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Connecticut to London

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iz24
4/6/2007 06:52 EST

My company has offered me a position in our London office and I am just starting to consider all implications of such a move. The biggest issue I see so far is making sure that our 13 year old will be able to go to a good school there and will be comfortable and that we are able to maintain close to our standard of living. Would a 13 year entering high school in Sept. be able to switch to the British educational system? Should we be sending her to an American school?
We own a large house in suburban CT and are very comfortable at the moment on my $250K+ per year salary (spouse doesn't work). We are dual US/Polish citizens. This would be a long term move (4 years plus, potentially permanent) but I only have a couple of months to plan because we would like to move before school starts in September. The company is sending us on a scouting visit to London for a week in the next few weeks.

What kind of relocation package should I be looking for? I would like to hold on to the house here for a few months until the promised promotion in London comes through. After that I would sell the house and buy something in London. We are not looking for paid trips back home (as we have no family in the US to visit once we move) but I believe the package will include some kind of COLA, relocation assistance and school fees for our 13 year old.

Any advice will be appreciated.

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pallega
4/6/2007 09:50 EST

There was a recent post in the last month of someone who had an incredibly comprehensive list of items to consider for a relo package. Please look at that list.

Your 13 year old could conceivably transfer into the British system, but it may be a bit of a major shock to his system. He'd be on the back foot and we don't think it would be fair. That said, others may have a different opinion.

We'd suggest considering a US style school like ACS to complete high school. Getting your company to pick up the tab would be best!

COLA, relo assistance and some housing assistance to start - until you buy - would help ease you into this economy.

For more, peck through this forum for a lot more of the sort of package offerings that have been put together for folks.

Scouting trip, temp housing, relo assistance and COLA are a good start. Take a look at how this may effect your pension/401k/ISA/NIC/etc and consider tax equalization unless your going to be paid in pounds. If you're going to be paid in pounds, we'd still recommend a COLA adjustment for 18 months or so to get over the hump and adjust to the economy.

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iz24
4/6/2007 11:02 EST

Thanks for the initial feedback. I'm sure I will come up with tons of questions as we get more details of the package etc. For now we are trying to set up school tours for our week in London so our daughter can get a feel for it. I am also planning to use an educational consultant to help us with this process. Gabbitas has been recommended to us by a co-worker - any thoughts on this company?

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pallega
4/9/2007 02:21 EST

We don't know about educational consultants, but you may want to search through the forum to see what you find. There was a conversation about them within the last year.

We used a relocation company called Sterling (http://www.sterlingrelocation.com/). They did the bits to help locate a property, secure a lease, transfer the utilities and get a mobile phone (if you don't have credit or a history of living here, you need this assistance - or, get your company to give you one for every member of the family). We don't believe that they knew much about educational assistance.

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iz24
4/11/2007 16:12 EST

Thanks for the initial feedback. Of course, as expected based on reading a variety of posts on the issue, the American School of London has no space in 9th grade for our daughter. I guess we can put her on the waiting list and hope for the best. We are also setting up a meeting with an educational consultant next week. While in London next week I would also like to do some prelliminary looking around to get a feel for various areas where to live. My company's office is on Queen Victoria Street in the City, Blackfriars stop on Circle/District Line and also within walking distance of St. Paul's (Central Line). I would like to be within half an hour on public transportation from the office. The only other relevant consideration is daughter's school location. I would like to be in a quiet and safe neighboorhood but am not looking to be close to American expat community and as a mattter of fact I think I would enjoy more living among the locals. I imagine that going from our current 3,800 sq ft house will be quite a shock to the system in terms of size of a flat or house - but I think we are ready to try city living, relying on public transportation and enjoying what London has to offer. Any suggestions on areas to check out while in London ? We are homebodies and I am an avid cook so we don't eat out much - nighlife and restaurant/pub scene is not a priority, but we do want nice stores for grocery shopping, wine and cheese. We do not have pets, but a house with a small garden where we can sit outside in the evening would be a big plus. Any thoughts on particular neighboorhoods would be appreciated.

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pallega
4/12/2007 02:28 EST

There are other American schools in the Greater London area. Try http://www.acs-england.co.uk/ for the ACS schools. They're on the Western edge of Greater London, bloody expensive and everyone we know swears by them. Egham, for example, is a good 40 minutes to Waterloon and it's about 10 minutes on the tube to Blackfriars from there. Of course, you don't HAVE to live next to the school. You can live anywhere where your daughter can get transportation. Now, that said, the American School of London is also quite amazing from what we hear and it's at St. John's Wood tube stop in Westminster.

If you're truly a homebody, you may wish to consider a longer commute and live out in the home counties nearer the ACS school areas. Plenty of room for a bit more of a larger home (not 3800 sq ft mind you) with nice gardens. Sitting outside in the evening most of the year is not recommended, but you would be able to find all sorts of interesting spots from North Surrey, across to Twickenham and Richmond in the East and North, skipping Heathrow and up in the areas around Hillingdon. We're not all that familiar with the Hillingdon areas, but have seen a few nice spots there.

Look up all the information on DEFRA (see http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/quarantine/index.htm) and get the pet stuff started. Create a CV/resume for your pets to give to prospective landlords. You'll see many people with their dogs here and across Europe, but landlords and some neighbourhood associations do not allow pets (this can make house hunting difficult, but not impossible - don't let anybody tell you it's impossible).

