infuriating when so many people still scoff at Scottish cuisine and talk of haggis and deep fried Mars bars! For me there is nothing to compare to the Scottish larder and I’m very proud to spread the word of that wherever possible. And people, well – I can’t deny missing the banter.

I’m fiercely proud of where I come from and of course it has shaped where I am and what I do. Growing up in a fishing family has undoubtedly defined me and how things have unfolded in my life and I still retain that passion now, not just for seafood, but for Scotland.

READ MORE: The Scottish diaspora: how Scots spread around the world

Ally Brown, 32, writer and teacher, from Edinburgh, lives in Bogota, Colombia

Ally Brown, right, watching the Colombian national football team

Ally Brown, right, watching the Colombian national football team

A few years ago I’d never even thought about visiting Colombia, never mind living there. I had the same bad impression of it as most people do, sadly. In 2011 I was made redundant in Scotland and went off travelling, including some time in South America where every other backpacker I met seemed to be raving about Colombia. It was then that I learned how things have changed in Colombia in the last decade or so. So I went there, I spent six weeks in the country as a backpacker in 2012, and I had a brilliant time.

When my travelling came to an end I didn’t want to go back to live in Scotland. It felt to me like a film I’d seen twenty times, and knew off by heart, all its quirks and depths. There was nothing new or interesting for me there anymore. I just wanted to watch a different film for a while.

I had made friends in Bogota already and I could legally work there as a teacher. I wanted to learn Spanish. The people I’d met there already were enjoying living there. It was also a thrill to go somewhere so different.

I remember several times, well into my stay, thinking “i can’t believe I live in Colombia! I really do!” It’s another planet from Scotland. I learned so much, more than just a language.

Of course there are not as many expats as in most cities of its size. But how many do you need? A lot of the expats in Bogota are very interesting, thoughtful people. There’s a cosmic filtration system at work that puts similar-thinking people into similar situations.

Most expats in Bogota aren’t overly interested in money or possessions or status, if they were they wouldn’t be in Colombia. But plenty are interested in history, culture, human rights, internationalism, things like that. Colombia is an endless mystery. There’s a lot to talk about.

Stewart Redwood, from Stirlingshire, has lived in Panama for 20 years but loves visiting home for the scenery - and fish and chips

Stewart Redwood, from Stirlingshire, has lived in Panama for 20 years but loves visiting home for the scenery - and fish and chips

The downsides of life in Bogota are mobility and security. It’s a pain getting around the city, which is the size of London but doesn’t have a metro. It’s not a culturally vibrant first world city, but there are things to do. And there is street crime, of course, a lot of people get mugged. I haven’t ever been robbed, but you hear stories, you have to be vigilant, and you can still be unlucky. But you’ve got to learn to get on with things, not worry about it too much.

What do I miss about Scotland? Expats always miss the food they grew up with and I missed bacon and tea, it just isn’t the same in Colombia. Going back to Scotland I was struck by how grey everything seemed, and how ill everyone looked.

Robert Mullan, 42, business consultant, from Ayrshire, lives in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Five years ago I was approached with a job offer and at the time and I thought ‘why not’.

I told myself I would try it out for a year and worst case scenario move back to Scotland if I wasn’t enjoying it.

At the time I was looking for my next career move, so I guess it was all a matter of the timing being right for me. And now almost five years have passed and I’m running my own business here with no immediate plans to move anywhere else.

I had friends who already lived here and heard positive things. The job market certainly seemed better than at home at that time, and of course the weather was a big draw. It’s location appealed to me too as I had always wanted to travel more especially in Asia, and Dubai was halfway there.

Our office is in Business Bay, which is thriving and so many new buildings have gone up there in the last year, it’s incredible to see how Dubai is developing every day.

I usually work six days a week, but take a Friday off to relax when I usually spend a day by the pool or a drive up to Hatta in the mountains near the Oman border. It’s beautiful up there and often a few degrees cooler than in the city.

I also enjoy visiting the old part of Dubai, where you see the traditional ‘Abra’ boats crossing the creek. It’s a different side to the city away from all of the glitz and glam Dubai is known for, and feels a lot more authentic.

