London, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there - 06/22/15
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 - also lived in Latin America, Spain and Australia.
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?
From DC, you can get a direct flight, which I think was about 7 hours.
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?
Housing is all over the city, so commutes ranged from 10 minutes to an hour. I believe they're slowly moving housing closer to the location of the new embassy, but I imagine they'll keep some of the existing housing because of proximity to the international school. Housing ranges from very small to fairly large. Be really specific about your priorities when you fill out the housing survey.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything in London is expensive. Groceries were particularly expensive. You can find pretty much anything you need, but there's a heavy emphasis on pork products, so if you don't eat pork, be prepared for that.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
The only things I would have shipped are foods that I love that just weren't available (e.g. turkey bacon, chicken sausage), but that would not have been possible, so in general, we wouldn't have shipped anything else. It was pretty easy to get whatever we needed either on the local economy or through Amazon UK or US. Also, there was almost no storage space in our flat, and we found that most of our friends had similar issues, so in the end we kind of wished we had brought even less than we did.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of fast food options - McDonald's, KFC, Chipotle. Prices were a little higher than the U.S. because of the exchange rate at the time. Tons of amazing restaurants.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None. We saw maybe one or two spiders in our home, but that's about it.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We had a housekeeper come once a week for 10 GBP/hour. Expensive, but helpful.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, but quite expensive. We had a membership for LA Fitness, and it was about US$90/month.
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?
Generally safe. As recommended by RSO, we would use the ATM in the Embassy as much as possible, but we had no issues with ATMs attached to banks outside of the Embassy.
5. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It's better equipped than most. Some of the tube lines have access for disabled, and many of the buses do as well.
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?
We did not have a car, and absolutely didn't feel that we needed one. I would suggest something small to mid-size at most.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed is available, however it took about 2 months for our internet to get setup, and not because there were any issues - that was just the first date available for a tech to come install the internet. I think cost was about US$50/month. We had Sky cable and internet.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We purchased unlocked iPhones from O2 when we arrived. Service was good. However, they required a 700 GBP deposit (total) when we purchased the two phones, which was...insane, but you need to have a UK bank account in order to get a post-paid cellphone plan, and since we opened the account when we got to post, there was no credit history for them to go off of, hence the massive deposit. The plan cost about US$55/month per phone.
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?
I don't believe quarantine is required, but rules always change. Very good pet care available.
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?
Yes, but it's a large city, so there's also plenty of competition.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business to business casual at work. Whatever you want in public.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Nothing out of the ordinary for a large city. Know your surroundings and use common sense.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Amazing healthcare. London is a medevac point.
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?
Fine. No noticeable issues.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Ok, the weather is less than ideal. It didn't rain as much as I expected, but it was generally just..cool in temperature, including during "summer." If you like tropical weather and sunshine, this may not be the best place for you. But then, it's London...so it might (read: is!) still be worth it.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Didn't have personal experience with the international schools, but generally heard that they were great.
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?
Yes, but very expensive.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge and generally good.
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?
Pubs, restaurants, clubs, picnics in the park, markets (Borough Market, Camden Market). Anything and everything.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for all of the above. There's plenty to do for every type of person/family/lifestyle.
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?
I think the problems are similar to those in the U.S.. London is an extremely diverse city though, so as a minority myself, that made me feel comfortable and didn't make me feel as though I stood out, per-say.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Everything listed above. Having the opportunity to travel within the UK and see the countryside was one of the best parts. There are so many places that you wouldn't necessarily have the opportunity or time to visit if you weren't living there, that are wonderful (Edinburgh, Cardiff, the Cotswolds, etc.). Being able to take a cheap airline - e.g. easyjet, ryanair - to Spain, Germany, Morocco - basically everywhere - was great. And then London itself is amazing.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are all of the usual touristy things to do (Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, National Gallery, the list goes on and on). We loved the Churchill War Rooms especially, and just walking around the city is fun, easy, and one of the best ways to really explore. Hyde Park is nice and has a wonderful carnival during the holiday season, but our favorite park was Regent's Park, by far.
Travel outside of London as much as you can. Groupon or Living Social deals for little B&Bs in the countryside are a great way to both get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and explore quaint, beautiful towns. Go to Edinburgh, Scotland. The people were beyond friendly, and the city is amazing.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Very little culture shock. London is an amazing city, and is never boring. Amazing restaurants, free museums, theater, shopping, history - basically everything you could want. On top of that, you're able to travel to the continent very easily and see so much of what Europe has to offer, and the UK itself has a ton of amazing, beautiful places to visit.
9. Can you save money?
It's possible to save money if you don't travel or go out at all, but then you'd be missing out on the best that London and the area has to offer.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Just how truly expensive everything would be.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely. It's incredibly expensive, and the embassy community is so large and spread out that it can feel impersonal at times, but London is an amazing city. You're never bored, we found the locals to be generally really wonderful, and I can't say enough about how beautiful the rest of the UK is.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Ideas of saving any money.
4. But don't forget your:
Umbrella, UV light, and a small suitcase so you can travel on the budget airlines. :)