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Moving to London – a Complete Guide for Americans

Posted Country Guides / August 10, 2013

Once the capital of the largest empire in history, the Square Mile is still one of the most important cities in the world, with a population of nearly 9,000,000. Would you like to join them soon? If you are moving to London from the US, you are probably quite excited and can’t wait to see for yourself what makes this popular destination so special.

You have picked a place that proudly stands as the first in many things – it is considered the most desirable, influential, innovative, and powerful city worldwide. Now, who wouldn’t want to make such a city his home, right? There are plenty of opportunities to explore, whether you are looking for a job, high-quality education for your children, or only a highly developed metropolis to call home. Needless to say, opportunities for entertainment are also endless.

All things considered, there is no doubt that this is an excellent choice regardless of what you require and expect – you’ll find it here, that’s for sure. But before you come to this exciting part, it’s necessary to prepare everything required for an international move. Plus, each country has some specifics that you should learn about before you go through with your relocation. To help you with your preparations, we have prepared this handy guide. Let’s see what steps you should take and what to expect when you get to your future address.

Start Planning Your International Move to London Early Enough

Just like with any significant step in life, the crucial thing is to get down to planning and organizing early enough. This is of particular importance when it comes to international relocation. When relocating across the world, there are quite a few matters you should take care of to prepare for the move, and these, of course, take time to deal with.

Since you are about to leave your country, it’s essential to become familiar with various specific legal requirements that you’re supposed to meet so as to make your relocation to the UK possible. For instance, when you are relocating with pets overseas, there is a whole procedure you should be familiar with.

When it comes to the UK, the application process for a visa might get somewhat complicated, which is precisely why you should give yourself enough time to take care of it. It’s best that you leave some room for potential complications so that you manage to solve everything in due time. Let’s see what you need to apply for a visa and, more importantly, what you need to be granted one.

Apply for a Visa About Three Months Before Your Move

When relocating overseas, the most important documents needed to travel abroad should be your first concern. Without these, you can’t go anywhere, so to picture yourself in your future house, you should first go through this less fun part.

While European citizens are not required to have a working visa to either work or live in the UK, that doesn’t go for Americans. Thus, if you are planning to build another life here, you will be required to apply for a visa first, and it’s best that you do so three months before you are supposed to leave the US. You will probably get a decision on your visa application three weeks after you apply. Should it happen that they reject you for any reason, you will need time to figure out how to fix what was wrong and apply again. We understand that you are not thrilled about planning the worst-case scenario, but you should be prepared for it.

In the UK, the points for approving an application are given based on the applicant’s ability to look after themselves. You can also get more or fewer points depending on your academic degree and financial arrangement. To get a permanent visa eventually, know that this process usually takes longer than five years. To get any visa, you need to have a job, to begin with.

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Find a Job and Get a Work Permit

To live in the capital of the United Kingdom, the first step you’re supposed to take to make that possible is to find a job. And a well-paid one, too, considering the costs there. When doing so, beware that there are different requirements depending on the category you belong to – skilled workers, temporary workers, or entrepreneurs. Skilled professionals can be granted a visa lasting for three years, though it can be extended later on. Before you can worry about getting a permit, you should know where to look for a job. So, let’s see which sectors offer the most job opportunities and where you should look for a job.

Explore the Most Popular Industries

The good news about job hunting here is that the job market is full of various tempting opportunities. Regardless of what your specialty is, the chances are that you’ll find an excellent job offer here. You can start your search online to learn more about the most significant sectors and try to find your place in your industry.

The financial sector, for instance, is among the most developed ones here, which is no surprise given that this metropolis is one of the financial centers of the world. To be more precise, it could be said that this is the prevalent sector, considering that over 400,000 people work in some branch of this industry, covering various aspects, from banking to trading.

One of the many sources where you can start looking for a job is The Guardian Jobs. You can start by researching a particular category (the type of job you are interested in, salary, type of contract, and so on). If you are having trouble finding a suitable job yourself, it might be a good idea to hire an agent to help with this endeavor.

Beware of the Difference in the Cost of Living When Moving to London from the US

One of the major factors to consider wherever you are relocating to is the cost of living. Before you start packing to move, you should plan how much money you should have to live comfortably in London. This is not an affordable place to live in, but even if it seems too expensive at times, it’s worth every penny, considering how much it has to offer.

Looking at the majority of aspects, it can be said that your future home is more expensive than in the US. For instance, a monthly pass for public transport is as much as 40% more expensive than what you’ve grown used to. The same goes for utilities. Food, on the other hand, is more affordable here. However, even when it comes to food, some items are more expensive, such as eggs, milk, and chicken breasts. Entertainment, too, is more expensive, and so is a gym membership.

Overall, the cost of living here is higher by about 10% than in the US. But just when you think that there’s no area where you’ll be able to save some money, we come to the healthcare system, which, much to your delight, is not only exquisite but quite affordable, too. Let’s find out more about it.

You’ll Be Happy to Hear That Healthcare Is More Affordable Than in the Us

There is no such thing as a perfect system, but the healthcare system here is quite close to it, especially when compared to its American counterpart. And it’s almost free! Well, at least it seems to be at first glance.

