Newsletter from an ExPat

This page is for you to learn about moving to Cyprus and the various processes involved if you are considering emigrating ....  It was written by 'The voice of Experience' herself AKA Sylvie. Please note that now we have joined the EU fully that some parts no longer apply.
questions answered here.

Part 1 - See part 2 here  - See Part 3 here See Part 4
Moving to Cyprus

So! You’re thinking of moving to Cyprus ?

It’s no problem.

After years, months, weeks, days of planning, it happened for me.

On 31st January 2002 I became a permanent resident of Cyprus.

Would you like to share the story of my experiences as I adjust to my new way of life? Maybe I can help you decide on your next move.

My love affair with Cyprus began in 1997. Blue skies and sunshine, swimming in the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea, the dazzling colours of the bougainvillea, an abundance of good food and wine, and, of course, the friendly welcome from the people. My sense of paradise discovered expanded with each holiday.

Travelling 

around the island I experienced a contrast between sleepy mountain villages, bustling towns, tourist invasions of the popular beaches and a quiet peacefulness in the flora rich, countryside. The history and archaeology of this island quickly fascinated me and I am beginning to understand why it has been a magnet for travelers over many thousands of years.

Two holidays a year failed to satisfy me and the grey skies and rain of the British winter of 2000 flooded me with mirages of living in my paradise.

I searched this web site for inspiration and discovered Armata. The poor girl on the end of the e mails found herself bombarded with longer and longer e-mails begging for information about staying in Cyprus.

On 31st January 2001 I began my journey of discovery to a 4-week information-gathering holiday that transformed my life.

Now, exactly one year later, I am sitting contentedly in the warm sunshine of Larnaca smugly recalling the process that led me here. 

I’m sure there are as many ways of relocating to a warmer climate as there are people wishing to do it. The information I give you is based solely on my personal experiences. If you would like to know more about Cyprus then feel free to ask. I don’t know all the answers, but I'll do my best to find out. 

IMMIGRATION

 The Republic of Cyprus is not part of the E.U. as yet, though the application to join is currently being considered by the member countries.

Therefore, as a holder of a European passport wishing to live here for more than 3 months, I  applied in person to the immigration department for a visitor’s permit. 

I took with me 

1) Photocopied evidence of bank and building society accounts in England.

2)A letter from the bank manager in Cyprus giving the numbers of my Cypriot bank accounts and the balances.

3) 3 passport photographs.

4) Passport

5) Photocopy of passport.

6) Evidence of sufficient income.

7) Photocopy of rent agreement.

8) 20 Cyprus pounds in cash.

 The immigration office opens from 8.30 am until 12.30pm. The first thing to learn is to allow plenty of time for the inevitable queuing process, because the office closes promptly at 12.30.

When I reached the head of the first queue I was given a ticket to join the second queue. It was a bit like queuing at the delicatessen counter in the supermarket. I waited expectantly in the second queue for my turn to see an immigration officer. An hour later there seemed to be very little activity in the office and the hands on my watch crept nearer to 12.30pm. At 12.15 I boldly stepped across the threshold and on to the hallowed grounds of Larnaca Aliens and Immigration Office. Only to be told my papers were not in order. Photocopied evidence of my Cyprus bank accounts was unacceptable. I needed a signed letter from my bank manager. (See 2 above)

At 12.25pm I persuaded the reluctant immigration officer to look at my other papers and check they were all in order.

Next day, with the essential letter from my bank manager safely clipped to my other bits of paper, I again went through the delicatessen counter process. But a day older and a day wiser, I stepped immediately on to the hallowed office ground. In less than 20 minutes I emerged, the proud possessor of an Alien Registration Certificate that permits me to live in Cyprus for 4 years. After that I can apply for an extension. My permit was issued on the understanding that I won’t work here. If and when Cyprus joins the EU this should change to bring her in to line with the rest of Europe.

  LANGUAGE

  Greek with a Cypriot dialect is the first language of the unoccupied part of Cyprus.

