Moving abroad is very exciting, a little bit thrilling, totally overwhelming and quite scary.
Whatever the reason for moving to a foreign country is, the list of things one needs to consider before, during and after the move is pretty long and it can feel as if it’s impossible to accomplish.
So first of all, my advice would be: do not overthink! Take one step at a time, make a list of what needs to be done and don’t dwell on what if something will go wrong! Sooner or later everything will be accomplished and snaps in its place. So take a big breath and conquer the very first thing on your list.
There are many ways to deal with the process and depending on your resources and available support, your personal experience might be very different. I will share the story of our journey and things we had to face, overcome and deal with.
We moved from the U.S. to the U.K. in 2018 after my husband was unexpectedly laid off in 2017 together with dozens coworkers.
After securing the position in a British tech company and getting the legal support in getting necessary visa for our family, we started preparations to move into unknown.
For me and kids it was totally uncharted territory because we have never even visited United Kingdom, unlike my husband who had been to some parts of the U.K. before.
One of the first things on your list will be the question of real estate and what to do with the house.
We didn’t have real estate property in the U.S. so there was no need for us to decide what to do with it.
Although we faced a bit of complications in terms of braking our lease but we found a way out.
Moving companies will be the next big point on your list.
If you have to find moving company yourself, like we had to, I recommend to talk to as many moving companies as you possibly can. Remember not all moving companies provide international relocation services and the more companies you can find the better chances to have a choice in terms of pricing, insurances and services.
Get quotes and see what is the best offer for your personal case. After calling many companies only 3 came to assess and give us an estimate. Luckily we ended up with two companies we were considering as the first company messed something up and wasn’t able to come out on the agreed date. Which we found out about one week before the moving day. Yet we had a schedule to stick to, and had no flexibility on moving dates. We contacted the second moving company of our choice and they were able to come out on the day we had planned. Lucky we had options!
We selected United Van Lines for moving our belongings across the pond. The service we received was great and everything was delivered in good condition and as promised.
So after sorting out details with moving company we knew how much we can take with us and what it will cost. Now we needed to decide what will be moved and what to do with the rest.
What to take with you and what to leave behind.
Since we lived in Europe before and were aware that living space in most European countries is much more compact, so to say, than in the states, we were prepared to downsize significantly.
So if you had 1,400 sq ft house, which is considered not that big in USA, in the U.K. would be considered big and specious.
Think if you want to move your furniture, it might not fit in. Don’t bother with electronics, the voltage is different here. We only brought game counsel, Amazon echo, laptops and personal gadgets.
I did buy the power converter for few of my kitchen electronics but to be honest I never use it as it is a bit of a hassle. So just consider buying new. Power outlets are different in the U.K. too so you will need an adopter for your phones and iPads as well as other electronics which need to be charged and can adjust voltage automatically.
We decided to move personal belongings, kids stuff, some kitchen items but we sold all furniture, electronics, lamps, lots of random stuff we accumulated over the years of our marriage.
We were considering to rent a storage space but decided against it just because we didn’t know if we come back or not.
Researching the potential areas to move.
After figuring out the moving company situation, sorting out all visa and passport as well as other documents, I started researching the area where we will be living.
In our case it was Nottingham. Thanks to Internet you can find lots of valuable information such as good/bad areas, districts of the city and rental market and check what people’s advices are. I wish I knew back then about a great expats Facebook group
You can join the group and ask questions, you will get many useful answers.
So pretty soon I knew exactly in what areas I should look for a place to live and what areas to avoid all together.
To get an idea about real estate market check https://www.rightmove.co.uk/
I found it’s the best site for house hunting because most of letting agencies use it. Speaking about letting agencies, I was quite shocked that many of them charge future tenants different fees for signing contract or even renewing the lease, for example.
So check with each agency what fees you possibly will have to pay if you decide to rent with them. We are renting with
https://www.cpwalker.co.uk/ a local letting agency and they don’t charge any unusual (for an American) fees.
Depending on the area, market can be very competitive. In this case I would recommend to actually visiting letting agencies and see what they have available, they might have some properties they haven’t listed online yet.
We moved in February and market wasn’t as busy as in spring/summer time, so we had few choices yet non of them was desirable. Then we got really lucky with a property which just became available and wasn’t put on the market yet. All in all it took us only a week to find a place. We also were looking in a specific area of Nottingham, which I researched and made a choice based on proximity to my husband’s work, schools and public transportation. And that brings us to another very important decision you have to make before even starting house hunting, which is schools.
