UPDATED June 2020
So you decided you’re moving to Britain, awesome! I’m inspired by living in Britain. It’s a big lifestyle change that moves me closer to living the way I want with more accessibility to what’s important to me.
Is England different from the US? Absolutely! At the same time, life in Britain has enough similarities to American culture to make it easier to feel at home, than a country where you don’t know the language. Of course regional accents and native expressions may still throw you, so be prepared for a bit of a learning curve.
You can either feel overwhelmed or you can decide to enjoy the differences. Quality of life, countless historical and cultural jewels plus the opportunity to easily pop over to Europe are some of the many advantages you’ll grow to appreciate like I have.
What to Expect When Moving to Britain:
You will feel as if you’re living in another country. I won’t bother going into all the ways English can seem so incredibly different to what’s spoken in the US, but here’s a guide. For example, a boot isn’t something you wear, it’s your car trunk.
I’ve found Brits to be very tolerant of other languages, cultures and attitudes and open to hearing your opinions. They may not be the first ones to strike up a conversation, but they’ll happily engage in one if you start it. I’ve found they’re endlessly curious about American culture and yes even politics. What isn’t easily forgiven is a lack of humor!
Housing is generally as expensive as the US. There are bargains and then there is London! But comparing most expensive cities to live in, New York ranks as more expensive this year at #9 with London at #24 .
If you’re American, be prepared to bring cash if you want to buy a home. If you’re eligible, a mortgage may be obtained if you’ve resided in the UK for 2 years, have permanent residence status, a UK job and a UK bank account.
Average purchase cost in October 2019 is £232,944. or $305,143 at an exchange rate of 1.31. Prices have dropped slightly since 2017.
If you’re planning on renting, the “right to rent” laws recently enacted may be problematic. You must prove you have a legal right to be in the country. US passport holders are entitled to a 6 month stay. However most letting or rental agencies are deputized to make sure you have the right to rent longer if you’re signing a lease. The alternative is to rent a property privately or a short term rental until you can show right of residency.
Average monthly rental cost in Q3 of 2019 is £967. per month (£1694. per month in London) Rental prices have dropped sightly in London but increased on average since 2017.
Expect to pay typical utilities such as gas/electric, phone, internet. If you’re renting you’re expected to pay council tax depending on the band (neighborhood) you live in and whether it will be single or multiple occupancy. Council tax pays for schools, rubbish collection, roads and street lighting. It’s like property tax in the US, except everyone pays it here even if you’re not the property owner. If you’re living alone make sure you ask for the single deduction.
To receive BBC channels or live TV, you’ll be expected to pay for a TV license. The TV license is about £147. per year and payable yearly or installments. You may get a letter in the mail asking you to sign up.
Freeview is widely available. If your property has an aerial TV connection, you can plug your TV into it and receive live channels at no cost. There’s also a Freeview Pay option. Just as in the US, you have other pay channels to choose from if you’re connecting your smart TV with your internet (broadband) connection. I pay £29.99 per month for fibre broadband.
Electricity is 220V (vs 110V in the US). Expect your appliances to have plugs with three large prongs. Most UK outlets have switches to turn power off and on to the plug for this reason. If you don’t have power to your appliance check the switch is turned on. You won’t find an outlet (other than for a shaver) in UK bathrooms for the same reason. High voltage and water don’t mix!
Bring a converter to use your US appliances in the UK. Typically computers, laptops, tablets and cell phones are set up to run on either voltage so you will just need an adapter (not converter) to plug your two prong appliance into UK three prong outlets. I’ve found a US to UK adapter at the local Boot’s or you can find them on Amazon. If you’re planning on a long UK stay, you may want to buy UK appliances.
If you want to use your US cell phone in the UK, you can purchase a SIM card once you get to the UK. A SIM card gives you a UK number and renders the US number attached to your phone inactive. Most mobile companies in the UK offer SIMs on a pay-as-you-go basis or month to month contract. Your US phone must be unlocked to do this. If you’re on a contract, it’s likely to be locked. Check with your provider before you leave the US.
You should be able to use your US cell plan for up to 3 months on some US mobile plans (check T-Mobile). Calling home to the US can be expensive, but texts are included as well as data – up to 2G per month on T-Mobile. Currently my calls are charged at .25 per minute. Again check your US cell provider to see what they offer. At time of writing, T-Mobile was the only US mobile company to offer affordable usage abroad through their One Plan.
Alternatively you can buy a cheap UK phone at any provider such as Vodafone. It’s very useful to have a local UK number for calling. Once you purchase the phone you can sign up for a pay as you go or month to month plan. I recommend a month to month plan that rolls over each month. You’ll need a UK debit card to set this up. Every business you interact with will ask for a phone number. I’ve had follow up texts from HM Passport office as well as the local butcher!
Cost of Living
My unscientific approach is this. Expect to pay a pound for what you’re used to paying a dollar for. In other words about a third more. Currently the pound is 1.30 to US 1.00. To check daily rates, google “pound to dollar”.
