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Moving to UK > Tips for Moving to UK

Moving to UK

By Joshua Wood, LPC

Summary: If you're moving to UK, gain insight from expats living in UK about making the move. Topics covered include what they wish they had brought (and left behind), visas, culture shock, cost of living and more. It's a must read for anyone thinking about moving to UK.

Pub in London
Pub in London

If you're thinking about moving to UK, read these tips from expats living UK. From what to bring (and leave behind) to culture shock, visas and more, their insight is invaluable.

What to Bring When Moving to UK (and what to leave behind)

When we asked expats living in UK what they wish they had brought when moving to UK and what they wish they had left at home, they replied:

"I should have brought stock cubes, because the ones in England lack flavour. Having relocated from S.E. Asia, I wish I had brought hand woven cloths and sachet spice mixes. I shouldn't have brought any furniture, as stuff from charity shops in England are inexpensive," said one expat who moved to Sheffield, UK.

"Wish I had brought: 1) TV 2) Paintings Wish I had left at home: 1) School books 2) Valuables (I was burglared in first week in London)," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to UK.

"Brought: 1. a large supply of cosmetics (everything here is so expensive) 2. more of my cookware / utensils from home. (again everything is really expensive, including eating out). 3. Coffee (the tea here is fantastic, but the Brits generally do not know good coffee). Left: I am renting a furnished flat and came with only the bare essentials, so there is not much that I would have left in retrospect," commented one expat who made the move to UK.

"Wish I'd brought... 1. My towels & sheets - hard to start over again! 2. My cutlery & dishes - for the same above 3. More of my personal stuff than I did. Wish I'd left... 1. Things I thought were going to be meaningful to me, but ended up just being flotsam & jetsum! 2. Electrical items. Even the little ones were a waste of time. 3. Clothes I thought'd I'd diet into. Didn't happen and they just took up space," remarked another expat in Colchester, UK.

"Wish I'd brought: 1. Grits
2. Jiff Peanut Butter
3. My car Wish I'd left behind:1. Absolutely anything electrical
2. More of my furniture
3. Many of my clothes," said another expat in UK.

"1- My cats
2- Photography equipment
3- Books (in french) I did not bring much so there is nothing I wish I had left home," remarked another expat who made the move to UK.

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Deciding Where to Live in UK

When we asked expats living in UK to offer newcomers advice about choosing a neighborhood and finding a home, they replied:

"My brother lives in Sheffield, so I was lucky to have him show me around," said one expat who moved to Sheffield, UK.

"I have moved several times since first moving to London. I now live near Marble Arch, which is very central (right next to Hyde Park and to Oxford Street). I've used Loot several times. More recently, I've been using London Property Watch," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to UK.

"I used a relocation specialist and I live in central London. My flat is really nice, pricey, but the location is ideal and I am happy with the amount of space. I also have a dog and I wanted to be close to one of the major parks. I tried for three days on my own and got nowhere. The relocation specialist made a huge difference," commented one expat who made the move to UK.

"We actually live just outside of Colchester in Brightlingsea. We went with new friends to visit this adorable waterside town and just loved it! This is one place that has really kept its charm. People still say hello to each other, and we are only an hour from London, so we have the best of both, IMO," remarked another expat in Colchester, UK.

"Chose the area based on reasonable drive to work (30-40 min) and close to London (20 min by train). Found my 1st flat in the area by using a relo service that my company employed. Later moved by finding a place on my own - visited every estate agent repeatedly, some of them a few times a week, for a few months straight. Finally one of them called me to arrange a viewing. Nothing I viewed was on offer on a window advert," said another expat in UK.

"My husband is from Stockport so this is where we decided to live. First we rented an apartment in Reddish (Stockport) but it was not a really good place to live in because of all the crimes and noises (drunk people !!). It was 300/month in 2000-2001 + $70/month council taxes + 50/month heating + 25/month water We have now our house in Heaviley (Stockport) which is a quiet area," remarked another expat who made the move to UK.

Read our article, 10 Best Places in the World to Get in the Christmas Spirit, for advice about deciding where to live in UK.

Expats living in UK interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

Typical Housing for Expats

When we asked expats in UK about the type of home or apartment they life in and whether that is typical for expats, they replied:

"I live in a terraced house that is moderately priced. There are many options that appeal to expats alike," said one expat who moved to Sheffield, UK.

"I live in a flat, which is typical for the vast majority of expats who live in central London. I have also juts purchased a house, however it is in Zone 3, maybe 7 miles south of central London, where house prices are still somewhat affordable. The majority of expats however live in central London, and only the hedge fund manager and investment bankers among them can afford to buy property in central London," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to UK.