Like anywhere in the world, Dubai has its ups and downs. It’s tax-free status brings obvious financial benefits, but the cost of basic things can be much higher than at home. The summer months can be challenging in terms of the weather, often reaching 50 degrees in July and August.

I visit Scotland at least once a year, usually in the summer months to see my family but I guess living abroad is easier now with Skype and Facebook. You can feel more connected than before.

When I am home, I always make a point of going to Glasgow’s Central Station and to the Scotia Bar – both places are very meaningful to me and bring back lots of fond memories.

I do see things changing in Scotland. Politically, it has been fascinating to watch the strides the SNP are taking, and how engaged people seem to be. I was disappointed in the outcome of the referendum, but I did make sure I made it back to be Scotland on that important day, despite being unable to vote.

I miss certain things about home, the people mainly, but other things too like the daily papers, the local TV and the occasional roll and square sausage.

I might possibly return to Scotland one day, but my long-term goal is to set up a business in Goa, India, where I really would love to live. Now that I’m in Dubai, it seems a possibility having visited several times.

Stewart Redwood, 55, exploration geologist from Stirlingshire, lives in Panama City, Panama

I have lived in Panama for more than 20 years, with a few years in Peru and Brazil in the middle. Before, I lived in La Paz, Bolivia, the highest city in the world for five years, and that is where I met my wife, Maite Prada.

I went to Panama initially to work for a mining company and then I went back in 2001 when I set up my own company to explore for minerals in Central America and the Caribbean.

Panama is is an excellent travel hub at the so-called cross-roads of the Americas. It is also a very cosmopolitan city, it is a major business centre, and has good laws that encourage immigration and make it straightforward to get residency.

On a more personal basis, we like living here for the tropical climate, being on the ocean, and the high quality standard of living. It is a beautiful and very varied country with easy access to two oceans.

There has been a booming growth here for the past decade and it’s exciting to be part of it.

Tourism has boomed also and Panama is now a major tourist destination, with beach resorts, mountains, rain forests, Spanish ruins, the canal and good shopping as attractions.

The most attractive part of the city has been the restoration of the Old City, or Casco Viejo, which used to be a slum, and is now full of beautifully restored Spanish colonial buildings made into apartments, old churches, great bars, restaurants and boutique hotels.

We have an apartment overlooking the city and the Pacific Ocean. It has a wonderful view of the old and new city, the islands in Panama bay and all of the ships waiting to transit the Panama Canal.

Because of the warm weather we mostly use the terrace for meals and a perfect weekend would be go to one of the beaches or islands in the Pacific or Caribbean to go snorkelling or scuba diving.

On the downside, the traffic in Panama City is a nightmare so you have to avoid the rush hours. Like all Latin American countries, it is very bureaucratic, so it is slow to get things done.

I probably won’t go back to live in Scotland now. We plan to stay in Latin America because my wife is from here, and it’s been my home for so long so I’ve become culturally acclimatised. But it would nice to spend more time on visits to Scotland one day.

I do miss those long summer evenings when it hardly gets dark, as well as the seasons. In the tropics the length of day never varies, always 6.30 am to 6.30 pm. And there are only two seasons in Panama, a hot dry season from January to April or May, and a rainy season for the rest of the year.

I miss pubs, bookshops, good tea, good beer, good curries and fish and chips. They’re on my list whenever I go home. The Highlands and Western Isles is still one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The first and surprising thing that everybody says to me in South America when I tell them I’m a Scot is “Braveheart”! The film struck a big chord in this part of the world. I think people relate to the political message of freedom and independence.

Tony Pocock, 63, oil engineer, from Fife, lives in Rio Das Ostras, Brazil

In the nineties, I was spending a lot of time working in various countries worldwide, sometimes for long periods. Brazil was one of the countries I was visiting regularly. I enjoyed the country, liked the people and loved the climate.

My personal life at that time was not in the best of health. I was offered a job out here so I decided to take the plunge not knowing if it was the answer I was looking for. Fortunately it has turned out to be the right move.

