Moving to London from the US
Affordability 3 out of 5
Safety 4 out of 5
Healthcare 3 out of 5
Traffic Flow 2 out of 5
Property affordability 1 out of 5
Climate 5 out of 5
Environment quality 4 out of 5
Everyone’s heard of London. Famed for its green parks, double-decker buses and beautiful architecture, the UK capital is truly iconic. It’s also one of the world’s most culturally diverse cities, with about one in three of London’s 8.8 million people having been born abroad. It’s no surprise that expats love heading to the Big Smoke; the job opportunities are plentiful, the food is sensational, and you’ll always find something to do. There’s an energy in London that’s difficult to resist.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about moving to and living in London.
The famous Tower Bridge towering over the River Thames
A little bit of history
London has been through a lot. The city is very old, having been founded by the Romans as Londinium back in 43 AD. There isn’t much left of what the Romans built (most of it is buried under houses and car parks) but the River Thames has always been here. The Great Fire of London famously wiped out most of the city in 1666, but it didn’t quite finish the job. Between 1750 and 1900, the Industrial Revolution caused London’s population to skyrocket from 700,000 to over 4.5 million. The city got very busy and has stayed that way ever since.
Cost of moving to London
Everyone likes to travel light, but if you’re relocating permanently to London then you probably need to bring a few belongings with you. Here are the estimated shipping costs from the Port of New York to the Port of London.
|Container size||Average rate|
The prices above are based on the port-to-port shipment of a container of household goods worth £40,000 or $55,000, which is the typical value of the contents of a three-bedroom house (according to Admiral Insurance). Source: WorldFreightRates.com.
Please note: these rates do not include add-ons such as professional packing, door-to-door delivery and basic insurance cover. Our suppliers tend to include these services in their prices, so you should expect some discrepancy between the estimates listed here and the quotes you receive.
For more information, take a look at our page on international container shipping costs.
Who lives in London?
We’ve already mentioned that there are around 8.8 million people living in London, but this number never stays still for long. According to CBRE, the city’s population has grown by 26% in just the past 20 years. The ONS reckon it will reach over 9.5 million by 2026. Full speed ahead!
The city’s extreme multiculturalism means that no expat ever feels out of place there. About one third of Londoners are foreign-born, and somewhere between 250 and 300 different languages are spoken in the city.
At any one time, there are also a lot of tourists in London; according to Mastercard’s Global Destination Cities Index of 2018, the UK capital is the second most-visited city in the world (just after Bangkok), having received over 19.8 million visitors in 2017.
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If you’re moving to London then you’ll probably need a job there. Fortunately, the city is full of work opportunities, and you don’t need to learn another language before you start applying. To get going with your job hunt, have a look at the London sections on global sites such as Monster, Indeed and Glassdoor.
British weather is famously uninspiring, but the capital city does have things a bit better than the rest of the country. We’re talking slightly milder temperatures and a little less rain – nothing major. The London climate is a temperate one, meaning it’s rarely very extreme.
Spring (March to May): The city starts to find some color again, but the weather is a bit all over the place. Will you need a coat today? Nobody’s sure. Temperatures range from 6-12°C at their lowest to 13-18°C at their highest.
Summer (June to August): This is prime time for enjoying London’s fantastic parks, from the woods of Wimbledon Common to the hills of Hampstead Heath. The weather is more consistent in summer, with temperatures averaging around 18°C in the daytime. However, long heatwaves of 30°C+ are not unheard of.
Fall (September to November): Firstly, they call it autumn over there. As you’d expect, the London leaves turn chestnut brown and everyone gets a bit obsessed with Halloween. Average daytime temperatures tend to be around 10-12°C. This is London’s rainiest season, so bring a brolly (British for ‘umbrella’).
Winter (December to February): London does winter really well. The pubs are warm and cosy, there are fairy lights everywhere, and the Christmas shopping is world class. Temperatures tend to range between 0-8°C, rarely dropping below freezing. Snow isn’t common, and when it falls it barely sets. Sorry.
Londoners boating around the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park
Getting around the city
If there’s one thing that’s easy to do in London, it’s moving around. The city has really mastered its transport infrastructure, and it’s now a shining example for developing cities all over the world. Here are your best options.
It’s free, healthy, and you can go at your own pace. Taking a tour of London on your own two feet is a fantastic way of seeing the city properly. Every road has the luxury of a proper pavement, so navigating the London streets is safe and easy.
You don’t need to bring your own bike for this one; London has a public cycle hire scheme (called Santander Cycles, known locally as boris bikes). Hop on one of the 11,000 bikes located across 70 docking stations and get going. A 24-hour hire costs just £2 and the first 30 minutes are completely free. Happy pedalling!
