Cambridge, United Kingdom Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Cambridge, United Kingdom

Cambridge, United Kingdom 03/01/13

Background:

1. Your reason for living this city (e.g. corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.):

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2. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

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3. 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?

Multiple US-occupied RAF military bases within 20 miles of several surrounding communities including Cambridge, Newmarket, Bury St. Edmunds, Mildenhall, Lakenheath, Feltwell, Thetford, Ely and less than 100 miles from London. There are buses in the area, but owning a car is much more convenient, as this is a rural area.

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4. How long have you lived here?

July 2009- July 2011, with the military. A first expat experience.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing comes in the way of flats (apartments), attached (duplex) or unattached houses. Because of the number of Americans in this area, modern homes are built with larger living spaces and more storage. Older homes lack storage, and rooms and doorways can be small. Many homes have radiant heat and lack A/C. Renters must pay property taxes, called "the Council Tax", which can be quite expensive.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Americans can expect to pay double for groceries and supplies.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Tour old churches and cathedrals, visit Cambridge University, hike across pastures, watch horse-racing, visit pubs with local brews, go shopping, and dine out.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Summertime spiders, but none venomous.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Local post office

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Similar to the US.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

A few.

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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?

ATM machines and credit cards are easy to use, although it is necessary to have a British bank account to pay rent and bills, buy a car, and make other transactions.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Catholic, Anglican, Protestant.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes. Cable (Sky) is expensive, and you will have to pay a TV tax.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

The comment "same language separated by a culture" is very true. Many non-Brits assume that since communication is easy in English, everyone understands each other. There are different ways of doing everything there, different expectations, ways of being polite. There is also a lot of slang and different words used. For example, "stroller" in the US is a "pram" in the UK.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Not every business is wheelchair accessible.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes.

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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?

British spec right-hand drive is safer. 4WD is unnecessary. Most people use fuel-efficient small hatchbacks, as they are easy to park and use less gas, which is very expensive. Consider a diesel.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Similar to the US.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Vodafone.

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Pets:

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?

Yes, until 6 months from the most recent rabies vaccine --- with blood draw to prove it is active.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes.

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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?

No.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Comfortably conservative, although young people may dress quite provocatively to go to the clubs.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Apart from London, there is not really any violence. There are firm gun-control laws. But home invasions and thefts of appliances, electronics, copper piping, etc. are common.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Socialized Medicine: NHS. Do not expect specialists to care for rare disorders outside of London.

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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?

I think air quality is good in most of the UK, and seems to have improved in London from when I visited in the 1990's.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Generally speaking, the weather is mild. Light rain occurs almost daily, but usually only lasts a only short while. Storms are few and far between. Winters can be grey, and cold and include icy roads. Fog can be severe, but is uncommon. Summers are beautiful- likened to the Bay area in CA.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

Many people use Busy Bees in Mildenhall Village.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

33,000 or more

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2. Morale among expats:

High.

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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?

Social life centers on eating out, pub scene, visiting homes of locals, movies, malls, sporting events, car boot sales (a cross between a flea market and garage sale). Newmarket has the largest dance club in that part of the country (capacity: 3,000), so there is quite a nightlife for such a small town.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Less than expected.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The countryside is beautiful and dotted with quaint small towns, old pubs, and Norman churches. I loved driving to Wales, the Cotswolds, and the Lake District. We also enjoyed the convenience of our proximity to Stansted Airport for getting to anywhere in Europe via Ryan Air, Easy Jet, Wizz Air, and other small airlines.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Tour old churches and cathedrals, visit Cambridge University, hike across pastures, watch horse-racing, visit pubs with local brews, go shopping, and dine out.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

English antiques, mini-coopers.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Newmarket, where I lived, is very convenient to Stansted Airport, less crowded and less expensive than Cambridge or Bury St. Edmunds (although it is only 15 minutes by car to either), and is famous for horse racing. I heard from a local that in this town of 12,000 people there are 5,000 racehorses. Gas and groceries can be expensive, depending on the exchange rate of your currency. The countryside is very driveable, and car parks abound in small towns and outside of larger tourist towns for those who prefer public transportation --- which is clean, reliable and reasonably priced.

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11. Can you save money?

No.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

bikini.

