Looking for how to move to London as American? Here’s my personalized guide for getting across the pond (from an American)
If you’ve ever wondered how to move to London as an American, you’re in the right place! Moving to London is a one in a lifetime experience. To simplify the in’s and outs, here’s everything you need to know about how to move to London as an American.
Why Move to London
There’s a famous quote that says….
“When a man is bored of London, he is bored of life” – Samuel Johnson
After four years of living in the Big Smoke, I can truly say it’s a city that has it all. And, you’re right Johnson, I’ve never been bored. Although no city’s perfect, London is a great place to call home, at least for a little while. In fact, one in six people have said they’d want to live in London one day! So if you’re wondering how to move to London as an American, you’re in the right place.
But if you’re moving to London from the US it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into, which leads me to…
How to Move to London as an American: Pros and Cons of Moving to London
If you’re still stuck in the middle, then it helps to know the pros and cons of making the move to London. In my personal opinion, the pros definitely outweigh the cons in a city like London – but I’ll let you be the judge 🙂
1. Amazing transport system
2. You get ALL the seasons
3. Diversity (as in over 270 nationalities and 300 languages spoken in the capital alone!)
4. Loads of concerts & music festivals
5. Proximity to traveling around Europe
6. Essentially living in a dozen cities at once
7. Unbeatable London market scene
8. Don’t forget pubs
9. Best of city & nature
1. London is expensive
2. The weather
3. Flat sizes
4. Rush Hour….in the summer
5. Overcrowding Tourists
6. Pollution, but it’s getting a lot better
7. Living in a transient city (i.e fleeting friends)
Like I said, the pros outweigh the cons for me, as I see them more as things to be prepared to adjust for. But, if you’re moving to London I highly suggest making your own pros and cons list to help guide you through you decision!
How to Move to London as an American: Visa Types
If you want to move to London as an American, you need to have a visa, i.e, a purpose for being in the U.K. As an American you can legally live in the U.K for up to six months (unheard of!) however, be aware you’re not allowed to work during this period as you are technically a tourist.
Now, unless you’ve got a Megan Markle situation going on
can we trade places, the following are the most common routes for moving to London and the U.K in general.
Tier 4 Visa
A Tier 4 visa gives you full rights to live, work, and study in the U.K. This is by far the easiest route if you want your move to London as an American to be as straightforward as possible.
Doing your Bachelor’s, Masters or PhD in London will definitely open possibilities for you in the future, as it’s an amazing city to find new opportunities and network.
I moved to London on a Tier 4 visa in 2016 that lasted three years. I’m moving back on a Tier 4 for my masters and will transition to a post-graduate work visa after.
If you have a skilled job, you may be able to move to London on a Tier 2 visa.
This route requires a U.K company to “sponsor” your stay in the U.K essentially. Be sure to check the Registered Sponsor List for companies eligible for this scheme.
Some industries in the U.K are in urgent need of new employees which puts them on the shortage occupation list. This allows for a lot less bureaucracy and faster visa processing as they are trying to fill these jobs ASAP.
If you’re already working for a company that has a UK branch, you’re in luck! If you can smooth talk your way into getting an intra-company transfer, you could effectively keep your job and move to London – win win!
On episode 4 of Abroad & Co I spoke to Nathalie Goldstein, a San Fran turned Austrian expat who spilled that the best the way to get to an intra-company transfer is to, wait for it, ask!
Marrying a U.K citizen
Okay, back to the whole Megan Markle situation. If you do happen to fall in love with a Brit, you can live in U.K. Be prepared to prove the genuineness of your relationships, provide tons of documents and down the line, apply for citizenship.
P.S: Please use Gov.UK for all the latest visa updates 🙂
One of the first things you’ll be tasked with before your move is finding a flat.
Now before you stress out *cue moving to a city of 9 million and no idea how the housing system works (don’t worry, I’ve got you!) I highly suggest breaking down your options.
First, it’s important to know London is broken up into roughly 32 boroughs, i.e neighborhoods in North, East, West and South London. Why am I telling you this?
Well, when you’re choosing a place to live, I definitely suggest looking via the borough first.
This should preferably match your personality, are you more of an artistic/creative type? East London is probably your best bet. A little more on the life of luxury? North London is calling your name!
Next thing you’re gonna want to think about is cost. There’s no getting around it, London is expensive. But when it comes to housing, flat sharing is a great way to bring down your rent costs.
Best Sites to Find Flatmates in London
Now of course, in this scenario you probably won’t have met your flatmates before you move. If you’re someone like me that values good energy in your space it’s uber important to find roommates living a similar lifestyle as you.
