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Credit crunch drives ex-pats home

PENSIONERS who moved to a dream life in Cyprus say they are being left financially crippled by the pound’s slide against the Euro and many are considering moving back home. And, if anyone knows how the credit crunch, weak pound and how increased prices have affected ex-pats in Cyprus, it’s Bob Winter, who for almost […]

PENSIONERS who moved to a dream life in Cyprus say they are being left financially crippled by the pound’s slide against the Euro and many are considering moving back home.

And, if anyone knows how the credit crunch, weak pound and how increased prices have affected ex-pats in Cyprus, it’s Bob Winter, who for almost 30 years Bob has been the director of Britmovers, the longest established international removal company in Cyprus. During that time he has helped thousands of families shift everything here, ranging from grand pianos to motorcars.

But times have dramatically changed for Bob, the phone calls from families planning a new life in Cyprus have almost ground to a halt, and nowadays he spends most of his time arranging for expats to pack up everything and head back to the UK.

Can you image that?” he says, “It’s been a very dramatic change – really a complete about turn in my day to day workload. I personally take about 15 calls a week from people in Cyprus who want to go home, and it’s increasing all the time,” he told the Sunday Mail.

The reasons for expats upping sticks can vary from the elderly who can no longer afford to live here on their pensions, to young families who settled down hoping to find easy work in the flagging tourist sector. “I meet every type of people, from every background. I can often tell actually which people will stay when they arrive at the dock side in Limassol to meet their cargo crates,” he said.

Many customers calling Bob retired early and live on savings, but the sterling to euro exchange rate has dropped so swiftly it has had a real impact on the value of their money and on their lifestyle.

Winter says that many of the people he meets are often torn between the two countries, between the lure of the sunshine life in Cyprus and the yearnings of family, friends and a cheaper life back in the UK.

It can be especially heartbreaking to see couples planning to return to Britain, knowing that one of them does not want to leave. From my experience the husbands, more often than not, want to stay here, but the wives are the driving force in the move back,” he told the Sunday Mail.

As a group, most expats maintain a strong attachment and interest to the UK and keep themselves informed of events via the web and satellite TV, but little can prepare them for the reality of being back there.

Some people are worried sick about what to expect when they get home, with all the doom and gloom in the British papers, crime, high taxes and other horrible headlines, some I’ve spoken to are terrified, but just cannot afford to stay,” he added.

With the very limited job opportunities available in Cyprus, many younger couples have also struggled to make ends meet and some even end up living close to the bread line.

Janice is 45 and after a career in corporate IT in London she moved here in 2001 to work for a property company, selling houses, escorting couples on viewing trips and liaising with potential clients.

It started so well, the offer was good, the salary was a massive cut from what you would get in the UK, but I was happy with it because of the change of life, the sunshine, the low costs and escaping Britain,” she said.

Eight years on, and several jobs later, she never dreamed she would be actually excited at the prospect of returning home.

Unpaid salaries, unmet promises… I could go on, but I won’t, because I am just one of many people for whom the Cyprus dream came crashing down. Now it’s about money, I can’t afford to live here. Who can pay €500 a month rent when they only get paid €850?

The prices in supermarkets and shops come from cuckoo land, I actually wonder how most locals live, let alone expats. Heating, internet, rent, food, car, petrol, insurance, medical bills… it’s getting impossible.

Janice says she knows dozens of others who are actually making the move.

Her sentiments are echoed by Arthur, a 68-year-old former RAF serviceman who now has to make the hardest decision of his life. “It’s too expensive for me and my wife to sustain ourselves, I have a few medical complications and cannot afford to keep receiving treatment and trekking across to Nicosia, if you had told me this is how things would end up a few years ago, I would have said you were barmy,” he said.

The implications of expats leaving are wide ranging, with restaurants and taverns experiencing a drop in their clientele, but most noticeably the exodus is noticed on the housing market, says property advisor Nigel Howarth.

The prospects for the property market in Cyprus over the coming year are bleak. The slowdown in the number of Britons buying property here is due to the comparative strength of the Euro against Sterling and the credit-crunch that is hitting the British economy and economies throughout Europe means that people are being much more careful about how they spend their money.

For most, buying a holiday home in Cyprus is the last thing on their mind,” he added.

Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2009

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