Relocating to London: Top Tips from American Expats

Ugo Arinzeh

May 28, 2020
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If you live abroad, especially in America and you’re thinking of moving to London, then this article is perfect for you because I am sharing top tips from a group of American expats that have made the move.

As a property agent who grew up in America, I specialize in working with Americans relocating to London as it’s an experience I share. There are many things similar or familiar to America, but there will be many things that are not, especially if you are moving from a smaller city.

So in this article I went directly to one of my Facebook groups for Americans in London and asked what tips would they would share or what did they wish they had known when first moving to London. And here are some of the best.

1. Get a Bank Account. This is not as simple as it sounds, because you need a UK address, but often you won’t have one and you can’t rent a flat without a bank account, so it’s a bit circular.

It can be really hard to overcome but someone suggested Monzo which is an online banking platform where you should be able to open an account, so if you are successful with that, please let me know. Some landlords may accept 6 months rent in advance if the bank account is a sticking issue, but obviously that is quite a lot of money to have to fork out, so if you can manage to get a bank account, then you would be much better placed.

2. Get an Oyster card. This is our primary card for the transport system. While the Oyster card is super easy to load up and it’s a good way to track your spending, if you have a contactless card, you can now use that on the transport network. Keep in mind, the London transport network no longer accepts cash to get on buses.

3. Consider cycling to Get Around. Certainly, in this current environment, cycling will become more of an option than ever before. I do have to warn you to be extremely careful in London and wear a helmet as London does have a high rate of accidents involving cycles.

If you want more transport options, make sure to check out my video on 10 Ways to Get Around London.

4. Get a National Insurance Number. This would be the equivalent of a social security number so while good for tracking your contribution to the national insurance system, it’s not requested as prevalently as the social security number is in America.

5. Try to Keep a US mobile or cell phone number. Move your US phone number to a Google voice number several days before you leave the US. Consider still using that number on WhatsApp as you need access to that number still for lots of security code verification kind of things— many credit cards etc won’t let you use a foreign number.

6. One of my top tips is to Sign up for Newsletters for Galleries and Cultural Spaces. This will let you keep up with the latest of what is happening and for many of the galleries, it means you’ll be on the invite list for exhibition openings and often they are free.

Another key tip I might suggest is to actually if you love the arts and culture museums is to go ahead and become a member of them because they offer great discounts and bonuses and while many museums might be free for their general exhibits many of their special exhibitions will involve a fee and if you’re planning to go a couple times a year becoming a friend and member definitely has added benefits and becomes very cost economical.

Shifting to the property side of things, here are some top tips for expats moving to London:

1. Budget for Council Tax. Don’t forget to budget for council tax when looking for a rental property. Council tax is sort of like property taxes in America, but tenants pay it. It’s for the local services of the area where you live such as trash collection and social services. Also be ready to pay for a TV License to support the BBC. While it’s under £15 per month, it still is an expense you may not be used to paying.

2. Check out Thrift Stores. Thrift stores are abound here in the UK and most high streets will have quite a few. It’s kind of like Goodwill in America, but really it’s more like a flea market. If you’re diligent and in some of the nicest parts of London, you can regularly get vintage luxury pieces at significant discounts. You can look out for charity shops that specialise in furniture, as these will be much larger and often have a huge collection of different styles and donated pieces that are often of a high quality.

3. Many Apartments will be Furnished. A lot of apartments come fully or partially furnished which you would not be used to and is unheard of in places like NYC. This may be something to consider when moving over, which takes us onto the next tip.

4. Be Careful About What Furniture You Bring. US furniture does not always fit well in UK homes. A Queen size bed in America is the equivalent of a King size bed here. Also, you need to be careful when shopping for replacement sheets for bedding as you will need to be aware of the different sizing!

5. Your baking trays and casserole dishes may be too big for your ovens here in the UK. Now, I haven’t found this to be something that is a problem, but I do know know that for example things like refrigerators can be a lot smaller that can be under the counter and some might not even have freezer sections or the freezer sections might be quite small so again you’re going to definitely have to adapt to how you shop for food and the type of food you’re going to need to refrigerate in the store.

6. Appliances. There is no point bringing most appliances as the wattage doesn’t match, and you should be able to get pretty much what you need here.

So I hope this blog has been helpful in providing practical tips of things to be aware of as you look to move to London. If you’re wondering about cost of living in London, make sure to check out my video called “Is London Expensive?”. I’d love to hear your tips on moving to London if you have done so from America or another country, so please do share them in the comments!

© Onyx Property Team

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