Retirees Do a Stint in London – and Why Not?

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Joanna McIsaac-Kierklo in Dublin

Many retirees, freed from their work obligations and looking for adventure, dream of living overseas. Edward Kierklo and Joanna McIsaac-Kierklo don’t dream. They just do.

In May 2021, the couple, feeling trapped by the pandemic in their sleepy town in the Sierra Foothills east of San Francisco, decided to break out and trade rural life for 11 months in London. Joanna’s always been a risk-taker, starting at 22, when she moved to Idaho to be a Vista volunteer. London was her idea.

“Joanna says, ‘I’m tired of looking at these floors and cleaning an 1,800-square-foot home,’ ” Ed, 73, recalled. “She said, ‘Let’s sell the place and go to London.’ I said okay.”

The pandemic played a starring role in their big move. “We felt isolated and a little itchier than we might’ve been so we traded an almost-rural area for a distinctly urban setting,” he said. They relocated to London, vaccinated and boosted, in November 2021.

Edward Kierklo in Warsaw

The couple, who married in their 50s, have the two things that are critical to an ex-pat adventure: fun money and their health. From their new home base, they were able to take weekend getaways all over Great Britain and on the Continent. But it took a lot of planning to move overseas.

Joanna, a former project manager in the healthcare field, is the planner in the family too. She found a London real estate specialist and figured out how to ship their Birmin cat, Suzette, across the pond – for $4,200. They flew to London and found a fifth-floor apartment in a concierge building in the borough of Ealing. The trains, shops, and restaurants were within walking distance so they didn’t need a car, and Joanna went online and bought the furniture, pots, pans, and all things necessary for the new place.

“I take the reins,” she said about their adventure. “I lift all the boxes,” Ed said.

They sold the house in California’s hot real estate market to a cash buyer 18 hours after putting it on the market and booked a nice profit. “Anyone who owns property in California is a millionaire,” said Joanna, 72.

Ed, a retired information technology professional, quickly learned that renting in London is complicated. Retirees must go through an “intrusive” and “bureaucratic” process requiring six months’ rent upfront and disclosure of numerous financial documents, he said. But he was born in England – his parents emigrated from Poland – so his British passport smoothed the path to getting a bank account. Having a passport also meant he didn’t need a visa to live in London.

Joanna, on the other hand, did. She obtained a six-month tourist visa, which required her to leave the country and return to California before her six months ran out. She then flew back to London to restart the visa clock.

During their stay, the couple enjoyed sinking into the local culture. They learned the hard way about British quirks like the four-day bank holiday when Victoria Station shut down, making it impossible to take the express train to Gatwick for the flight they’d booked to Berlin. COVID tests were also free and remarkably easy to find. The British National Health Service even shipped a test to them in Scotland when they suspected they were infected and then confirmed their positive result in less than two days.

But what Joanna liked most “was the civility. People would never think of stealing from you, and the policemen don’t carry guns.” She also enjoyed the break from thinking about the divisive pandemic politics in this country.

Their jaunts included flying to Ireland for their anniversary; to Amsterdam for the tulips; and to Poland for the juxtaposition of modern and Eastern Bloc. Ed had a blood clot in Barcelona – he’s fine now – and Pisa and Florence in Italy were “too crowded,” he said. Copenhagen was “the most insanely expensive city in the world.” They rode the train – Joanna’s favorite form of travel – from London to Glasgow, Scotland, which they didn’t care for. Perhaps their favorite trip was to a friend’s 10-room chateau near Poitiers in the Bordeaux region of France.

So what’s next for the couple?

Now back in the United States, they’re feeling restless again, and they’re not happy with condo living  – they’d purchased a Guerneville, California, property on a broker’s recommendation while still in London.

Joanna is already devising the next adventure. “We’re going to sell our condo and move to France,” she said. “And why not?”

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.  This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.