15 Oct 7 Things To Learn Before You Move To The UK
Maybe you’ve always wanted to move to the UK and maybe the political situation in your home country has made you think about a move to the UK. Regardless of your reasons, the UK is a fabulous place to live. It is rich with history, culture and quirkiness.
When I was considering a move to the UK for work, I spent a few weeks there as a tourist. I got the typical sightseeing out of the way in my first few days, then I got serious about it. Visiting a place and moving to a place are VERY different things.
I’m writing this from the perspective of an American who moved to London in 2014. I lived there for almost exactly two years. I packed my flat and left London on Brexit vote day in 2016. I don’t have any opinion about the politics in the UK, but I do know the politicians involved on both sides of the Brexit vote were behaving more like spoiled children than responsible adults, so there’s that.
This book I wrote does a great job of teaching people how to move to the UK, if I do say so myself. 😉 It’s not just my opinion, though. Check out the reviews on Amazon with my affiliate link by clicking the image.
7 Things To Know Before You Move To The UK
Do not mess around with immigration and customs
Planning a move to the UK is no small task. There are oodles of things to consider and your visa status should be at the top of your list of things to address.
Visiting the UK as a tourist is easy. They are happy to have you visit. As an American, you can visit for up to six months as a tourist. That might seem like a long time to be “touristing” because it is! The customs people know this is a place where the visa can be abused, so they will have some pointed questions for you if you declare you are staying for five months and twenty-nine days when you arrive. The are ultra-sensitive about “tourists” who are actually trying to move to the UK without a proper visa and they will quiz you.
Heathrow and Gatwick (the two major airports you will likely be using to get to the UK) are massive international airports and they get visitors from all over the world every day. The customs agents at these airports are very well trained and will sniff out your fibs and half-truths if you try to lie to them. Don’t lie to them. They frequently put people on airplanes back to where they came from if they don’t like the answers they are getting.
Your best bet is to find an immigration attorney (solicitor) who is well-versed on the immigration process for Americans who want to move to the UK. Every country has a different arrangement with the UK, so find a solicitor who does a lot of visa applications for Americans. Yelp is a good place to start, and there are some expat groups on Facebook where you can find a wealth of information about immigration solicitors.
One important tip: ALWAYS have a return ticket or forwarding ticket BEFORE you arrive at Heathrow or Gatwick as a tourist. People are frequently asked for proof of their exit before they are allowed into the country. You can always buy a refundable ticket or a ticket that’s easily changed, but be sure you have a valid one before you arrive.
They speak English in the UK, but it’s not American English
One of the most surprising things for Americans who move to the UK is the difference in vocabulary. I cover some of the important/popular terms in the book, but you’ll get along just fine if you don’t mind asking for clarifications from time to time.
The Queen’s English also has some different rules for spelling and pronunciation. You’ll see things like neighbourhood instead of neighborhood, and you will have to pay close attention at times in order to understand what a British person is saying. Over time, you’ll get used to it. It gets fun when you can start to distinguish between accents from Scotland, Ireland, Northern England, prep school London, etc. There are all sorts of accents and dialects, much like the regional differences in the US.
The weather is cloudy, rainy and gray (grey) most of the time
You can leave your sunscreen in the US. You won’t need it.
The UK’s reputation for being rainy and gray is accurate. It’s a good idea to carry an umbrella with you at all times. The rain is rarely an all-day sort of rain, but showers can appear from nowhere. Overall, the temperature is moderate. It rarely gets below freezing and there are usually only a few weeks in the summer when you might want air conditioning.
The UK is positioned fairly far north, so you’ll experience very long days in the summer and very short days in the winter.
NHS: National Health Service
The healthcare in the UK is available to everyone. Crazy idea, right? It’s one of those weird things that the US has figured out how to turn into a political issue, when the rest of the developed world has figured out that taking care of you citizens’ health is NOT a political issue.
Even though the NHS is wonderful, there are often long delays to see doctors. Some expats prefer to buy private insurance. You pay for the NHS with your tax dollars whether you like it or not, but private insurance is optional.
You will probably have visitors
The UK (and specifically London) is a popular place! If you have any sort of social or family network, you will likely get visitors. Plan for that. I opted for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom flat even though I moved to London as a single person. I guessed that I would have frequent visitors from the US and I was right!
The funny thing for me was that I saw more of my San Francisco friends when I lived in London (a ten hour flight from San Francisco) than I did when I lived at Lake Tahoe (a four hour drive from San Francisco).
They love their pubs
Pubs are everywhere in the UK. They function as a great third place in many communities. Many pubs serve Sunday roast (you’ll learn about that when you get there…it’s a weekly event) and book all their tables weeks in advance, so don’t forget to make a reservation. Unlike most US pubs/bars/restaurants, you can’t just turn up and expect to be seated. The Brits love their table booking system, so learn to embrace it.
On one end of the spectrum, there are fancy pubs that serve nice meals and fancy cocktails along with the usual beer on tap. There are also what are called “dirty old man” pubs where there aren’t any food options and the environment is a little grubby. Those are the pubs where the old men hang out when they aren’t working anymore and haven’t found any hobbies worth pursuing. (Note: The dirty part of the dirty old man pubs refers to the pub itself, not the men.)
Chicken and egg problems are everywhere
The Brits LOVE their bureaucracy. If there’s an opportunity to create some red tape, they will take that opportunity and run with it. It is endlessly frustrating for Americans who arrive and expect to find efficiencies like they find at home. Ha! Silly Americans.
One of the best examples of a chicken and egg problem you might encounter is when you try to sign a lease for a flat after you make the move to the UK. Most estate agents and landlords require UK bank statements to show that you can afford the flat. The problem here is that the UK banks won’t let you open a bank account until you have a UK address. Hmmmmmmm.
The way around the UK address problem is to leave a HUGE deposit for the flat. Where a one-month deposit would be typical for someone with a UK address, they will ask for a SIX month deposit if you’re a newbie in the UK. That’s a lot of money to have tied up to secure a place to live, but sometimes it’s the only way. If you have the means, it’s a fast path to securing a place to live.
One of the tips I give to the folks who are new to the UK is telling them to stop themselves when they start one of their questions about the UK with, “Why…?” Many times, there is no good answer for the way things are designed there, or no answer at all. There’s nothing you can do to change the processes and systems that are in place, so just surrender to the process and embrace your inner peace as you struggle through the red tape. 😉
Do you have anything else that should be added to this list? Leave a comment below! Also, go buy that book. I make something like $1 per sale, so you’re funding my early retirement haha.