London, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there - 02/13/17
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?
Yes, first 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?
There are three direct flights a day on each of the all major airlines to/from DC. It's 6.5 hours to London and 8 hours back to DC.
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?
We live in a spacious high rise, south of the Thames in Putney. We're the first people to live in our flat, which is in a brand new building right next to the tube and approximately 1100 sq ft. We have three bedrooms, a skyline view of London, a built in wine fridge, Nespresso machine, a balcony that runs the length of the flat, and an abundance of closet space. This is standard for those embassy employees without children, as it is close to the new Embassy in the Battersea/Vauxhall area. Those with children will still be housed in flats and townhouse in the St. John's Wood area, which is close to the American school. Commute to the new Embassy from Putney is about 20 minutes, and about 40 minutes from SJW, all on public transport.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can get everything in London very easily. Groceries south of the river are much cheaper than in central London, and we find many items, particularly produce, to be significantly cheaper than in DC. Amazon UK delivers everything within 1-2 days, even with no rush shipping, and packages arrive 7 days a week. Many people use grocery delivery services, but with the abundance of grocery stores within walking distance (there are three on our block, including one that we live above), it's not really necessary unless you have an unusually large order.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
We shipped a Costco package of toilet paper, paper towel, dish soap, and trash bags and were glad we did so. These items are cheap in London, but much smaller than the US versions. Random grains can be expensive, because the portion sizes of everything is smaller in the UK (think popcorn, quinoa), but refrigerator and pantries are also smaller, so it's impractical to shop in bulk.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
London has some of the best food in the world. You can find every fast food restaurant (there's a Five Guys on our main street), and every ethnic food imaginable. From kebab shops to Michelin three star restaurants, London has it all. We've rarely had a bad meal.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
None that I'm aware of.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO is extremely fast, and even the pouch takes less than two weeks. I've ordered items off Amazon US that have arrived within three days. Royal Mail is very dependable, but the UK does this weird thing where they sometimes deliver your packages to your neighbor for safekeeping.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We pay about $30 to have a maid clean for four hours. We've heard that childcare can be extremely expensive.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Our local gym is about $30 a month, but pretty bare bones. London is still getting into the gym scene, but there are many yoga, pilates, spin, barre, and specialty studios all over the place.
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?
Every place takes cards, though AMEX acceptance can be spotty. It pays to have a credit card with contactless payment or a chip and pin. Cashiers are very confused by having to sign a credit card receipt, which is considered an outdated practice. Getting a UK credit card was one of the best decisions we made as it saved us on currency conversion fees, and time with the chip/pin option.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You'll learn a lot of new words for produce, but otherwise everything is the same.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. There are many tube stations and buildings that only offer stairs. It's getting better, but following foot surgery, I found it difficult to get around.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
All are extremely safe and affordable (for London). Uber is your best bet for taxis, as it is half the price of London black cabs. You can take public transport to any city or small town in the UK.
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 have a large family, I'd leave the car at home. It's completely unneeded with London's excellent public transportation system, and parking is difficult 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 much cheaper than the states, we pay about $120 a month for cable, internet, and two mobile phones with 20GB of data each month. However, dealing with UK internet/phone providers is a nightmare. You must have a UK bank account before you can start the process, and expect to provide a sizable downpayment for service. If you establish your bank account on your first day at the Embassy, you should have internet within a month of arrival.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We brought our own unlocked iPhones and signed up with British Telecom. It's 20 GBP per month per person for 20GB of data. BT owns all the cell towers, so it has the best coverage across the UK.
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?
Yup. We bought our cat in the UK and have had nothing but excellent vet care. You'll need to have your pet micro-chipped and fully vaccinated for it to be brought to the UK.
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 many Embassy jobs, but most are menial. Some spouses work on the economy, but many opt not to work during their London tour. London's a big city, but skilled jobs can be quite competitive.
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?
London is a pretty formal post, expect men to be in suit and ties and women to be in dresses/skirts/suits. London proper is much more casual.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
I've never felt safer than in the time I've spent in London. It's a big city with lots of tourists, so you'll want to be smart about keeping an eye on your valuables, but I've never experienced a moment when I was concerned for my safety, even very late at night.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Best medical care in the world. With insurance you have access to the private medical system, which means same day appointments, fully covered, with the world's best doctors. I had surgery here and know many people who have given birth in the same hospitals as royalty.
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?
London is a major city with a major pollution problem. It can be gritty and sometimes your snot will be black. The mayor is trying to improve the air quality, but it is definitely a trade off. I've never had breathing problems, but I could see those with asthma having issues.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Expect all the seasonal allergies to exist here. Restaurants are very cognizant of food allergies and bend over backwards to account for food allergies.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Perhaps SAD, but London isn't as rainy or grey as its reputation would indicate. I don't know anyone who has had issues.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Winters are mild (40 degrees), summer will have a couple of weeks of 80 degree days spread over a few months, fall and spring are unpredictable and can be rainy or beautiful. It never torrentially pours and I've heard thunder twice in 18 months. Despite what it seems like in the movies, it never snows here.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I've heard great things about the private schools and American schools, but have no experience. I believe the Embassy starts paying for school at age 4.
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?
Day care is quite expensive, probably on par with DC.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, all the embassy kids I know play soccer and other sports.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It's massive, one of our largest missions. But, being in such an incredible, English speaking country, and pretty spread out in housing, there isn't much of an embassy community. Many people spend their free time outside the embassy community.
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?
We joined Meetup and made some wonderful friends that we expect to keep even after we leave post.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
There's something to do for everyone, but it's a big city, so I'm glad I arrived as one of a couple.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Very LGBT friendly.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There's the usual ethnic tensions, but everyone's pretty much go along, get along.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
London is one of the best cities of the world. There are a hundred sights and shows to see on a daily basis, and fun trendy events to experience. The food is incredible and the people quirky. There are also hundreds of dirt-cheap direct flights to every city in Europe, and beyond. We've found it so easy to take weekend trips throughout Europe with little hassle.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
We've really enjoyed exploring our neighborhood and taking day trips to Bath, Cambridge, the Lake District, Brighton, Cornwall, and the Lake District. There's wonderful hiking within a half hour train ride and some of the finest restaurants in the world. We've found some of our most entertaining nights out through TimeOut suggestions.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
All the best shops in the world have flagship stores in London.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Easy access to travel, excellent food, great shows and sights.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Brits can be extremely passive aggressive, and are uncomfortable with conflict and talking to strangers. However, they are really fun and friendly once you break through the cultural differences. Don't try to special order anything at a restaurant, they don't understand the concept of customization. Customer service can be extremely frustrating to deal with, as it is very friendly but ineffective.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a heartbeat, I'd stay here forever if given the opportunity.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your:
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Notes from a Small Island.