My home is about five minutes from the beach in a town called Rio Das Ostras. My home has three en-suite bedrooms, a guest apartment, and a bar and barbecue area area and a swimming pool. I don’t believe I could ever have afforded this in Scotland.

There is also a small expat community here, a few Scots, some Norwegians, Americans, and Dutch guys, which leads to a lot of barbecues.

The downside of living here is mainly the beauracracy involved in getting normal everyday things done like paying bills, going to the bank, renewing documents and the inevitable long queues. There is still some local corruption to deal with but not as much as there used to be. The standard of the drivers and road manners leaves a lot to be desired.

I met my second wife, a Brazillian, and she is my main reason for remaining here. But I also love the more laidback approach to life as opposed to the more work-related way of life back home in Scotland, where work seemed to be the be all and end all. It was constant 12-hour days and because of the cost of living in the UK everyone did work a lot of overtime to maintain a reasonable standard of living. Here in Brazil, I work a basic 40 hour week and my standard of living is higher.

I have been back in Scotland recently, mainly for family visits and occasionally for work in the North Sea.

I like to drive round and let my wife see how beautiful Scotland is – and, of course, she loves the shopping. Believe it or not TK Maxx is her favourite and once she gets in there it is hours before she resurfaces. She absolutely loves Edinburgh.

I miss the food and being able to go into a supermarket and buying things I can’t get in Brazil. I really look forward to a haggis pudding supper or anything, really, from the chippie.

As far as my Scottish identity goes, I am like most Scots abroad. My bar in the house is covered with Scots paraphernalia and I love old Scots music. I also belong to the Caledonian society which gives me a chance to don the kilt. Whenever I leave to come back to Brazil the suitcase has the odd tin of beans, some black pudding, cheddar cheese, curry paste and, if I can, butteries and bisto.

READ MORE: Scots universities forge new links in Brazil

Gary Mills, 57, oil industry completion supervisor, from Montrose, Angus, lives in Hua Hin, Thailand

I have been here for 16 years full-time so you could say I was committed to the place. I ended up working aborad in the oil industry

and arrived in Thailand to try it for two and three years and ended up staying. I could have gone anywhere in the world but it was Thailand that stuck.

It is very different in so many way and I have just embraced it. It’s a wonderful way of life, it is 95 per cent Buddhist and I really like that Buddhist style of life. People look after themselves, they have a great respect for everyone and generally people look out for each other.

The people are generally very nice, very friendly. They enjoy speaking to you as much as you enjoy speaking to them.

I used to like going out on my bike into the countryside for some exercise and people would be waving to you from the fields. You would stop for some water and they would come and offer you a pineapple.

You hear all these stories about the ‘wonderful’ nightlife and the seedier side to Thailand but there is a whole different side to it, too. I live in a beach resort, the same town where the King’s Palace is and it is a beautiful place. There is not even one go-go bar. You could take your mother there, which I have done on several occasions, and everyone would be happy.

My wife, Ploy, and I have a daughter, Iona, who is four and we are more than happy to bring her up in the Thai way of life. She speaks two languages already.

As a family, we own a small restaurant that sells Thai food and my wife also has a laundry, so we have a lot of extended family involved in those. There is a huge clan of us when we are all together, but sometimes, and I am being honest, when the Thai get together and they get out the really spicy hot food, sometimes I go and find my expat pals and we’ll go for a couple of beers and maybe a pie or a nice steak. I can’t do the really hot food.

The way of life is definitely more laid back here than it is in Scotland or the UK. Thais don’t really have the weekends like we do. They don’t have a Sunday for worship, they go to the temple when it is right for them. That could be every day for them, for blessings or to speak to a monk. I have been to the temple before and they are very welcoming. They always sit on the floor but because I am old and not able to, they will bring me a chair. They want you to be comfortable.

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Tony Pocock, from Fife, lives in Brazil with his wife Sandra

Tony Pocock, from Fife, lives in Brazil with his wife Sandra

Gary Mills is originally from Montrose, Angus, but now lives in Thailand with his wife Ploy and four-year-old daughter Iona

Gary Mills is originally from Montrose, Angus, but now lives in Thailand with his wife Ploy and four-year-old daughter Iona