So, we’ve covered how to get a visa, finding somewhere for you (and your pets) to live, and some money basics. What’s next once you get past the border?
- Driving license procedures and policies here and here. I’m hoping you realize that they drive on the left side of the road and the right side of the car.
- London congestion zone info here. Don’t have a car in London unless you need to. If you need further proof, look at the gas (petrol) prices
- Boris’ bikes (Barclays Cycle Hire, officially) info here.
- Public transport info. London has the tube, buses, the overground, and several rail stations. You can look at maps and schedules, plan journeys, and learn about policies at the TFL site. There will usually be special discounted rates for students and for senior citizens. Here is the policy for the London Oyster cards. Other major cities (Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds/West Yorkshire, Liverpool/Merseyside, Glasgow) have similar systems.
- Travel between cities is fairly easy but not particularly cheap. You can take buses (coaches) or trains–different London train stations go to different locations, do your research online. Buy tickets at least one day in advance and you can usually get them for cheaper.
2. Furnishing your home
- I won’t be doing it, but if you want to ship your things across the pond, here is some info on that process. Plan on it taking time and money.
- In large cities, there are more furnished flats and homes in the UK than you will find in the US. Make sure you consider those homes in your search, but also weigh the extra costs and find what will work for your budget and your length of stay in the UK.
- If you want to buy furniture when you get there, that is obviously possible, but plan on it taking more trips and more money than you might spend in the US. The thing about shopping in the UK, is that they don’t have large big box stores there (not many, anyway), which means you will not be able to stop at your local Target/Walmart and get an outfit, a futon, your groceries, and an iPad. You’ll probably have to go to 4 separate small stores. That being said, here’s a list of ‘equivalent’ UK stores to popular US stores. Also, there are some Tescos called Tesco Extra, and that is the closest you’ll find to a Walmart/Target.
- When I moved before, my first stop was the Ikea near Wembley. Ikea is wonderful, but be warned that none of the London-adjacent Ikeas are easy to get to from public transport. You may want to rent or borrow a car if you plan to get palette furniture. If Ikea is not for you, here is a list of the 50 best UK furniture stores.
- Electronics–there are two items you may need. A power converter and a plug adapter. The power converter actually changes the current going into your device. The plug adapter just makes your US device fit into the UK power plugs. Your US computer should work without a power converter; it only needs a plug adapter. Make sure you check the specifics for your product. Don’t take my word as gospel, because everything is different. For nearly everything I had, I only used the power converter to charge my Nintendo DS. Everything else could just be used with a plug adapter. One caveat–I highly recommend buying heat devices (hair dryers, curlers, straighteners, etc.) once you get there. These seem the most likely to cause an accident when using adapters and converters, so it is far safer just to buy them once you arrive. Here are some other expat experiences with electronics, including some info on price differences. Expect to pay more for all electronics in the UK.
- Small necessities – Boots is the place to go for cosmetics and toiletries. Asda can be a good place to get small items (cleaning supplies, trash cans, etc.). For cell phones (called mobiles), your best bet is probably Carphone Warehouse, just because they have so many locations.
3. Where to eat
- Groceries. The biggest stores are generally Sainsbury’s and Tesco. There are other small stores like M&S Foods, where you pay a little more. Locations vary. Also note, just because it says ’24-hour Sainsbury’s’, don’t expect it to be open 24 hours a day, every day. My local 24-hour Sainsbury’s closed at 5 on Sundays. If you want something really fancy, try the Waitrose or food halls at Harrods or Selfridges. They’ll charge you 5 pounds for a box of Lucky Charms, which is highway robbery. But look how pretty they are:
- Eating out. There are a myriad of choices, depending on where you live obviously. Nearly every neighborhood or village will have a pub or gastropub, a coffee shop, and a fast food or chain option. The fast food chains that you will recognize are Subway, McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Starbucks, Chipotle (These were not available when I lived in London before, so I went through a very long period without any Mexican food. Tragic.), Five Guy’s, and (most recently arrived) Shake Shack. Mmm…Shake Shack. Other mostly-universal UK fast food options are Pret a Manger (delicious, eco-friendly, but expensive), EAT, Costa Coffee, & Chicken Cottage. Sit down restaurants include TGI Friday’s (but I beg you not to go there), Pizza Express, Wagamama, and approximately 5000 different curry/Indian options. But…don’t go to a chain all the time! You’re in a new country, try something new. If you’re in London, I recommend perusing the Time Out website for reviews and ratings. I had great success picking from their website, including one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had in my life.
- Finding US products. If you just need some Cheetos, Reese’s, or Pop Tarts, and you can’t live without them, there are websites and stores that can get you your fix.
- I don’t have kids, so this is miscellaneous for me, but it is probably fairly important to those who have kids. Here’s a good source of info on moving to the UK with kids.
- Shopping for clothing and accessories. Just as with the US, cities contain large chain stores and small avant-garde boutiques. Smaller cities and villages will have fewer options and generally run more conservative. If you’re in London, Oxford Street should be your first stop. If you want something more eclectic, East London or Camden markets are a good place to try. If you have little money and want the best deal, regardless of store cleanliness or line lengths, head to Primark. Some general uk shopping info is available here.
- NHS is the free health service for anyone in the UK longer than 6 months. But really, anyone in the country can use it. Important vocab note: do not refer to the ER at your local hospital, they call it A+E (accident and emergency department). Students generally use a university clinic. You have access to doctor’s visits at no cost, and you will only pay something like £7 for any prescriptions.
- Utilities–I haven’t done a lot of research, since I won’t need to pay them at the dorms. But here is some info from other expats.
- Some tips and thoughts from fellow expats here, here, and here. Plus a very helpful Buzzfeed listicle here.
Okay, once again, caveat lector here. I am just putting in this info that I’ve found, not implying that any of it is 100% correct or should be used as a reference. Do research on your specific situation before you take anything for granted. Also, let me know what I’m missing or what I’ve got wrong.
Here’s a link to my first post on moving to the UK, in case you missed it.