The Tax Expat in Brighton

We’re happy to share our latest interview in The Tax Expat series with Sylvia Petkova who has made a big move from Bulgaria to our own home, Brighton! It can be a daunting process relocating to a new country but we hope to alleviate some of the common fears by showing unique insights from those who have been there and done it.

Last time on The Tax Expat we heard from Kinga Zawora who shared her experience relocating from Poland to London to Poland again then to Zurich!

We hope you enjoy this week’s instalment so over to Sylvia…

Sylvia, thanks for joining us to share your experiences for The Tax Expat! We, of course, know each other well but, for those that don’t, would you mind telling tell us a few words about yourself?

Of course. I started my career in taxes back in 2012 and never thought that the “path” I took back then would turn into one of the greatest journeys in my life. I was working for an Irish company that had a processing centre in Varna, Bulgaria, and I was part of the VAT Compliance Team. My colleagues from the other teams used to call us “The Nerds”… And the nickname was well deserved.

So, relocating from Varna to Brighton – Where does the story start & why did you consider relocating abroad?

Yes, relocating from Varna to Brighton, but never away from the sea! This is a good question. The story started with a LinkedIn message (something I consider to be the modern “once upon a time…” in the recruitment world now). This led to a series of calls, then interviews, and before I knew it the story continued with me being the “big bad wolf” by resigning and moving from Bulgaria to England.

There is so much of the ‘unknown’ when relocating. At the time, I didn’t know much about Brighton but I’d heard that it is a very vibrant and vivid city. I had no idea what my new colleagues would be like, though I did know a lot about the company I was about to start working for (I mean who hasn’t). But I had all the fears and worries anyone would have. Despite my concerns, I decided to take this opportunity and see what the future might bring.

And when the day came, my plane took off and in a few hours, I was in Brighton. In the beginning, it felt surreal. A few months after, it still felt surreal… I was lucky enough to start working with an amazing Team as a VAT Account Manager and – a year and a half later – I was promoted to VAT Technical Manager. No longer did I feel like the “big bad wolf”; all my concerns and worries were gone. Three years later, I have never felt any different than “happily ever after”.

As a European VAT professional, you naturally have global mobility on your side. Why did you choose to move to Brighton?

I chose to move to Brighton as I was given the perfect opportunity to continue doing what I love dearly (I mean…who doesn’t love taxes) whilst also becoming part of an organisation that has offices everywhere in the world. It was the opportunity to become a part of something big. This aside, I was very tempted to get to know how this experience would be, what it would feel like living in Brighton, and whether this would soon become “my place”.

It’s coming up to 3 years since you made the move. How have you found this experience so far?

It is indeed – 3 years this December. Time flies. I had my worries at the beginning, which I learnt is perfectly normal, but I love every second of the last almost 3 years. I have learned so much, I keep on learning every day. I’ve met amazing people and I feel very much at home in Brighton already.

What’s been the biggest struggle in the whole process?

I think my main struggle was my fear of the unknown – the experience of leaving my comfort zone and facing challenges that I’d never faced before.

Facing new challenges often tells you a lot about yourself. What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt about yourself since moving abroad?

Exactly. The most important thing I have learned about myself is that the best place to be is outside my comfort zone. Once you get out, and once you start taking the best out of every challenge, every struggle, every difficulty, then the real fun starts. It is like a roller coaster – you look above and the height of the track makes you tipsy, and you think “Well, is this safe? Is it properly secured? What if there is a power outage?”. You decide to give it a go and after the round, the only thing you want to do is to get on that roller coaster again.

Nice analogy! And Sylvia, if you had your time again, what would you have done differently?

I tend to overthink past events and contemplate what I could have done differently, or better… I never thought I would say that, but if I had my time again, I wouldn’t have changed a moment of it.

So living life in the UK as an expat; is there anything that you miss in particular from Bulgaria? I know you’ve told me several times about how good Bulgarian food is!  It’s all about the ‘banitsa’, right?

Don’t even mention that… I miss having homemade banitsa for breakfast. I miss my family, and of course, I miss my friends. But on a positive note, being physically away from them doesn’t mean that I love them less. On the contrary – I appreciate even more how lucky I am with all the people I have in my life which I cannot see as often as I want to. When I see them and have a chance to spend some time with them – I make the most of it.

If you could turn back the time – would you have made the same move?

I mentioned my overthinking habit… It will not be surprising for you if I tell you that I thought about that, as well. And my answer is: “Absolutely!!!”

What advice can you share for other tax professionals who are considering a relocation abroad for their career?

Don’t be afraid to make the move if you ever feel the inclination. Don’t let petty worries and concerns limit what you can achieve. Believe in yourself and don’t let yourself end up one day thinking about “what would have happened if…”. Just do it, if you want it – this is the only way you can know “what happens” when facing the unknown!

Sylvia, thank you very much for sharing your experience. It sounds like you’ve had an amazing journey over the last 3 years!

Thank you! The pleasure was all mine.


Are you a Tax Expat? If so, we’d love to hear about your experiences and share them with our global tax network. For more information, please contact Alex Mann.

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