Tag Archives: expats

Moving to the UK – part two

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?

Student visas being abused 1. First of all, you have places to go.  How should you get there?

  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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:

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

4-Miscellaneous

  • 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.

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  • 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.

 

Moving to the UK – part one

I’ve been slacking lately, I’ll admit it. I haven’t made a blog post in over 2 weeks. All I can say is that I have good reason.

KCL

 

I recently accepted a place in grad school—a master’s program in Nineteenth-Century Studies at King’s College London. I’ll be moving to London in September. !!!

I’ve already lived in London of course, but 6 months just seems so much shorter than 1 full year. And it requires a considerable amount of extra planning and paperwork—paperwork that my university did for me last time. So I’ve been doing research, and thought I’d share some tips and facts I’ve discovered. If you are considering/planning a move to the UK, I hope this will be helpful.

1. Most importantly, you need a visa.

uk-border-agency_1738357cRules are very strict for entering the UK with a plan to work, study, or stay for more than 6 months. There are different kinds of visas available for different kinds of situations. I’ll be getting a student visa. This requires the university to send in some paperwork to the UK government, stating that I have been accepted, that I will be doing full-time study, and that my study is a ‘progression’ from previous study I’ve undertaken. This last point is to prevent people from staying in the UK and studying for several bachelor’s degrees, just as an excuse to stay in the country. Other visas are for specific types of professions (artists, actors, musicians can usually get into the country if they can prove they have money to support themselves, and/or are of sufficient cultural standing), workers that the UK is in need of (this used to be tech workers, but I’m not sure there are currently any categories that this applies to.), investors (with over £200,000 to invest). There are some others for specific nationalities or other categories. None of these are easy to get, as the system is designed to only accept people who will undoubtedly be able to support themselves, i.e., people who will not go on the dole once they get in. Just a note — currently these rules apply to everywhere in the UK, to my knowledge, but often Scotland, Wales, and N. Ireland have different policies, so be sure to do some research. I especially have no idea what rules will apply if Scotland becomes independent during the upcoming referendum.

2. Housing.  Once you’re legally allowed to immigrate, where are you going to live?! If you’re a millionaire, you can head to Foxton’s or Sotheby’s to find your ideal Regency-era townhouse or converted stables with granite everything.FMOS 142

 

If you’re not a millionaire (or only have a paltry £1-2 million), you can look at rentals or for-sale homes on Rightmove, Home.co.uk, or Primelocation. Here is a list of a few others. If you’re a plebeian like me, I suggest Gumtree or Craigslist (UK).  They offer rooms, houses, or flats for rent or sale. Most universities offer accommodation, particularly for international students. They also usually have partnerships or databases with information on local housing/rental companies that can help students find a place to live. Obviously everything in and around London is approximately 3,000 times more expensive than everywhere else in the UK. Some important things that may not be common knowledge to non-Brits:

  • Flat = apartment
  • Bedshare = a rented bedroom. Generally has a shared bathroom in the hallway.
  • Rent is often calculated and advertised at a weekly, rather than monthly rate. This is sort of crummy, because in months with 5 weeks, you pay extra than you would at a monthly rate.
  • If the flat has a washer/dryer, it is probably an all-in-one, and it is probably in the kitchen.
  • Do not expect an American-sized refrigerator. Expect a small one, like university kids have in their dorms.
  • WC = water closet = loo = bathroom

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  • If you watch TV (on a TV or computer), you must pay a TV license, of about £150. More info on TV licenses here.

3. Pets! Who leaves without their pets? Me, technically. My cat will be staying behind with my boyfriend, because I’m (hopefully) going to live in the dorms. But, for anyone who is getting a house or flat, here’s what you need to know about bringing your furry friends:

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  • It is much easier now to bring your pets (from approved countries), but you still need a pet passport and need to meet the criteria. See information on the process here.
  • Here is a list of inoculations and ID chip details you will need to get done.
  • Some breeds or types of pets are not accepted in the country, or in specific areas.
  • For pets that are not dogs or cats, more info here.
  • Make sure you do everything to the letter. Or they will come and take your pet away from you.
  • If you want to adopt a pet once you’re in the UK, here are a lists of shelters and rescues. Don’t buy a pet; rescue one! Or two!

4. Money, banking, credit cards, and taxes. I’m hoping you realize this already, but the UK currency is GBP (£). The current exchange rate is approximately $1.69 to £1 or 1.22 Euro to £1. Also note that Scotland actually has its own bank notes. They are accepted throughout the UK, and £ are accepted in Scotland. But you might get Scottish change back for a purchase made there, so be aware.

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  • UK banks and credit cards. There are several major banks in the UK, with the most ATM (cash  machines, as they call them) and branch locations throughout. These are HSBC, Lloyds, Halifax, Barclays, & The Royal Bank of Scotland. These will probably be the easiest to deal with, particularly if you plan on traveling throughout the UK, or have an account in one of their US branches. This site compares different credit card deals–be sure to read the fine print! According to this site, there are some problems setting up a bank account or credit card in the UK–more so than in the US anyway.  Still, all you can do is go in and ask questions, and see what they can do.
  • US banks and credit cards. If you are coming for a short time, you can probably live without any UK accounts. I did, when I lived in London for only 6 months. There are two potential fees involved with these. ATM fees – I was charged ATM fees and currency exchange fees by my bank, so this was expensive and I tried not to do it often. The other big fees are from credit cards. Be sure to check your credit card policies to determine whether it will charge extra fees when you use it abroad. Mine didn’t, so I used it for everything, and then paid the bill online, taking the money from my US account. That was the easiest way to live without a UK account. One downside to this: UK credit cards generally have an embedded microchip (called chip and pin), and American cards don’t, so it may take longer for transactions to go through, and may not work at all in certain places. You may also have to explain to cashiers that it is not a chip and pin card.  Also, very important: notify your US credit and debit cards that you are traveling or moving abroad. International purchases are generally declined unless you have notified your card beforehand.

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  • Taxes. Here is some info specifically for Americans working in the UK. If you don’t have income in the UK, you don’t need to ‘pay’ tax.  If you’re there traveling, you can even get VAT (sales) tax refunds. But if you do work in the UK, expect to have more taken out of your checks as the year progresses, because they have a system of pay-as-you-earn. Also, their tax year begins and ends in early April; they don’t use a calendar year.  All that being said, your employer should help you with this stuff, and I would recommend having a professional manage any tax issues, because …honestly it’s hard enough to sort through US tax info, let alone a totally different system. Also, FYI: being paid monthly is the norm. I hope you can stick to a budget!

Okay. Thus endeth part I of this large tome.  Next post will concern transport, shopping, shipping, and miscellaneous. If any of these details are wrong or incomplete, let me know! I want the right info, both for myself and for anyone who reads this.