Our man in Florida

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Our man in Florida

Being posted around the world allows British Consuls to offer invaluable advice and information about life in their host country. This month we draw on the experience of Dean Churm, Consul in Florida since August 2005

Briefly, what's your background and current role?
I'm responsible for delivering consular support to British nationals in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands from our offices in Orlando, Miami, Tallahassee and San Juan. Prior to that I worked for the UK Ministry of Defence for 20 years and was posted to the British Embassy in Washington D.C., but I've also worked in London, Bosnia, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and back home in Shropshire.

What typical scenarios involving resident expats or visiting Brits do you deal with?
They fall into four broad categories – arrest and detentions, hospitalisations and deaths, lost and stolen passports and managing expectations of what we can and can't do to help. Expats tend to get arrested more for things like driving under the influence of alcohol and immigration offences, although we have a few who are in prison for more serious charges such as murder. When tourists get arrested it usually involves alcohol, arguments, and fighting which leads to a spell in jail for a while.

How many Brits live full-time in Florida?And do you know how many Brits own holiday homes there?
It's really difficult to say because British people are not required to register with us.

Is Florida still a popular place for British retirees to escape to during the winters? And just how easy is it for (non-resident) Brits to spend long stints at their home there, given the USA's strict visa rules?
The Americans call them “snowbirds” and, yes, along with the Canadians, many Brits come to Florida for the winter. Some stay in second homes whilst others use the summer resorts. The Visa Waiver Programme permits a 90-day stay, but the B1/B2 visa allows up to six months in any one year – it's fairly simple to get as long as you satisfy the requirements. Most Brits tend to come in October and then leave again when it starts to get hotter in April.

Which areas of Florida are especially popular with British owners for second and permanent homes?
Everywhere you go in Florida you'll hear a British accent but the most popular areas tend to be in and around Orlando, particularly the Davenport area, and in Sarasota, Tampa, Naples, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

There's more to Florida than Orlando and theme parks. Can you name some lesser known – but equally appealing – areas?
The West Coast of Florida would be a good place to start for those looking for a quieter pace of life, so anything around Sarasota, Naples or Fort Myers would be a good bet. Further up the coast, Panama City Beach is gaining in popularity, as is Pensacola. Anything on the Intracoastal Waterway on the East Coast should be considered too, like around Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton.

Which part of Florida do you live in and what do you like about living there?
I live in Orlando, because that's where our main operation is based. I like its vibrant downtown area and it is less than an hour away from the beaches. I've also been fortunate enough to watch a number of Space Shuttle launches!

Could you tell us an American English phrase we don't have in British English and which you find particularly amusing?
The Americans do have different meanings for certain words, so I'm always amused by the curious look on their faces when a Brit refers to putting their “trainers” on – in the US trainers are worn by young children being potty-trained…


A Place In The Sun