Brexit and the pandemic were the last push for expats to relocate back home. Despite the rise of covid-cases in Cyprus, retirees still feel safe to reside on the island.
Words by Elli Loakim
Having lived his whole life in the busy rhythms of London, Denis Whoolmark is now able to sit back and relax in a place which once was his favourite holiday destination, but has now become his home, Cyprus. The stone-built villages, the neighbourhood’s coffee shops where everyone cares to know how your day was, and the access to calm beaches for his summer swims are everything he has dreamt and worked hard for. With Brexit finalised, British expats have had to complete the necessary procedures to receive their Cypriot citizenship. So, how have British nationals coped with the transition procedures amongst a global pandemic, and why would an expat choose to relocate their lives without looking back?
Normally, the paperwork and procedures would be slowed down by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the British High Commission in Cyprus helped expats with any difficulties through Cyprus Residency Planning group. CRPG was there to support expats in taking the right steps before moving to Cyprus. “I arrived with the necessary paperwork and was in and out within fifteen minutes with my yellow slip which is the residency” said Mr.Denis Woolmark,67, resident of Paphos who got his paperwork done in 2019.
An officer in Cyprus Residency Planning group explained that because of covid-19 travelling restrictions, not many expats have moved within the last year. “Of the small number, most head for traditional areas like Paphos which has a large expat community. Our information relates largely to retirees, younger people coming to work here will more likely live in Limassol or Nicosia” said Mike Groves, Operations manager of CRPG.
CRPG was formed back in autumn 2019 from CPFG (Cyprus Pensioners Focus Group, focussing on finance issues from the 2013 crash) to cover this and Withdrawal Agreement effects. CRPG is responsible only for residency matters but according to the operations manager, they signpost matters to British High Commission and SSAFA (the Armed Forces charity, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association) and Healthcare providers in U.K. when needed.
Cyprus has been the host country of thousands of British citizens of whom at least one third have retired and are enjoying their British citizen benefits in Cyprus. Based on the office for national statistics, British expats in 2018 in Cyprus were over twenty-four thousand. And a 2020 survey showed that 62% of UK expats will never return home, with the rest 38% being undecided.
The British Government announced that all British retirees living in Cyprus before the end of the year will continue to receive their pension as normal. Cypriot expats end up choosing Cyprus after having spent holidays on the island the previous years. “I had many holidays in Cyprus, and in many respects it is like the UK, so it’s very easy to fit in. They drive on the left and almost everybody speaks English which is a massive help” said Mr.Denis. The last summer before the pandemic started in 2019, the Brits who chose Cyprus as a holiday destination were 33.5% of the island’s tourists at 1.3 million, making Brits the main nationality between tourists. The most popular location of stay during the summer holidays is Paphos where 35.6% spent their stay in 2019.
Pegia in Paphos is the home of most British expats in Cyprus. According to Pegia’s town hall officer, within the last four years the number of British expats in the town dropped by only 1000, with the British expats’ population in Pegia being at five thousand now. Not all of those who left, have returned to the UK, some just relocated to other cities in Cyprus.
What seems to be an important factor of British people’s alienation from their home country is the independence of British elderly people from their children. Opposed to Cyprus, where elderly people feel the need to be close to their family, as children usually take caring roles when their parents age. “I’ll leave my kids to their own lives and even if I went back [to the UK] I would still be on my own, but I don’t plan to return” noted Zera, 82, resident of Paralimni.
Since the start of the pandemic, Cyprus was one of the European countries that instantly handled the outbreak with strict lockdowns. British elders currently living in Cyprus seem to feel very at ease regarding the virus, as the medical rights of expats already living in Cyprus were secured before the end of 2020.
“I am enrolled in the Cypriot equivalent of NHS, which gives more or less the same cover as I get in the UK. Recently, I had to see a cardiologist, called the hospital for an appointment on Monday afternoon and saw him on Friday morning. Tests were done with instant results” said Mr. Dennis who has lived in Cyprus the past 5 years and is satisfied with the health system. Zera Farrelly shares this satisfaction. Ms Farrelly has been in Cyprus for the past seventeen years and was repeatedly in and out of hospitals for operations during 2020, she is also battling skin cancer.
“Well, my lifestyle hasn’t really changed from before the lockdown. I can’t walk. I only go out once a week, that’s probably why I feel safe” explained Zera, in response to the rise of covid-19 cases in Cyprus.
Back in the neighbourhood’s coffee shop, Mr. Denis is enjoying his cup of traditional Cypriot coffee while flipping through his British newspaper knowing his rights are protected. Having lived through the first covid-breakdown in Cyprus, it is due to the well-handled pandemic response that he trusts that the Cypriot government will continue to take the right measures, and that he will be able to continue relishing the laid-back way of life.