To start with, all residents are entitled to healthcare, no matter their current employment status. Furthermore, many medical services are free of charge, except for dental procedures and prescriptions. Even those that are not are more affordable than in the US.

You are probably wondering where’s the catch, right? Naturally, healthcare is not actually completely free. You will be required to pay the healthcare surcharge in the amount of £200 per year. In addition to that, once you move, you’ll be obliged to pay taxes, and that way, you’ll be funding the National Health Service. Speaking of the NHS, you should know that one-fifth of its budget is spent on healthcare in the Big Smoke alone.

Learn More About Housing Costs Before You Start Looking for a Place

When it comes to housing, the prices here are generally high, but not so much when compared to New York, for instance. So, depending on the part of the city you choose, the prices will vary. Of course, the closer you are to downtown, the higher the costs.

For instance, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the center is about £2,000. As you go further away from the financial district, the rent costs are lower and lower and can drop to a bit over £1,000 per month. If you are relocating alone and you are looking for a one-bedroom apartment, you should expect to pay a minimum of £900 for a place outside of the center, while the rent for a flat of the same size in the downtown area will cost at least £1,200.

In case you can’t afford to live by yourself, at least not at first, it’s quite common to share a flat with someone, so that’s an option, too. If you go for this, the most common way of doing it is to find a place where each person has their own bedroom, but you’ll share the living room, kitchen, and bathroom. If you don’t like this idea, you could consider temporary accommodation. Let’s find out more about it.

Remember That Temporary Housing Is an Option When Moving to London

As the word itself says, this is not a permanent solution. We understand that you are looking for something permanent if you are planning to stay here longer than just a couple of months. Plus, this type of accommodation can be quite expensive in the long run.

Nonetheless, temporary accommodation can be a real lifesaver if you are having trouble finding a place that meets your needs, and your relocation date is coming closer. There are various options depending on your budget, so it can pay off if you stay there for the first month or two, for instance. It might be easier to find your dream home once you are there already, so take advantage of temporary accommodation if you can’t seem to find a place from the US.

Learn About the Differences in Spelling and Vocabulary

It’s a relief to relocate to a country where they speak the same language, so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier. However, you shouldn’t forget that there are still some significant differences between American and British English.

Firstly, there’s the accent. It might take you some time to get used to hearing the British accent all around you, as it’s quite different than the American. In addition to accent, you should also be aware of the differences in spelling, especially if your job, for instance, requires that you write in British English. The most obvious difference will probably be in vocabulary. Believe it or not, there are quite a few differences in the way Brits and Americans call some things. So, to blend in with the surroundings, and be understood by new friends and colleagues, as well as to understand them, you should put effort into learning a bit more about these differences.

Most of these differences can be found in everyday use, so that would be a good start.

Start With Simple, Everyday Words

It won’t take you long to realize that people are giving you a strange look when you say pants and refer to… well, pants. Namely, your new friends Londoners will understand you if you say trousers, as pants in British English refers to underwear. So, to save yourself from an embarrassing situation, check what other differences there are in simple words you use on a daily basis to avoid misunderstandings and fit in more easily.

Find the Most Convenient Mode of Transportation

When it comes to public transportation, Londoners have a wide range of options to choose from, from buses, trams, and trains, to the well-known Underground – the Tube. There are also well-developed river systems. River buses can be an excellent option to avoid traffic jams and enjoy stunning views.

The Tube alone covers 11 lines and as many as 270 stations. It is divided into nine zones, with the center belonging to zone 1. The Tube runs from 5 a.m. to midnight, but if you go out on a Friday or Saturday night, you can rely on Night Tube Services. The fare will depend on the zones you are traveling through, as well as the period of the day. To get the most affordable option, it’s best that you get the Oyster card for single fares or get a monthly or even annual pass if you are sure you’ll use public transportation regularly.

In case you’re planning to use overseas vehicle shipping services and transport your car to the future address, too, you can also use your vehicle to get around the city.

Apps Like Citymapper Can Be of Great Help

To make getting around easier, different transportation apps can be of great help. Take Citymapper, for instance. The app is free to use. You can use it to map your route around the town, which can come in handy even after you spend some time in the UK capital. This app uses data for all urban modes of transportation, so no matter what mode you find the most convenient, Citymapper has got you covered. Uber can also be of great help whenever you might want a ride to any part of the city. You can explore the area without any inconvenience.

Be Prepared for a Different Climate

One of the most common questions before the relocation is what to pack when relocating abroad? The answer to this question mostly depends on the type of climate in your chosen destination. So, in your case, a temperate oceanic climate with cool winters and mostly mild summers awaits you.

Depending on the part of the US you are relocating from, you might need to get used to somewhat different weather here. If you were looking forward to hot summer days, you might be disappointed to hear that the highest temperature in July, the hottest month of the year, is about 65 °F. The UK’s capital sees about 65 days of sunshine a year.

The good news is that, during winter, the temperature usually drops to about 42 °F, so you don’t have to worry about freezing days. Nonetheless, it might be a good idea to pack some warm jackets for those chilly days. You will probably be able to store your winter coat in April and wear it again in October.

