London, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there - 06/09/15
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?
No. Fourth expat experience.
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?
DC is about an eight-hour direct flight from London.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Every housing type you can imagine...small apartments, large apartments, townhouses, regular houses.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available and more expensive than in the U.S. Tesco and Sainsbury's probably have cheaper brands while Whole Foods and Waitrose are more high end.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Even though we're in a huge shopping city, we still get a lot of our items from Amazon as it's so much cheaper...particularly clothing.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything. Except Taco Bell is hard to find.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
A few gnats, ladybirds and house spiders. We leave our windows open a lot.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO at the Embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
No experience. The few people I know who have nannies bring them into the country as live-ins. Babysitters charge £10 per hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, but they're very expensive. At least US$100 per month with a contract.
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?
Safe but practice common sense.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Any and all.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Again, yes, and no. The buses are very handicap-friendly, but you can only have one or two wheelchairs or strollers on at a time, or they will make you wait for the next bus. And there are quite a few underground stations that do not have elevators. Sidewalks are wide but crowded. I imagine it would take some planning.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
Unless you plan on doing a ton of driving outside of the city, I would not bother bringing a vehicle. We brought ours and thought we would see a lot of the country. But driving in and out of London is really stressful, and the public transportation routes are so good. Maintenance, parts and insurance are expensive, and there's very little parking available. We parked our car on the side of the road most of the time, and it has a few new scratches and dings.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, but it's not cheap with the exchange rate. We pay £70 per month for our internet/cable/phone bundle through Sky. Not a lot of competition in the market. So installation takes weeks for an appointment, and you're charged for technician visits unless you have their extra maintenance package.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local plans are widely available.
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?
Quarantine is no longer required. But there is an extensive entry process. Pets must arrive as manifest cargo, which is very expensive.
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 volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Anything you can imagine.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual at work. Anything goes in public.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
It's a big city, so keep an eye on your belongings. We have two friends who experienced break-ins on the ground floor.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No real health concerns other than year-round allergies and minor chest coughs from air pollution. London is a regional medevac center, so medical care is very good.
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?
It's worse than I was expecting. Quite a bit of pollution in central London that sits on the ground in the winter. It doesn't rain as much as I thought it would, so all the vehicle exhaust hangs in the air.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
It's not seasonal, it's all year round due to the mild climate. I've embraced nasal sprays.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Moderate. We've had allergies all year round. It didn't snow at all the first year we were here, and barely snowed the last year. Highest temp was 80F.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Several international schools. But the British education system is good. So people also put their kids into local schools, both public and private.
2. 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?
There are many preschools/daycares available. But they are ridiculously expensive and can become more so if the exchange rate is bad.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, all kinds.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge. Morale varies depending on expectations.
2. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It's a good city for anyone.
3. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
4. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Yes, and no. London is one of the safer big cities. But the UK, like France, is having a problem with radical Muslims and illegal North African immigrants.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Trips to Europe, trips into the English countryside, trips to the beach. Pubs, castles, museums, restaurants, parks. London is a beautifully green city with a ton of flowers in the spring and summer.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Pubs, castles, museums, restaurants, parks. Lots of books out about "secret" London. There's something for everyone.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Where do I start? It's London! Local, regional and European travel, so much history and culture. Modern first-world amenities. At the center of world events.
8. Can you save money?
There are lots of free things to do in London. So you can save money if you try.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
That bringing our car really was pointless.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Budget and your diet.
4. But don't forget your:
Camera and your walking shoes!
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Bridget Jones's Diary, Love Actually, Pride & Prejudice, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Oliver, Austen Powers, the list goes on...