As for stores, you're spoilt for choice. Although we're minutes from a number of nice stores, we do most all of our shopping online. All the majors deliver and you can get amazingly wonderful organics as well from them (if you love veg, this country has amazing veg at various seasons and it's fun to experiment). We get all of our basics from Tesco and get cheeses from Paxton and Whifield (see www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk - cheese can be most amazing here!) or Teddington's (see www.teddingtoncheese.co.uk), wine from Tesco or Virgin or Berry Brothers and Rudd (see www.bbr.com) and meats from Donald Russell occassionally (see www.donaldrussell.com). We're lucky to have specialty fish from our fishmongers, a nice abattoir (see http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=abattoir) and a nice market nearby for fresh fruit as veg as well. When you're at work, pop across London Bridge to the Borough Market on a Friday afternoon and go crazy with all the upscale speciality items on offer (see http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/).

For cooking, Tana Ramsey, Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver, Mike Robinson, Bill Granger and Paul Rankin are just a few great chef names you may want to follow. We pick up great stuff from Saturday Kitchen (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/tv_and_radio/saturdaykitchen_index.shtml). For example, we're making up some baked Comar crab with Berkswell cheese this weekend based upon a recommendation from the show last week (and, no, you cannot get either of these items in the US).

The bottom line is that your choice of living locations is going to be determined by the location of your daughters school. You may have to think about something equidistant to the ACS Hillingdon campus and the American School at St. Johns Woods (we're jealous btw, because it's next to Lords Cricket Ground and that's a FAB place) and put up with a bit of a commute issue (not too bad, though) for both you and your daughter (see http://www.acs-england.co.uk/schools/hillingdon/location.htm).

Perhaps someone else can comment on schools or living locations near an ACS school and iz24's desire to be closer in for her commute?

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iz24
4/12/2007 05:35 EST

LOL Pallega - I would imagine that sitting outside in the garden will be limited to summer, late spring and early fall, just like it is here in CT ;-) But I do enjoy having a table on our deck and being able to eat al fresco and I would love to be able to do that in London too.

Thanks for the recommendation on the ACS schools - we will definitely check them out.

And yes, on a daily basis we are definitely "stay at home" types - our restaurant eating is usually limited to vacations and work functions. BTW, I adored Jamie Oliver's show on Food Network, have his cook book and tried a number of his recipes. But for some reason he is not as popular here anymore as he used to be.

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Londonbound
4/12/2007 07:28 EST

You may also want to consider TASIS - The American School in England - located in Thorpe. (ACS Egham is located close by.) As noted by Pallega, it is 40 minutes by train to Waterloo Station but if you live somewhere like Richmond your daughter would be within the catchment for the TASIS bus, leaving you with a reasonable commute.

Both TASIS and ACS are extremely helpful with answering housing questions, and have maps available which detail areas serviced by their respective school buses. You can get other information - viewbooks, detailed course descriptions, etc. from each school's Admissions Office.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you would like any more information on the school search issue. We visited and went through the application procedure at ASL, ACS Hillingdon and ACS Egham and TASIS last fall.

Good luck!

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pallega
4/12/2007 08:13 EST

We were reading the "American in Britain" magazine today and noticed an article from http://www.humphrys-education.com/, an educational consultancy that provides advice on such educational issues. Since your daughter is just starting high school, you may want to consider a school that gives an IB (International Baccelaureate) diploma. The ACS schools we mentioned do this, as does the American School in London and the Southbank International School (campuses in Kensington, Hampstead and Westminster - see http://www.southbank.org/).

You'd have to see how an IB diploma would translate (many US schools support this - see http://www.ibo.org for more information) if you returned to the US before HS graduation or if you moved elsewhere as well.

Still, we thought it was a worthwhile option to consider for you. Every student is different, so you have to take this into consideration as well. You may want to speak to an education consultant to help you in this important decision.

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iz24
4/12/2007 12:08 EST

Thank you very much to both of you for the helpful recommendations. Londonbound, where did your child(ren) end up going and are you happy with the choice? We currently live in a town with an excellent school system and our daughter has done extremely well at school so far, so I want to make sure that she ends up at a school that is challenging academically. She is also an accomplished violinist and a swimmer and we would like to make sure that these activities are available to her as well.

If things work out well at work, I would like to stay in London for at least 4 years until our daughter is done with high school - I would really hate to move her again. So I would consider putting her in an IB program. We will meet with an educational consultant when we are in London next week and will definitely explore that.

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Londonbound
4/13/2007 19:00 EST

The education question was a very tough dilemma for us as we are very happy with my son's current school. We did not use a consultant when evaluating options, but relied on our own research and a network of friends/coworkers who had moved to London.

My husband and I visited schools and neighborhoods in October and applied to ASL, TASIS and ACS Hillingdon and Egham for January admission. Our child was wait listed at ASL and TASIS and was accepted at both ACS campuses. We determined TASIS was most like the school he currently attends, and decided to finish out the school year in the States in the hopes a spot would open up. (Most of the American schools lose approximately 20% of their student body each year due to transfers, so we were assured a place would probably become available.) He was recently accepted by TASIS for the fall 2007 semester, so we will be joining my husband (already working in London) in June and starting school in August. I hope it was the right decision!

We anticipate being in London for three years or so and hope our school choice will enable our son to make an easy transition back to an American curriculum.

I, too, am headed to London next week to wrap up details before our move. If you are interested in meeting or more information, please let me know. Best of luck to you in your decision making!

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