If you are planning to move from the US to one of Europe’s most important economic, political, and cultural centers, you should know a few things that will help you adjust. Regardless of whether you are moving to the UK for a job, to be united with your significant other, or for your studies, you’re in for an exciting adventure.
Britain was the leading global power during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century when it was the center of an empire controlling roughly a quarter of the earth’s entire landmass. The so-called “Empire on which the sun never sets” slowly disintegrated throughout the 20th century, but its core, the United Kingdom, remains a major power to this day. Consisted of four constituent countries (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), it is today a highly developed nation with the sixth-largest economy in the world and an estimated 66 million people.
Before you begin your British adventure, we’d like to share with you certain things about this glorious nation that any US expat trying to fit in should know about. Let’s get started with some popular myths and interesting facts about Britain and the British people.
#1 A Quick Crash Course on the UK: Myths vs. Facts
- Everything doesn’t stop for tea at four
- Not all traffic rules are different
- The food is not bad at all
- The Queen doesn’t exactly rule
- Great Britain, the United Kingdom, and England are not all one and the same thing
- The class system doesn’t exist anymore
- The driver sits on the right side of the vehicle
- French was the official language for more than 300 years
- Tea is an important part of life
- The UK doesn’t have a written constitution
- Life expectancy is 80 years
- There are over 170 museums in London alone
#2 You Will Need a Visa for Moving to the UK
If you are coming from the Schengen border-free area (with some exceptions), you’re in luck, as you are exempt from the visa policies and rules that are required from citizens from other countries. The process is also very convenient and straightforward for US and Australian citizens, as they don’t need an entry or resident visa for a stay of up to six months, but they can’t get a job or get resources from public funds without proper permits.
If you are planning on relocating here permanently, you will have to acquire proper documentation before you leave your home. The best way to get information on all the papers you are going to need and the legal steps you’ll have to take is to visit the UK Embassy in person or do thorough research on their website.
If you’re relocating for a job, your employer or the legal department of your company will usually complete all the necessary paperwork for your legal work and residence permit.
Requirements for Permanent Residency and Work Permit
You can apply for permanent residence in the United Kingdom and receive a Permanent Residence Card. Some of the requirements and grounds to get it are:
- You’ve lived with your UK or EEA (European Economic Area) family member for more than five years in a UK territory
- Your family member is qualified for a permanent residence
- You’ve lived in one of the EEA countries for more than five years
- Your family member is working in the UK with a valid work permit
How to Become a UK Citizen
If you want to become a UK citizen, the process is a bit more complicated and longer. You can apply for citizenship on a few grounds, and the general procedure goes along these lines:
- You can become a naturalized British citizen after residing there for at least five years. As we’ve already mentioned, you have to have some kind of visa or permit for a legal stay. After that, you will apply for a permit to settle in the UK. A year later, you can apply for naturalized citizenship, and your criminal record and English competency will be checked.
- You can become a citizen through marriage. If your spouse is a British citizen and you’ve lived in the country for three years, you can apply. You’ll have to show a clean criminal record and proof of English competency.
- In any of the scenarios mentioned above, you’ll have to pass the “Life in the UK” test. Again, you would have to have some grounds to apply, like staying in the UK for work for a certain period or staying on a student visa.
#3 The Cost of Living in the UK Will Greatly Depend on the Location
The costs of living can vary greatly depending on which part of the Kingdom you are going to reside in. For example, if you choose the northern part of Great Britain, your expenses will be significantly lower than in the south. Of course, the capital will be the most expensive option, but even there, it’s possible to manage your expenses depending on the part of the city you choose to rent an apartment in. Some of the expenses that you will have to pay on a monthly or yearly basis are:
- Council Tax, which depends on how many people you live with and where you live. This tax funds trash collection, street maintenance, and police forces. It’s, on average, $40 per week.
- Utilities that are not included in the rent, like water, gas, and electricity, which amount to $60 on average per week.
- You have to pay for a television license in the UK. The mere privilege of watching television either on your laptop, tablet, or TV will cost $230 per year.
- A monthly pass for public transport is, on average, $70, or $185 in London.
Some of the costs on a daily basis are:
- A meal in an inexpensive restaurant is around $16, or $20 in the capital
- A three-course meal in a mid-range restaurant for two would be around $60
- 5 liter bottled water is $1.20
- The recommended minimum of money spent on food in the UK per person would be around $220 per month
- Consumer basket price in London is $3.335
Rental Costs in Different Residential Areas
If you want to rent an apartment in the capital, you would have to pay anywhere from $1,570 up to $4,000 a month, depending on the location and the size of your apartment. As for the rest of the UK, average prices for monthly rent are between $930 for a one-room apartment and $1,600 for a three-bedroom apartment. The most expensive residential area in the whole UK is One Hyde Park, and the least expensive option is anywhere in Northern Ireland, or, if you want to stay in Great Britain, in Nelson Lancashire.