Which is why you should also use ….
Ideal Flatmate – a U.K company that finds your most compatible roomie based on your personality, how cool!
I also suggest renting an Airbnb for the first month while you find a place. And remember, don’t pay a deposit before you’ve seen your flat. I’ve heard too many horror stories!
One of the best parts about moving to the U.K? Free healthcare! Well, kinda. Although the NHS has its fault, healthcare is free for all residents and visa holders in the U.K. (excluding prescriptions and dental care) making it extremely affordable compared to the U.S.
But wait, I thought I didn’t have to pay?
During your visa application you will have to pay immigration health surcharge. This is basically your entry to having the same health rights as a citizen during your time in the U.K.
This can range from £200-400 a year depending on your visa status. However, not paying $800 for an ambulance ride and eliminating the choice of my health over say, paying a bill makes it worth every penny.
If you’re living in the U.K you’ll have to pay taxes. Although slightly higher than the US, it’s the primary funding of the NHS, so it makes sense.
Luckily, once you move to London, you will only pay tax on your U.K income. However, you will have to fill out an expat tax return.
Keep in mind, you may also fall under the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. This means if you make less than $100,000, you are exempt from paying taxes in the US during your time in the U.K (you just need to file).
But, this is a subject I’m definitely not an expert on so I’m going to hand it over to…
How do I transfer money between my U.S and U.K account?
Although I essentially gave up my US account when I moved to London (Ah to be 18 with no recurring bills – the life!) I’ve been using my US account a lot more now, and frequently transferring to my U.K account.
Be sure to open your account today to make transferring as easy and affordable as possible once you move abroad.
What to Pack
London weather is a love-hate relationship. The cozy ambiance of rain sitting in a coffee shop is magical.
But, when you’re halfway to work with London smock stuck up your left heel – you tend to have a different sentiment. With that said, packing for London means being prepared for anything and everything.
Ever-changing weather means layers are your best bet for everyday wear. I never leave the house without a jacket of some sort (even in summer) but throughout the ebb and flow of the seasons, these are my wardrobe staples…
- Light Jackets
- Waterproof shoes
Outfits to take on the night
Between some of the best nightlife in the world, you won’t want to miss out on any impromptu outings that may come your way. I tend to always have a cocktail dress or two on standby, one pair of heels (you can’t get in many clubs without them!), and a small crossbody.
Before you go or at least in your first week, it’s worth to buy a reliable umbrella.
A big part of knowing how to move to London as an American is getting in tune with the culture. To blend in amongst the locals, here are some of my recommendations for what not to wear once you move to London.
Shirts with big graphics, your college or a tourist destination.
Us Americans have this thing about wanting to show the world what we do, where we went to school, what our favorite concert was, and every country we may or may not have been to *cue my 2008 J’aime Paris I bought in New Jersey outlet mall*.
Although I fully believe in wearing whatever the heck you want! Just a fair warning that this will garner quite a bit of stares from locals as “logo-wear” isn’t really a thing.
Unless you’re actually going to the gym, things like sweatpants and sweatshirts aren’t too common (Oh how I miss my Walmart wear).
But when you are ready to get your sweat on, be sure to pack a change of clothes and shower bits so you don’t end up the sweaty betty on the tube (been there done that).
How to Move to London as an American: Further Reading : Ultimate London Packing List: What to Wear in Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
How to Move to London as an American: Making Friends
If you’re moving to London alone, you might feel anxious about making new friends. Big cities tend to do this to you. But trust me, it gets better!
Moving to a city of millions and not knowing a single person has been my reality 3 times now (well in Chiang Mai, a couple thousand but you get the point!) but there are plenty of ways to get friendly with your city and the people in it from the very start.
Joining groups online is one of the best ways to meet new people abroad. Expat groups in particular are always super friendly, and a handy resource to get you prepped for your move!
Bonus: Bumble BFF
Although primarily a dating app, Bumble has a section for “BFF’s” where you can swipe through people in your area also looking to make friends. I never thought about using this but have met 2 amazing people from this app – would highly recommend downloading before you move to London!
Meeting new people is a two-way street. So once you move to London, get yourself out there!
When I first moved to abroad, I told myself I would try and go to 1 meetup related event (or brunch) a week. Anymore would be overwhelming as my first priority was still settling in, but I’m very grateful I put myself out there to meet a lot of the friends I have now!
Make Sure You Share Similar Interests
One thing I definitely didn’t realize (until it happened to me) is that when you’re first trying to meet new people, it can be easy to try and befriend any and everyone.