"I am getting a housing subsidy from work to make up for the increase in cost of living. Had this not been the case, I probably could not afford the flat I am in now," commented one expat who made the move to UK.

"We live in a Victorian terraced house that has been restored. Like most of England, though, it is one of the basic house styles: Very old and crooked, Victorian Terraced, 1930s-40s, 1960s and today's new houses that are made to look like they are converted warehouses," remarked another expat in Colchester, UK.

"I eventually bought a flat. Most expats in my area rent or buy a flat, depending on length of stay. Those I know with children usually start by renting a house," said another expat in UK.

"We now live in a semi-detached house with 3 bedrooms (small). Not many expats around where I live so I don't know if it is typical. Easy acces to Manchester city center (where I work) by bus, train," remarked another expat who made the move to UK.

Housing Costs in UK

"So far, accommodation in England is more expensive than any other country I've lived in thus far. I pay 400 Pounds for my house," said one expat who moved to Sheffield, UK.

"Housing costs are definitely higher here, significantly so. To rent a 2-bed apartment in a central location, you have to count with at least £400 per week. Here is a link to average rental prices in London by location," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to UK.

"The housing costs are higher here, but we also earn better money. It is my experience that the ratio of the cost of living vs. income is proportionate in first world countries. I'm sure this can not be said everywhere, unfortunately, but it's true of England. So...it costs more to live in London BUT you make more money there too," commented one expat who made the move to UK.

"I left the US 14 years ago, so it's hard to say. But, I'd estimate that when I moved to this area, I paid about 75% more in rent than I had been doing in the US," remarked another expat in London, UK.

"The cost of housing are higher than they were in Montreal. I paid 83000 for my house a year ago (now the same house sell at 90000-95000). Terraced house are less expensive and the price depends on the area where you live (good or bad area). The same house can be sold at different price depending of the area. Ex: My house in a bad area (Stockport) = +-70000 in a good area (Stockport)= +-120000 !! Bills: 80/month council taxes + 200/year water + 30/year TV license + 45 gaz & electricity + 45 phone&Internet + 38 cable (TV) + 450/month mortage + 25/month house insurance," said another expat in UK.

"Much higher than Frankfurt Germany small house costs 1500$ excluding expenses 20 min by train from city (and that's a bargain! don't ask me where I live). Houses built like **** but everywhere the same, miss German quality very much," remarked another expat who made the move to UK.

Advice for People Moving to UK

"There's a lot of red tape in England and it was difficult for me to start up here. Utility bills up to three years prior, from former homes, were requested, making finding a house to rent on my own an impossibility. Lucky for me, I rented a house with my brother for the first six months and managed to find a council house that was made available for a single Mum," said one expat who moved to Sheffield, UK.

"When you first move to London, you definitely want to live somewhere in the center, preferably the west end side of it, as this is where you will find the majority of other expats," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to UK.

"If you are coming here for work, try to get them to pay for a relocation expert. I also brought my dog with me and went through the PETS travel scheme. The process takes six months and you have to complete all the steps exactly in order and within the correct time frame or your animal does not get in. If you are even thinking about living or working in London and you have a pet then start the process asap. I also recommend Virgin Atlantic for pet travel. They are really efficient and good at what they do. I had no problems getting my dog over here. Probably the biggest obstacle so far has been the weather and people tend not to be friendly for a very long time," commented one expat who made the move to UK.

"You can look for rental/purchase properties online and that will give you a good idea of the cost of living. Also, if you can see any outside pictures, look at the background! This area is very nice because you have a fairly large town with a fairly low crime rate, and the outer villages are countrified and charming. Plus it is on the coast, if you like the sea and one of the sunniest parts of the UK. Now, don't all rush over here at one time!!! Lol," remarked another expat in Colchester, UK.

"Pay for a full structural survey if you buy. It's expensive, but worth it for the peace of mind. Make sure you take insurance for the stuff you move - replacement value. Shed as much as you can before moving if coming from the US, as you could easily have less space in a UK home. Check out an area at dinner time, so you see how good/bad parking really is, rather than just looking at a property during the day, when the street may be empty. Very important if you don't get off street parking guaranteed with your place. If you rent, go through the lease and the "condition" of the home listing very carefully - note even the most insignificant looking pre-existing "problems" you have with the property, so it does not come back to be your problem later in trying to retrieve a deposit," said another expat in UK.

"Research the area and look at the crime rate. Find a place near work or with easy access by bus/train," remarked another expat who made the move to UK.