Sometimes you need something a bit faster. The London Underground, known by locals as ‘the Tube’, is your solution. With 11 high-speed lines winding beneath the city connecting 270 stations, there isn’t really anywhere in London that you can’t access via the Tube. There are 9 fare “zones”, with Zone 1 being the most central. It’s very simple; the more zones you pass through, the more expensive your journey.
The iconic London buses are a handy alternative if you want to stay above ground. They’re significantly slower than the Tube, but you do see more of the city and you don’t have to spend time getting in and out of stations. The buses are easy to board and every journey comes at a fixed price of £1.50.
Brits view healthcare rather differently to their friends across the Atlantic. Back in 1948, people thought it would be a good idea to make healthcare accessible for everyone, so they created the National Health Service (NHS). The idea is still popular in the UK today, and the NHS comprises a vast network of state-run facilities. It’s funded by income tax, so private health insurance is seen only as an optional extra.
Learn more about UK healthcare here, including how to access British medical services as an American expat.
Cost of living
London is a famously expensive place to live, although it’s not as bad as you might think. In the Economist’s Worldwide Cost of Living Report 2018, London ranked just 30th, its lowest position in two decades (Singapore came first). According to Payscale, the average annual salary in London is £34,991 (or $46,020).
Take a look at the table below for an idea of living costs in London (sourced from Numbeo).
|Monthly pass for public transport||$178|
|Monthly gym subscription||$62|
|One liter of gas||$1.66|
|Mid-range bottle of wine||$10.53|
|Domestic beer (half-liter draught)||$6.58|
|Three-course meal for two at mid-range restaurant||$65.79|
Housing in London is a different story. When it comes to property prices and rental costs, you can’t get much more expensive than London. In 2018, CBRE’s Global Living Survey took a look at living costs in 31 cities around the world (with a particular emphasis on property prices) and London placed second. Once again, an Asian city took the crown; this time it was Hong Kong.
According to the UK government, the average London house price in May 2018 was £478,853 (or $629788). Meanwhile, in mid-2017, the Daily Telegraph reported that the average rent for a one-bedroom flat in central London was around £1,250 (or $1,644) per month. You’ll be relieved to know that prices start to fall a little once you move away from the center.
Some people say that London is made up of lots of different villages. The neighborhoods can be so different from one another that it’s often hard to believe they’re part of the same city. There are some delightfully charming place names in London, such as Tooting, Angel, Biggin Hill, Frognal and Pratt’s Bottom. Obviously the best way to get a feel for the London neighborhoods is to visit the city and have a proper explore. We’ve also got a few handy guides that can help you, such as the best places in London for a young professional and a rundown of London’s most affordable areas.
Things to do
You don’t really need someone to tell you what to do in London. There’s so much there that you’ll struggle to find yourself at a loose end. Nevertheless, we’ve picked three of our favorite free activities in London.
Visit Richmond Park
The big parks right in the middle of London are lovely, but they can sometimes feel a bit flat and pristine. For something more rugged, head southwest to the 2,500-acre Richmond Park. It’s a vast, hilly and partly-forested old hunting reserve that’s just 14.5km away from the city center. This is where beautiful herds of red and fallow deer roam free, and are (mostly) unbothered by visitors. There’s a beautiful lake in the center, some lovely bench spots, and a thrilling feeling of space that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere in London. Go up Henry’s Mound for fantastic views of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Check out the galleries and the museums
London is kitted out with some of the best galleries and museums in the world, and most of them are completely free. Where do we start? The Victoria & Albert Museum always has some gorgeous exhibitions about fashion and textiles, such as the fantastic 2016 David Bowie Is. The National Gallery is stuffed with world famous artworks, while the Tate Modern is great if you fancy something a bit weirder and less traditional. The British Museum has room after room of fascinating artifacts, ranging from the Rosetta Stone to Egyptian mummies. Our list could go on for ages.
This blindingly obvious choice is actually jolly good fun. London is rammed with iconic buildings and stunning architecture, so why not have a proper look at it before doing the things that cost money? You’re in the same city as Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, the Shard, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London… we’re barely scratching the surface. These buildings are all famous for a reason. What’s more, most of them are all a fairly walkable distance between each other, so it’s not a particularly exhausting activity.
Where to eat
The food scene in London is insanely competitive; restaurants are always trying to outdo one another. There’s pressure on everywhere to be unique, inventive and downright delicious. Here are three of London’s most international food joints that have got things just right.
Dishoom, 5 Stable Street, London, N1C 4AB
Londoners really like their Indian food, and this might well be the most stylish place to get it. There are five branches of Dishoom located across the city, but we’re talking about the fantastic one in King’s Cross. This is Dishoom at its most spacious, situated in a charming old warehouse not far from King’s Cross train station. There’s a real ‘1920s Bombay railway café’ atmosphere, all the way from the dimly-lit basement bar to the high-ceilinged dining rooms above.