English is widely spoken and taught in schools as a second language. Greek Cypriot people appreciate every effort to speak their language, so it is worthwhile learning at least a few words of Greek. Private teachers will give tuition for about CYP10 per hour. Some Government schools offer courses in the Greek language for English speaking people. They run from September to May each year as evening classes with 2 lessons per week during the academic terms. The cost is in the region of CYP140 for the year plus the cost of the course book. (Approx. CYP2.50 cents)

There are numerous Greek phrasebooks available from all good bookshops in the U.K and Cyprus that offer a helpful beginning. I wanted to learn more than the average holidaymaker prior to relocating to Cyprus so tried the BBC Greek language course with audio tapes. The Cypriot dialect is different to Modern Greek though the spelling is identical, so learning pronunciation from the audio tapes has not been helpful. Don’t be put off by the Greek alphabet, it is easier to learn than it looks at first glance.

I am finding out how essential it is to read, speak and understand the language. I have just received my first telephone bill, written in Greek of course. I thought official paperwork would have an English translation. How wrong can you be?

 I have just bought a rather swish digital answer phone that apparently does everything but the washing up. The instructions are in German and Greek. The man in the shop, who looks Greek Cypriot and speaks Greek, said “ don’t look at me, I was born and bred in Eastbourne. ” He pressed a few buttons and managed to get the answer machine working, but the message is in German. An e-mail to the German manufacturers to ask for instructions in English was plan B, so fingers crossed it will produce results. A sense of humour is an essential part of the process of adjustment.

ACCOMMODATION

To rent or buy?

Finding an answer to this question caused me many sleepless nights. So many imponderables. Will I settle in Cyprus? Will I miss my family and friends so much that I will want to move back to England? Do I really want to burn all my bridges?

The more I puzzled and worried the more I thought of unanswerable questions.

So, I am giving myself time to settle in my new life while keeping a bolt hole in England. I chose to let out my English home furnished. This is saving me the cost of furniture storage and allows me to ask a higher rent. But imagine how it feels leaving a precious and much loved home to the tender mercies of a stranger!!!  See what I mean about the unanswerable questions?

I won’t write about my process of renting out in England, but please ask for more information if you would like it. Suffice to say I found a good agent and so far it’s working well.

In Cyprus, I am renting a flat. I’ve signed a contract for one year, which seems to be the norm. My experience of finding the right place for me has been entirely positive. Greek Cypriot friends own my flat and I holidayed in it throughout 2001. This has made the settling in process so much easier because I love the flat and know the area well.

I have heard a few horror stories from people who signed a year’s rental agreement and then were unhappy with the area or the accommodation.

Estate Agents deal with renting furnished and unfurnished accommodation as well as with buying and selling new and used property.

See www.cyprus-property.net  for buying and renting, with www.cyprus-villas.com  for holiday rental options.

The winter months from November to March are a good time to house hunt. In the summer there is less choice because property can be let to tourists.

Costs vary considerably and reflect the size, comfort and location of the property. Sea views command higher prices.

In the Cyprus Weekly of 22/02/2002

PROPERTY TO RENT.  The lowest rental I can find for the Larnaca area is CYP 100 per month for a 1-bedroom apartment. This is probably without air conditioning and heating, both of which I consider essential. The highest price is CYP 1,200 per month for a 3 bedroom, luxury furnished house on the sea shore. There are many properties available throughout the intervening price range.

   PROPERTY FOR SALE this week, again in the Larnaca area, ranges from CYP 18,000 for a new 1 bedroom apartment to CYP250, 000 for a luxury 4 bedroom detached house with swimming pool. There is a wide range of property in the CYP40, 000 to CYP80, 000 range.

 TRANSPORT

Public transport consists of buses, taxis and service taxis.

BUSES I have found reliable and cheap. For example, the tourist bus from Larnaca along the Dhekelia Road runs at 30-minute intervals, the fare was 50 cents. (Now 1 euro )The bad news is that the last bus is at 6pm on weekdays, 1pm on Saturdays and none at all on Sundays.

TAXIS are plentiful on the main routes and will generally slow down if they see a likely passenger standing beside the road. A wave of the hand is enough to bring them to a grinding halt. The costs vary and it is best to negotiate a price before beginning the journey. The fare for a 15-minute ride along the Larnaca/Dhekelia road was quoted to me as CYP4. On negotiation it came down to CYP2. This time last year the fare was the same, but in the summer months when the tourists were plentiful CYP3 was the best I could find.

