21 Things to Know Before Moving to the UK
Has the pandemic got you craving a change of scenery? Moving across the pond could be just the thing you need.
The United Kingdom has so much to offer for Americans: breathtaking landscapes, a melting pot of people with all types of backgrounds, and tons of career and education opportunities. It’s the perfect way to start your next chapter.
Despite the close relationship between the US and the UK, there are still a number of key differences between the two nations. So, before you jump headfirst into a life of fish and chips, Shakespeare, and football (not soccer), make sure to check out our list of things to know about the UK below.
The UK isn't famous for its beaches, but if you look hard enough, you can find some real gems
1. The jokes might go over your head
Brits love dry humor, so when you’re meeting new people in the UK, prepare for regular handouts of sarcasm and irony.
At first, it might seem like your new friends are giving you the cold shoulder, but don’t fret – it’s all fun and games. This feeds into how the British speak to each other, with insults regularly flying between friends.
2. Expect all four seasons in one day
Every rumor you’ve heard and comedy sketch you’ve seen is true – the British truly love to talk about the weather. It’s an opening gambit every time you meet someone new.
This borderline obsession boils down to Britain’s totally unpredictable weather – you never know what you’re going to get! Leaving the house in the midst of a morning heatwave and being drenched by a rainy downpour in the afternoon is just something you’ll end up getting used to.
3. Public healthcare is mostly free
To help the population during a post-war economy, the British government set up the National Healthcare Service (NHS) in 1948, making healthcare accessible for everyone. To this day, the NHS provides care to the UK, which is now funded by income tax.
We know what you’re thinking: free healthcare – it’s too good to be true, right? Well, kind of. While most NHS services are free, users still have to pay for most prescriptions and some specialist care. On top of this, the NHS is finding itself increasingly strained, and this has only gotten worse during the pandemic.
4. The public holidays are different
Compared to the US, the UK has fewer public holidays – or ‘Bank Holidays’, as the Brits say. There is no celebration of Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Labor Day, or Columbus Day – and, of course, no July 4th!
The actual calendar dates vary between countries, but generally, there are eight bank holidays in England and Wales, nine in Scotland, and ten in Northern Ireland.
5. The work-life balance is great
To make up for fewer public holidays, most employers in the UK will reward you with plenty of paid time off to relax. In fact, almost all full-time workers in the UK are legally entitled to at least 28 days of paid vacation a year – far more than American’s total of 10 days.
You’ll also find that most office-based jobs stick to the normal nine-to-five hours, five days a week.
6. Not everyone speaks like the Queen
Despite most films telling you otherwise, not many Brits actually sound like Queen Liz or Colin Firth. If you get the chance to explore the UK as an expat, you’ll come across a huge range of accents – some stronger than others.
Typically, the further north you head, the stronger the accent. If you end up visiting Glasgow, for example, you might find yourself politely nodding along mid-conversation, whilst trying to figure out what is actually being said. It happens to the best of us.
London's famous St Mary Axe building – also known as The Gherkin – basking in the golden sunset
7. You still need to file US taxes while living in the UK
Yes, you read that right. Any American citizens living in the UK will still need to file US taxes. Thankfully, there are a few laws in place to prevent double taxation, so you can rest assured you’ll still have some money left over to enjoy the expat life – although the process is trickier than your typical tax return. It’s definitely wise to seek financial advice before moving to the UK to get a better idea of the whole process.
If an American company is sponsoring your move to the UK, make sure you understand whose responsibility it is to take care of tax – is it yours, or the employer’s?
8. It’s almost the same language
Yes, the English and American languages are pretty much the same, but they also have a handful of disagreements when it comes to certain words and phrases. We’ve listed some of the most glaring differences in the American and English languages below:
- Pants = trousers (in the UK, the word ‘pants’ actually refers to underwear)
- Apartment = flat
- College = university (to make things more confusing, some schools that teach 11th and 12th grade are called colleges in the UK)
- Chips = crisps
- Chips = french fries
- Soccer = football
You’ll probably also come across a lot of slang words and phrases, such as:
- “I’m going to sack it off” = I’m going to avoid doing something
- “That’s a bit naff” – That’s bad/poor quality
- “You mugged him off” – You made him look like a fool
9. There are tons of picturesque areas
The UK is home to some of the most spectacular sights in Europe. If you’re after a countryside view, head to the Cotswolds, the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands, or the Welsh Valleys. Want to breathe in the salty sea air? Take a trip to Cornwall or Devon and admire the dramatic coastline.
Around the UK, you’ll also come across quaint villages and towns that have centuries of history etched into the streets. Even some of the larger cities, such as Bath and Edinburgh, have kept their historical charm whilst expanding over the years.
Expect to stumble across lots of chocolate-box villages, built with timber beams and thatched roofs
10. People won’t speak up in lectures
Moving to the UK to study? There’s no doubt you’ll have a great time, but you might want to prepare yourself for a general unwillingness to answer questions in the classroom.
