Guest Post: Top 10 Things Americans Should Consider When Moving to London

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from our friends at London Relocation Ltd. – a London agency that specializes in relocating Americans (and anyone) to London. They’ll help you find a place to live, open bank accounts and provide advice on adjusting to life in the UK. Check out their website here.

1.  Visas.

It never ceases to surprise me how many people do believe they can just pick up and move to a completely different country and set up shop :-).  The most essential thing you need is, of course, a visa to live here.

Student visas are generally the easiest to apply for once accepted into a valid program of study.  Otherwise, applying for a visa has become more difficult in recent years due to more constrictions placed on businesses hiring employees from overseas.  Unless you are transferring through an existing employer, you should try to obtain corporate sponsorship through your new job; however, the companies hiring new employees are required to prove that they made positions available to UK and EU citizens and no candidates from these territories were as well-qualified as the overseas candidate.

To surmount this hurdle, you could also try applying for a Tier 1 visa for “highly skilled migrants.”  Based on a point-system, if your education and work experience earns you a sufficient amount of points to obtain the visa, you can move to the UK without having a job first.  However, renewing this visa is contingent on finding employment.  The best resource to begin exploring this is the UK Border Agency website.

2.  Cost of Housing.

It’s no secret that London is expensive, and don’t let the property scams on Craigslist fool you—if you see flats priced at under £100 per week in Central London, they don’t exist! (as an aside, NEVER wire money for a property without having seen it for yourself).  For Zones 1 and 2 in London, you can expect to pay at least £300 per week for a studio or small 1-bedroom flat, and upwards of £400 per week for a 2-bedroom.  If this exceeds your budget, consider living further outside of the city or, if moving as a single person, finding a flatshare to split the cost.

3.  Living Space.

Just before you catch yourself mid-eyeroll upon seeing your first flat (especially in light of what you’re being asked to pay for it), let’s get some perspective here.  This is London.  Not the sprawling landscape of America that encouraged Manifest Destiny.  This is a city that still has roads based on paths the ancient Romans once wore into the soil.  If they appear too narrow, that is because they were originally established to accommodate horses and carriages, not SUVs.

It’s a city that experienced explosive growth under Queen Victoria’s reign, resulting in the abundant terraced housing that largely characterizes London residential architecture-built closely to accommodate the population back then as single family homes before being broken down further into the levels of apartments you see now.  Those who aren’t as into the vintage appeal of a classic London flat, though, can look into more spacious, recently constructed buildings at reasonable prices in areas like Canary Wharf or Battersea.

4.  Packing & Storage.

It’s a crying shame the Victorians didn’t utilize the concept of a built-in closet, using instead separate furniture pieces to house their clothing.  Modern landlords, however, do recognize the need for additional storage space, so many have incorporated that priority into their renovations, building out decently-sized closets and making the most of the taller than usual vertical height of ceilings to build up in the form of cabinets where you can stow items you don’t need to access on a daily basis.  If renting furnished, the bedrooms may already be equipped with freestanding wardrobes as well.  If you don’t have any wardrobes or cabinets, however, stores like IKEA or Homebase are available for purchasing furniture, or at least temporary clothes racks and containers.

Regardless, unless you’re moving over permanently and into the same space you’re accustomed to at home, you will need to pare down your possessions to the necessities and some nice-to-haves, but you probably can’t bring it all.  Luckily, because many flats are partially-to-fully furnished in London, you can store your bulky furniture at home.  Also, most appliances will not be voltage-compatible (which I’ll address next), so you can leave these behind, too.

5.  Voltage Differences.

At 240V, UK voltage is twice that of North America.  If you’re moving to London permanently, I would recommend leaving behind anything with a plug and a cord and buying everything new outright in the UK.  For shorter term relocations, however, it’s understandable that you don’t want to have to waste money on appliances you can’t take back with you either, so it becomes a matter of gauging what can or can’t be used from home.

