London, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there - 08/02/15
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, but first working for State. I had previously lived in Spain
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?
Minnesota. Tons of flights, even a couple direct to Minneapolis.
3. How long have you lived here?
August 2012 to February 2014
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Worked at the Embassy
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
The housing pool is shifting. I was one of the first to move south of the river closer to the new Embassy (opening June 2017, last I heard). Southwest London was really lovely. Parks, grocery stores, pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants... I was 4 blocks from the river. Commute time was 45 minutes (yuck) on the Tube to the old building. It will be more like 25 minutes to the new building.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Available, but more expensive than the U.S. Many colleagues would travel out to the base. I never went, but I hear it was 45 minutes away and had U.S. groceries/prices.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I'm a single guy and had always lived in other peoples' furnished houses. Thank god I bought most of my kitchen supplies and consumables in the U.S. Bring whatever you can. London prices are probably 30% higher than DC prices.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Whatever your heart desires. Except In N Out.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The Embassy's DPO. I spent a lot of money on Amazon dodging the British mark ups. If you have an Amazon Prime account, your packages will arrive a week after you order them.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It's available. I think I paid 50 GBP for 4 hours/week? Ask around the embassy if you want to find someone trustworthy.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
The gym in the old Embassy is just okay. London has plenty of gyms.
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?
If you give a vendor a card without chip-and-pin, they'll look at you like you're trying to pay with a check. ATMs all read my card, but paying vendors at, say bars or grocery stores, could be a bit of a pain.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Probably anything you'd want.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You'll be fine with American english.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Maybe. It's an old city, and I don't remember seeing a ton of handicapped accessible infrastructure, but I guess I wasn't looking for it.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, yes, yes.
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?
My advice is "Don't bring a car." That said, many people had one. The Embassy paid for a parking spot at my apartment. Parking anywhere else in the city center is hard to find.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, and reasonably cheap. Brits use DSL, which is everywhere, and fiber, which isn't. I might have payed 60 GBP a month for 30 mbps? I might not have that right.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I ported my U.S. number to google voice, which I highly recommend. Texts went to my email and I could make calls on WiFi.
As for local plans, I had T-Mobile. Data wasnt cheap, but the service was fine.
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?
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 think so, but I'm not sure how the visas work.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Fairly formal. The (old) Embassy is in one of the wealthiest parts of London and people are usually very well dressed. As for the Embassy, it depends on where you work. Suits are very common. In most offices, it's at least a shirt and tie.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
There were some honestly insane protests ("USA watch your back / mujahadeen are coming back", "Free all Muslims from US prisons", a "hunger strike" that lasted 80+ days with all participants plump- Brits remember very well that Bobby Sands died after 66 days back in the 1980s).
Aside from some of the protester lunacy, I never felt the least bit unsafe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
None. Medical care is excellent.
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?
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
London has a reputation for rain and, while it does rain often, it doesn't rain hard. I think I heard thunder 4 times in my tour. Most of the time, the rain is so light it's not even worth an umbrella. Honestly, my biggest climate issue was how dark it was during the winter. For 4 months out of the year, it was dark when I arrived at the Embassy in the morning, and dark when I left the Embassy after work. The summers are short, but glorious
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
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?
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?
Massive in size. Morale really varies. I had a wonderful time, but I know others suffered. At many posts, people posted at the Embassy are sort of forced to hang out with one another and that builds community. That's not the case in London. If you rely on the summer camp vibe of small or remote posts, London will be an adjustment.
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?
Plays, bars, pubs, road trips, restaurants, concerts...
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Certainly for singles and couples. I imagine daycare is expensive. I've heard people complain about being poor here, but COLA floated around 75% and housing was free. I was able to save some money.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes. London is liberal as any big city in the U.S.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I know of. In fact, no one batted an eye when they heard my American accent. London is incredibly cosmopolitan, and the Brits pride themselves on it.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Nightlife, awesome travel to the continent, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Iceland.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Andrew Edmunds was probably my favorite restaurant. SoHo on the weekends. East London is great. If you're bored in London, shame on you!
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Theater, beer, museums.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
There's nothing you can't find in London.
10. Can you save money?
Yes, but you could also not. There's a ton to do in the city, and cheap flights everywhere.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had known how popular I would become by having a spare bedroom in London. My friends and family treated it like a hotel room!
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
Wits. Brits have a dry, biting sense of humor. If you want to make friends, learn how to take and make a joke.