Most prices are quoted with VAT or Value Added Tax (if applicable) included. Which means, what you see is what you pay. You don’t pay additional tax on top of the price quoted whether on a menu or price tag.
As in the US, the cost to eat out as well as other costs of living will vary widely according to regions, with London and the southeast taking the biggest chunk out of your wallet. The current economy in Great Britain mirrors that of the US. Costs of living are moving up, unemployment is staying low and housing is taking a bigger chunk out of the middle income household budget.
Unless you’re a British citizen you won’t be able to work unless you have an offer of employment from a UK employer and pursue the relevant work permit. If you’re married to a UK citizen and obtain a Spouse visa you’ll be allowed to work. Check out other visa options that will enable you to get a job.
The metric system is used in the UK and Europe. If you’re used to the US imperial system it’s a little tricky to get used to depending on how mathematical you are. Use Google to make the conversions or try an IOS or Android app to do it for you.
Once you get to Britain, you can withdraw money from your US bank account indefinitely using your US debit card. The daily limit is set by your US bank and you can ask to have it increased but you’ll have to do it in person. Most US banks charge a fee for withdrawals so it makes sense to make it worthwhile. Wells Fargo charges me $5.
In order to set up a British banking account you’ll need one or more of the following: proof of residence (if renting, a tenancy or lease agreement from a reputable letting agency), proof of a utilities account in your name (gas or electric), proof of registering with a local GP or British citizenship. Most British bank debit cards are contactless up to £30. per transaction.
British banks have a few features we’re not used to in the US. You can set up regular payments to businesses or individuals as a “standing order” by setting the amount, dates and payee directly from your online account. Keep in mind Uncle Sam wants to know where your money goes. Check the maximum you can transfer or take out of the country before you act.
US citizens don’t need an entry Visa, and can stay for up to 6 months at a time. You’re not allowed to look for work or take a job and you may have to prove you have the funds to support yourself while you’re in the UK. The path to finding the correct visa requires time and research. Check out the official website and here for an overview of Visa options for US citizens.
Now that Brexit is approved, 2020 will be a transition year for travel between Europe and the UK. Brexit won’t affect US citizens but if you’re moving from Europe, check out the home office website. To understand what your options are the home office is the best up to date resource.
You’ve heard of the NHS or National Health System. It’s Britain’s answer to affordable health care. Basically general taxation (VAT) subsidizes health care so everyone has equal access. Even if you’re not a resident you have free access to emergency hospital care. Learn more about eligibility requirements. If you’re “ordinarily resident” through citizenship or visa status, you won’t be charged for any NHS treatment.
You’ll be glad to know if you live in Britain you can expect a higher life expectancy and your quality of health care vs cost is 74% better than if you live in the US!
Moving to Britain
Deciding what to bring with you comes down to budget. Shipping individual boxes is prohibitively expensive. If your employer is paying or giving you an allowance by all means ship your household and personal stuff. Plan B is to be ruthless about getting rid of what you don’t need before packing. Have a budget to replace what you do need once you get to England. Find out more about shipping costs.
Another option is simply use your luggage allowance to move clothing and small personal items when you fly over. Check with your carriers restrictions. I recently paid for an extra bag flying with British Airways. You’re allowed up to 10 extra bags above your free allowance on BA, although it can be expensive. Be sure to make a plan for how you’re going to get to your new home in England with your luggage. Hiring a car service or taxi will be your least stressful option.
Moving to Britain is a Big Step.
Be prepared to plan at least one reconnaissance trip before you take the plunge. I recommend staying in a furnished flat or home so you can get the feel of the neighborhood. Airbnb and other short term stay websites like Homeaway will make the transition easier. You can shop at local stores and learn how public transportation works.
If an employment opportunity is the reason for your move, your home search naturally will fall within commuting distance. If your job is based in London, research carefully before committing to a long commute via public transportation!
Moving to Britain to retire is another option. I chose to live in the south east of England, an area I’m somewhat familiar with.
London is an hour or so away, flights to the US leave from either Heathrow or Gatwick airport. Living less than an hour by train or car from an airport makes traveling back and forth less stressful.
Non stop flights are my choice. Flying is enough hassle without also worrying about delays. Norwegian just started non stop service from Gatwick to Denver in the fall of 2016. We take the train to Gatwick airport and can be there in about 30 minutes without the fuss and hassle of parking. For more options to get from either Gatwick or Heathrow. Unfortunately due to the latest situation, Norwegian Airlines has paused their service until April of 2021.
Whatever part of Britain you decide to move to, try living like a local. Take the train, ride the bus, have a pint in the local pub and read a newspaper. Never mind the weather, it’s not the first reason you move to Britain is it? Embrace life on this enchanted island and you may just fall in love.
If you’re ready to relocate, my moving abroad checklist can help you get started.