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 or
- 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
UPDATED: Effective June 2022 the UK government is launching a High Potential Visa which allows those holding a bachelors or masters degree from select universities to apply for a two year work visa regardless of their birth country. Holding a PhD extends the visa to 3 years. Candidate’s families will also be permitted. Once this visa expires, long term employment visas will be available. US institutions top the list; so graduates of MIT, Princeton, Stanford, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Berkeley or New York University among others are eligible. Expect to pay £715 ($925.) for the visa which is also subject to the immigration health surcharge (pays for NHS services).
Guide to Living in England for 6 Months
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 if you rely on income to pay bills and expenses, keep that in mind.
If you plan to return to England often, I’d advise starting with the Standard Visitor visa.
Have a British connection through family? You may have a quicker path to Indefinite Leave to Remain in England.
Join the Facebook group Americans in the United Kingdom, a helpful expat group
What countries are in the United Kingdom?
Just for clarity, the UK stands for the United Kingdom which includes England, Scotland, Wales (collectively known as Great Britain) plus Northern Ireland.
To make it more confusing, Ireland (southern Ireland) is NOT part of the United Kingdom but is still part of the EU. If your flight lands in Dublin, that’s Ireland. Belfast is in Northern Ireland.
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. My guidelines are written specifically for England.
Ready to make a move?: Move Abroad Checklist
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 to be turned down to rent for 6 months also.
I know it’s a stinker. You may find a private landlord who will rent to you but don’t count on it. Landlords and estate agents can get in trouble if they bypass this law.
Expect to pay from $900. -1300. per month to rent a one bedroom apartment outside London. The closer the location is to commute into London, the higher the rent goes. Much higher.
On a fixed tenancy agreement you may also need to pay 6 weeks rent as a security deposit although some rentals may be advertised as “zero deposit”.
Once you’re eligible to sign a lease or letting agreement, expect to pay Council tax in addition to your monthly rent. This varies but expect to pay $150.-200. additional per month. It’s similar to property tax but is paid by the occupant not the owner of the home. If you live alone, ask for the Single discount. The tax can be set up 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 sites like Airbnb. Also look at local sites like Gumtree, Open Rent or try Googling “short term lets in location”. In my 6 Month Guide to Living in England, you’ll find lists of reputable local rental sites as well as suggested towns to live.
Utilities and Phones in England
In addition to your rent and council tax, you’ll pay the normal utilities including broadband (internet), gas and electric. These are paid by direct debit from your British checking account.
Be prepared to read your own gas and electricity meter, or sign up for a smart meter.
A local phone number is invaluable and doesn’t have to be expensive. 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: Alternative is to use your US cellphone with data roaming if you have an international calling plan. Check with your provider before you leave the US and make sure your data plan includes use in the UK. I’ve used T Mobile but plans change all the time. Or just use Whatsapp to make free international calls and texts. Longer term, you’ll want to get a local SIM card with phone. I’ve used one phone for US and one for UK, but some phones accept dual SIM cards.
Banking in England
You’ll need proof of address before you can open a English bank account. A short term rental or temporary address is OK to get started. A bank account and debit card allows you to schedule your UK based bills through direct debit. In the UK 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, it’s easy to add your card to Apple Wallet. An American CC will trigger a requirement to sign if used at a terminal whereas Apple Wallet doesn’t. I love it, you just tap and go without having to sign.
TIP: Make sure the US credit card you use does NOT charge Foreign Transaction Fees as these 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 think you’ll 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 for the best time to convert dollars to pounds. In 2022, the exchange rate for the pound has varied between 1.23 to 1.34 US.
Getting Around England
It’s entirely possible to live in the UK without a car. Most towns and cities have regular bus service and desirable towns have a train station too. It’s really not that difficult to use buses, trains and taxis to get where you need to go. Public transportation doesn’t have quite the social stigma as it does in the US, especially in cities like London where everyone uses it. Keep in mind smaller towns and villages may not have the same frequency of 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. I use my iPhone with a dashboard phone holder.
Moving Personal Possessions to England
When you’re moving personal items to Britain, I recommend taking advantage of your flights baggage allowance. 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 was able to arrange to ship my stuff via UPakWeShip which worked well.
TIP: Electronics are cheaper in the US than the UK so it pays to ship or bring them with you. For example, if it costs over $100. then I recommend buying it in the US to bring, especially if it’s dual voltage. You’ll need a US to UK plug adapter (not converter) to charge dual voltage items. If it isn’t dual voltage, then plan on buying a replacement here as it’s too much of a hassle to convert.
Plan ahead: Move Abroad Checklist
What to Consider Before Moving to England from USA
Before you decide you want to move to Britain permanently or retire here, come and visit for several months. Get a feel for which part of the country works best for you. Just as the US has vastly different cultures state by state, the same is true for the UK. As a generalization I believe Americans will feel most at home in the south and south east of England.
What you need to know to travel from the US to the UK.
The English climate changes considerably from south to north. Don’t expect a “sunbelt” although the southeast is sunniest. 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 there’s a northerly flow off the North Sea which blows east to west, then bundle up!
Typically the south coast of England gets the most sunshine and enjoys the warmest temps of anywhere in Great Britain and London can be even hotter than you’d think. It’s not unusual to see palm trees growing in Cornwall and all the way up the coast to Brighton. But don’t be under any illusions about the weather. It’s notoriously fickle so be prepared.
I recommend staying in the UK long enough to understand where you’ll fit in best. 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.
Once you’ve sorted out your visa and citizenship status, you’ll be able to enjoy the best of both worlds as I do. The UK and the US are like peanut butter and jam!
Although I’ve written this article specially for my fellow Americans, most advice applies to anyone who wants to relocate to England. Please remember to seek professional legal advice if and when you choose to relocate!