#4 Make as Many Living Arrangements as Possible Before You Move
It is essential to organize and prepare on time. The smartest thing to do if you’re going to rent an apartment may be to find one beforehand instead of booking hostels or hotels for a few months. The best way to go about it is to visit the place you’re interested in as soon as you start figuring out how to move abroad and see a couple of options in person. If that is not an option, you can always ask a friend or a family member to do it for you, or contact a real estate agency and state your requirements. The agency will surely find the perfect fit for you and go through all the legal documentation considering a rental contract and deposit. Real estate agents should be your first choice if you want to buy real estate because they know best what the law is like and how to protect your interests.
If you are relocating for a job, your employer might help you when it comes to renting arrangements. In fact, that could be a part of your contract and the relocation package. Some employers provide temporary housing for their foreign employees, others can find you an apartment before you arrive, and some may leave it all up to you. It is important to be clear when you are negotiating and know what relocation questions to ask your employer. Make sure to ask about your obligations towards the company, and what they will provide you with to help you adjust to the new environment.
Your Guide Through the Legal System
The UK legal system is not that different from the one in the US. After all, the US law is largely derived from the UK common law system. However, there are some differences:
- UK law is not based on any written constitution or comprehensive codification. It is instead derived from statutory legislation and judicial decisions known as precedents.
- While England and Wales share the same legal system, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own legal systems.
- There is no “right to bear arms” in the UK. While you can own certain firearms with an appropriate license, all handguns, automatic, and semiautomatic weapons are strictly prohibited without a special provision.
In any case, you should always have your embassy’s contact if you run into any legal problems on the Island. One of their obligations is to mitigate and resolve any legal problems that their citizens may encounter on foreign soil.
#5 Everyday Life in the UK Doesn’t Revolve Around Tea Time
Since the United Kingdom was a major colonial power back in the day, it attracted people and cultures from all over the world. The nation is diverse, culturally and demographically, and it embraces all those influences while keeping its rich heritage at the same time.
Life here is very much colored by national pride, tea, and full breakfast. All jokes aside, you wouldn’t need that much of an adjustment to daily life, especially because there’s no need for breaking the language barrier. More likely, you are going to need a few tips on how to get around and where to find what.
Pub culture is more of a national staple here. This is where you get a fresh pint, some fish and chips to go with it, watch a game, relax after work, or go on a casual date.
Even if you are not a fan of tea, you should get a sip of it at four, at least once. It is so much more than your regular tea – you can enjoy some delicious pastry, scones with jam and clotted cream, savory sandwiches, and rice cakes. It’s more of an experience than a quick meal.
While people may seem a bit cold and distanced at first, don’t worry. They do need some time to warm up to newcomers, but once they do, you’ll be a part of their crowd. Social etiquette is a bit different than in the US, but the Brits, especially Londoners, are used to people from various backgrounds.
What to See and Do If You Are Moving to the UK
In a country that is as old as this one, and with such a rich cultural heritage, there is no shortage of things to see and do. You may come across another problem though – a lack of spare time to visit all those amazing places. Here is a very reduced list of things to do and see in the UK:
- Visit London’s museums for free. Hand in hand with its long history, the British capital is home to many great museums, and you can visit many of them free of charge. To name just a few: Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Tate Modern, National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, and so on.
- Visit Stonehenge. It is a common mistake that the Pyramids are the oldest large man-made structures in the world; it is actually Stonehenge that is more than 5000 years old. While its exact purpose remains a mystery, it is believed to have been a religious altar made for Druid rites.
- Search for the Loch Ness Monster. Nessie may be the most famous monster in the world. While this myth has been debunked long ago, there are still faithful believers that flock to this picturesque Scottish lake in hopes of spotting this creature. If nothing else, you’ll have the chance to admire the beauty of Loch Ness on a boat tour.
- Notting Hill Carnival is one of the largest street festivals in the world, with over two and a half million visitors annually. It is held every August Bank Day on the streets of the Notting Hill area of London, and it lasts for two days. The second day is a family day, and the performances are adjusted to that. It is lively, colorful, and with a lot of great music.
- Head to Glastonbury if you want to experience one of the biggest music festivals in the world. It takes place in Somerset county in South West England and features a lineup of some of the most famous music artists.
- Warner Bros Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter. For all Harry Potter fans out there, do not miss the opportunity to drink butterbeer at this permanent exhibit located in Leavesden in southeastern England.
- Visit Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world that is held every August. Laugh your heart out with some of the best performances by well-known stand-up comedians as well as jugglers and mime artists.
- Visit Shakespeare’s home town, Stratford-upon-Avon. There, you can see some of his famous plays in the Elizabethan-era style for only $5.
- Drink traditional afternoon tea at The Ritz. You may run into a few celebrities while you are there because they are well known for their afternoon tea experience.
What Is the Weather Like
It’s possible that you might have a wrong picture of the UK’s weather. After all, it is always depicted as a gloomy, foggy, and rainy place. It is not quite like that. Remember that the UK is not a small piece of land – you will find many different climates across the island. Although the general climate may be classified as temperate maritime, because the temperatures are moderate (winters are not freezing, and summers are not scorching hot), some parts have above-average precipitation. But there are certain drier parts of the island, as well.
