Dispatches from England: Three Things You Need to Memorize When You Move to the UK

Carylon Beach 2

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since my family moved to England (we arrived June 1, 2013… or 1 June 2013 to my British readers!) So much about our first few weeks here were such a blur. Everything was new, we had so much to learn, and yet it was all so very exciting. And it still is exciting!

Upon arriving, I quickly realized there were a few numbers that I needed to memorize because I’d be asked for them all the time. If you’re planning (or dreaming of) a similar move across the pond, here’s what you should commit to memory first:

Your postal code.

Unlike the U.S., where the same zip code is used for an entire town or a large portion of a city, in the UK your postal code practically pinpoints your specific home. Therefore, you’ll be asked for it often. Giving someone directions to your house? All they need is a GPS (or SatNav) and your postal code, and it’ll take them almost to your door.

I actually keep an entire note on my cell phone with a list of helpful postcodes. Places we like to visit but don’t travel to often enough to memorize exactly how to get there without our SatNav. Friends’ houses. Restaurant recommendations. And more. I also frequently use postal codes on Google Maps to determine the drive time when planning a road trip. If you’re planning some upcoming travel to the UK, it’s helpful to know postcodes of all the places you want to visit, hotels, restaurants, etc.

This probably seems very basic to UK residents, but to Americans who rarely use zip codes unless they’re addressing an envelope, it’s a foreign concept (no pun intended!).

Your license plate number.

Called a number plate here, you’ll sometimes be asked for this by a place of business when using their car park. Because car parking is much more limited (and therefore, often more tightly controlled), occasionally I’m asked for this information. I know some Americans know their license plate number by heart, but I never did. Even now, when I’m asked for it much more frequently, I still have to rack my brain to remember the letter and number combination.

Your Mobile (cell phone) number and home number.

This one is very obvious. But when I arrived, I was a bit overwhelmed to memorize two long and brand new numbers. In the U.S., I was so used to my area code, that at least that portion of my phone number was always easy to remember. Here, I suddenly had two 11-number sequences to learn. And when you first move anywhere, regardless of country, you fill out endless forms and paperwork. All of which ask for these numbers. I was somewhat embarrassed those first few weeks to have to look down at my phone to pull up its number each time I was asked for it. Who doesn’t know their own phone number, after all?

If you are curious as to what the first few weeks living in the UK are like for an American family, you might enjoy this post I wrote 2 weeks after we arrived. I frankly can’t believe I had the energy to sit down and write it!


  1. avatarValerie says

    True. True. Since moving to London in November of 2012 I have postal codes completely memorized…work and home. I don’t have a car, so that’s not too bad. And, no landline so it’s just the phone number, which luckily I picked last four digits that I knew I would always remember!

  2. avatar says

    How did u come to move to England? R u rich? Do u work for a company in the US that has fello companies in the UK? I want to move to Ireland but need so much if I do. Just wondering how others do and can?

  3. avatar says

    It sounds awsome.esp.the weather.theonly thing I wonder about is why are the market retail prices so much higher than her in the Us?Seems like a lot.I would love to live there awahild but my whole family is here.

  4. avatarJohn Evans says

    UK postcodes started off (in the early 1970s I think) just as a means of routing mail to the correct addresses. The UK Post Office were early adopters of optical character recognition equipment for sorting machines that would automatically scan letters for the postcode and route them to the correct destinations. However, the PO soon realised that they could sell the postcode database to commercial organisations – for sending out junk mail amongst other uses.

    These days most organisations that deal with the public have a postcode database, including web-based shopping sites like Amazon.co.uk. When they want your address they just ask you to give, or key-in, your postcode and house number and up pops your full address, say for printing the address label that goes on the parcel. Insurance companies also use your post code to determine your level of risk for car or household insurance.
    And of course, now Google maps, Bing maps and Sat Navs (in-car GPS) can all use postcodes to locate UK destinations.

    We even have a phrase to describe services that are unevenly (and by implication unfairly) distributed across the country: “It’s a postcode lottery!”

  5. avatarDominique says

    Postal codes in Canada work much of the same way!
    But here, each side of a city block will have it’s own postal code, so your code is shared between 5-10 houses or buildings.

    My father is a postman, and the mail gets sorted by postal code before handed to them for address sorting :)

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