London, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there - 05/20/15
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?
First tour in Arlington for 3 years. This is our first overseas post.
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?
Home base is Washington, DC. About an 8 hour direct flight.
3. How long have you lived here?
2 year post. Have been here 1 year (5/2014-5/2015).
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
EFM of USG employee
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Mostly flats and townhouses. Aside from our own, the flats seem to be much more spacious that I expected. Townhouses are tall and narrow with lots of stairs. Housing is a mix of USG owned and leased. A few families live in houses further from the city (Golder's Green, Putney). Housing is beginning to transition more to Putney (south of the river) in preparation of the new embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Lots of options but expensive. Many people order online and have groceries delivered. There are also many options for shopping in person. Lots of local markets that sell fresh fruit and veggies. Food tends to go bad faster here, as there is less preservative use (pro and con). We spend much more money on groceries than expected.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
You can get everything you need here. Though if you know you'll have the space, stock up on lots of household items to save money (toilet paper, paper towels, etc). Pickles! I can't find a decent dill pickle here.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
We don't eat fast food, but there are many McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Papa Johns around. Lots of restaurants, but most things are very expensive. We've had difficulty finding good Mexican or Korean food here.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Lots of flowers around bring lots of bees. The are snails on the sidewalks that can cause health issues for dogs if eaten.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
There is a DPO/Pouch at the Embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Available and expensive. The going rate for cleaning and dog walking seems to be 10 pounds per hour. Many families with children sponsor live-in domestic help from the Philippines.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
You could find pretty much anything you wanted but it is expensive. There is a small gym in the Embassy. Plenty of parks for running, walking, etc.
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?
Get a card with a chip. Be careful about the ATMs you use. We only use the ATM inside the Embassy or inside a bank.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Anything you could desire.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It is an English speaking country, but you will have to adjust to accents and local terminology.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The sidewalks here are very slippery when it rains. I think living here would be okay, but would probably present challenges due to small spaces, small elevators, etc if a wheelchair was involved.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They are safe and so efficient. We joke that we have been spoiled by such amazing access to trains and busses. I think the most we've ever waited for either is 5 min and more often it is a 1-2 minute wait. As everything else, it is expensive to use public transportation here. Though, I believe students and seniors travel free.
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?
We don't have a car and have been fine without it. I honestly don't miss it, though we do have parking in our building. Anything too large would be a hassle here. There are many zipcars around. A lot of people use their cars to travel locally and to travel to the military base for cheaper groceries/household items.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Available and expensive.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We bought sim cards upon our arrival. We use giffgaff and haven't had any problems.
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?
We brought a dog and a cat. It is expensive to bring them but there is no longer a quarantine if you follow rules closely.
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?
I don't know anyone who works on the local economy.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
I haven't looked, but I'm sure there are many!
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business to business casual depending on the job. It doesn't seem to be a very trendy city, but most people look nice/put-together when out. I don't often seen anyone out in sweatpants unless it's a designer jogging suit or they're obviously going to the gym.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Typical concerns of living in a large city. Be self-aware and avoid dodgy areas and you'll be fine. I feel very safe here.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No special concerns. Excellent medical care on the local economy.
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?
Allergies seem especially troublesome here. Lots of black mold. Otherwise, typical pollution of large cities.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Lots of black mold. Allergies and asthma seems to cause difficulties here.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Since we've been here, it doesn't rain nearly as much as expected. When it does rain it seems to either rain for a few days or pass very quickly. The summers are beautiful and mild 70s to low 80s F. The winters are mild, but the days are short and dark. It can be a bit depressing to deal with darkness at 3pm for long periods of time.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There is an American School that families seem pretty happy with. We don't have children in school here.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
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?
Many daycare options, though most will not take a child until they are 6 months or older. They are all very expensive and, honestly, not that impressive. Most embassy families seem to sponsor live-in nannies, though there are many rules surrounding that. Childcare has been the most difficult part of being here for us. They do no require vaccines at schools/daycares on the local economy.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I'm sure you could find anything you desired. There are definitely sports at the American School.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Large. Morale really varies here. People either seem to love it or hate it. I have seem quite a few curtailments. This is not a close embassy community, as there is so much to do on the local economy and housing it spread out.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Spending time in parks, going to the theater, eating out, museums, travel. You name it and I bet you could find it.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a great city for everyone, but it could be lonely for singles. We really don't have embassy friends, as most people tend to do their own thing. The embassy does try to sponsor a lot of events, so attending those would be helpful for singles.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
None that I'm aware of.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Having our first child. Exploring different areas of the city. Interesting travel destinations.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Many free museums. Beautiful parks and gardens. Lots of theater options. We mostly just enjoy exploring different areas of the city without much agenda.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Easy access to European travel. Mild weather year round. Excellent healthcare available on local economy.
10. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That childcare was so expensive that it makes EFM work nearly impossible.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes but not when expecting or while having small children, particularly if you're an EFM and want to work.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your: