Expat,  Life

Everything Will Be All Right In The End…

… and if it is not all right, then it is not the end.

This was one of the central themes in the film that I saw tonight – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – a story of a group of English OAPs who move to a retirement home in India only to find the luxurious idyll promised in the brochure does not quite match the reality. The group slowly find themselves warming to the hotel manager, the eternal optimist Sonny and the fascinating country in which they have chosen to live.

Any film with a cast list that includes Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel and many other familiar faces, is going to be a good bet. It is a feel-good film, no doubt about it. The film is filled with humour, offers a few twists and turns in the tale (and admittedly a good few clichés) and well worth a viewing. It is a bit Tea With Mussolini meets Slumdog Millionaire, but in a good way.

 The saying really touched a nerve, as I have in the past week or two felt that a lot is not right. When I moved away from UK 20 years ago, I had no idea that I would not be back for two decades. These past years I have not even considered the issues that we might have on moving back – and one extremely large issue has already emerged.

I have no credit history. Which means that I cannot get credit, not even for a mobile phone or a car. No credit card, no overdraft. Nothing.

In Germany,  a person is considered a good credit risk if he or she has no history, or a good history. In UK, a person who has defaulted on debt, or has never been in debt is considered a poor risk. It is weird, and difficult to understand that those who have never been in debt are penalised for their parsimony,  but that is the way it is. The financial services providors will not take foreign credit history into account,  which means that we cannot prove we are reliable payers of debt and so cannot get credit.

Today I tried to buy a car, but without a credit history I could not finance the car, even when I offered a 20% deposit – far above the deposit suggested by the car salesman. He tried his best, but the underwriter of the financial services company was not to be persuaded. He required proof of home ownership or a rental agreement – which we don’t have as we are staying with my parents, and a copy of my visa. I can only assume that he had not properly read the application, or he would have known that neither a UK citizen or a German citizen need a visa to reside in UK!

So we can either use more of our savings than we had intended to buy a car, or buy a cheap run around so that I am mobile until I have built up a credit history.  How easy that will be when no one will give us credit, I do not know. I have applied for a credit card with one of the companies that specialise in these cases, but even that was denied.

No one seems to care that my husband has a good job in Germany, that we have always paid our credit card in full each and every month, that we have never defaulted on a payment, that we have always paid our bills. If you don’t tick all the boxes, you don’t get accepted, and there is no room for underwriters to use plain common sense and deviate from the credit scoring.

I understand that this is an overreaction to the financial crisis, and that it is good that they are not throwing loans and credit and every Tom Dick and Harry, but surely there must be some middle ground? 

In any case, instead of buying a car today, I got increasingly frustrated. I had to ask my mother to sign up for an phone contract, as even that was not accepted. The company informed me that I can change the contract onto my own name in the future (which I hope works).

I am clinging to the hope that it will indeed be all right in the end. One way to improve your credit rating is apparently to have direct debits paid from your current account, so we have changed the payments of the gas and electricity bills so that they are taken from my bank account. Getting on the electoral roll is said to help, so I have done that.

My advice to expats who are thinking of moving back to their home country – start to build up a credit history now. Don’t wait any longer. Open a bank account in UK, if you don’t have one already and use it. Transfer money into it regularly and use the debit card to pay for things. After a while you can ask for a credit card, and use it. Slowly but surely you can improve your credit rating so that if and when you do move back, you don’t have to wait for several months before buying goods.

 

“Everything will be all right in the end… ” is the hope that I am clinging to. An insightful friend on Twitter said earlier:

… so discouraging. I guess it’s a “salt” phase – you have to be brisk and stiff-upper-lip until the caramel phase comes along



And she is absolutely right. Life is full of salt phases followed by caramel phases. The trick is to cope with the bitter life phase, perhaps even relish the contrast so that when la douce vie returns, we appreciate it all the more.