Most televisions and computers will be 120-240V compatible (just be sure to read the fine print to confirm this before you plug anything in!).  After verifying this, these items can be plugged directly into the outlet using only an adapter.  As far as what to plug into a converter or transformer, it’s generally best to stick to appliances running at a lower wattage, those that are longer running at a slow, steady current like a DVD player or VCR.  Items like coffeemakers, toasters, or blenders that use a lot of energy in short bursts are probably best left at home and replaced, in the interim, buy reasonably-priced equivalents in the UK (try Argos or Homebase)—it seriously isn’t worth risking ruining your U.S. stuff and/or blowing a fuse or starting a fire.  Think of what you can live without for a while (maybe a blender, huh?) or what you can replace with a non-electric alternative (e.g., a French Press or stovetop espresso maker).

And just to get the terminology straight:

– An ADAPTOR converts your 2 or 3-pronged U.S. plugs to the 3-pronged UK standard.  This simply enables you to plug a U.S. appliance into a UK outlet; it does not adapt the voltage!

– A CONVERTER is what you can plug your appliance (or power strip, if needing to convert multiple appliances) into before then plugging the converter itself into the wall.  This will suppress the 240V coming through that outlet to only allow 120V through to your appliance, thus, not blowing it out.

– A TRANSFORMER is basically a converter, but much more hard core (and expensive).  Whereas a converter is usually a small plastic black box with a cord, a transformer is a heavier, bulkier metal box that is far better adapted to converting electricity for higher wattage items (or total wattage, if grouping appliances together on the same power strip).

6.  Transportation.

If you’re considering shipping your existing car, the following websites may be of use in your research:

The alternative is, of course, purchasing a car once you’re already over here.

In either case, the possession of a car means having to park it somewhere, so you will need to determine what streets do or do not require parking permits.  The parking regulations enforced by your particular borough should be found on its website.

Oh, and then…* drumroll, please *…Hurray!  There’s the Vehicle Tax and license to drive to consider.  Generally, you’re okay to drive on your existing foreign license for up to 1 year in the UK.  For more details on licensing requirements beyond that first year, consult this website.

Personally, my husband and I just rent a Zip Car when we want to drive a long distance or haul purchases.  Otherwise, London has an excellent public transport system comprising over- and underground trains and buses—the Transport For London website is an exhaustive resource for planning and funding your journeys.

7.  Pets.

Overall, London is quite pet-friendly—dogs can run without leashes at many city parks and are permitted entry to various shops and pubs (see DoggiePubs.org.uk).  You can also find walking/sitting/grooming services like London Pet Butler by searching on DogFriendlyBritain.co.uk.

Now when it comes down to pet-friendly flats, we’re entering different territory.  The biggest obstacle you will encounter in this respect is finding a building that allows pets; if the building doesn’t allow them, it doesn’t matter if the individual unit’s landlord doesn’t mind them.  If the building says no, it’s a no.  If the building says yes, but the landlord says no, that might rest at a no as well.  However, while many landlords may not be keen on having a dog or cat in their owned property, they may be willing to negotiate.  Ways to sweeten the pot for them when negotiating your lease is meeting the asking price rather than trying to haggle it down, if not offering more than the asking price (indeed, some landlords may require an additional fee).  In addition, they may be inclined to allow it if you are able to offer them additional months’ rent in advance as a way of bypassing additional costs.

Below are some resources for logistical information:

Additional pet relocation services from which you can obtain quotes for comparison are:

8.  Schools.

If you have school-aged children, what school they will be attending may dictate where you choose to live, so it’s obviously important to research schools and work toward getting them enrolled in advance.  The American School in London is the one American school actually located within the city; other American schools in the UK are listed at this link on the U.S. Embassy site.  Otherwise, the UK school system is structured quite differently than in the U.S., so I recommend the Good Schools Guide as a comprehensive resource.

9.  Social/Professional Networking Clubs.

If you have children, you might consider what sporting clubs or other activities they could get involved in—a couple good resources are Young London (the Mayor’s Website for Young Londoners) and London for Kids.net.