June, July and August are the warmest months, with a pleasant 89°F, and rain rarely falls in the south. Winter temperatures range from 14°F to 59°F.
As for the rain, it is most abundant in the northern and western parts of the Island, such as Wales and Scotland, while the driest parts are East Anglia, Norfolk, and Suffolk, including London.
#6 What Are the Best Places to Live in the UK
A few factors should be taken into consideration when choosing the best places to live in a foreign country, such as safety, average salary, cost of living, rent, educational institutions, environment, etc. Based on these criteria, here is a list of some of the best places to live in the UK:
- Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, is at the top of the list because it is very suitable for family life. It’s a safe community with an exceptional environment, not that far from the capital. Housing prices are reasonable, and there are some great schools in the county.
- Edale, Derbyshire, England – If you are fed up with the city and want to run away from all the hype, this might be the place for you. It is a small village community, well known for its warm and welcoming locals.
- The ancient city of York is making a trend of providing better conditions for its citizens year after year. It is getting more popular among young professionals and transforming itself into the hipster epicenter of the UK.
- Hollywood in County Down, Northern Ireland, is one of the cities that has the healthiest work-to-life balance in the United Kingdom. It is only a 15-minute drive from Belfast.
- Dundee in Scotland used to have the reputation of a dull, industrial town, but it is gaining popularity as a creative and artistic hub. It is home to many world-renowned festivals, such as the Design Festival. The local government is encouraging the development of the gaming industry, invention, and arts.
Best Cities for Expats
Aside from all the other categories, one of the most important things for expats is the expat community in the city they want to live in. The UK has a few very strong expat communities in some places, and they are well established and adjusted so they can help with some useful advice to the newcomers.
- Edinburgh is very attractive to expats because it has a lower cost of living and not that much lower income index than London. It is also a very vibrant and lively city.
- London is, of course, the number one choice for people from abroad. It is, without a doubt, one of the oldest, most attractive cities in the world.
- Bristol has had a booming economy in recent years, and this is a perfect place to find a job if you are looking for one.
#7 More Than 170 000 US Expats Live in the UK
If you know someone that lives in the UK, contact them when you start planning your move. It is vital to have some first-hand knowledge when you are moving internationally. Fellow expats will be able to provide you with some useful information regarding the cost of living, job opportunities, visa requirements, and what the whole relocation process is like. Be aware though, their experience doesn’t have to be the same as yours, so take everything you hear with a grain of salt, whether good or bad. So, before you think about getting packing services, get some information on the nation you are about to become a part of.
If, however, you don’t have any friends or acquaintances that are living or have lived there, you can find many expat communities online that will be more than happy to assist you and give you real answers to your questions.
Ask All the Questions Related to Moving, Living, and Working in the UK
Not everyone moves for the same reason, so not all the same rules apply to everyone. The same goes for the questions you might have. Here are just some of the frequently asked questions that you should get answers to before moving to London or any other part of this country:
- Is it possible to get a legal residency permit?
- What is the cost of living?
- What is the job market like?
- What makes it the most difficult to adjust?
- Where to search for an apartment?
- What is the law like?
- What are the biggest differences in culture, social etiquette and overall acceptable behavior between the two countries?
- What is medical care like?
- What is the educational system like?
#8 If You Are Moving With a Family, You’ll Be Glad to Know That Health Care is Stellar
What will be very important for your family when you move is how they can reside legally there. There is a family member visa they should all apply for before you leave. You should also inquire about the medical insurance for your family and the schools for your kids. One other concern may be the overall safety in the community as well as the health of the environment.
What Is the Health Care and Educational System Like?
The UK is famous for its great educational system. One of the oldest universities in the world, Oxford, is located here. If you are an English language native, your kids shouldn’t have a problem to enroll in some of the most elite schools in the world. It may be useful to note that education is free and compulsory for all children from the age of 5 to 16. That period is normally divided into two stages – primary from the age of 5 to 11, and secondary from the age of 11 to 16.
As for health care, the UK provides medical assistance to the citizens and foreigners alike. When you live in the UK on any kind of visa, you may be able to access basic health care, but it is best to check with your employer or consulate what your rights are.
#9 If You Want to Bring Your Pets to the UK, You’ll Need to Vaccinate Them and Get Their Papers in Order
If you are moving with cats or dogs, you should check in advance all the documentation you are going to need to get them into the country. There is a list of vaccines they should get and the proof that you are the owner. However, not all pets are allowed in the country, so you should check the list of restrictions if your pets are a bit on the exotic side.
#10 Cultural and Language Barriers Are Not as Considerable as in Some Other Countries
Although we already established that Brits may come as a bit stiff at first glance, they are actually very warm and welcoming once they get to know you. In the country that has a long tradition of courtship and nobility, it is only normal that social etiquette is a bit more refined.
As far as the language differences go, don’t forget that the US English originated as a variation of UK English, so you might have slight trouble understanding every word, but it is easy once you get the hang of it. After all, it is mostly an accent that is different and a few posh words here and there.