London, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there - 05/09/22
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?
This was our third overseas tour with the State department. Previously Germany and South Africa.
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?
Midwest USA. Connections to London are incredibly easy to anywhere in the world! Proximity to the USA is a big plus as well for travelling or just coordinating.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. 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?
The housing pool for the US Embassy is a mixed bag. In my opinion, some folks like it and others hate it. Unfortunately, we fall into the second camp. The four of us are in a VERY small apartment. We've been in small spaces before, but because there is no storage, closets, garage, or anywhere to put out stuff it felt much worse than our place in Frankfurt that was actually a few square meters smaller.
I also feel the location has been pretty bad for us as well, as we are a family with small children and we are at a noisy and busy intersection; it has been a bit soul crushing for my wife. Windows need to be closed, even in the heat of the summer, to keep out all the road noise and a twenty minute hike to the nearest patch of grass. My commute to the office is 45 minutes if the underground is working and up to an hour if I have to find another way. No parking at the US Embassy soon as the COVID special exemptions are going away. If we were to do it again, we would have sent out kids to school south of the river and requested housing in an area like Putney.
The good news is, if you are without kids the housing south of the river appears to be very nice and the neighborhoods are improving everyday as construction on this new part of town finishes up.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Very expensive. We average 340 USD a week for groceries and around 60 USD a week for delivery (1x time).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You will be absolutely spoilt for choice. The general trend is for more 'bland' food then we are used to but with such a huge variety of places you can always find what you are looking for.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
No, very little bugs/wildlife where we are.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO/Pouch for US mail. Local mail services are top notch although arranging a package return is a bit more difficult then the US.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
We pay 12 GBP/hour (~$15/hour) for a housekeeper and consider ourselves VERY lucky. I think 15GBP/hour is more typical. If you are a diplomat you don't need to pay into the social programs but you still must provide 28 days of leave for a FTE.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Gyms are good enough and everywhere. They are fairly affordable as well. The US Embassy runs a pretty good fitness center as well.
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?
Yes, I only get cash when we need to pay our baby-sitter otherwise it's frequently card only.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You would have a hard time if you didn't speak English in London.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Things are well-connected and there is accommodations in place, however I can't imagine trying to use the tube in a wheelchair. The US Embassy is very accessible.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Safe, and I pay $8.5 US a day to get to work.
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?
The smaller the better. VW Golf is pretty ideal size and something like a Honda CRV is probably the absolute biggest thing you would want. Most don't need a car and rentals/zip cars are easy to get. No need for AWD or high ground clearance and you would be fine with whatever side you steering wheel is on.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
I heard that some folks have it. I have ADSL at 60 Mbps for about $40 USD/month. It took about a month to be installed.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local mobile phones are fairly cheap and you'll need a UK number.
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 is a bilateral work agreement, so spouses can work on the economy. Some opportunities do exist at post although because of the commute and the size of the mission they are very competitive.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Any you can think of.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
More formal then other places, jeans are generally frowned upon but are acceptable on Fridays for many sections.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care via the NHS seems nearly impossible to really use since the pandemic but there are MANY private doctors and the embassy has a good health unit.
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?
Good/Moderate. The weather is fantastic and that helps.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Avoid the parks and you'll be fine.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
It can be a bit hard to get through the long winter. You ultimately live in a LARGE city that can feel very isolating if you don't seek out your own community.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Great climate (vice the midwest)! Cool winters and mild summers with drizzles throughout. We feel like the stereo type of the rainy London is totally overblown and have enjoyed London's weather.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are many Embassy children in 50+ schools, but we did not receive much help in steering our decision. IMHO I would recommend figuring out where you want to live and then finding a school near there as all the schools are of a very high caliber.
Our daughter goes to ASL and it's be awesome for her. If ASL would open a branch south of the river it would be the perfect school but as it is, I would recommend shopping around. ASL is NOT a sponsored school and I have heard that many Embassy families get rejected from the school. It also follows the American curriculum which means while you can send your 4 year old to reception at a British school, they can't attend ASL.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ASL seems to make almost no accommodations for special-needs but other schools, such as ACS and Abercorn, are more flexible.
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?
Yes, and you'll pay out the nose for your kids to go to school in the basement of church.... we pay $16,000 a year for my son to go to school for three hours a day. They also have lots of breaks, average of one week off a month, so you need to have a secondary plan if you want to send your kids to school so you can work.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, lots of sports! My first grader does swim, and fencing. My preschooler is doing a soccer program. They are all fairly expensive though, I spend about $800/month on activities and sports for two kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge expat community, I honestly meet far more expats than locals living in our neighborhodd.
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?
In my case, it's based mostly around the school and neighborhoods. As it would take me over an hour to drive my family to Putney, you don't find families from different parts of town mixing much.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
I think good for single and couples without kids, but I would not pick London for families again.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
"Locals" are reserved about making new friends but like I said, everyone is an expat so it's not been an issue.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Unknown, but probably!
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
I haven't seen it.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Being in such a historic city means there is a story around every corner.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Markets are fun, the sprawling parks outside the city are nice, exploring the national trust is great and the West End shows are incredible.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
You COULD buy anything in London but then you'll leave totally broke :(
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
You'll never explore the whole thing and there's always something to do!
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Simply put, central London is not built for or catering to young kids. I think we would have had a very different tour living outside of the Westminster/Kensington area.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In my opinion, with older kids and a more savvy housing survey, yeah.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
stuff, big car, and since of entitlement.
4. But don't forget your:
curiosity about history, appreciation for culture and flexibility.
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Joolz guides on YouTube.