For adults, explore expat networking sites (e.g., London Living, Meetup.com, Facebook groups, etc.) out there where preliminary questions can be fielded and contacts made for after you move over.  One of the more unsettling aspects of relocating is establishing a new network of friends and colleagues.  This is easier when moving over with a job, but for those who are accompanying spouses/family members or coming on a Tier 1 visa without a job already procured, it’s a far greater challenge.

10.  Accompanying Spouses/Partners.

As an accompanying spouse myself, I had literally read cover-to-cover a book called, A Moveable Marriage by Robin Pascoe.  She has other titles about expatriation as a couple and family at http://www.expatexpert.com.  I cannot express enough what an empathetic and practical resource she is for not only validating the negative emotions that can (if not inevitably) arise in the face of sacrificing one’s own career and other priorities for the person they love, but also addressing how to proactively and constructively convert them into positive ones by working as a team.

Beyond books, you might also look into what support the employer offers its transferring employees’ families (be proactive about asking, though!  They might not be forthcoming) as well as enrolling the services of a life/empowerment coach like Impetus Coaching.

If I could tack on a #11 to this list, my top recommendation for Americans moving to London is to be open-minded. Don’t expect the UK to be exactly like home; instead, respect its ways know that you can learn from them, just as the locals here can learn from you, too. To maintain this positive sort of engagement with your new surroundings, you have to be positive yourself and take the trade-offs in stride—you’ll soon recognize that what you’re gaining in exchange for what you lose is an invaluable experience that you’ll carry with you for a lifetime.

For more logistical and cultural advice on London, feel free to visit London Relocation Ltd.’s blog at http://www.londonrelocationservices.com/blog.

Comments

  1. avatar says

    This was great info, especially as the logistics of relocating can seem overwhelming. Just one thing I wanted to offer a different take on was #2: Cost of Housing. My budget was about £260 p/w, and I found plenty of studios and small 1br apartments in Zones 1 and 2. My nice studio in St. John’s Wood is £260, but I visited decent one bedrooms in Earl’s Court and Notting Hill for £250. While the pickings are certainly slimmer under £300 p/w, they do exist, and in nice neighborhoods too. They just tend to fly off the shelf, so if you’ve found one, you’ve got to jump on it ASAP!

  2. avatar says

    PS: I restricted my search to West, Southwest, and Northwest London. If you go East or South (Old Street, Bethnal Green, Waterloo, Clapham, etc…) you can *certainly* find studios and one bedrooms for under £300 p/w.

  3. avatarLisa says

    I couldn’t agree more with your #11, being positive and open minded is the key to thriving in your new life in the UK. Up here in the North East it is very difficult to come by Americans, certainly much more difficult than down South. I found by really plunging myself into community activities (I joined a couple choirs, volunteer at the local radio station) I quickly established myself as a member of the community and my life here is incredibly fulfilling. Moving here as a spouse and not knowing a soul was so difficult, but I’ve now met some of the best friends I could ask for and I feel a strong link to my local community.

    I’ve met a handful of Americans up here who have really struggled and are downright miserable, and it has a lot to do with negativity and expectations not being met.

  4. avatar says

    Useful info indeed. London belongs to my top favorite cities but I never really realized living there could be this expensive. I recently read how much (if compared to even the most expensive Canadian cities) parking in London costs and it is kind of insane. Oh, and by the way, how comes so many people tend to forget about visa?

  5. avatar says

    Hello, everyone! Thanks for contributing awesome comments so far!

    Karen – I’m glad you touched on that, as there are indeed studios/1-bedrooms out there for under £300, as your experience attests. I’m just running with the average that maximizes options and guarantees quality/safety, which is not to say, obviously, that hard work and patience won’t unearth all of the above within a lower budget than that. So fear not, folks, if you have to keep it under £300/week–you may have your work more cut out for you in central areas, but Karen is a stellar example, living in one of London’s most gorgeous areas that offers an optimal lifestyle–nice work, girl!