SERVICE TAXIS operate 7 days per week between the main towns and offer a door to door service. They are large vehicles such as mini buses and are shared with other passengers who join and leave the taxi at various points along the route.  A recent journey from Larnaca to Limassol cost CYP3. (Updated in 2006 it is C£4) For an early morning start I booked the day before and arranged the return journey with the driver when we arrived in Limassol. For a return journey from 4.30 onwards it’s better to book in advance. Now I will not book more than one day ahead. I made this momentous decision on another occasion when I waited from 6.45 am to 7.30am for a taxi, booked 3 days before, that failed to arrive. A phone call to the office brought a swift response and I still arrived in Limassol on time.

Travel and Express have offices in the major towns. Service taxi bookings can be made by telephone.

OWN CAR Driving here is on the left and petrol costs are low so I considered bringing my 1 year old Vauxhall Corsa out. The combination of a quotation of 700 pounds Sterling shipping costs and a warning about the amount of paperwork involved put me off. I have been told that non-Cypriots can buy duty paid cars with imported Sterling. Watch this space as I discover more about this option.

The other feasible option is to lease a rental car, this means that you can have the perks of a rental car such as when or if it breaks down it is changed immediately for a working one. The cost works out much better than long term rental - a new car for about C£210 (340 Euros) a month including insurance.
That is less than C£6 a day. ( 10.25 Euros )

 

SHIPPING HOUSEHOLD EFFECTS

  At this moment some of my worldly goods are on the high seas. A part container load left my home in Devon on 31st January and will arrive here within 9 weeks of that date if all goes according to plan.

  Most domestic removal companies seem able to arrange to have goods shipped abroad. The service offered included

1)       Transportation from door to door.

2)       Packing on the day of my choosing.

3)       Provision of new packing materials and construction of special packaging where necessary.

4)       Acceptance of part or full container loads.

5)       Insurance.

6)       Transport to container port.

7)       Shipping.

8)       Unloading and customs clearance at Limassol.

9)       Delivery to my home in Larnaca.

10)    Unpacking and placing goods in rooms of choice.

11)    Disposal of all packing materials.

 

Six companies gave me free quotations. There seemed to be very little to choose between the services offered but the cost varied a great deal. The best price was from one of the largest companies with a reputation for high charges. More than 500 pounds Sterling separated the highest quote from the lowest.

The cost was calculated on a cubic capacity of 380 cubic feet. I paid 1,345 pounds Sterling plus an insurance premium of 3% plus an insurance premium tax.

I am told there should be no customs charges because the goods are my own household effects that have been used by me in my UK home. Even so, shipping goods here is a costly business.

 Deciding what to bring and what to leave behind gave me some difficult decisions. I have seen homes here furnished with goods imported from the UK. To my eyes the furniture looks alien. The electrical system is the same as UK and electrical items appear to be relatively expensive.  So I brought with me a food mixer, sewing machine, music centre, computer, printer et al. Loads of books (also expensive here), ornaments, some favourite kitchen equipment and the minimum of larger items to help me feel at home.  Can’t wait for their arrival.

Shops in Cyprus are well stocked and, for the most part, prices are reasonable and negotiable, so why pay vast amounts in shipping costs for the larger items of furniture and white goods?

FEELINGS

  It is now almost 4 weeks since I left family and friends. During that time my emotions have see sawed from euphoria to homesickness to tears. I liken the experience of moving here to giving birth. I prepared myself in every way I could think of, but the reality of arrival is something else. The contrast between the hustle and bustle of my departure from England and the quiet, stress free life of Larnaca is taking time to get used to. An immigrant of 5 years standing advised me not to make any major decisions or changes in my first year here because my perspective on life will alter so much. I can already begin to appreciate the wisdom of those words.

 All the plans and arrangements were as perfect as it was possible to be. No hitches, no problems. Cyprus is as beautiful as it always has been. The people are friendly, kind, helpful, generous and courteous.

