London, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there - 08/14/11
Personal Experiences from London, United Kingdom
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No, I have lived in Athens, Greece; Bridgetown, Barbados; Rome, Italy; Lima, Peru and Tel Aviv, Israel.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
East Coast United States. It takes about 7 hours ... an easy trip but getting expensive!
3. How long have you lived here?
3 years, with one to go.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Spouse is posted to US Embassy.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Typically small flats, but convenient to central London. Transport is pretty good. Embassy housing is decent.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Just about anything you want is available, but at about 30% more than in the States. If you're lucky enough to be with the embassy, you can go to the commissary about 1 1/2 hours away and pay US prices for US products, which helps.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
All the usual US fast foods - Subway, Burger King, MacDonald's, Pizza Hut, etc. Pub food is pretty good and affordable. There is some nice but expensive fine dining. We wouldn't come to London for the food, though. Things are expensive, particularly as the dollar is so weak now.
5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?
Very big on organic, vegan, gluten-free, etc. Readily available anywhere.
6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None in the city that I'm aware of.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy diplomatic post.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Expensive, from what I understand, but available.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
No problem, taking the usual care.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Many and varied.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes. TV satellite is available, but more expensive than in the States. Poor programming choices, but this may be universal! Great BBC programming.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Not too bad. Most places will accommodate wheelchairs, but there are lots of cobblestones and stairs, as well.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Safe and reasonable. Taxis are not cheap, but buses and the tube are very convenient and safe.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Parking is difficult, insurance is high, driving in the city a pain, transport good ... it is easier to rent a car once in a while. A small car is better, unless you are bringing it specifically to make runs to the RAF Base in Lakenheath for shopping!
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. About 2x as much as in the States, maybe?
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Lots of plans available. Just shop around.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Not if you get a 'health passport' and they travel with you. You have to jump through some hoops before you leave, so check early. Otherwise, yes, a long quarantine.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Everywhere ... they love pets! Dogs can run free in most parks, as well.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Professional at work, formal for many occasions. London casual has its own style. Accepting fo all types.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
About the same in the US for terrorism. Pickpockets abound in the heavily trafficked tourist areas.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
NHS is available to all, but I would NOT recommend it! Private care is also readily available and excellent, but expensive.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Moderate ... allergies can be rampant, and you have all of the normal pollution you find in a city.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is grey much of the winter, which is tough. You'll get to know the meaning of 'sun break'. Summers are usually nice. The plus side is not too much snow or ice, but it rains a lot and you walk everywhere, so bring wellies!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
ASL: I never understood why the hype for this school. It treats embassy children like lower-class citizens unless they excel at sports. It claims to be academically challenging, by which they mean they grade harshly and discourage independent thought or creativity. Some high school staff members are awesome, but the overall climate is very debilitating. (This borne out by discussions with embassy families, the psychiatrist, and therapists on the local economy.) Our daughter went from being an A/B student with healthy self-esteem to having panic attacks at ASL. We switched to a British school after 2 years, and she is now happy, healthy, getting all A's, and going to Oxford or UCL next year. (Proving it wasn't the child, but the school.) Very elitist. Have been a parent and on boards of International Schools in various countries, and have been accepting of the inevitable issues, but this school is dangerous, at least at the high-school level. British schools are good, and there are plenty of international choices available as well.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Limited. ASL says they accommodate, but I know of at least 3 families who ended up pulling their children from ASL who needed more support/nurturing than ASL was able to provide.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Just about anything is available, from theater groups to sports clubs. Everyone has a local pub where you are sure to meet most of your neighbors.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Great for anyone!
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Very accepting of gay and lesbian lifestyles.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Nothing overt ... racial issues in the outlying impoverished areas, but not aware of any issues with professionals/embassy employees.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Getting to know the people, great pubs, great music, great parks. My teenager has never been happier.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Movies, shows, bowling, sports, markets, museums, music everywhere, travel, parks, castles ... so much.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
They speak English! Its wonderful to be able to communicate freely. You can really become part of the community here. Great countryside, lots to do, and plenty of travel opportunities.
11. Can you save money?
We get a COLA, which is very helpful. We are saving A LITTLE, and have put a lot into the college fund, but we don't travel as much as some.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Warm weather clothing!
3. But don't forget your:
Raincoats, rain boots.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Great city, although the work isn't as challenging, and the embassy community not as cohesive as at more 'hardship' posts. I love London, but my favorite postings were Tel Aviv and Lima.