    Lisa – Props to you for being proactive and getting involved the way you have–sounds like you keep yourself busy with some really cool activities! It’s as they say, you get out of it what you put into it. I personally grappled with a negative first few months, but came to realize that mind over matter speaks volumes, and the enrichment and friendships I gained as a result of shifting that mindset have been so worth it.

    Elli – Yeah, I must say I’m glad not to have a car here, between parking and the car tax. We even had to pay for a temporary permit for the moving truck to park on our street (um, well…we didn’t know that at the time, so we didn’t pay for one, and the movers got a parking ticket!). As for the visas, no idea. I don’t know if people have travelled here and get lulled into thinking they can move over just as easily as well…you can stay up to 6 months as a visitor, but would still need a permit to work. I reckon in most cases it’s people first entertaining the thought, the excitement and adventure of it, without having really thought it through–that reality stuff can squash the dream of it, after all :)

  6. avatarDenver Lady says

    My company allows me to work from home – wherever “home” is and I’d love to spend time in London. But how do I learn what neighborhoods are best for pedestrians and transportation? I don’t want to bring a car or buy one. I just want to experience the city for 3-12 months. Should I shoot for a Tier 1 visa? What is the best source for learning about paying taxes in America while living abroad? Banking? Medical?

    • avatar says

      Hello –

      You’re best bet is to plan on living in central London in the Zone 1 Tube area – you certainly won’t need a car there. Shoot for a Tier 1 visa as that will allow you to work for whomever you want (including yourself). As far as taxes go – the simple answer is you still have to file your taxes but you get various credits for living abroad. You’ll be able to bank locally and have access to the NHS.

      The folks at London Relocation will be able to answer any questions you have and help you find somewhere to live: http://bit.ly/9Nx8bB

      Good luck!

      Cheers,
      Jonathan
      Anglotopia.net

  7. avatarSRon says

    Good article, we have seen way too many expats show up in London with some romanticised idea of how their life will play out. Most often they were spoiled in America, or you could say, we Londoner’s have it harder.

    Basically, in London, don’t expect good quality of service, be ready to pay more for everything, no space anywhere, and daily things can be terribly inconvenient to accomplish.

    Most people are here because of their jobs and its pay, that’s it.

    • avatarColleen says

      A belated thank you for your comment, SRon! You sum it up very well. Differences in service standards and convenience definitely smack an expat in the face on first moving over. And it still crops up time to time, though in the years I’ve lived in London, I think I’ve finally adapted…which doesn’t make me any less a kid in the candy store when I visit home and can find everything I need in a mega huge superstore. ;) It’s almost overstimulating sometimes…and, yes, I’d agree with you – rather spoiled.

      Expat communities can be very transient here given the large numbers who do only come here for work. Turnover stays high as work assignments end or transfer staff back home or elsewhere. Yet then there’s the percentage who originally said they’d only live here a couple years and, before they it, it becomes ten! I hear that story a lot. My own “two years” is already four without a certain end point as yet because we’ve grown to love the UK and the experiences it offers so much. But it doesn’t come without trade-offs (I miss my family like crazy), so we’re constantly negotiating that…

      Cheers,

      Colleen

  8. avatarDenise says

    So i guess there is no chance of my just moving over there to retire then……Now i am very sad indeed…….

    • avatarColleen says

      Oh no, Denise! I’m so sorry to have left you hanging on such a sour note! :(

      From my understanding, there used to be a retirement visa that allowed those of independent means to retire in the UK. It was contingent on finances and such, but in recent years the UK government has really clamped down. The Tier 1 visa I’d originally written about in this post is effectively eliminated, so now professionals really must rely on corporate sponsorship. And I don’t see where the Tier system allows for non-working visas for retirees. In austere times, however, that is how this government reacts – closes its borders (relatively) to work on rebuilding from the inside. It isn’t to say that perhaps in future years this could relax again and open to those who can prove their merit and self-sufficiency. Time will tell, but we’ll keep fingers crossed…

      Cheers,

      Colleen

  9. avatarMichelle says

    I have a Bachelors of Science Degree from the U.S., however I want to teach Drama and British Literature when I move to London in 2013. How can I find ample employment before I move there and will I be able to use my American deegree in England?

    • avatarColleen says

      Hello, Michelle! So sorry for the delayed response. I haven’t posted to this blog in quite some time, so have neglected to check back for comments.

      In answer to your question – to the best of my ability – first thing to know in the event you have teaching qualification in the States and would like to transfer that to the UK is that you CAN teach here with relevant training/background from your home country, but only for a few years without UK Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). There’s normally a process for achieving this; however, as of spring 2012, Americans, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders automatically qualify, pending completion of an application and letter from your applicable department of education. More info is here: http://www.education.gov.uk/get-into-teaching/teacher-training-options/experienced-teachers/australia-canada-nz-usa.aspx

      As for finding teaching jobs in advance, one recommended job site is Eteach: http://www.eteach.com/

      There are also a slew of teaching agencies that operate like recruiters/temp agencies. If you register with them, they will find you teaching jobs, be it short-term (by day/week/etc.) or full-time. Some over a time will even offer guaranteed placement, where if you’ve made yourself available to teach one day but they have no work for you, they pay you anyway. It usually requires a period of consistent, proven service to them to receive this benefit. In any case, it’s a great concept that we didn’t have in Illinois, where I used to teach high school English. These are predominantly focused on primary and secondary schools, but I’m sure some would represent specialist schools as well. Just try Googling “teaching agency” or “teaching recruiters” along with “drama” and “theatre” to see what results. For example: http://www.agencycentral.co.uk/agencysearch/education/skills/secondary/dramateacher.htm

      Hope this is of any help! Good luck in your planning!

  10. avatarMichelle says

    Also, how can I establish credit in England “before” I move there? I want to rent decent cottage when I arrive. I’m trying to pre-plan as much as possible.

    Thank you for your knowledge on this website. I love it and reference it every day as I plan.

    • avatarColleen says

      Hello again, Michelle!

      Hm, that’s a tough one. So much here is contingent on getting that UK address first – which is maddeningly circular when you need credit or a UK bank account to get your UK address! In my personal experience, it did take some time on the ground here to eventually qualify for a credit card. However, if you’re able to set up your banking in advance of your move and at least obtain your debit card, that should count for something. Getting the account is often a tough hurdle because of the aforementioned circular relationship; London Relocation, for instance, has a special relationship with Barclays that allows our clients to set up their UK account prior to or same-day as finding a property so that it’s up and running for getting an offer accepted and signing the lease. Securing any property, then, is never an issue. However, if going about it on your own, might I recommend looking into an HSBC Passport account, which does not require a permanent UK address prior to application but IS contingent on an “intention to move” to the UK within three months if you haven’t done so already. More info on that is here: http://www.hsbc.co.uk/1/2/current-accounts/uk-bank-account

  11. avatarEricS says

    Hello – Does anyone have experience with the cost of living adjustment s(COLA) from Washington, DC to London? I’ve heard the rule of thumb is to expect 10% higher in London. Thanks!

    • avatarColleen says

      So true, Mario! I could almost cry when I see how much more I could buy in Chicago for the money I pay in rent here. It definitely comes down to swapping the space and “stuff” for all the amazing experiences London offers. Housing is the real kicker in that respect; otherwise, I do find day-to-day expenses to be relatively the same as in US cities so long as earning and spending GBP. When having to convert USD to GBP…ouch.

      Cheers,

      Colleen

  12. avatar says

    Try to seal food and drinks in airtight containers,
    and take your pet’s food away when not being eaten, as this will also attract insects and rats and mice. To top that deal, you also are free to choose from between thirty or so muffins working every night in your post code. Meeting London singles is not hard as search, and you can only start moving higher up in your relationship if you can meet the singles who make you feel good.