London, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there - 03/17/09
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?
Lived in Moscow.
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:
6 hours from Washington, DC or New York.2 hours from Frankfurt.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
It completely varies. There are embassy-owned buildings, and various leased housing around the city. Single people and couples without children general get the smaller flats. There are larger houses out in Golders Green and smaller flats in Marylebone and Swiss Cottage. Some folks completely luck out and get gorgeous townhomes in envious locations. Its really all luck of the draw with the housing board. Locations are: Marylebone, Maida Vale, Bayswater, Knightbridge, Swiss Cottage, St. John's Wood, Hampstead Heath and Golders Green. I'm sure there are other smatterings of places, but mostly on the Central to West areas of the city. Commute times vary from 15 minute walk to 1.5 hours by bus and tube. The British housing also has little to no storage space. Most to not have decent closets to store items, including closet space in the bedrooms.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Expensive. Most folks drive 2 hours to Lakenheath military base to stock up on American food supplies. Everything can be found on the local economy though
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
I would actually bring LESS stuff.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Plenty. It depends on the exchange rate at the time for the cost. McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, are all available here. Most people go out for the excellent Indian food here. Tex-Mex is harder to find, but Bodeans is a great American style BBQ restaurant.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Slugs in the gardens.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO - its SLOW!!!! Surprisingly slow. Mail arrives back in the U.S. faster if you send it via Royal Mail.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Don't use it, too expensive.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes. The Embassy has one, but there are plenty around the city.
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?
I've had my credit cards frauded 3 times since arriving in London. Just be careful.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, plenty of all types.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Oh yes. There is a wide variety of TV types to chose from, like Sky and Virgin media. No AFN available in the city though.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
No - I don't think so. Many buses are equiped to handle wheelchairs, and some tube stops have designated wheelchair access.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes - great public transportation. Cost is better than Washington DC metro.
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?
Anything. Check with the housing board for the parking around your house though. People drive both U.K. and U.S. spec cars here. Driving on the other side of the road isn't hard. Buy a GPS unit though to navigate.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Lots of choices, yet again. Sky, Virgin, BT. Price varies.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
If the Embassy doesn't provide you one, there is a WIDE range of pay as you go cell phone shops all over.
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?
Only if they don't meet the Pets Scheme. Bloodwork is required 6 months in advance, otherwise they must be quaratined for 6 months. Average cost of quarantine is US$2,000-4,000 per pet for the 6 months.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Not sure, didn't bring in 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?
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual to business dress.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
2. What immunizations are required each year?
3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None. Just practice general safety awareness. Don't act or behave like a tourist, and you'll be fine.
4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
None. You can join NHS as a diplomat. Otherwise, local care is just fine. Non-NHS dental care is fantastic!You just have to pay for it out of pocket.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Typical 'British' weather, rainy and overcast quite a lot of the time, but there are nice sunny spells in the Spring and Fall. Winter it rarely gets cold enough to snow.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
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?
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
At the schools, yes.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Not so good. Life would be much better if the GSO would actually work. It makes life harder when they refuse to fix things in your flat because 'its just not that important'. GSO excels at making our home life harder than the average Brit. The work day is also longer than most places and the Embassy supports a high quantity of visits.
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?
If you want, lots.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes. I found loads to do as a single here. I know families are always busy with after school activities, and its easy to hop on a train and visit around London.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I would say so judging by the Soho area alone.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Loads. Just pick up a guidebook, I've found something to do just about every weekend.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Wedgwood, Waterford, assorted British pottery.
9. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No. As a visitor, yes. To work, no.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Extra 'items' and stuff. It won't fit in the house or storage anyhow.
3. But don't forget your:
Rain gear, car, and travel books.
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: