I Need Your Help! Vote Girl in London Thru-the-Q and Win a Trip to New York with Aer Lingus!

 

Attention Girl in London readers: I need your help!

I’m taking part in a competition hosted by Aer Lingus where one winning blogger and one winning voter each get a trip for two to NYC! The Thru-the-Q competition is celebrating the fact that if you fly to NYC from Dublin on Aer Lingus, you can get pre-clearance before you arrive and jump the immigration queue stateside.

I would really really really really really really really really (x1000) appreciate your vote!!!! To vote, all you have to do is click the link below the video (OR CLICK HERE), select the ‘Girl in London’ logo and fill out the provided form.

Thank you so much in advance!!

xoxox

Cheylene

P.S. You can vote once a day!

A Walk in Chiswick

 

What happens when you combine a scrumptious brunch, the lovely London neighbourhood Chiswick, and some of the best Instagrammers in the city (present company excluded, of course)? You get a pretty fabulous day. Well, pretty fabulous minus the relentless rain – that’s London for you though.

A few Sundays ago I made the long trek out from Canary Wharf to Turnham Green to brunch and take a stroll with a few fellow London Instagrammers. Cutting clear across London, the scenery transitioned from urban grit to country cool in about an hour and by the time I reached my destination the rain started to come down pretty hard.

We all met at Outsider Tart, an American-owned bakery with adjoining restaurant that serves THE BEST American-style pancakes this side of the Atlantic. We sipped coffee and tea, we ate delicious food, we chatted – it was lovely. With our bellies full of food we then waddled our way to Chiswick House, a beautiful historic home (well, mansion) with an equally stunning garden.

Chiswick House

Autumnal colours at Chiswick House Gardens

Lonely Pathway

The weather being what it was, we essentially had the whole house and gardens to ourselves. Instagrammers Siobhaise and Steffi_daydreamer led us around the grounds and eventually to the River Thames. This is where the rain, which had up until then just been a nuisance, really became a problem. It had apparently rained so much that our route was quite literally flooded, so we were forced onto a much less scenic path.

Flooded road

We reconvened at a riverside pub to warm up. By now my rain jacket had ceased all waterproofing activities and was completely soaked. With the day coming to a close we headed out again only to find that it had finally stop raining. With the sun setting, we walked along the Thames towards Hammersmith Bridge and I took what turned out to be my favourite shot of the day:

Hammersmith Bridge at Sunset

With good food, great company, and fabulous scenery, I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Well, I take that back. A little less rain would have been much appreciated :)

For more pictures from our walk in Chiswick, head on over to Instagram and search for #awalkinchiswick.

I also recommend following these fine London and UK Instagrammers:

steffi_daydreamer

siobhaise

roselladegori

whatinasees

juucyn

phoenixx_fire

westlondonlady

crissibeth

juicylucyham

melissachin

rivieiraa

sugarfreegum

Duty Calls: What Happens When an Expat Gets Called for Jury Duty

 

Unexpected expat experience #3952: Jury Summons

So here’s the thing . . . life can get a little complicated for Americans residing abroad. Why? Well, our obligation to pay taxes in the US while maintaining a residence outside the country means that many of us have two addresses – one back home in the good ol’ US of A, and one where we actually do our day-to-day living. This makes it simpler to maintain a US bank account, deal with US taxes, hold US credit cards, and all that good stuff.

However, one of the unexpected consequences of this unorthodox dual-mail system is that an expat can still get called to jury duty.

Bummer.

My boyfriend and I both have our US mail delivered to a mutual friend who we trust to sift through our stuff and filter out the junk mail (yes, you’ll still get junk mail even if you live abroad). He then sends us our important mail in batches every few months. This comes in handy when you renew US credit cards or if you ever receive physical checks.

jury summons

As is life as an expat wasn’t complicated enough . . .

 

A few days ago our friend shot us an email saying he had received jury duty summons for my boyfriend. Clearly, he’s not going to be able to make the court date so we set about finding a way out of it.

As it turns out, mercifully, getting out of jury duty is pretty easy if you live abroad.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 14.05.29

Source: http://law.justia.com/codes/nevada/2010/title1/chapter6/nrs6-030.html

What my boyfriend ended up doing was sending an email to the court citing NRS 6.030 (c) – undue hardship or extreme inconvenience – as a reason for excusal. He attached a copy of our local council tax bill, which includes his name, UK address, and a month-by-month bill breakdown as evidence of his residence abroad.

The day after he sent the email he received notification that the court had officially excused him from jury duty.

While every state operates under its own set of rules, I imagine that most American expats can use a similar excuse to get out of jury duty. The alternatives are to actually show up (this seems a little costly) or to ignore the letter, which would result in a $500 fine in the state of Nevada.

 

My Life in the UK Study Guide Arrived!

 

Life in the UK

The postman dropped off something very special in the mail for me this morning – my Life in the UK study guide :)

The guide should prepare me for the ‘Life in the UK Test’, which I’ll need to pass in order to obtain Indefinite Leave to Remain (permanent residency) in the UK.

About the Test
The Life in the UK Test consists of 24 multiple questions chosen randomly by a computer. The pool of questions relate directly to the study guide.

Test takers need at least a 75% (18 out of 24) to pass and the overall pass rate is about 77%.

The test costs £50 and can be scheduled at one of 60 locations across the UK.

Learn more about the test on its official website.

The Study Guide
My first impressions of the study guide are that it is extremely easy to read for fluent English speakers, but covers a pretty wide range of information. Because the test is aimed at would-be residents who may speak English as a second language, Americans like me will find that the content is written much like an elementary school textbook with simple sentences and straightforward logic.

Here are some example sentences straight from the book:

1. J K Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series of children’s books, which have enjoyed huge international success. She now writes fiction for adults as well.

2. A lot of people in the UK have pets such as cats or dogs. They might have them for company or because they enjoy looking after them.

3. Most people live in towns and cities but much of Britain is still countryside.

As you can see, this is pretty simple stuff. Some of the content covered in the study guide includes early Britain, the Tudors and Stuarts, religion, customs and traditions, sport, leisure, places of interest, the British constitution, respecting the law, the government, and your role in the community.

I’ve now spent around 15 minutes flipping through the book (it’s 160 pages) and I don’t think I’ll have any problems passing the exam (to be honest, the driving theory test is probably harder). I am, however, looking forward to reading about British history from a British point of view and finally understanding how the UK government works as a whole. I’ve picked up bits and pieces from reading the news and visiting the Houses of Parliament, but still have a few major knowledge gaps in that area.

I’ll be taking the study guide along with me on my upcoming travels and plan on taking the test this autumn. As always, I’ll keep you updated every step of the way :)

Upcoming Travels and GiL on Instragram!

 

I’ll admit, this summer hasn’t gone quite as expected. What started out as a season full of promise and grand plans to enjoy and explore London ended up turning into week after week of struggling to fight off a lingering cold.

I’m one of those annoying people who never gets sick, but when I do, I make it count. It started off with a stuffy nose in late May and morphed into a terrible chest infection that I’m still feeling the effects of today.

However, now that the worst is behind me I can turn my attention to the future. My grand summer in London may be a disappointment, but I have high hopes for my upcoming travels.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Flicker User: Jacob Surland

Copenhagen has been near the top of my ‘Weekend Break’ list for quite some time, so I’m really excited about visiting in late July. I’m taking a Friday and Monday off so that I can enjoy the city for four whole days. There are a lot of sites on my to-do list, including Tivoli Gardens and Nyhavn. I booked the trip based on a great last minute deal on British Airways’ website, and splitting the cost with my other half always help keep the budget in check.

Venice, Italy

Flickr User: Tambako the Jaguar

It’s been five years since I last visited Italy, so I thought this summer was finally the time to go back. I’ll only be in Venice for three days and two nights, so I imagine it’s going to be one of those constantly-on-the-run sightseeing holidays. I’ll be staying at Generator Hostel Venice, who graciously offered me one night’s stay, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the city in person. It’s one of those places I’ve dreamed about visiting since I was a kid and I’m literally counting down the days until the trip!

Bergen, Norway

Flickr User: anieto2k

The August bank holiday is a perfect excuse to get away from London and I booked a trip to beautiful Bergen, Norway many, many, many months ago. It’s just a quick 3-day getaway, but I’ve packed it full of fjords, mountain biking, and scenic train rides.

To save cash I booked one-way tickets to Bergen using British Airways Avios points, and will be returning to London on Norwegian Air, a budget airline. Since I’ll only be there a few days the hotel costs are minimal (especially when split with a partner), and the biggest expense of the trip will be a 1-day tour of Berekvam and Flam with Norway Active.

Bangkok, Thailand

Flickr User: Nik Cyclist

If you’re a regular Girl in London reader you’ll know that I make frequent trips to Bangkok to visit my family. I was last there in April and will be returning again in September. I’m not so much a tourist in Bangkok these days as I am a resident, but I always keep an eye out for useful tips to share with you all when I’m over there. I’ve been taking Thai lessons for the past few weeks in an effort to learn the language and this will be the first trip where I think I’ll be able to speak significant amounts of Thai.

I pay for all my flights to London outright, since using Avios points on long-haul flights isn’t favourable. The good news is that my accommodation is free (thanks, dad!), and so are all my living expenses throughout my visit, including food and transportation. I also work part-time on writing projects on most trips, so what seems like an expensive indulgence actually turns out to not cost me much, if at all. I also rack up tons of Avois points as an added bonus.

Nice, France

Flickr User: Dale Harvey

Last year for my birthday the bf and I took a trip to balmy Iceland. I loved the trip so much that I seriously thought about going again to celebrate my big 2-7, but decided against it since I’d rather visit the Nordic nation in a different season.

Instead, I’ll be ushering in my late-twenties in a slightly more glamorous location – Nice, France. Since my birthday is in October, it aligns well with Nice’s ‘shoulder season’. Shorter days and slightly cooler climes in the South of France mean cheaper flights and hotels, and empty beaches.

This time around, our round-trip flights are coming courtesy of British Airways Avios points and only cost £30/person (score!). I’ve booked a snazzy suite in a 3* hotel as opposed to a standard room in a 4* hotel in an effort to get more value for money. So far the plan is to explore Nice, the beach (if weather permits), Monaco, and possibly Cannes.

Finally . . . Girl in London is now on Instragram!
Writing ‘Girl in London’ always makes me feel like I’m referring to myself in the third person, but I guess I’ll get used to it over time. I’ve finally created an Instragram account for ‘Girl in London’ called girlinlondon_rtw (girlinlondon was taken, as you might have guessed).

My goal with the Instragram account is to take you with me in my suitcase and provide snapshots of London as well as all the different places I travel to. Since I’ll be kicking off a long string of trips next week, I thought it was the perfect time to get the account up and running.

I promise to try to keep the selfies to the minimum.

Independence Day, California Pride, and Life in the UK

 

Independence Day
July 4th is always a bittersweet day for me now that I live in the UK. In what would turn out to be one of my most popular posts, I wrote about how in many ways my family was the embodiment of the American Dream, so to celebrate the country’s most patriotic of days from a different country feels strange. In lieu of a big celebration, this Independence Day I opted for a nice dinner out at a Wimbledon screening in Canary Wharf.

Wimbledon @ Canary Wharf

Wimbledon @ Canary Wharf

California Pride
Of course, July 4th is like any other day here in London and I spent much of it working on various assignments and projects as I tend to do on most Fridays. A few weeks ago I started work on writing destination articles for California. Between researching and writing about various spots around Northern California, I found myself missing my home state more than usual.

California Pride!

California Pride!

I channeled my emotions into some retail therapy and designed this shirt on Zazzle, and it just happened to be delivered on July 4th. How fitting!

My travel schedule will be heating up again in a few weeks when I visit Copenhagen, followed by Venice, Bergen (Norway), Bangkok, and Nice. I’ll be taking this shirt along with me to show off my California pride :)

Life in the UK
It’s hard for me to believe, but I’m coming up on my four year anniversary in London! I’m here on a Tier 1 visa and on my five year anniversary I’ll be applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain (permanent residency). After that, I’ll be one year away from full UK citizenship. In order to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, I need to first pass the ‘Life in the UK’ exam to prove that I’m acquainted with the country’s culture and government. On July 4th (again, how fitting!) I ordered the official study and plan to take the test before the end of the year. Assuming I pass, I’ll be one (tiny) step closer to citizenship!

Other News
The morning of July 4th (such a weird day for me!) I got an email from the Wall Street Journal of all places, asking my opinions on the taxation of US citizens abroad. After a few emails back and forth, I ended up doing a short phone interview with a reporter and we spoke about the implications of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and how it affects expats. I didn’t get word on when the full article will be out, but the reporter did tell me that it is expected to be in the printed edition of the WSJ, so I’ll definitely be on the look out for that and let you know when it pops up.