Expat Stories – Shena Alarco

Shena Alarco moved from Madrid to London in 2016. She has been living there ever since.

Shena Alarco

Shena is the Head of Strategic Business Development for Cigna Global IPMI.

This is her expat story.

Tell us about your expat move.

I’m originally from Peru but I’ve been through a couple of expat moves in my life. I’ve lived in the U.S. on and off at different points, I lived there as a child and went back for college.

From there, I went to Madrid, and then from Madrid to London, where I now live.

So, I’ve done a bit of jumping around from Latin America, to the US, and to Europe.

Were there any immediate difficulties that you faced when you moved?

I found the administrative process of moving to the UK to be quite difficult.

There is a very strange rule that you can’t have a UK bank account if you don’t have a UK address. Obviously, you can’t pay for an apartment/house if you do not have a bank account so that didn’t make much sense to me!

But the good thing was that my friends here helped me out a lot and were there for me when I needed them.

So the administrative process was pretty much the most difficult thing.

Apart from administrative tasks, was there anything else that you found particularly difficult?

Not really to be honest. The good thing is that London is a very global city and I’ve lived in global cities in the past so the culture wasn’t too much of a shock for me.

Living in London has been quite similar to my previous experiences in the US and Madrid. But I know that if I’d moved straight from Peru to London then it would have been a completely different story.

My experiences in the US and in Spain have definitely helped me out a lot.

What did you find were the best ways of making friends as an expat?

For me, it was mainly through mutual friends and friends of family. I met a lot of people through business school and I looked into the Peruvian community, which was great!

Overall, it was through friends of friends.

What have been some of the biggest highlights from your expat journey so far?

I think being an expat opens up so many different opportunities, especially for travel. Particularly in London, it’s a city where you can very easily travel to other European cities. I’m fascinated by travel and love to do it.

It’s so cool to just be a train ride away from Paris or 2 hours away from Spain. It really enables the option to travel more. It’s not like being back in Peru, which is obviously quite far away from Europe!

What do you miss about your home country?

Definitely the food! Although London does have a lot of Peruvian restaurants, it’s nothing like the food back home.

Peruvian food is really good so I do miss that a lot.

Have you had any major challenges as an expat?

Apart from the admin difficulties that I mentioned earlier, it’s actually been pretty smooth sailing.

The only thing I would mention is that getting to know people can be a bit of a challenge but you find ways around it. Especially in a city as big as London, there are just so many people!

What advice would you give to those who are considering making the expat move?

I would recommend trying to understand what admin tasks you will need to take care of. Getting an understanding of housing, banking etc. will be a big help.

I would also recommend trying to get in touch with people who’ve done it already. This means reaching out to your network and seeing if you have any connections in the place you are moving to.

For example, let’s say I was moving to Singapore, I would immediately check if there’s anybody I know that has moved to Singapore. Having those conversations early on can really help with avoiding later issues. It can be a big help you know what you are getting yourself into.

So I would definitely recommend trying to find people who’ve moved to the city before. I think it’s a great thing to do.

Finally, how would you describe your expat journey in 10 words or less?

Fun, culture, travel, and meeting people from different cultures.

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This article serves only as a reference and is intended for informational purposes only. Nothing in this article constitutes legal, tax, financial planning, health or medical advice including diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Any reference to products or services offered by Cigna are available except where prohibited by applicable law and subject to terms and conditions.

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