If you’re thinking about moving to England from the US here’s what you need to know.
There are two types of legal resident status for American citizens who want to live in the UK.
- As a temporary resident
- As a permanent resident with indefinite leave to remain or citizenship.
1. Living in the UK 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 up to 6 months. A study visa is required for 6 months or longer.
2. Living in the UK 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 the UK
- moved to the UK
- 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 the UK permanently but you don’t have citizenship, you’ll need to apply for “indefinite leave to remain”. Find out if you qualify .
First 6 Months: What You Need to Know to Live in the UK
As an American citizen you can travel, study and live in the UK for up to 6 months at a time. You can’t work in the UK without a work visa, so keep that in mind if you’ll be relying on an income to pay bills.
Just for clarity, the UK stands for the United Kingdom which is made up of England, Scotland, Wales (Great Britain) and 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. These guidelines are specifically for England.
Renting Your First Home in the UK
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).
OPTIONS: If you don’t have “right to rent” in the UK, you can still try renting month to month through Airbnb. Also look at local sites like Gumtree, Open Rent or try googling short term lets in “your town”.
UK Utilities and Phone
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 UK checking account.
Be prepared to read your own gas and electricity meter! It helps to know where they’re located if you’re responsible for paying them.
A local UK 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. Deliveries and appointments are all scheduled by text.
OPTIONS: Use your US cellphone with data roaming on 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 check out these options as plans change all the time. Use Whatsapp to make free international calls and texts.
Banking in the UK
You’ll need proof of address before you can open a UK bank account. If you have a short term rental or temporary address it’s OK to use it. A UK bank account and debit card gives you the option of scheduling UK bills and direct debits. One handy trick in the UK. You can 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 to make payments up to £30-45 anywhere including restaurants, bars and shops. I love it, you just tap and go.
OPTIONS: Make sure your US credit card does not charge Foreign Transaction Fees as these will quickly add up. Also check on your banks fee for ATM withdrawals. Mine charges $5. for each withdrawal so I try to make it count. Use your US debit card at the ATM and pull out cash or pounds at the best conversion rate. Google “pound to dollar” rate. In 2020, the exhange rate for the pound has varied between 1.18 to 1.30 US dollars.
Getting Around the UK
It’s entirely possible to live in the UK without a car if you choose to. If you live near a town or city, most 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.
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.
OPTIONS: If you decide 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. It takes a while to get used to driving on the “wrong” side but it’s doable! The roundabouts and GPS (Satnav) help.
Moving to the UK
When you’re moving personal items to the UK, 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.
OPTIONS: 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 and bring it with you. Especially if its dual voltage.
Planning Your Move to the UK
Before you decide you want to move to the UK permanently, come and visit for several months. Get a feel for which part of the country works best for you. Just as the US has different cultures state to state, England is made up of counties and regions which 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 you get a northerly flow off the North Sea and then bundle up!
Typically the southern coast of England gets the most sunshine and the warmest temps. It’s not unusual to see palm trees from Cornwall all the way to Brighton.
Find a short term rental or stay with relatives or friends. 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.