London, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there - 11/23/22
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?
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?
Washington, DC: direct flights available, very easy travel (six to eight hours).
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived 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?
We had high-rise, apartment-style housing within a 10-minute walk to the embassy. For a couple with no children, we had a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment (~1000 sq. ft.). The unit had a separate storage unit within the building, so lack of storage wasn't really an issue for us, like it can be in some London housing. We also had a balcony with a view of the Thames. It got a bit cramped when we had visitors, but it was perfect for two of us most of the time. Battersea Park was only ~20-25 minutes to walk to, so even during the Covid lockdowns we had a nice escape to greener spaces close by.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Pretty much anything you can find in the US, you can find in London. Specific brands are sometimes hard to find, but we never had any trouble finding or getting what we needed.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None; most things are readily available, and if they can't be found locally, pretty much anything you might need is available through Amazon US (DPO) or Amazon UK.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Lots of great local restaurants (although it can get expensive). We used Deliveroo for food delivery on a regular basis.
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?
DPO mostly, but local mail was also reliable when needed.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
My understanding was that it was pretty expensive, so we never explored hiring household help.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Lots of local gyms, our building had a gym, and the embassy has a nice one as well (if available to you).
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, very safe. Almost everything in London (and most of the UK) is contactless payment now. We used Apple Pay most places we went (groceries, restaurants, etc.). There are lots of ATMs around, but we almost never needed cash.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Everyone speaks English.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Probably yes. Some areas have good accessibility, but many historic sites and buildings have uneven roads and paths and lots of stairs. It did seem, though, like many places work hard to accommodate people with disabilities when they can.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes. We regularly used the Tube and buses. You don't even need an Oyster card anymore, just use Apple or Google Pay from your device or contactless credit cards. Black cabs, Uber, and other car services are also readily available (some more expensive than others). We also walked as much as possible within the city.
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 didn't have a car and really never missed it in London. Rental cars are readily available if you need a car for travel around the rest of the UK.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. We had ours installed within the first few days in our housing. We used BT, and it was fine for all of our internet and streaming needs, and there are other options available as well.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We ported our US numbers to Google Voice (usable anywhere via the app on our phones as long as we have data) and then had local sims for our UK phone numbers. The monthly pay-as-you-go plans are very reasonable and don't lock you into any contracts. We also had free roaming across all of Europe, but post-Brexit, many of the plans now charge European roaming fees.
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?
We did not bring any pets.
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 telecommuted back to my US job (my spouse worked at the embassy), and I knew a few others who did that as well. Some also were able to work out of the London offices, if they worked for a larger company with a presence there. It seemed like EFM jobs were few and far between.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
London is generally a pretty well-dressed place, and we attended some formal events.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Nothing beyond normal concerns in large city. I generally felt very safe, but tried to be smart in crowded places.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care was very good.
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?
We didn't really have any issues besides minor seasonal allergies.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Restaurants are all very good about asking if there are any dietary requirements and will generally work to accommodate them.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It rained less than I expected, but the weather was never really too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer. I loved it.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
There is a large expat community, but the city and surrounding areas are so easy to navigate that the community is much less close-knit than I've heard about other places. We would hear occasionally of coworkers who were unhappy being posted there, but most people seemed to enjoy it.
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?
The embassy hosted some events, but many people also socialized with local communities that share common interests, hobbies, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
As a couple, we loved it. Families also seemed quite happy, but I could see it being a lonelier place for singles, since the community is more spread out.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Having the Covid lockdowns interrupt much of our time there, we didn't socialize locally as much as we might otherwise. That said, I think making friends was be much the same as it would be in any major US city.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There seemed to be a strong, welcoming LGBT community in the city.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
We loved some many things about this post: everything that London had to offer (history, theatre, museums, fine dining, etc.), weekend trips to other parts of the UK (Bath, Oxford, Cornwall, etc.), and easy travel access to the rest of Europe.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. But don't forget your:
Umbrella (even though it doesn't rain as much as I thought it would).