Brits are usually quite reserved, so if a teacher asks a question in class, you can expect a few drawn out seconds of awkward silence, before the teacher quickly decides to pick on someone at random.
11. Londoners aren’t the friendliest
Considering London is the capital of the UK – a country that typically says ‘sorry’ for almost everything – the people here can be pretty grumpy.
Don’t get us wrong – the capital is packed full of fun, with adventure around every corner, and incredible people. But there’s a time and a place for making friends – and apparently the Underground during rush hour is neither of those. Eye contact is scarce, and a smile from a stranger is even more of a rarity in London.
But, after a few short weeks of living in the capital, you’ll find yourself mindlessly doing exactly the same to other newcomers.
12. Portion sizes are much smaller
If you’re moving to the UK from America, prepare your stomach for smaller portion sizes. If you order a medium-sized drink, for example, you’ll receive what would be considered a small in America.
And, whilst we’re on the subject of food and drink, your favorite junk foods will taste different in the UK. This mainly comes down to the fact that genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which are found in most US junk food products, are banned or largely restricted in the UK.
13. You have a few visa options
US citizens looking to move to the UK for six months or longer will need to get a visa.
There are a few different visas available, depending on your situation, and you can also apply for different types if you need to. The UK government has also set up a quick test so you can see if you need a visa, and what type you might need.
14. Stores work a little differently here
When you see the price of the item in a UK store, this is the actual amount you’ll be paying. That’s right – no nasty tax surprises at the end of your shopping trip.
And unlike many American stores, UK supermarkets, retail shops, and restaurants generally close pretty early. Unless you’re in a major city like London or Manchester, you’ll probably find that most stores close around 10-11pm.
15. The tea stereotype is spot on
Brits love tea. In fact, tea (also known as a ‘cuppa’ or a ‘brew’) is by far the most popular drink consumed in the UK, with over 100,000,000 cups being sipped every single day.
And, whilst we’re at it, if you want to make tea like a true Brit, make sure to get yourself an electric kettle – when you’re drinking this much tea, there’s no time for this boil-it-on-the-stove business.
16. It’s pretty easy to get around
The UK is just a fraction of the size of America – Alaska alone is seven times the size of this small island. This means it’s pretty easy to get around and explore as much of the country as you can.
A train from London to Edinburgh, for example, will only take about five hours, and one to Wales will only take about two hours. And, if you want to hop on over to Northern Ireland, you can either ferry it or fly over.
Although public transport can be less frequent in rural areas, all major UK cities have an array of transport options – from the Underground to national rail, bikes to buses, Ubers to black cabs.
17. Holidaying in Europe is super easy
There are a plethora of places to explore in and around the country, but one of the benefits of living in the UK is how easy it is to access the rest of Europe. Brexit has made this a little harder, however – expect slower queues at airports, and visas for long trips.
The most popular holiday destinations for Brits are Spain, France, and Italy, which is not only due to the charms of these incredible countries, but also because they’re super easy to get to. Want a short weekend in Paris, Barcelona, or Milan? Fly over for around two hours, or hop on the Eurostar for just over two and a half hours.
18. Your home probably won’t have air conditioning
Compared to other countries around the world, UK summers are usually pretty mild – although they can reach the mid-30s at times – which means air-con is pretty uncommon.
In recent years, however, UK summers have been breaking temperature records, which led to an 11% rise in air-con sales in 2019. So, perhaps air conditioning will become more popular in the next few years.
19. There’s a different standard of customer service
Despite being a nation of orderly queues and good manners, the UK’s customer service just doesn’t match the US’s standard. We’re not saying UK retailers are rude, just a little less enthusiastic.
Don’t take it personally though. UK employees aren’t tipped the usual 15-20% that American workers typically get, so it’s no wonder there’s a little less eagerness.
20. There is a rife drinking culture
If there’s anything Brits love more than a cup of tea, it’s a pint at their local pub. Britain’s passion for drinking has long been accepted as part of the culture. Celebrating a birthday? Get to the bar. First week at college? Binge drink through your first few days. Favorite soccer team lost their game? Drown your sorrows at the pub.
Surprisingly, 55% of UK adults say they tried booze well before the legal age of 18, with most having tasted their first tipple by the age of 15.
21. Don’t bring up Brexit
We’d steer clear of this subject at your local pub if we were you. In 2016, UK residents voted to leave the European Union – but it was by a very fine margin, meaning there has been a lot of political division over the past few years.
Plus, despite the vote having passed years ago, the UK didn’t officially leave the EU until 2020, so it’s still pretty raw.
And that’s it – everything you could possibly want to know before moving to the UK from the US. Wherever in the UK you decide to relocate, you’re sure to have a fantastic time, and find something that’s right for you.
Want to learn more about the UK before packing your bags? Check out some of our other popular pages below: