I recently moved to Inverness, Scotland from California. When I tell people that, the question I get most is, “why Inverness?” (The second-most is “why would you leave California?” - but it’s related.)
Inverness, if you don’t know, is up in the Scottish Highlands. You may have heard the term “Highlander” with reference to Scottish folks. Specifically, it means Northern Scottish folks, those from the Highlands. Makes sense, right?
The Highlands are legendary for being beautiful, and in my experience they live up to it. That certainly contributes…
Our family has been looking for a reason to leave California for some time. The SF Bay Area is simply too expensive to be our home forever. It literally cost as much to stay home and pay rent there as it did when we later travelled the world. That means we’d never have been able to retire there, even if I continued making my really-quite-high salary forever. But I was making that salary in a remote job while we homeschooled our children. In other words, there was very little reason to stay, financially.
Also? The neighbors in the Bay know that they can’t stay forever either. It feels weirdly transient because nobody can afford to live there for all that long. New folks constantly show up to the tech gold rush and old ones constantly leave.
So in February of 2019, we sold the California house. Our little 1200-square-foot stucco-front 1950s tract house sold for around US $850,000, in case you wanted more detail about that “unsustainable” thing. If the market kept rising in my retirement, how could I possibly stay? The grocery store and local folks have to pay rent at those prices, which means everything would keep getting more expensive, as it did for my first 20 years there…
We took the money and I followed the Ruby conference schedule around the world for a bit. I have the good fortune to speak at conferences for work, so we just arrived at each place a bit early and stayed in different states and countries to see what we enjoyed.
After a few of our early stops like Malaysia, Mexico and Japan, our kids (the two who were old enough to talk) put their foot down - our final home would need to be basically English-speaking. That’s a fair request. We didn’t stay only in English-speaking countries since we already had a stop in Bangkok scheduled later, but we started looking for final homes in places where they’d be able to understand the other kids.
One thing you should remember about California: it’s hot and dry. You’ve probably also heard about the wildfires which have been getting worse for years, and will keep getting worse due to climate change. Quite a lot of California has been a desert for much longer than that, and the water shortage has been building for decades - not only is California a desert, it’s also aggressively farmed to such an extent that a lot of central California is literally sinking.
What does that have to do with “finding an English-speaking country”? Well, New Zealand had been my first choice. It’s a lovely place, the people are friendly, and The Lord of the Rings is pretty much a 12-hour travelogue of how wonderful it looks.
And it’s in trouble due to climate change. It’s a huge island. All its biggest cities are right on the coast (think of rising water levels!). And unfortunately, they’ve also polluted their groundwater with their dairy industry to such an extent that 60% of their rivers and lakes aren’t safe to swim in.
In other words, climate change is going to hit them very hard, and sooner than most places.
Running from California to New Zealand due to climate change seems like the wrong direction, you know?
And then we got to Inverness. We didn’t instantly settle - we had to get a visa, we had travel plans for a lot of the year. But we really didn’t want to leave when the time rolled around, either…
It turns out that we have friends in the Inverness area. We like colder climates. People complain about the weather, but it’s quite similar to Pittsburgh, PA where I went to university and I loved it there.
And keep in mind that my wife and our children are native Californians. Remember what I said about hot and dry? Living in a place where water simply falls from the sky and little rivers and lakes run everywhere feels like absolute magic. They’ve lived their whole lives where water was precious, scarce, often tasted bad and had to be constantly conserved. Here it’s the best we’ve tasted anywhere in the world, it’s plentiful and all around us, the little streams are beautiful, and all the plants are green instead of brown. They don’t tell you that the Golden Hills of California are because they’re covered with dead grass, but it’s true.
And for those who, like me, grew up in the United States… It’s like living in mythology.
King Arthur may have been real or not, but the places where things happened are all real. And you can take a train to them. In a day.
Formative history like Culloden battlefield are literally a bus ride across town. The Black Isle? We can see it across the bridge, past the tourist shops. The Isle of Skye? You can rent a car and get there same day. If you ask the local delivery fellow, there’s a decent chance he’s headed that way after our house.
You might say, “but how do you work?” First off, I’m a computer programmer, and I have the ridiculous good fortune to be able to get a remote job. Second off, the UK has something called the Tier One Exceptional Talent Visa, about which I will no doubt write a whole post of its own. But if you are also a computer programmer (or otherwise in high demand) then with relatively modest requirements, you too could easily work remotely from Inverness for a company of your choice worldwide.
And Inverness is a place we could eventually comfortably retire. I’m not ready to retire yet, and I suspect I’ll work part-time long before I stop work. I’m that sort. But unlike the San Francisco Bay Area, here we can afford a nice house and, eventually, we’ll just be able to survive off our savings without me having to work forty (or sixty, or more) hours per week just to keep us afloat. I might work remotely because the money’s good, or I might work locally because they’re great folks and I’m happy to help here.
But I don’t have to pick the most lucrative option because otherwise we’ll have to move out. We picked a better place. We moved out. We can stay here, likely for the rest of our lives, visas permitting.
And here that means we can afford to settle in, raise our children and enjoy.
Many folks, especially from America, won’t want to read this next part. That’s fine. Control-W or Command-W will close this tab. Heck, a lot of you already stopped because you’re convinced there’s no such thing as climate change, so the massive death and destruction of the California wildfires is clearly a hallucination. Also, the Hurricane Katrina coverage was clearly composed of crisis actors.
The rest of you: still with me?
Our children will never have to be part of an active shooter drill. They’ll never be trained that they need to rush a gunman so that their classmates might survive, while not being told if today is real or a drill - because they have to practice it under real conditions, on the assumption that it will happen.
If I’m not in a corporate job in the US, I’m essentially always in danger of being bankrupted by any health problem. I’m healthy as a horse - for now. But I can’t guarantee that I always will be. And even if I tattooed “do not resuscitate” on myself, I could still become unconscious and bankrupt my heirs before I could regain consciousness long enough to refuse treatment. If you’re unconscious you can’t refuse treatment in the US, legally speaking.
Sound morbid? Well, sure. Destroying all the safety I’ve worked for decades to provide my children isn’t exactly happy-shiny either.
You know where that doesn’t happen? Countries with socialised medicine like the UK’s National Health Service.
People complain about the National Health, but… Looking around here, it’s hard to imagine why you would ever want the American system.
Also, by paying UK taxes, which are overall higher, we won’t be paying US taxes to fund concentration camps on the borders. We don’t mind paying taxes - again, we’re not saving money on taxes by moving to the UK. But we don’t want our money doing that (or military misadventure.)
California has gigantic homeless camps, essentially because the government doesn’t want to help (we could get tax breaks instead!), and California has a climate that doesn’t rapidly kill them. The Scots-local folks here are appalled at the idea - “why doesn’t the government help?”
Yes. We agree with you. And now, here we are.