But still I miss my friendship network built up over many years and, of course, my family. Yesterday I wanted to give my daughter a great big hug when she told me her much loved ginger tomcat had died. Thousands of miles separated me from my granddaughter when she sang and danced to a standing ovation in Bugsy Malone last week. Living in Cyprus means missing out on being a part of the day to day lives of my family. Which brings me to the importance of

COMMUNICATION

  THE INTERNET is a lifeline to daily contact with family and friends. Until my own computer arrives I use the cyber café, a café/bar that opens for long hours. For a charge of CYP1 .30 cents per hour I can use one of their sixteen computer terminals to send and receive e-mails to anywhere in the world using Hotmail.com. When it rains the Internet connections are very slow, it’s a fact, but don’t ask me why. Other than that, I’ve had no problems and met some very interesting people there.

When my own computer arrives I will connect to Cytanet, the providers of telephone communications. I am told that all it requires is a single phone call and I will be on line. Watch this space for further developments. Just before I left England I purchased a webcam so that my family can see me while we speak on line. It will be great fun getting that piece of technology up and running once my boxes arrive.

TELEPHONE line rental from Cyta is CYP4 per month. Call charges to the UK are 2 cents per 10-second period or part of, which is equivalent to 12 cents per minute during peak hours. Off peak charges are valid Monday to Friday between 9p.m.and 8a.m, all day Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays at10 cents per minute. Charges exclude VAT, which is currently set at ten percent but will eventually increase to seventeen and half per cent to bring Cyprus into line with the EU countries.  Households are billed monthly.

  MOBILE PHONES proliferate. For a charge of CYP29.50cents including VAT and CYP 5 worth of call charges a new microchip was put in the Pay As You Go mobile I brought with me. This gave me a connection to Cytanet and a new mobile number. The system of purchasing call time via scratch cards is much the same as UK. I just need to remember to add more call time every month or time remaining on the phone will be lost. This mobile can be used when I return to the UK for holidays. For now it is useful to text message friends and family wherever they may be. The cost of new mobile phones range from CYP57 up to CYP100 plus.

MAIL is delivered to me via a private letterbox outside my flat once daily Monday to Thursday and twice on Friday. I seem to go for several days without mail from England and then it arrives in a bundle with postmarks ranging over several days. The average travel time for a letter from UK to Cyprus seems to be 5 days. The cost of posting a sealed letter from Cyprus to UK is 31 cents. For unsealed letters and cards the cost is 26 cents including the refugee tax stamp. Stamps can be purchased at the post office and from most shops and kiosks that sell postcards.

EATING IN AND EATING OUT

CYPRUS FOOD The food here is wonderful in my opinion. Locally grown fruit and vegetables are so rich in flavour. Oranges, lemons and grapefruit are currently in season. A carrier bag full of oranges can be bought at the roadside for CYP 1. (Still current in 2008 at 1.71 Euros, which will no doubt be rounded up to 2 Euros by the end of the year)
The taste of freshly picked fruit is fantastic.

I feel really fortunate to receive frequent invitations to the homes of my Greek Cypriot friends. For it is there I learn how to buy and prepare unfamiliar food.

This year I have learned how to hunt for snails, and then prepare and eat them. An acquired taste, but great fun to eat at a huge family party. Wild mushrooms taste so good too. These are more elusive to find than the snails, but hunting for them is fast becoming a compulsive hobby and walks in the countryside always end up in potential mushroom territory.

The large supermarkets stock a wide range of good quality food, both locally grown and imported. Many familiar brand names are to be seen on the shelves. The prices are higher for imported products and so I tend to stick with locally produced goods as far as possible.

There are bakers’ shops with delicious smells emanating from within, some open for 24 hours. Once inside a vast array of freshly baked bread, pies and cakes are displayed to tempt. “A moment on the lips equals a pound on the hips” competes with ‘ A little of what you fancy does you good” as I make like a Bisto kid.

