By Dominic Casciani
BBC News, Florida
The mix of sun, fun and the English tongue has led tens of thousands of British people to settle in Florida. But when the novelty wears off, many find themselves isolated, trapped and in fear of falling ill.
Remember Dawn from The Office? The long-suffering receptionist who, along with sales rep Tim, provided the hit comedy's sexual tension.
When she moved to Florida with the fiance she would later dump for our hero, she ended up living a twilight life as an illegal immigrant, scrambling to make ends meet.
Dawn's tale was the dark and cloudy side of the Sunshine State - but it is also a slice of the genuine reality for some of the uncounted Britons who live in Florida.
Seduced by the sun and glamorous lifestyle, and helped no end by a string of up-beat property shows, Florida has become one of the top destinations for at least 100,000 British expats seeking a new life.
But many of the "snowbirds" who have made the leap across the Pond to find a new life (thankfully, without adopting the pastel suits of Miami Vice) say that those back in Blighty fail to see the bigger picture.
Theme park, fantasy home
Florida's magnetic pull across the Atlantic began with Disney World, which opened in 1971. As air tickets got cheaper and Orlando became a hot holiday destination, Brits learned to love Florida.
The state became imprinted on the British imagination as people bought into rental apartments and the holiday homes springing up along the Atlantic seaboard.
The British communities have continued to grow from those early beginnings in the Orlando fun belt. Today, the sprawling southern state metro area of Broward County, Miami and greater Fort Lauderdale is home to tens of thousands of Britons.
One of the biggest recent trends has been for British companies keen to get into Latin American markets to locate in the Miami area to capitalise on the state's virtual dual English-Spanish economy.
And the Brits know they come with a certain competitive advantage: a general warm welcome from Americans who can't get enough of the accent.
Julia Eastwood is one of many British estate agents (realtors in American) in the state whose job is to try to make those dreams come true.
And when you see some of the waterfront, palm grove homes her firm has to offer in the Pompano Beach area, you can see why people find it attractive. But with the average family home starting at $350,000 (£187,000) in a half-decent area, the prices are not peanuts.
What the tourists see: Miles and miles of beach
"People start their research at home or perhaps when staying with friends in the state. But they often don't have the local knowledge," she says, showing the BBC around a luxurious canal-side home.
"So they will see something on the web for $60,000 and think it's a bargain but in reality it's a pretty bad area. That is where things start to go wrong. You have to be careful what you do rather than just jumping in."
Sun, sea and insurance
And the reality is that when the initial dream fades, the daily grind can be a shock to many Brits who don't truly understand America, say some expats.
At the British Depot in Fort Lauderdale, it's a busy day with customers stocking up on the things that remind them of home. Amid the union jacks, packets of crisps and Pot Noodles, nobody has a bad word to say about Americans - but they have words of warning.
Some of the shops' former customers have disappeared since 9/11, having realised that their twilight existence as illegal immigrants; people who have never declared themselves to the authorities, had become unsustainable rather than a 20-something's dream.
But even for many of the legal residents, it's still hard, says business woman Tracey Ryder, a resident of 11 years.
"If you are going to succeed in America, you have to be a grafter in a way you are not in Britain," she says. "Money can be tight and what you have in Florida is people who come to retire and sit on their money, which makes business hard.
"We've got a stable government - but we also have crooks and I think that if I could afford it, I would go home. I certainly would not educate kids here, no way."
Looking for a dream: Julia Eastwood helps Brits move
Rita Fitton swapped Manchester for Florida in 1995 and has never looked back. Also a career woman, she believes the state gave her opportunities she would never have had at home.
"It's a playground, I can go out every night and enjoy myself," she says. "But the one thing that would make me go home is bad health because there is no NHS here. Here, they just want to know how you can pay, whether you have got enough or a credit card. I don't want any part of that."
And it's this issue of health that nags the minds of many Brits in America. Michael Trace is 63 and left London in 1991 after selling his small business and looking for a financial adventure in property. He's done well and is happy, fit and loves the Florida sun.
"But I can't get health insurance at all," he says. "They want $1,200 a month which is utterly ridiculous so I'm not insured - I'm one of the great number of people who aren't.
"Without a doubt, if I were to get a serious illness, I would have to go back to the UK because if I paid the insurance it would break me.
"People arrive here without thinking about these things - and I think if they did think it through, there would be question marks over coming in the first place."
Keith Allan, the British Consul in Miami, says British emigrants should think through what they are doing, rather than just hoping a dream turns out to be true.
"We had a case where one woman whose husband had died contacted us and said she had never got a Green Card [proof of legal residence in the USA]," says Mr Allan.
"She was suddenly finding life very difficult and considering returning to the UK, even though she left years ago.
"Our point is that these things can happen very suddenly - and if they do, people need to know the implications and have some idea of what to do."