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3. But don't forget your:

umbrella.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

For the UK, consider reading Notes from a Small Island
by Bill Bryson; Timeout travel guides

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Simon Schama: A History of Britain (Special Edition)

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Wonderful experience.

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Cambridge, United Kingdom 09/09/12

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

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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?

Texas, 10 hours direct by plane from London Heathrow Airport to Houston Intercontinental Airport. It is best to fly into London Heathrow and then take the National Express Bus (called "coach" here) from Central Station London, easily reachable by foot and free underground from the airport terminal. Bus tickets can be purchased on their website or directly at Central Station. http://www.nationalexpress.com/coach/index.cfm. You will take National Express bus/coach for approximately 2.5 hours to Cambridge. One bus is more direct and one stops at Stansted airport for an hour. Try to get the direct bus. The buses run pretty regularly, but make sure you book a bus/coach that gives you plenty of time to get baggage and get through customs (1.5 hours should be plenty, but under that might be iffy depending on how busy the airport is). For maximum flexibility, you may decide to buy your coach ticket from Central Station instead of in advance/online.

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3. How long have you lived here?

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

(The contributor is a government contract worker who lived in Cambridge from 2009 to 2011, a first expat experience.)

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Houses and flats (apartments) here generally are smaller with smaller rooms, few-to-no closets and no central A/C, except in newer buildings. Many Americans choose to live in towns close to (but outside of) Cambridge for a break on traffic jams and rental prices. There are lots of local real estate companies that list rental properties. Search the internet for their websites. Most rental property management agencies and landlords require a month's rent in advance, which you'll get back at the end of your lease after they deduct damages, cleaning fees, etc. Legally, your rent should be placed in a scheme separate from the landlord’s personal account, and there are steep fines for noncompliance in this respect.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Available at about double the cost of U.S.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Smaller-scale furniture, and less of everything.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Lots of fast food, including American chains; typical pub food is a small step up from fast food, but if you scout out gastropubs you can find delicious food (especially international cuisine). I never found good Chinese food there.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Lots of spiders, but none of them venomous.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

UK mail.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Varies.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes.

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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?

Check a currency converter online to see the current rate and then call your bank before you leave the U.S. to see if its better to get British pounds before you travel. Most places on mainland Europe accept the Euro. Estimate spending 1.5-2x what you would assume, just because traveling, food and activities are not only in another currency, but a little more expensive than at home in most places in Europe and the UK. The exchange rate was constantly changing, but never in favor of the USD while I lived there. My co-worker followed it online, and when the GBP rates went down (favoring the USD), he bought pounds in large amounts. The ATM fees are pricey for withdrawals, and your bank may charge ridiculous fees for converting currency as well, so consider getting a local checking acct.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Someone said to me once about living in the UK, "Same language separated by a culture".

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

There are many old towns with cobblestone streets. They are also inconsistent with ramps and rails.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yes.

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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?

You can rent a car when you first get here from one of the local companies that deal in older models that the locals call “bangers” (Steve’s Car Hire, Reliable Rentals, etc.) or you can go to an Enterprise or related company for newer cars. This will get you mobile. When it is time to buy, and if you're lucky, you can find a vehicle that has several months left on its MOT and tax disc (detailed below). There is a craigslist-type online service at a nearby American military base called Lakenheath Yard Sales. A word of caution: the mechanics I've talked to say to stay away from Rover...not Land Rover, just Rover. In my opinion, 2WD, fuel-efficient hatchback is the way to go; consider a diesel, and make sure the tires are good, as you can plan to replace them twice as often as in the U.S. Parkers is sort of the equivalent to Edmunds in the U.S., and Autotrader is alive and well in the UK. You will have to pay a road tax and complete an MOT (like car inspection) every year for each vehicle - about 50GBP. A road-tax disc (permission to drive on UK roads) is about 200GBP (may be higher or lower depending on make/model/year of your car). http://www.taxdisc.direct.gov.uk/EvlPortalApp/?pro=tax_online.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

I used Sky for cable and internet, www.sky.com. I think Virgin also does cable, and I think there is some sort of direct TV there.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Mobile phones are VERY different here than in the U.S. Many people do a pay-as-you-go plan here because it is just so much easier, but I had to have my iPhone 18-month contract with data plan and opted to use Vodafone. Orange and O2 also have plans for iPhone and Blackberry, as well as others. For home phones, BT and Virgin have the monopoly on home phone lines, which are almost a necessity if you want home internet. We used BT for phone with a $12/mo. extra charge to call the U.S., www.bt.com. Of course, if you have unlimited internet/data and good signal, there is always MagicJack, Skype, FaceTime and other ideas that we didn't use as frequently.

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Pets:

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?

Yes, 6 months from date of blood draw proving active Rabies vaccine.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

RSPCA has regs on pet care. The UK guidelines for pet treatment are quite high.

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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?

The majority of expats who want to work and have marketable degrees have no problem finding work... eventually. There are jobs at nearby U.S. military bases, often listed through USA jobs: http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/. Here are a couple of suggested websites for working in British academia. University of Cambridge www.cam.ac.uk Anglia Ruskin (Cambridge) www.anglia.ac.uk West Suffolk (Bury St. Edmunds) www.westsuffolk-ac.co.uk. Some British jobs are listed through their county website, For example, www.norfolkccjobs.com, www.suffolk.gov.uk/Jobs, www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/jobs, http://www.norfolk.police.uk/joinus.aspx, http://www.suffolk.police.uk/Join+Our+Team, http://jobs.guardian.co.uk/

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

A bit more formal, with darker colors and less pattern prevalent.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Petty theft from cars and homes, mostly by adolescents and local gypsies.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Socialized medicine, www.nhs.uk; medicine and some services may even be less expensive than private pay in the U.S., but do not expect a lot of tests.

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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

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Check out BBC weather. In general, the UK in summer is like the Central California coast in late Spring/Summer, when days are long (0430 to 2200). Weather can change several times a day. Winter is a long Seattle-esque season where days are short (0800-1530), cold and icy, especially on roads.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

There is a U.S. military presence nearby with over 30,000 Americians.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good.

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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?

It can feel a bit isolating in Winter, but otherwise there is plenty to do if you get out and do it.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Good for families, singles, & couples

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

No.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Wales; traveling to other parts of Europe; Summer flowers are magnificent.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

It is easy to take local Stagecoach buses/coaches from Cambridge to horseraces in Newmarket, or Abbey ruins in Bury St. Edmunds, or Ely Cathedral - all sweet walkable towns rich in history. Buy tickets at the station or on the coach itself. London is best accessed by driving an hour to Epping and then boarding the Central Line (red tube) for another 45 minutes, or by boarding train at Cambridge Heath to London Kings Cross Station. Keep in mind when you book a trip out of Heathrow airport that it is 2-to-2.5 hours away and you will want to get there approximately 2 hours before a flight (international). I say this because sometimes a 7a.m. flight or train from London to wherever seems like a great idea until you realize that means you leave home in the middle of the night (if you drive there), and if you take a bus/coach, you have to check their timetable as well, which may have you leaving even earlier (i.e., up all night - - - no way to start a trip). Sometimes you don't have a choice due to flight availability, but its good to remember. Also, keep in mind that if that if things like the Icelandic volcano of 2010 starts up again, it'll be good to have a back-up plan, as you may end up stuck. Consider writing out locations and directions to train stations/airports, train/plane #s, times and confirmation #s, directions to hotels, etc. all on one sheet, as carrying loads of paperwork will make your head spin. Some transportation companies will "encourage" you to print boarding passes, which if you don't, they may charge you a pretty penny to print for you at the station/airport. And as for baggage allowances, expect hefty fees for going over size and weight limits.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Local cider and beer, English antiques, plane tickets to Europe.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Weather, culture, ease of traveling around the UK and to other parts of Europe.

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11. Can you save money?

No.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Absolutely!

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

stand-up paddle board

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3. But don't forget your:

umbrella

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

For European travel, I recommend Time Out travel guides for cities and Lonely Planet travel guides for rural areas. There are cheap older versions of travel guides at local charity shops (like Oxfam's). For one look at culture, check out Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

For a look at UK history, many libraries carry the DVD set by Simon Schama's History of Britain(BBC).

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Always know your postcode. Better than a zipcode, think of these 6 characters as direct coordinates to enter into a GPS- for you (or a cab driver) to locate your destination. Yes, owning a GPS is imperative.

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