London, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there - 02/03/08
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. I have lived in Harare (Zimbabwe), Calgary (Canada), and Nairobi (Kenya).
2. How long have you lived here?
2 years from 2004 - 2006.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
I am in London for corporate work.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
From New York it's about 5 1/2 hours. Almost every airline has flights to London from the East Coast. My preferred airline is Virgin Atlantic.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Apartments. I had a gorgeous, large apartment in the recently gentrified area of Wapping. Housing in London is EXPENSIVE. Many locals live in houses outside London and commute in. Those who do live within London often have TINY apartments or share with a number of people in order to afford it. Make sure the bathroom has a shower (Brits love baths) and if it has a shower, test the water pressure (it's usually quite poor).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
EXPENSIVE. I experienced shell shock when I went on my first grocery trip. Pretty much everything is available but the prices are at least double the price of the most expensive areas of the USA.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Favorite American snack foods, new clothes and shoes(very expensive in the UK).
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Almost all American chains are there, as is Nando's (from South Africa), lots of fish & chips places, kebab places, Indian curry places. The big train stations offer a shmorgasboard of little sandwich and croissant places. Definitely try a cornish pasty.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Royal Mail. I think their service is great.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Expensive. I had someone who came in for a couple of hours twice a week. I paid US$100/week. You could probably get a non-professional cleaner to come in for cheaper, but you would really need to know people in the community well to find those people.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
You can use them the same way you would in the USA. Use the same precautions that you would in any big city.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
The English aren't as religious as Americans but there are lots of beautiful churches of all denominations. Try and attend a church service in the countryside. There you will see the real England and the services are lovely.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
People love their newspapers - here and you can find several for all political inclinations.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is pretty handy; after all it is England! The hardest thing to get used to is the different accents. Brits love teaching you their slang and hearing you say it with an American accent.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Facilities are improving but it is still a rough city for people with disabilities to get around.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Drive on the left (steering wheel is on the right).
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Public transport is perfectly safe and more available than any U.S. city. It is getting increasingly expensive though.
3. 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?
You don't need a car in London, but if you were to bring one, bring as small a car as you can. The streets are really narrow and gas is really expensive.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is available everywhere. It costs about $40/month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
If you aren't sure how long you are going to be there, get a pay as you go SIM card. Otherwise, sign a contract with any of the companies. Incoming calls are free so pay as you go works out quite well. Networks in the U.K. are much better than the ones in the USA.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Vonage & Skype. Phone cards are also available at all news agents and convenience stores. The phone cards in the U.K. offer much better rates than those in the USA. You could also just pick up your phone and dial but the rates will be higher than Vonage, Skype or phone cards.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
I assume so since Brits really love their 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?
Yes, but work permits might be hard to get.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
At my office it was business casual but many places still insist on formal business attire.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
The same as it would be in any East Coast city as far as I could tell. I have mild asthma but did not suffer any more difficulty than I did in New York.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
My office building was right next to the first train station to be hit on the attacks in 7/7/2005. The U.K. and U.S. face similar terror threats but they don't impact everyday living. There is a LOT of petty crime in London: muggings, pickpockets, car break-ins, etc. Teenagers are usually the culprits, so be street smart.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I was admitted into a private hospital while I was there and it was like being in a spa. The service was outstanding (and expensive). I also went to a doctor on the NHS. The NHS facilities were really run-down and crowded, but the care was good.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It's rainy all year. You will learn to cherish the sunshine.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I don't know much about the international schools but I do know that there are some excellent British schools. I would highly recommend sending kids to local schools; they are a little more demanding than U.S. schools, but it will look good when they head off to U.S. colleges.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Special needs kids are not as well accommodated as they are in the USA, but it's getting better.
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?
I know there is plenty of care available, but I do not have preschool age children and therefore cannot comment on the quality.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Generally high, but everyone complains about the cost of living.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
One could ostensibly go out EVERY night if one wanted to or you could be a home body. It is entirely up to you.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, for everybody. Families with children will find it especially expensive. Couples will LOVE it. Singles will love the opportunity, but Brits don't immediately warm up to you so making friends might take longer than it would in other parts of the world.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Absolutely! Mayor Ken Livingston wants London to be the gay mecca of the world.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There are growing tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. In other aspects, the U.K. is far more progressive than the USA: the U.K. has more inter-racial relationships than any place I've ever seen.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Too many to mention. Dining out is fantastic. Gone is the reputation of bad food in England. People like to entertain at home which is a great way to see how Brits live. Mini-breaks around Europe are cheap and easy from London. Train rides to different parts of the UK are really fun to do. Besides travel and dining, there is lots of arts & culture, and if you aren't a reader, you will become one; Brits read a lot more than Americans do although old timers in the U.K. lament the loss of the reading culture.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Travel around Europe and dining out.
9. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes... especially if someone else was paying for housing.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Ideas that life can be cheap. Forget customizing your morning latte, it's either whole milk or semi-skimmed, don't ask for light foam, more foam, etc.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience. Customer service is poor, service is inefficient and slow.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
7. Do you have any other comments?
I loved living in London. Try to socialize beyond the American expat community in order to get the full experience. London is a true melting pot. The weather can get depressing so try and travel as much as possible.