Add your comments on this story, using the form below. If you are a British expat, tell us your experiences by clicking here.
The passage says "Without a doubt, if I were to get a serious illness, I would have to go back to the UK because if I paid the insurance it would break me. "When are we, the UK taxpayers, going to put pressure on our Govt to stop this abuse of the NHS?
I think it's hypocritical that UK migrants settle in the US, enjoy the lifestyle and the low taxes but say they can't afford health insurance and would come back here for free healthcare if they were ill - little better than foreign health tourists
Matt Munro, Bristol, UK
I went to university in Utah. Overall, I enjoyed the experience, but after four years, I was ready to come home again. American movies and TV pump out such a relentless stream of propaganda that people here imagine that life over there cannot be anything less than a dream. In reality, it's a foreign country. Some things are indeed better than in Britain. Others are worse. For the most part, they're just different.
Andrew, Cardiff, Wales
I emigrated from florida 15 years ago. I was born there. Florida remains a place of incredible intellectual, spiritual and cultural vacuity. How many times can you go to the mall, beach or the same cinema? It`s boring when compared to London/Europe. Visiting Disney leaves me empty.
Dayton Rogers, Dulwich, London
It's good to see that Mr Trace is happy to not pay UK taxes for 15 years, but still take advantage of the UK health system when he needs to. If people leave they should leave and live life how it is lead in the country they go to. If he is unprepared to pay for healthcare, tough. Would he give me a free holiday at his home? I doubt it.
I will be leaving UK shores for a full-time fix of Florida very soon. The people are very friendly and my accent attracts attention everywhere I go. Things are so cheap here. I have a wardrobe packed with the same grey slacks and it cost me next to nothing.
I don't see why after years of not paying UK tax, that they should be able to come back and drain the NHS when they get ill!
I think coming back here for medical treatment is fine, provided those people are still paying taxes in the UK. What is not fine is people enjoying the low taxes in the US - low partly because health care is not state provided - and then running back here to enjoy healthcare paid for by people still working in the UK, and still paying the high rates of tax.
I went to work in miami in 2000 after finishing university. I worked in the tourist industry for a cruise line and it was hell. Low pay, no time off and long days - the weather was lovely but if you are working you may as well be in an office in London. And besides you could not get a good cup of tea anywhere, I now work in London.
luke, southend, essex.
Sounds great. Live abroad in the sun, live the party lifestyle, enjoy the beaches, pay the US government taxes. When you're too old or ill to stay, come home and be a burden on the NHS whom you have not paid a penny to for years. Thanks.
Jamie Davis, Bristol
Hang on a minute. I don't see why people should get to turn their back on the UK and live abroad only to come back when they need to use the NHS? It's hard enough paying all the Tax in this country as it is - without carrying people who havn't paid anything while living in the sun who then return for a very expensive freebie.
Tim Bartlam, Aberdeen
My family and I have holidayed in Florida for two years on a trot and we fell in love with Orlando when we were married there in 2004. It is an amazing place to take the kids and if I ever won a huge amount on the Lottery it would be top of my list to move there but planned well and not until my children had been through school here. I agree with the comments above about not schooling your children in the U.S as they only learn their own history as opposed to that of the world.
I can't afford to go this year and I am gutted but happy memories and the will to go back one day and do all the parks and eat in fabulaous restaurants as well as returning to the villa to put my aching limbs in the spa and pool is fantastic.
I would definately look into the "small print" before I moved there as their way of life is very different to the UK.
Sharon Lewis, Neath UK
Great! Good old blighty. Not good enough to live in, but good enough to leach off when it comes to the NHS. Why don't these people think before moving abroad??
Sara Brown, Warwick
I don't know WHAT health insurance companies Michael was getting quotes from, but my health insurance while I was in America was lower than what I pay the NHS here each month - and there were no ques when I called for an appointment.
The comments about flying back to England just to abuse the NHS are exactly why the goverment needs to crack down on who actually can use the NHS. If you (or someone you're dependant on) aren't paying UK taxes then why should you have any right to use what the rest of us back in the UK are paying for?
The big attraction of the US is that the taxes there are low, but that's because there isn't an NHS as we know it. I'm so pleased that the Ex-pats can pocket the difference and then just fly-in and use what our additional taxes have paid for if they so need it...
I have family from Florida & some still there, though I'm british. I've lived and worked there. It is still a great place to holiday, but I don't think I would move there permanently. The lack of the NHS is part of it. The other is that we are used to our classes, but there is a lot of communication as well as mobility between them, and they are not solely tied to wealth, but in the US which claims to be classless, the culture is very stratified, and there is little communication between the not classes.