EATING OUT. There are large numbers of restaurants and I am enjoying trying as many as possible. The menus are varied, influenced by the wide variety of nationalities that inhabit Cyprus. Meat, vegetarian and fish mezzes are all experiences not to be missed. My local fish restaurant serve only fish mezze. The main part of the meal consists of a number of small and not so small dishes each containing different types of freshly cooked fish. But the meal begins with village salad, bread, olives, taramasalata and tahini. Fish dishes begin to arrive one by one accompanied by a huge plate of chips. Just when I think there is no room left on the table or in my stomach yet another type of fish appears, piping hot and begging to be tasted. Wine adds an essential ingredient to the evening and Cyprus coffee, very strong and served in small cups, completes the gourmets feast. All of this for only CYP7 per head for a minimum of two persons. Mezzes are leisurely events to be savoured and enjoyed. Cypriots tend to begin their meals late in the evening, and from 9p.m.onwards the restaurants buzz with excited chatter from large family groups, children as well as adults eating together at this time.

ENTERTAINMENT

Is an online guide to what's on in Cyprus.

The Cyprus Weekly advertises island wide entertainment and a free ‘what’s on ‘leaflet, produced by the Cyprus Tourist Organisation is available at the beginning of every month from their offices and other outlets.

The CTO office opens every weekday morning and is a good source of information. They offer many booklets and maps, printed in several languages, free of charge.

Free walking tours around all the towns are organised by the CTO every week of the year. In Larnaca they happen on Wednesday and Friday mornings. An experienced guide leads a walk around the town speaking about the architecture and history on Wednesdays and craftsmen on Fridays. I found it a good introduction to sights I had looked at before but not really seen.

There are theatres in all the towns. Larnaca has two, the Municipal Theatre and an open-air amphitheatre that is only used in the summer months.

The Municipal Theatre is in use most days for concerts, plays or dance performances. At least one performance is in English every week and I enjoy musical events whatever language is spoken during the introduction. Performers are sometimes local talent and other times touring companies from overseas.

The English language films shown in the cinemas seem to be the same as in the UK. Larnaca has recently seen the opening of the Multi Plex cinema with 6 screens, and I know of 2 other cinemas here, so there is a wide choice if you fancy an evening at the flicks.

Satellite dishes make the world of television available to all who wish to pay for them. At the flick of the remote control you can wallow in your favourite BBC programmes. Unless you want to come to Cyprus to escape from them! Some programmes on the local stations, including nightly news bulletins and Euro news, are in the English language, but the majority are in Greek.

There are several Fitness Centres around. Membership is by the week, month, 3 months, 6 months or per year. Costs compare favourably with the UK. The one I go to offers a free induction and assessment with a personal fitness programme on joining, plus the presence of an experienced instructor in the well equipped gym during exercise sessions. Membership includes aerobic and step aerobic classes several times per week and use of the sauna and steam room. There is an option to pay a higher fee and have unlimited use of the indoor swimming pool as well.

Yoga and Tai Chi classes are held at the Living Tao Centre in Larnaca. Yoga classes take place Monday to Thursday evenings at a charge of CYP3 per night or CYP25 for 4 sessions per week for a month. The classes take place in a beautifully atmospheric, candle lit room with wooden floors, white walls and white gauzy curtains. The after effects of a yoga session in these surroundings are feelings of relaxed well being. Lovely.

The Mediterranean climate means enjoyment of the great outdoors. Walking, swimming, sitting watching the world go by at one of the pavement cafes. All enjoyable and relaxing ways to while away some time. With such a wonderful climate sightseeing is a pleasure. The archaeological museums and excavations provide an insight into the lives of past civilizations. Exploring the Byzantine Churches and remote monasteries is a way to understand more about the soul of Cyprus. To enter a monastery and feel the serene and peaceful atmosphere where men live, dedicating their lives to prayer for the world and care of their environment is a deeply enriching experience.

  RELIGION

There are English language services held in churches in Cyprus. Here in Larnaca there are five such churches. I have been to St Helena’s, an Anglican Evangelical Church. The pattern of service is similar to the one I am used to in UK and the welcome from the other church members was warm and friendly. Church life is full and busy. Becoming involved is one of the many ways in which to meet people, both other residents and tourists. The full range of church services is offered, including weddings, baptisms and funerals as well as the weekly communion and evening prayer

  BANKING

I am far from being an expert in this field, so I am not qualified to advise others on how to manage their financial affairs. Remember these are my personal experiences. I am writing only about what has worked for me so far.

