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.
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 â€œhighly skilled migrants.â€ 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 youâ€”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)â€”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).
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 thenâ€¦* drumroll, please *â€¦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 busesâ€”the Transport For London website is an exhaustive resource for planning and funding your journeys.
Overall, London is quite pet-friendlyâ€”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:
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 inâ€”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 strideâ€”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.