Whilst it is true that health insurance is expensive, it is usually included with an average job. That's not to say that millions of americans AREN'T insured (43 million at last count I believe) - but many of these are either self employed single people who choose not to, but a lot of the rest are the poorest group of non-legal immigrants. Nobody mentioned though, that there IS universal healthcare coverage for those over 65 in the form of Medicare. For the 63 year old at the end of the story, if he is a legal immigrant he should be eligible for it, having been present for more than 5 years.
Life is much better for the average 65 yr old American than it is for the average 65 year old Brit thanks to the countries extensive (and expensive for taxpayers) social security and Medicare system.
Steve Foley, Boston, USA
"Without a doubt, if I were to get a serious illness, I would have to go back to the UK because if I paid the insurance it would break me." And this is the reason the NHS is in such a state. Michael Trace has not paid National contributions since 1991, 15 years, yet he expects the tax payers of this country to help him if he falls ill in the US.
I lived in the US for 4 years, in that time I got a job which allowed continuous travel and ultimately 45 states.
After 9/11 the attitude of Americans changed, I was no longer the funny foreigner but the potential threat.. I was singled for searches not just on planes, but buses, trains, even the supermarket security as I sounded different. Even though I had a platinum accout at my branch, things became more awkward.
John Hyde, London (formerly San Francisco)
I have to say i found Michael Trace's comments annoying if ill fall back onto the British NHS. He and others should look into healthcare etc when they decide to emigrate. A lot of British ex-pats seem to fall into this trap which is another drain on the already overstretched NHS.
Lisa, Fleetwood Lancashire
Very Nice! All these people who say that they would come 'home' if they were ill because they cannot afford healthcare in Florida, they think that they can live 'over the pond' for years, not paying British taxes I presume, and then come back to use our NHS services that the rest of us work to support!! They have made their beds they should be made to lie in them.
I feel for these people, but must agree that know before you go, before you come to America. When we were in the UK a few years back most of the Brits we spoke to only knew about two places in America, Disney World and New York City. As for illegals, please do the right thing and register. Don't become a shadow. Sadly, we have more than enough of our own.
Joe, Lexington, South Carolina, USA
I moved to the USA 8 years ago to marry my American fiance. I've not been back since. It's not that I don't want to, it's that I can't afford it. I'm fortunate in that I've found ways to get roast chicken flavour crisps, the real Cadburys Dairy Milk, and Newcastle Brown Ale. I can even listen to Test Match Special via the Internet, but I miss being able to walk into town to do my shopping (a mall isn't the same) and silly little things like country lanes and cottages. I'll not even get started on the history.
But I'll say this, Americans come across as way more patriotic than the Brits. People aren't afraid to hang the Stars and Stripes outside their homes, and sing the national anthem at any event. Sure, there's an anti-Bush faction, but while the Brits might love their country, the Americans show they do.
Sally, Pittsburgh, PA (formerly Harrogate, England)
having returned from the US after 10 years I can confirm that the fear of being sick and isloation eventually takes its toll. The lack of cooperation from the US in regards to issuing VISAs to the UK and yet issuing to other countries around the world is also a disheartening factor. Y
Andrew Carson, London England
Like many 'Brits' I have holidayed in Floria and found it a great place with very friendly people.
However, as a tourist I found it impossible to shake off the 'sunshine paradise' aspect of Florida ... until that is I took a wrong turning and passed examples of "the projects" i.e. trailer parks and low-cost homes where America's poor are hidden away. Legal emmigration to anywhere in the USA (especially if you become a citizen) means taking on board all the pros & cons. Whilst not wishing to sound too carping, ex-pat Brits returning home to use an already over-stretched NHS rankles with me. I accept that they may have "paid their dues" in the past whilst resident in the UK, but try claiming on an insurance policy if you haven't kept up the premiums!. Any past payments count for nothing.
Pete Lawrence, Salisbury
My employeer moved me to the US in 1993 and I have not looked back since. I currently live outside Boston though I have also live in the DC area. In fact I am now a naturalized US citizen, though I can hold me head high and say I did not vote for Bush, and feel that the US is now my home.
I make regular trips back to London (about 2-3 visits a year) to see my parents and friends. During these trips I am reminded as to why I have no desire to return. London is so expensive, crowded (the whole country is pack solided these days) and quite frankly dirty - the amount of rubbish lying around and grafetti on a recent trip was saddening and embrassing to see.
I have retained my Britishness as I have found this an invaluable business and social asset. I fly the Cross of St. George on the appropritate occassions as well as flying the Union Jack upside down on Independence Day - my neighbours don't get this. On trips to the UK I hit Sainsbury's to get tea, Marmite, HP sauce, Twiglettes and Fruit Pastelles, etc., the essentials for an Englishman abroad. I insist on having tea whether the weather is hot or not - much to confounded amusement of my American wife. So, at heart I am a Brit, but my home is in the US and quite frankly I love it here. I can only speak volumes about how welcome I have been made to feel by my American friends, colleagues and neighbours.
Christopher Bett, Boston, USA
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