Don’t Go Anywhere Without a “Brolly”

It’s almost impossible to talk about the weather in the Big Smoke without mentioning the rain, right? It is a widely known fact that there are quite a few rainy days, 106 per year, to be more precise. Now, if we compare the figures with some major US cities, it seems that precipitation is not much of a problem here, actually. For instance, Orlando, Florida gets 53 inches of rain, and New York gets about 45 inches, which is more than London’s 30 inches.

However, those 30 inches of rainfall are equally distributed throughout the entire year, so you can always expect a light drizzle, not only during autumn. For that reason, it might feel like it’s constantly raining here. This won’t be much of a problem if you are relocating from Seattle, though.

All in all, in addition to those warm jackets, you should also be sure to pack your raincoat (or get one) and never go anywhere without an umbrella, or what the British call “brolly.”

How Different Life in London Is Compared to the US?

Whether you are relocating to another country for love, in search of another job, or for some other reason, you should know how different your life is going to be. Simply put, you’d like to know how to live in another country before you actually get there. And you should prepare for all upcoming changes. It is advisable to get ready well in advance before you even hire international movers to provide you with professional packing services or get down to packing yourself.

Becoming a Londoner might take more getting used to than you thought. Even though you speak the same language, that doesn’t mean that you share the same culture. Thus, you should prepare yourself for some differences to deal with the culture shock more smoothly. Let’s take a look at some aspects of life that might seem strange at first, but you might just as well end up preferring doing some things their way.

Living in London Means Celebrating More Holidays

Even though relocating during the holidays usually means that you’re spending what could’ve been a precious period on relocation, you shouldn’t worry about it so much when relocating to the UK’s capital. Namely, there are more holidays to celebrate here than in the US, where workers usually get between 10 and 14 days per year. In the UK, on the other hand, the annual leave is usually about 28 days, which equals to about 5.6 weeks. And that’s without the UK bank holidays! Excellent news, right?

Work-Life Balance Is Different

When you relocate here, you’ll realize how much can be done without compromising your private life. The British find their free time highly valuable, so they won’t hesitate to go on a vacation when they want to take a break. We tend to ignore it, but our jobs really creep into every aspect of our private life nowadays, and not in a good way. Too much stress and concern about work affect our relationships and our health. Thus, there is no doubt you’ll get used to this change quite easily. We always do when it’s a change for the better.

More and more companies are promoting the significance of work-life balance and are putting effort into implementing solutions that will maintain this balance and keep their employees satisfied. It’s best for them to stick to this policy to attract new workers, as millennials consider this to be one of the main factors when looking for a job and rating a company. For instance, employees at online money-management company Monzo, based in Finsbury Square, have access to weekly pilates and yoga and have 32 days of paid leave per year. Sounds quite tempting.

British Are More Reserved Than Americans

You are used to being direct and open in almost every situation. You are not shy about expressing your feelings, approaching a stranger, or sharing your opinion on whatever matter. And you are used to being surrounded by such people. However, that’s about to change when you begin from scratch surrounded by Londoners.

It won’t be long before you realize that they’re rather reserved, even when they’re with their close friends, let alone around strangers. People here would rather sweep things under the rug than talk about it. They tend to bottle up their emotions and just keep going even when there’s something troubling them. Keeping a stiff upper lip is the only way they know.

Since this might be quite different than what you are familiar with, it might take some getting used to. More importantly, you should pay attention to how you address the people around you so as not to offend them unintentionally or cause any kind of misunderstanding.

Tipping Culture Is Different

One of the most common differences between countries often has to do with their eating habits and everything that has to do with eating, for that matter. That includes eating out. The UK is no exception, so you should get familiar with those habits that differ before you get there. Tipping culture is quite different in these two countries, and here’s how.

When you go to a restaurant in the US, you are expected to tip about 20%. Not only are you expected to leave a tip in that amount, but it has become almost compulsory to do so. In London, on the other hand, leaving a tip is not that big of a deal. Even when you go to a super fancy restaurant, there’s not much pressure to tip the waiter. If you want to, you don’t have to worry too much about how much money you’re going to leave.

Keep in mind, though, that most restaurants are likely to add a 12% service charge to your bill as a way of securing the tip in case you don’t leave it. Nonetheless, if you don’t want to pay that money, you can ask them to remove it from the bill, and they’ll do it politely, even though they won’t be pleased with your request. But that’s the way the British people handle everything.

Are You Ready?

As you can see, this truly is a magnificent city with many perks making it a place worth making your home. You shouldn’t trouble yourself with boxes and moving supplies, but take all the necessary time to prepare emotionally for the upcoming change and plan your first tour around the town – there are plenty of things to do and see.

It’s best that you get a job before your relocation, take care of all the necessary documentation, find a cozy home, and start planning your fresh start in one of the most popular and desirable cities all around the world. And don’t worry about the rain – you’ll get used to it sooner than you expect, and it won’t trouble you at all after a while. You won’t be able to think about it with so many opportunities all around you and just as many spots waiting for you to explore them.

Julie Grace

Originally from The Golden City, Julie has explored the ins and outs of moving and has written all the tips down.

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