Last month I saw this Huffington Post article detailing the little differences between America and the rest of the world. I read through, nodding and laughing along, and decided to compile my own list.
Without further ado, here’s a list of things to know before moving from the US to the UK.
(*Side note: this is heavily NYC -> London focused as that is my experience.)
Apartment Hunting: Or should I say, flat hunting. If you previously lived in Manhattan, you’ll be fine as the letting costs (i.e. rental costs) and Estate Agent/Broker process are similar, minus the 15% annual rent fee (although Estate Agents have a reduced version). Unless you’re a bajillionare, rents will be high, flats will be small, and 95% of conditions will be “charming” (i.e. older and not in tip top condition). In case you don’t want to move your furniture across the Atlantic, you’ll be happy to know that many flats come more or less fully furnished (although the quality varies…tremendously).
Setting Up Your Flat: Sign up for internet and tv as soon as possible. It can take two weeks for providers (i.e. BT, Sky, Virgin) to hook you up.
Bank vs. Flat: Here’s a head scratcher for you: in London, you need a bank account before you can apply for a flat. You also need a permanent address in order to apply for a bank account. How’s that for a riddle?
999: This is the official emergency telephone number in the UK. I actually didn’t know this until recently and had a moment of “Wait, what do I do in case of emergency…..?”
Tube > Subway - The Tube is much cleaner and runs exceptionally more frequently, even during off peak hours (average wait time is 2-3 minutes). On the flip side, it closes around midnight and there aren’t as many stops so you often have to walk further to get to your destination.
NYC Taxis > London Taxis - Not only are London taxis exceptionally more expensive than their NYC counterparts, but outside of central central central London, they’re also not as prevalent. If you think you can just run out of your flat and hail a cab on the street, think again. (Unless you live on a major road). In addition, the vast majority of black taxis (the ones you hail on the street vs. ones your order via an app) don’t accept credit cards.
London Bus > NYC Bus - Even though it typically takes longer, I actually prefer the bus to the Tube. However, the only real reason London wins this is because of the double decker advantage.
Cell Phones: You’ll need to ensure your phone is “unlocked’ before arriving in the UK. Otherwise, your American phone wont work over here. Most companies don’t want to do this unless you’re near the end of contract. AT&T and Apple tried to pull this nonsense with Joel and me so I went into defense mode until they finally agreed.
You can order your UK sim card online and have it sent to a UK address for your arrival and then simply add your plan (online) once you’re settled. I use Giff Gaff for my personal phone (the absolute cheapest on the market - only £12/month for unlimited data, unlimited texts, and 250 minutes) and O2 for my work phone. I’ve heard some people experience not so great service with Giff Gaff, but mine is just fine 99% of the time and requires no contracts. Win Win.
Credit Cards: What’s a sure fire way to immediately show a stranger that you’re American? Whip out your credit card. The Brits (actually, I think it’s most of the non-USA world), use credit cards with a small silver chip and pin. I continued to use my non-foreign transaction fee US credit cards for the first couple months I lived here and every.single.time I used it, the cashier looked at me with a blank stare as if to say “What am I supposed to do with this magnetic strip, swipe, signature card?”
According to the above HuffPo article, the electronic identification chip/pin credit cards provide greater security and would have prevented the recent breach at Target that exposed 70 million customer records. The problem is, it’s a wee bit tricky to get a British credit card (i.e. some nonsense about having no proof of UK credit, yadda-yadda-yadda.) An easy work around is to ask for a British version of one of your existing credit cards. I did this with AMEX, demonstrated proof of residency, and received my very own chip/pin credit card within two weeks. You can of course use your new bank card, too.
Wine: When ordering a glass of vino at a bar in the States, I’d mentally pray for a “good pour”, i.e. heavy pour. The fact is, you never know if you’re in for a baby pour or generous pour. The Brits figured out a system for this. At the majority of pubs, you can either order a Small (125ml) or Large (250ml) glass. (Side note - 250ml can be as much as 1/3 of a bottle). It’s all part of the government crackdown on binge drinking, but I have a feeling that even though there’s an option for a smaller glass, most people still end up ordering the large version. Why? Because really…why wouldn’t you?
Time: This is a given, but they do 24 hour time here. And everywhere else in the world. BUT, it reverts back to 12 hours time when speaking. Rule of thumb - Writing: 24 hours. Speaking: 12 hours.
Bills: Electric and water bills are served up quarterly, not monthly. So just when you think “oh maybe they forgot to send us our bill since we just moved here?”, think again.
Eating In vs Take Away: When grabbing a sandwich at a UK cafe (i.e. Pret, Pod, etc), you’ll pay a higher price if you choose to eat in. I’m not sure how many restaurants/cafes this affects, but apparently, a court ruled that since the level of service is minimal when customers take their food to go, it should be exempt from extra VATs (i.e. tax.) The price different is typically around 50 pence.
Weather: The good news? I’d wager to say London’s reputation for constant rain isn’t entirely accurate. The bad news? London isn’t know for sunshine, either. In fact, a recent study revealed that the UK suffers from a “Vitamin D deficiency epidemic” with 2/3’s of people classified as severely lacking. Long story short, be prepared for days of grey, grey, and more grey.
Medical Insurance: One of the first things you will need to do is to register at your local surgery (doctor’s office). Find one here. You can simply walk in and register - you’ll need to bring proof of address (i.e. a copy of your rental agreement or bill) and your passport (including your Visa) with you to the GP’s.
You must have the right to work in the UK in order to get need a National Insurance Number and you must have a National Insurance Number in order to work. Request yours by clicking here.
Airport Transportation: Know your options when traveling between Heathrow and central London. I’ve listed the estimated times and costs, which each have pro’s and con’s depending on your luggage and timing situation. (Getting to Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, and City Airports are a whole other story).
-Regular black taxi (not pre-ordered): £50-£80/30-90 minutes depending on traffic
-Pre-order taxi: £30-£40/30-90 minutes depending on traffic (I use Airport Executive)
-Heathrow Express: £20/15 minutes (The train arrives and departs from Paddington Train Station. It’s really modern and nice and makes the Newark Airport train look 200 years old.)
-Tube: £5.50/60-70 minutes…depending on where you’re going.
Chain Store Equivalents: Whether you’re trying to find the right supermarket, drugstore, or favorite department store alternative, here’s my take.
-Boots: Duane Reade, Walgreen’s, CVS
-Primark: An even cheaper version of Forever21 and H&M.
-Supermarkets: regional food stores in the UK are all different, but if you were to rank UK supermarkets from best (i.e. nicest produce and meat selection) to worst (i.e. best for quick last minute shopping), it’d be this order: Waitrose -> Sainsbury’s -> Tesco.
-John Lewis: Nordstrom or Bloomingdales
-Marks & Spencer: If Target and Macy’s had a love child. And sometimes sold food. Kind of.
Have any additions? Think I’ve gotten something completely wrong? I’d love to see any and all suggestions.