11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to London

Hint: A Bonnet Isn’t Something You Wear On Your Head..

Hello there! Kelsey Bardwell here, Marketing Assistant at Saunders 1865 and newly minted expatriate to the UK from the United States.  For anyone looking at making an international move to the UK I thought I’d put together a quick list of 11 things I wish I would have known before I hopped across the pond.  


  1. Start the Process for ‘Life Tasks’ as Soon as Possible

I was forewarned about the timeline on administrative tasks before I moved but didn’t believe the claims on the amount of red tape involved with just.. living.  Start looking for a flat, car leasing service, bank, cell phone provider, internet provider and anything else you use regularly as soon as you can.  Many places won’t lease or sign a contract with you if you don’t have years of UK credit, a work statement from a UK employer or some other proof of residence so hang on to your statements! However, one plus I’ve found is that cell phone plans are much less expensive– for example I pay only £15 per month compared to over $75 in the States.

  1. Think of London as Many Small Towns vs. One Large City

Each borough in London has a different vibe and unique makeup of locals. Decide on a general East, West, North or South direction and then begin your research. Although stereotypes are generalisations they’re there for a reason (there really are loads of posh mums in Kensington, business suited men in the City and bearded hipsters in Shoreditch). Think about things like commuting time, borough environment and amenities when deciding on where to live.

  1. Different Names for Different Things

Elevators are lifts, sweaters are jumpers, tank tops are vests, vests are waistcoats, sneakers are trainers, french fries are chips, chips are crisps, lines are queues and the list goes on.. All of the different spelling and names for items have proven the old saying to be true – the English and Americans truly are two people separated by a common language!

  1. The Weather Isn’t Really That Bad

The most common association with London weather-wise is rain so I packed rain jackets, my wellies and warm weather clothes accordingly.  I think I’ve used them about 10% of the time so save your limited space for other things!

  1. Supporting Your Favourite Sports Team Will Take Some Effort

When my Vikings started the NFL season 5-0 last year I suddenly realized that I had to be prepared to wake up at 1am to watch some games and get creative with how to watch it.  Many pubs don’t have TV’s so you may have to hunt for a sports bar which are pretty infrequent here, especially in residential areas.  I’d recommend searching online the week before on the off chance that your team is in the slot shown on cable. In that case, give a couple of your local pubs a call to check if they’ll have it on. The effort can pay off – I happened upon some fellow Minnesotans once that came out for a taste of American football on an Autumn afternoon. Felt just like home!

  1. Driving On the Left Doesn’t Equal Walking on the Left

Thanks to an abundance of public transportation it’s not necessary to own a car in the city so many Americans won’t need to adjust to driving on the left side of the ride.  However, there are strict social rules for escalators (stand on the right or get mowed over by power walking businessmen) but no pattern to people movement and inevitably you will end up playing the game of pedestrian contact sport whilst mumbling “so sorry” at least a few times.

  1. More Frequent Trips to the Grocery Store

In the States we’re usually once per week grocery shoppers but in the UK it’s common to go two to three times per week as the produce is fresher and fridges are smaller.  Another difference from the States is the government-mandated 5p per plastic bag fee at stores. Be sure to keep your bags for reuse or invest in a sturdier reusable bag. You’ll save pence by buying less!

  1. The Complexities of the NHS Health Care System

Coming from a primarily privatized healthcare background in the U.S. the adjustment to government related healthcare is a big one. You’ll need to register with your local GP straight away (key point being local – many providers have a strict location boundary based on where you live) in case of regular care or a referral to see a specialist.  999 is the number for emergencies instead of 911 – and you’ll want to look for Accident & Emergencies (A&E) instead of Emergency Rooms.

  1. Allow Yourself Extra Time on Public Transportation

Give yourself an hour to get anywhere. London is big and transportation, although fairly reliable, is out of your control. There are several handy apps that will become lifesavers including CityMapper which can give you up to date times/delay information for buses, tubes and estimated walking time.

  1. Once You’re Here You’ll Never Want to Leave

Nothing really prepares you for how much you’ll love London until you’re here. Traveling here for short periods of time only gives you a peek into what life in London is like. Part of the adventure is discovering all the incredible things about London by experiencing them first hand! Also, sometimes the best way to appreciate London is to leave it for a weekend. Quick break in Paris? Don’t mind if I do.

  1. There’s Help Available

I wish I would have known there are relocation experts available to help.  Firms like Saunders 1865 can assist with everything from narrowing down a borough to live in, to finding a home, to schooling assistance, to setting up a cable provider.  They even offer services to encompass any issues you may have with your flat after you’ve moved in and work on behalf of the tenant instead of the landlord.

These are just a taste of some of the cultural differences to prepare for as you get ready for your relocation to the UK.  Saunders 1865 has been the top provider of international relocations for over 30 years and can take care of any questions you may have about your move.  Be sure to fill out our Contact Form if you’re interested in speaking with one of our relocation specialists to learn more.