How can you move to England from the USA? Here’s exactly what you need to know.
The two types of legal resident status for American citizens who want to live in England are:
- As a temporary resident
- As a permanent resident with indefinite leave to remain or citizenship.
1. Move to England as a Temporary Resident
American citizens can live in the UK up to 6 months without a visa. If you want to visit more frequently you can apply for a 2, 5 or 10 year Standard Visitor Visa. This allows you to stay for up to 6 months at a time for the duration of your visa.
If you’re coming to work, study, get medical treatment, get married or on official business, you can apply for a specific visa.
Can you work in the UK without a visa?
- Not unless you have a specific visa which allows you to work
Can you study in the UK without a visa?
- Yes for up to 6 months. A study visa is required for 6 months or longer
2. Move to England as a Permanent Resident
To become a permanent resident of the UK you must have “Right of Abode” giving you the right to live and work without restrictions.
A British citizen has Right of Abode.
You may be eligible for British citizenship :
- if you were born in England (as I was)
- moved to England
- married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen
- have a British parent
- if you have indefinite leave to remain
If you want to live in England permanently but you don’t have citizenship, you’ll need to apply for “indefinite leave to remain”. Find out if you qualify.
How to Move to England from USA
As an American citizen you can travel, study and live in England for up to 6 months at a time. You can’t work in England without a work visa, so keep that in mind if you need an income to pay bills and expenses.
If you plan on returning to England often, I’d advise to start with the Standard Visitor visa.
Have a British connection through family? You may have a quicker path to ILR (indefinite leave to remain) in England.
Just for clarity, the UK stands for the United Kingdom which is made up of England, Scotland, Wales (collectively known as Great Britain) plus Northern Ireland. To make it more confusing, Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom. Living and working guidelines can be quite different between countries in the UK so double check if you’re headed to Scotland, N Ireland or Wales. These guidelines are specifically for England.
Renting Your First Home in England
Be aware of Right to Rent laws. You must have proof you have a legal right or the Right of Abode in the UK before a real estate agency will rent to you. If you’re only legally able to stay 6 months at a time, estate agents won’t let you sign a 1 year lease agreement. Be prepared for them turning you down even to rent for 6 months!
I know it’s a stinker. You may find a private landlord who will, but don’t count on it. Landlords and estate agents can get in trouble if they bypass this law.
Expect to pay from $800. -1200. rent for a one bedroom apartment outside London. The closer the commute to London, the higher the rent goes. Much higher.
If you’re eligible to sign a lease or letting agreement, expect to pay Council tax in addition to your monthly rent. This varies from $100.-150. additional per month. Think of it like property tax that pays for local services. If you’re living alone, ask for the Single discount. You’ll pay by direct debit to the local council (town). I go into more detail on what you need to know here.
TIP: If you don’t have “right to rent” in England, you can still try renting month to month through Airbnb. Also look at local sites like Gumtree, Open Rent or Google “short term lets in “your town”.
Utilities and Phones in England
In addition to your rent and council tax, you’ll pay the normal utilities. Most utilities including broadband (internet), gas and electric are billed by direct debit from your British checking account.
Be prepared to read your own gas and electricity meter, so it helps to know where they’re located if you’re responsible for paying them.
A local phone number is very handy to have and not expensive. You can pick up a cheap phone with a rolling month to month SIM only plan for as little as $10. per month. Almost all deliveries and appointment reminders are sent by text in England.
TIP: Use your US cellphone with data roaming if you have a plan. Check with your provider before you leave the US and make sure your data plan includes use in the UK. I use T Mobile but plans change all the time. Use Whatsapp to make free international calls and texts. Longer term, you’ll want to get a local SIM card and phone. I use one phone for US and one for UK.
Banking in England
You’ll need proof of address before you can open a English bank account. If you have a short term rental or temporary address it’s OK to use it. A bank account and debit card lets you schedule your England based bills through direct debit from your account. The UK is ahead of the US in banking and it’s common to set up regular payments like rent from your checking account via a “standing order”.
Your US credit card should work for most store purchases. As all CC transactions in the UK are done through chip and pin, add your card to Apple Wallet to make payments up to £30-45 anywhere including restaurants, bars and shops. I love it, you just tap and go without having to sign.
TIP: Make sure the US credit card you take does not charge Foreign Transaction Fees as these will quickly add up. Check your banks fee for ATM withdrawals, mine charges $5. so I make one large withdrawal at a time. Ask your US bank to up your daily withdrawal limit if you need it. Use your US debit card at the ATM to pull out cash in local currency (pounds). Google “pound to dollar” rate to find out what the conversion rate is. In 2020, the exhange rate for the pound has varied between 1.18 to 1.30 US dollars.
Getting Around England
It’s entirely possible to live in the UK without a car if you choose to. Most towns and cities have regular bus service. The most desirable towns have a train station too. It’s really not that difficult to use buses, trains and taxis to get almost anywhere you need to go. They don’t have the social stigma they do in the US, however smaller towns or country locations may have limited service.
Use bustimes.org to get bus schedules or try Google maps. Put in your destination, directions and then choose the Public Transportation option. It should spit up a list of bus and or train times to get you there.
TIP: If you really need to rent a car, sign up for a hourly rental company like Co-Wheels. Using your US driving license, you’ll rent a hybrid Toyota for about $7. an hour which includes fuel and insurance but not mileage. It takes a while to get used to driving on the “wrong” side but it’s doable! The roundabouts and GPS (Satnav) help.
Moving Personal Possessions to England
When you’re moving personal items to Britain, use up as much of your baggage allowance on your flight as you can. It’s cheaper to pay for extra bags than it is to ship them separately. Consider leaving behind items that are easily replaceable. Rent a storage space in the US or leave irreplaceable possessions with a friend until you decide if your move to the UK will be permanent.
HMRC (UK customs) gives you one year to move your personal goods over to the UK without paying customs or VAT taxes on them. Unfortunately I missed the deadline due to COVID, but I plan to ship my stuff via UPakWeShip.
TIP: US electronics are so much cheaper that it pays to ship or bring them with you. If it costs over $100. buy it in the US, bring it with you, especially if it’s dual voltage. You’ll just need a US to UK plug adapter to charge dual voltage items. If it isn’t dual voltage, plan on buying it here.
What to Consider Before Moving to England from USA
Before you decide you want to move to Britain permanently, come and visit for several months. Get a feel for which part of the country works best for you. The US can have vastly different culture state to state and so does England. It’s counties and regions can be dramatically different from one another.
The English climate can change considerably from south to north although you won’t find any sunbelts! Rain tends to sweep in from the Atlantic over Ireland and the west of England. By the time it reaches the east the drenching eases up. Unless of course you get a northerly flow off the North Sea blowing east to west and then bundle up!
Typically the south coast of England gets the most sunshine and enjoys the warmest temps. It’s not unusual to see palm trees from Cornwall all the way to Brighton. But don’t be under any illusions about the weather. It’s notoriously fickle and gray, so be prepared.
Use the National Rail network to explore different parts of the country. Stay in the UK long enough to understand how the differences in culture affect you. Nowhere is perfect, but if you have a sense of humor, love dogs and walks in the countryside or exploring delightful historic towns and culture, then England might be just right for you.
When you’re ready to start planning your move to the UK, using this checklist can help put it all together.