London, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there - 11/19/15
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, lived in China before.
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 U.S., so about 7-8 hour flight (though on my way over I stopped in Iceland for three days, which broke up the flight time).
3. How long have you lived here?
Got here 2 months ago.
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?
I live in student accommodation. It's hellishly expensive (think New York x 1.5), but my rent includes all my utilities, internet, plus use of a gym, so I figure that it evens out. I could have gotten accommodation closer to my university for a lower price, but it had fewer amenities and apparently there were problems with roaches and faulty appliances. I live about 30 minutes by Tube away from my school, which I actually prefer because it means I get to see less central, touristy parts of the city.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get pretty much whatever you need or want, though be prepared for a bit of sticker shock. Everything is more expensive here, though you can find good deals if you look in the right places.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
More shoes and clothes. Everything here is so expensive!
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything is available, though McDonald's tastes weird here. But why would you go to McDonald's when you're in a city with thousands of restaurants?
As for cost, I very rarely eat out, because even a simple meal at a cafe or a chicken/doner joint is going to run you at least 5-6 USD, and it only goes up from there. Doesn't seem like a lot, but still. Restaurants here can be very, very expensive.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None. But I keep my apartment very clean, so I don't really deal with bugs.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I have a box on the ground floor of my complex where I receive mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There's one in my apartment building, which is fine (though I'm annoyed that they have kinda limited freeweights and don't have barbells). It seems like gyms here are quite expensive, but plenty of people just lace up their trainers and go for runs in the parks or on school tracks.
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?
I use my US bank account/card (HSBC) here and haven't had any trouble. I only use HSBC ATMs attached to HSBC banks just to be on the safe side, though.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I'd imagine whatever sort of religion imaginable has services here.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's England. They invented English. If you're living in a more immigrant-heavy area, it might be nice to know a few words in the languages spoken in the area, but you're totally fine with just English. Some accents may be difficult to understand, or if someone is using a lot of regional slang, that can be hard to follow, but if you politely say that you didn't understand, they'll gladly try to speak more clearly/slowly and clarify what they mean. People are used to different varieties of English being spoken here.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
A lot of Tube stations have lots of stairs and steps, but there are plenty of curb cuts on the sidewalks and it seems like most newer buildings are designed to have disability access.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
A taxi ride across town will drain your child's college fund. I kid, but seriously, avoid taxis unless you're very drunk and there's no Night Tube or reliable bus service (time your night carefully), because they're horrendously expensive.
The Tube and buses are London affordable, which is to say expensive but not horribly so; if you're staying for longer than a few days, invest in an Oyster card to save time and some money. I have a student card, which gives me a 30% discount on all fares and travel cards, and I'm thinking of getting the 16-25 Railcard so I can get similar discounts on rail tickets.
Everything is very safe, clean, and convenient. I ride the Tube nearly every day and aside from one line I use getting shut down nearly every weekend for "track improvements" (ugh), I think it's very reliable.
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?
I don't have a car. And I'd be way too scared to drive here anyway, since I'm not used to right-hand drive cars.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, not sure because it's wrapped up in my rent.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone and get a SIM. I have a pay-as-you-go plan from O2 that I'm generally satisfied with. It's nothing special or fancy, it just gets the job done. I just wish minutes and data would roll over, but other than that it's 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?
I don't know. I know that there's a 6-month quarantine for dogs because the UK is rabies-free, but I don't know if that's changed since or if it's even accurate. I'm sure
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?
There are, but you're competing with Brits and the visa requirements have gotten much more stringent. I don't know if I'll stay once my degree is done; I would consider it if I found something that paid very well and would help me with the visa.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Tons of volunteer opportunities. My university offers a lot that I regrettably haven't participated in.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work? Depends on what you do. Public? Anything goes, though people tend to dress up slightly more than in American cities.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Everyone's a little more on edge since the Paris attacks, but honestly, I feel very safe here. It's a big city, so don't be stupid or careless with your valuables, and I'm sure there are some parts of town that you wouldn't want to go to after dark, but those concerns are typical of any big city. People are very friendly and helpful here.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I get NHS as a student, though I've never had to use it. There are pharmacies on nearly every block and I don't think there are any major health concerns.
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. Doesn't bother me.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Restaurants are very good about listing ingredients and warning allergy sufferers (I think there may be laws about this). I don't know about seasonal allergies, since I came in autumn when I don't really have them. We'll see what happens in spring.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The first month and a half I was here (September-beginning of November) was AMAZING. Sunny, not too warm or cold, and everyone was hanging out in the parks and eating at outdoor cafes. Now it's cloudy and drizzly nearly every day. I don't mind it, since this is London weather, but I miss when it was nice out!
Schools & Children:
1. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
I'd imagine so.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's actually really hard to find Brits here sometimes! London is such an international city, so the expat population here is enormous. I don't really think there's any general morale trend, but I'd imagine your personal morale depends on what you're here to do, why you've come, how long you've been here, and your socioeconomic status.
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?
I'll say it again: it's London! People go to pubs, go to restaurants, go to shows/movies, just walk in the park, there's lots of options for socializing and entertaining.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Good for everyone! It's a massive city with so much to do!
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I think so! There's a large Pride parade and there are plenty of gay/lesbian bars and LGBT events around the city. Marriage and civil unions are legal here, and generally people seem pretty accepting.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are definitely racial divisions, though the divisions and tensions are very different from what I've known in the United States. I'm a white American, so I don't experience any sort of prejudice due to the color of my skin or my religion (I'm Jewish), but you do start to notice that there are some bad inequalities. Still, people seem to mix and mingle a lot more than in the States. I think there are also issues with xenophobia, though I mostly hang around with other international students/rather open-minded Brits, so again, I haven't really experienced it firsthand.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Making friends from all over the world, wandering around Shepherd's Bush Market and Portobello Road, going on hikes in Epping Forest, going to some fabulous museums, touring Kensington Palace...shall I continue?
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
I don't know how anyone could be bored in London! Just go wandering around! Or go shopping in Carnaby Street! Or go to the V&A/British Museum/palaces/Science Museum/Natural History Museum/Wellcome Collection/National Portrait Gallery! Or see a West End show! Or go to the many, many parks! Or go to the street markets in Shepherd's Bush or Portobello Road (preferably on Friday rather than Sunday)!
Seriously, it's London. What ISN'T there to do?
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Souvenirs are pretty expensive, but I did get my mom some kitschy royal memorabilia because she loves that kind of thing.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's London! It's a truly international city with tons to do, and travel to other places in Europe is easy and not horribly expensive.
10. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I feel like I was pretty well-informed.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes, though only if I have a well-paying job.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Assumption that all of London/the UK is going to be like what you see on TV or in the movies.
4. But don't forget your:
Life savings and first born child to afford living here.