I began investigating the banking options in April 2001. I was given conflicting advice from the different departments of my UK based bank. The advice ranged from the necessity of an off shore account to the inevitably high costs of transferring money between countries and the incompatibility of the banking systems. I discussed my needs with the bank manager of one of the main banks here in Cyprus, and he gave me the best advice.

I listened to it all and then made up my own mind as to what was best for me.

On my last holiday in Cyprus prior to the big move, I opened a sterling account. Having a Cypriot account number was a huge advantage when arranging the settling up of my financial affairs in the UK.

In February I opened a current account with my Cyprus bank. I now have a cheque book and can also withdraw cash via the “ hole in the wall” with a piece of plastic. My income from the UK, pensions and so on is paid in Cyprus pounds directly into this account. This saves me the cost of converting from one currency to another and makes the money immediately available to me on the day it is due to be paid. The down side of the Cyprus bank accounts is that cheque books, bank statements and every transaction are charged for individually.

I have retained my UK bank accounts and can withdraw cash from them here via the ‘hole in the wall’. They are good for Internet purchases and sending cheques to the UK, plus the added bonus of instant sterling for UK holidays. I have used the telephone banking system for many years. It is proving so easy now to telephone my UK bank in off peak time and manage my finances in the way I am used to.

It is early days yet, I am monitoring the cost and efficiency of using this system.

I know of people who are very happy with the service they receive from Internet banking facilities.

Is there anyone out there with other ideas?

Regarding income tax. My UK tax office supplied me with various booklets about the taxation system to which I am subject. There are still various forms flowing to and fro, so I don’t yet know the end result.. One of the advantages of coming to Cyprus is that many people have done it before me. The Inland Revenue people were helpful and seemed to be knowledgeable and experienced in making these kinds of arrangements. 

HEALTHCARE

It is easier for me to stay healthy in Cyprus. The warm climate, delicious food, plenty of exercise and the outdoor life all help me to feel good.

There is a state health service but you need to have worked here and paid contributions in order to benefit from it. ( Medical Insurance quote here)

I’ve heard good reports about the care given by private hospitals but haven’t used one and I don’t know the cost of treatment. If you would like to know more please ask me and I will find out for you.

If I should need general healthcare my first port of call would be one of the many pharmacies. They give advice and sell medicines that are available only on prescription in the UK.

Emergency services and medical treatment info has the phone numbers for the hospitals and the chemists in Cyprus take it in turns to do late night duty.

Last year I had a minor head injury (knocked on the head by a beach umbrella in a high wind). I received very good first aid treatment from the lifeguards. Next day, when I was still having problems, the local doctor visited me within 20 minutes of a telephone call to his office. I was satisfied with his examination, treatment and advice. The charge was CYP15 plus the cost of the prescription. I was covered by travel insurance then, it may be that as a Cyprus resident I will pay less.

I feel the cost of medical insurance is more than I want to pay. Some people I know seem intent on staying healthy by taking good care of themselves. Others prefer the security of having insurance cover.

I miss having the safety net of the NHS. On the other hand I am more responsible for my own health.

SHOPPING

The opening hours of shops, post offices and banks reflect the way of life. When it is hot in the afternoons it is time for sleep. Post Offices and banks close at 12.30pm, though some banks in the tourist areas open in the afternoons. Shops close around 1pm and reopen around 3pm until 6.30 ish. In Larnaca shops are closed on Wednesday afternoons, Saturday afternoons and all day Sundays. The exceptions are the tourist shops, they stay open for longer hours.

Shopping is great fun. Forget the notion of choosing from the Argos catalogue and knowing the price quoted is the price you will pay. Here, I decide what item I want to buy, then spend days or weeks going around looking at the shop stocks and asking prices. So far I have enjoyed getting my bargains by asking what is the best price they can offer. In my experience, delivery is part of the service rather than an extra cost added on afterwards.

CONCLUSION

Here endeth part one of my adventures. I am looking forward to hearing from you, so get the e-mails rolling in. Are there any other topics you would like to hear about? Any comments on the story so far?

PART 2 - Published 27th January 2003 - now HERE 

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