Is moving to England the next step for you? Here’s what to expect when you get here!
Those who follow me know I’m inspired by living in here in England. While it’s been an adjustment to living an American lifestyle, the move to England is proving to be the lifestyle change I was looking for.
Is England different from the US? Yes, no question about it! I’ve written about the transitions Americans can expect, but anyone seeking a move to the UK will find my advice helpful.
As the famous quote goes, the US and UK are ” two countries separated by a common language”. The similarities to American culture does help to make the transition easier for English speakers, but “English” with it’s regional accents and native expressions will still be a learning curve.
Differences in culture can feel overwhelming, but aren’t those differences why you’re moving?
If you’re seeking a better quality of life you’ll find it here. A better work life balance, personal safety and health care for all is a start. You can explore your ancestry and the infinite historical and cultural advantages of living where civilization has been flourishing for hundreds of years. Or perhaps you just like British “telly”!
WATCH: How it’s Different for Americans in the UK
What to Expect When Moving to England:
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 did you know that a “boot” isn’t something you wear, it’s the trunk of your car?
I’ve found Brits to be very tolerant of other languages, cultures and attitudes and open to hearing your opinions, although they’ll likely correct you if you mispronounce a name. You may have to initiate a conversation, but they’ll happily engage once you start. 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 in England
Housing is generally as expensive as the US, however keep in mind conversion costs. For example with the current dollar to pound exchange rate, it can take an average of $1.28 to buy one British pound.
London isn’t the costliest place to live in the UK and not as expensive as NYC. New York is #14 to London’s #18 on this list of most expensive cities to live in.
As a US citizen, be prepared to bring cash if you choose to buy a home. If you’re eligible, a mortgage may be obtained if you’ve resided in the UK for at least 2 years, have permanent residence status, a UK job and bank account.
Average UK house price in 2022 is £292,000. ( $379,600. at an exchange rate of $1.30) UK House Price Index
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 UK monthly rental cost in 2022 is £1091. per month ($1420. at exchange rate of $1.30)
Expect to pay typical utilities such as gas/electric, phone and internet.
In addition, both owners and renters are expected to pay council tax (a type of property tax paid by the occupant). Council tax pays for schools, rubbish collection, roads and street lighting. The rate depends on the “band” you live in (A-D) with A being cheapest and whether the occupancy is single or multiple. If you live alone you’re entitled to ask for the “single” deduction.
To watch 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.
Freeview is a widely available cable option. 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. If you’re connecting your smart TV to an internet (broadband) connection, you’ll have access to additional services and channels.
Electricity is 220V (compared to 110V in the US) so a lot more voltage. Expect your appliances to have plugs with three large prongs. UK outlets have switches to turn power off and on to the plug. 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 that high voltage and water don’t mix!
You’ll need a converter or plug adapter 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 Boots or you can find them on Amazon. US electronics are cheaper but unless your device is dual voltage you’ll want to buy a UK version for convenience.
Mobile Cell Phone
To use your US cell phone in the UK, one option is to purchase a local 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 (especially T-Mobile).
Alternatively you should be able to use your US cell plan while in the UK for WiFi and data. Calls home to the US can be expensive, so I suggest getting Whatsapp to call and text for free.
If you don’t convert your US phone with a local SIM card, I recommend buying a cheap UK phone at any provider like Vodafone or EE as it’s very useful to have a local number for calls and texts. Sign up for a “pay as you go” or month to month SIM plan. I recommend a month to month plan that rolls over each month. You’ll need a UK debit card to set this up. Its common for most businesses you interact with to 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 1.28 to US $1.00. To check daily rates, Google “pound to dollar”. Timing your withdrawals of cash from your US account when the exchange rate is favorable to the dollar is a smart move.
With very few exceptions, prices are quoted with VAT or Value Added Tax (if applicable) included. There is no other additional tax. Which means, what you see is what you pay.
The cost to eat out and 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.
Now that the UK is out of the EU common market, the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is making noises about going back to the Imperial system of weights and measurements. Let’s hope that comes to pass!
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. Ask to have it increased at your local branch before you travel to the UK. 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 now contactless up to £100. per transaction as a result of the pandemic.
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 in the UK 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 an overview of Spousal and Partner visa options for US citizens.
Now that Brexit is approved, travel between Europe and the UK has changed. Brexit won’t affect US citizens but if you’re moving to or from Europe, check out the home office website which 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 (the 20% VAT on most purchases and services) subsidizes health care for everyone. 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!
Looking for a tailor made trip or a guide to living in England?
Shipping Your Belongings to England
Deciding what to bring with you comes down to your 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 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.
See more information about shipping and moving personal possessions to the UK.
Moving to Britain First Steps
I recommend planning at least one reconnaissance trip before you take the plunge. Staying in a furnished flat or home gives the feel of a neighborhood and town better than a hotel. Airbnb and other short term stay websites like Homeaway are your best options. By shopping at local stores and learning how public transportation works you’ll get a better feel for what it’s like to be a local not a tourist.
If an employment opportunity is the reason for your move, your home search naturally will fall within commuting distance of your new job. If your job is based in London, research carefully before you commit to a long commute!
Moving to Britain to retire may be right for you. You’ll have a lot more flexibility on your home search. I chose to live in the south east of England, an area with warmer temperatures and more sunshine.
Flights to the US typically leave from either Heathrow or Gatwick airport which are both within a hour or so of London. I’ve found that living within a reasonable distance to your favorite airport eases the strain of transatlantic travel. For more options to get from either Gatwick or Heathrow into London try these.
Once you’ve decided you’re moving to Britain, embrace living like a local and make the most of this new exciting chapter in your life. 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 never want to leave.
Ready to relocate? My moving abroad checklist can help you get started.