However, before you move to London, I highly advise you go to groups, meetups and social gatherings that reflect the kind of people you want to be around during your time in London, or anywhere for that matter.
What are your interests and hobbies? For example, if you’re into female travel, you’re much more likely to connect with that group than “Meetup in London” or something generic.
Overall, moving to London alone doesn’t have to be as daunting as it seems. Join groups, be active, make sure you share similar interests before meeting and you’ll be good to go!
Things to do in London
Onto the fun bits. Congrats! You’ve officially made it to the U.K. After you’ve settled you’ll most certainly be looking for the best things to go, do and see. Here are some of my favorites.
Outside of venues the local music scene in London is one of the best in the world. My personal frequent is jazz bars. There is some serious talent hiding in London street corners and definitely something every future-Londoner should experience.
Seeing your city in one concert hall is also a great way to get friendly with local Londoners and connect over the same music taste!
London nightlife is on a whole other level. Between clubs on the West End, comedy clubs and cabaret, you’ll never get bored on a night out in London. And for my ladies, if you happen to meet a promoter, be sure to ask about getting on a guest list, i.e free entry, service, and drinks the whole night – now that’s how to club!
To read: Top 10 London Clubs in 2020
Living in London means being only a short plane ride away from some of Europe’s hottest tourist destinations.
Coming from the US, an international trip is a big deal. Months of planning, hefty plane tickets, and the stress of trying to figure out how to fit it all in the span of a 2-week vacation.
Luckily, London allows you the best of both worlds, as you can easily head to Heathrow on a Friday afternoon and be bright-eyed on your way to work that same Monday.
In university, I would often browse skyscanner in my free time to take advantage of all the day flights.
One year I found a £5 flight and a couple of hours later I was on a plane to spend the next 12 hours in Toulouse, a quaint city in the south of France. Living in the US I could never have the spontaneity of travel that living in the U.K allows.
Lots of Parks
When the hustle and bustle of city life start to wear you down, it’s nice to get headspace.
With 47% of London covered in public green space (that’s 3000 parks y’all!), you’ll always have a spot to wind down along the Thames when the city life takes its toll.
My personal favorites are St. James Park (about a 10-minute walk from Big Ben) and Holland Park. After a stressful week of work or classes I would grab a blanket and journal and zone out to music and beautiful scenery for hours on end.
To read: Best parks in London
Whether you’re grabbing street food on Southbank or the new local popup on Brick Lane, there’s something for every tastebud. In my opinion, the markets are where it’s at. With so many choices, you’ll never get bored of the food scene.
Before you move to London I would highly suggest making a “to-do” food lists of sorts, this definitely helps with the overwhelm of so many options!
My personal favorites
To Read: The 50 Best Things To Eat in London
This all sounds great…but isn’t London CRAZY expensive?
Long answer. Yes. Short answer, yes! There is no getting around it, outside of London is one of the most expensive cities in the world.
However I personally find you can have a great lifestyle without breaking the bank. Here are some things I do to keep my living costs low without sacrificing experiences.
- Shop at grocery stores like Asda and Lidl and meal prep throughout the week
- Cut back on alcohol (£5 a pint adds up!)
- Resist the Uber temptation and take London’s super convenient and safe options like the TfL Bus and Tube.
- Capitalize on student status if you have it and always ask for a discount
- Lean towards free activities like museums, park picnics and local events
- Be aware of the class gap in London and don’t try to live a lifestyle you can’t afford, you and your wallet will regret it later – I promise!
Overall I’d say living in a city like London makes the cost well worth it. But it’s important to make your own decision as I’ve heard from other expats the cost was their main reason for leaving so, to each their own!
Fire Round Tips
Woo-hoo! If you’ve made it this far, you’re officially ready to become a Londoner. It doesn’t need to be said, but make sure you do your independent research before making your final decision on how to move to London as an American. With that said, here are my final fire round tips on moving to London as an American…
- Yes, royalty is a thing. But locals definitely don’t take it as seriously as tourists, at least the younger generation
- Try not to be the “loud American on the tube”
- Download Whatsapp as you’ll use it a lot in the U.K!
- Make your phone is unlocked to easily get a U.K sim
- If possible sell as much of your belonging before you go! Trust me, you won’t want to see that storage bill in a couple of months!
- “Are you alright?” means “How are you?” in US English, I used to think something looked off with me for the longest!
- And other British slang that will definitely confuse you
- When you apply for you U.K bank card, be sure to ask for a “contactless card”
- and use Apple Wallet
- Learn about queuing
- Be mindful of your Instagram photos!
Read more on London here!