The menu includes prawn koliwada, signature black dhal, gunpowder potatoes and a sensational ruby mattar paneer. Their buttery, gingery, foamy Hoppy Paanch IPA-cocktail is sublime. Oh, and they don’t take reservations (queueing is cool now).
Nanban, 426 Coldharbour Lane, London SW9 8LF
When most people think of Japanese food, they probably imagine small, delicate pieces of sushi. Not Nanban. The Brixton-based restaurant is a specialist in proper comfort food, or as they put it, “Japanese soul food”. If you want something hearty, you’ll get it here. Housed in a former pie and eel shop, Nanban is designed a bit like an izakaya (a Japanese pub), serving up generous and tasty portions of top-notch ramen.
The Leopard is an absolute menu highlight, featuring thick noodles and pork belly swimming in a chilli-sesame broth. Meanwhile, the Sasebo burger offers something equally filling but a bit less splashy. Optional ramen toppings range from tea-pickled egg to Scotch bonnet-pickled bamboo shoots. There’s nothing dull here.
Berber & Q, 338 Acton Mews, London E8 4EA
In perhaps London’s most hipster setting for a restaurant, Berber & Q is located in an old taxi repair shop beneath a converted railway arch in Hackney. Their food is inspired by Middle Eastern and North African flavors (the Berbers are a group of people from that region), and it’s all cooked over an open charcoal grill (hence the ‘Q’). Take a seat at one of the long wooden tables and you’ll soon feel immersed in a smoky atmosphere of house music, happy chatter and incredible smells. There aren’t many restaurants where the veggie options are as good as the meat ones, but Berber & Q has mastered them both.
The lamb mechoui, pork belly and joojeh chicken all arrive on a bed of fresh pitta and it’s magnificent, while the cauliflower shawarma is extremely popular, dressed with tahini, pine nuts, pomegranate and rose. Once again, reservations aren’t a thing here.
It won’t surprise you to learn that London becomes a very exciting place at nighttime. Whether you want high-energy vibes or somewhere more chilled out, the Big Smoke’s got you covered. These are our favorite spots.
Barrio, 5 Essex Road, London N1 2SF
All the best bars never take themselves too seriously. The vibrantly multi-colored Barrio has four branches in London, but the best one is probably in Angel. Bursting with fun-loving Latin American vibes, this place is perfect for letting loose. They do serve food and there are some great eating spots (including an indoor caravan), but the real fun starts later on. There’s a loud mixture of tropical soul and retro funk almost every night, but the best times to go tend to be Hump Day Wednesdays and Beat Wave Fridays.
Barrio has 12 superb cocktails to choose from, including The Hoodrat (vodka, red pepper, chilli, apple and vanilla) and Ram Berry Jam (homemade raspberry jam liqueur, vodka, lemon and cava). It works, surprisingly.
Bounce, 239-241 Old Street, London EC1V 9EY
What’s better than a nice game of ping pong? Fluorescent ping pong with beer, that’s what. The people at Bounce sussed out what Londoners really want, and now they’re reaping the benefits. There’s a Bounce in Holborn, but we think the Bounce in Shoreditch edges it slightly (mainly because it’s bigger). You’ll find no less than 17 table tennis tables in a large room, all glowing neon-bright in the darkness, and there are ping pong balls flying everywhere.
If you book beforehand (which is wise) then you’ll also get table service, so there’s no need to queue at the bar. Aside from some decent craft beers, Bounce also serves great cocktails and a range of 39 different gins.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 145 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2BU
For something calmer and a little more charming, a traditional London pub will hit the spot. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese began pulling pints in 1538, but it had to be rebuilt in 1667 after the Great Fire of London. The small, wood-panelled rooms and blazing fireplace will take you back a few centuries – just watch out for the low ceilings. Some serious literary heavyweights used to drink here, including Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Back in the day, patrons were given a pipe and tobacco as they entered, but that freebie’s gone now.
As a Sam Smith’s pub, the beer is nothing special, but it’s extremely cheap by London’s standards. You can also get proper English pub food, such as a traditional steak & ale pie. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is still clinging onto its old vibes by not having any phone signal, or even a proper website.
Being an expat in a new country isn’t always easy, so it can help to speak to fellow Americans who’ve had the same experience. Get online and visit the ‘Americans in London’ forum on InterNations.com. For something a bit more face-to-face, there’s a London Expat American group on Meetup.com.
Find out more
Secret London: An Unusual Guide (2016) by Rachel Howard – a wonderfully researched rundown of the weirdest and most interesting places in London.
London: The Information Capital (2016) by James Cheshire – one hundred maps and graphics depicting some fascinating data about the UK capital. Great for the coffee table.
A Short History of England (2018) by Simon Jenkins – not specifically about London, but great if you want some wider knowledge before your move. Engagingly written and beautifully illustrated.