London, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there - 09/07/08
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, Kuala Lumpur.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Travel time from East Coast, USA is about 8 hours.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing is small for the most part, but the further you are from central London the bigger the homes get. Commute times vary. Embassy personnel commute times can be anything from a few minutes walk to an hour using public transportation and walking.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Everything is available but it's twice as much.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Many American chains are here but don't be shocked by the costs. Restaurants are very expensive and not very good.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
I have APO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Very expensive, help starts at 8 pounds per hour which is about US$16 per hour.
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?
Widely available, just check with your bank about charges for using a foreign bank.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
They are available.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Although English is the local language, you may want to find out what a fort night is and how much a stone weighs.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Getting around will be a problem as many of the tube stations are not accessible. The buses seem to have ramps and are not a problem. Also the sidewalks are not level and may cause a problem. It is also very difficult to get disabled parking.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Driving is on the left side of the road in the UK.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
The black cabs are safe and expensive. Local trains and buses are every where because this is a pedestrian city.
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?
Small, many of the roads are quite small. If you are not government, perhaps a hybrid would be suitable to avoid additional charges in the city.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes about US$50 a month.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
They are a must have!
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
There are many options. We have a Voice over IP.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Good I believe.
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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
There is a lot of pollution in London because of all the traffic and buses.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not more than you would expect from a major city.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
I'm not impressed by the quality of the hospitals. The first time I went in a hospital I was surprised at the lack of cleanliness. You also have to deal with National Health care and the pluses and minuses of it. Private health care is available but it is very expensive. American insurance companies will reimburse but many only at American rates so your out of pocket may be huge.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Rain and cool most of the year. In the winter there are very, very few hours of sunlight.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are many International Schools in London. My children attended the American School in London (ASL) is excellent but not very diverse. My children loved the school and were challenged academically. Make sure that you start the admissions process early because many of the schools have waiting lists.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ASL make accommodations.
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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
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?
There is plenty to do.
3. Morale among expats:
Varies, some are very happy because of the access to Europe and the ease of travel. Others are stressed by the expense because of the slump of the greenback.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
It can be - just be prepared to use the public transportation system.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
There seem to be a huge population.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not any more than any other major city.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The sky is the limit. There are museums, parks, theater, films, movies, sporting and cultural events. I'm sure if you dream it up, you'll be able to find it here.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
9. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Big car/SUV because gas is about US$10 a gallon.
3. But don't forget your:
Patience because although this is 1st world many things move at 3rd world speed.