Banking in UK

We asked expats which banks in UK they use and their experiences. They said:

"Yes, I had to open up a UK bank in order to pay for anything related to living expenses. It wasn't easy! The bank would didn't care how much money I had in my U.S. account, my credit rating, or even a personal note from my U.S. banker (which I had been told would help me get a UK bank account). The ONLY way I was able to open up an account was by having a UK friend co-sign for me. My circumstances was that I was an older student returning to do my Master's. I'm guessing any U.S. student will come up against the same problem. I can't speak for people who are being transferred over for a job. It may be easy for them," said one expat who moved to Cardiff, UK.

"I switched to USAA Federal Bank and as far as all of my US Dollars needs go, they do more than an adequate job for me. For my Pounds sterling, I bank with the American run bank on the US military base. I only use them to have buy dollars to be transferred to pay my mortgage," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to UK.

"I switched to Citibank because it's easy to move money between different currency accounts and I have a US checkbook," commented one expat who made the move to UK.

"I moved all bank accounts to foreign-based banks. Citibank offers dual currency--this is very convenient to receive cheques from the US and pay the one remaining US-based bill," remarked another expat in London, UK.

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Finding a Job in UK

If you're searching for a job in UK, expats talk about popular industries and how expats find employment.

"There are not a lot of job opportunities in the town itself. I work in nearby Abingdon for a university campus, and my husband commuted to Oxford to work. Your best bet would be to look in Oxford for work. The BMW/ Mini plant is there along with the main university," said one expat who moved to Wantage, UK.

"As I said, this is a major university town. There is also the main hospital for the county. Industries relating to technology have sprung up because of the skill level here. I would say that there are always jobs, both for skilled and unskilled workers. I think where London is an economic center, Cambridge is the technological center of the country," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to UK.

"All major industries are represented. London is a major financial center and other industries, as well," commented one expat who made the move to UK.

"Education is a major industry with two large universities and several colleges. Technology is an up and coming area," remarked another expat in Leeds, UK.

"Services, Distribution, Weston College, lots of retail shops. Most people find jobs online or trough the newspaper. Word of mouth might still work if you are close to local residents that trust you," said another expat in UK.

"There is no industry in Driffield. Career opportunities are few and are usually in the service area. I hear of job openings because I have made friends and the job grapevine is very strong," remarked another expat who made the move to UK.

Work Permits

"Once I had my job on base and I informed the authorities that I was planning on staying in England because I'd married an English lass, I had to apply for the visa. The base did a background check on me and the base hospital had to sign off saying that I didn't have any long term illness or the such. Then I went to HMS Immigration service with my application and letter from the Red Cross proving my employment (even though I've got my AF pension, they want to be sure that I wouldn't be a burden on their welfare system). Once they accepted my application, they stamped my passport with a visa good for 4 years. I could have used my marriage to my wife to have gotten a residency visa, but that would have classified me as an "ordinarily citizen" and may have jeopardized my employment opportunities on base. With my base employment comes the benefit of being able to shop on base, which saves me a lot of money on British gasoline, alcohol & VAT taxes. To renew my visa all I need is another letter from the Red Cross proving my continued employment on base and I get my visa renewed for another 4 years. Any American citizen can apply for various jobs on base after they've arrived in England. However, most of the jobs available to them are menial labor or clerical type jobs. And to get base benefits, one has to work 20+ hours a week. Once one has worked for a year or more, they can then apply for other better paying jobs within their particular pay group. Most of the good paying jobs where the base hires individuals off the street go to the spouses of the military & civilians who are over here on orders. Competing against them for these jobs as an initial hire is almost impossible as the base usually gets all the qualified applicants from this pool of spouses to more than fill these positions when they become vacant. I do want to suggest to any American citizen who comes to England looking for a job and they wouldn't mind working on "Little America" and get the shopping benefits that go along with it, then they should apply for a job on one of the US bases that are still open in England. These employees, such as myself, are not eligible to live in base housing, but there's always plenty of affordable housing in the area," said one expat who moved to Mildenhall, UK.

"I didn't! At least not at first. In Britain, laws on freelancers are ambiguous. I took a chance and had some contacts over here before setting out. When I moved into permanent employment my employer was ready to help with the working visa. But now I'm married to a British national and the work permit is no longer an issue. Advice: It's always risky working without the proper documentation. In many or most Western countries, however, you simply won't be able to work legally if you're a foreigner and have no blood or marriage ties to your new home. Bone up on current laws and try to find a way to get legal. But if you are stuck and know for absolute sure that you want to move, explore other options..," mentioned another expat when asked about moving to UK.

Expat Health Insurance in UK

Expats living in UK interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

Join our UK Expat Forum

Visit our UK Forum and talk with other expats who can offer you insight and tips about living in UK.

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About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000. Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Some of Joshua's more popular articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and 5 Best Places to Live in Spain. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.

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First Published: May 23, 2019

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