If you have school age kids, then you need to think of what school do you want them to attend.
If you home schooling your kids (which people do although not as many as in the states) or if you’re considering an International school, then your choice of housing won’t be limited by a school district, but if you intend to send your children to state funded school then more research needs to be done.
British school system is different from American.
The UK education system is divided into four main parts: primary education, secondary education, further education and higher education. All children in the UK have to legally attend primary and secondary education which runs from about 5 years old until the student is 16 years old.
The education system in the UK is also split into “key stages” which breaks down as follows:
Key Stage 1:5 to 7 years old
Key Stage 2:7 to 11 years old
Key Stage 3:11 to 14 years old
Key Stage 4:14 to 16 years old
Everything you need to know about state funded schools, application process and general information on specific school can be found here:
Like in the states you can check ratings for all schools to decide if a school meets your expectations.
The U.K. rating system for every school and child care services is called Ofsted, that is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.
It is always a good idea to check Ofsted of all schools you are considering. You can do either the search by zip code of a school or by the school’s name. All schools have to provide their ofsted report on their websites so you can read detailed repost pointing out all strong and week areas of that school.
You can make an appointment and tour schools. Depending on how popular school is, it can be oversubscribed meaning that it receives more applications than it offers places. Unlike the U.S. public schools, a school in the U.K. don’t have to except a child even if it’s in your catchment area (school district) , so cover your grounds and put on the list at least 2-3 up to 4 different schools of your choice. Your child will be allocated place in a school of your highest choice that means if the first choice school didn’t have a place but second, third and fourth have places, you will get a place in the second school of your choice.
More about Ofsted can be found here:
You will have to apply for school place for every child individually. You can do it after registering online. For example since we moved to Nottingham area I registered at the Nottinghamshire County Council website so you will need to find out the county or city council in the area you are moving to.
We have two children. They were 5 and 8 years old at the time so schools were my biggest priority. I did as much research as I could including Ofsted and oversubscription element of schools in different areas. As a result we narrowed down the district we wanted to find a house in.
The difficulties can arise when you try to register your kids for school or open bank account or even buy a new cellphone only because you don’t have an address. I had to call school admission team to explain that we didn’t have address yet but we’re looking for a place in a specific postal code area where I applied for school places., and they were understanding.
Ultimately you can wait until you found a place and apply for school later.
Bank accounts and cell phones
Believe it or not but we had the hardest time with buying new phones….. it felt like a vicious circle: can’t buy phone because you need British bank account, cannot open bank account because you need an address and some realtors can make it difficult by not signing your lease contract because you don’t have a bank account.
Lucky for us we found a place we liked, very quickly and our agency was very understanding in regards of not being able to open bank account without address.
So now we got the address but it took us three different attempts to open new bank account as British banks are much tougher than Americans in terms of security and false identity. Every time we went to the bank for our appointment, we didn’t have one or the other document they needed. Also you have to make an appointment ahead of time to open bank account as it took us about hour and a half if not two, for the whole process to be done!!! The interview for my American citizenship was faster, not even kidding!
On our third long visit we finally had a British bank account. My husband was recommended to go with HSBC bank, so we haven’t tried other banks and maybe the process of opening bank account with a different bank is less stressful.
Another useful tip would be to consider Santander bank. In case you will have to renew your US passport, it will make it easy for you to do so without going to the Embassy in London, since they can provide a money order so you can pay for your passport with mail in service.
I had to travel to American embassy in London for my passport renewal appointment only because I could not get money order anywhere else, including my bank or Santander bank (the one place I found where it’s possible to get money order) since I wasn’t their costumer. And unfortunately the only two ways you can pay for the passport is either cash or money order, no credit card option.
Great now we had local bank account and address, finally we could buy cellphones! Slowly everything was snapping into places.
Public transportation and buying a car
All big and small towns in the U.K, I have been to, have really good public transportation. So there shouldn’t be an immediate need to get a car.
Under British law Americans are allowed to drive in the U.K. for 12 months on the American driver’s license after 12 months you will need to get a British DL.
The process of getting DL is much more complicated and the exams are way harder than in the US.
You can find all important information regarding attaining British driver’s license on this web site Driving licence
Most cars are manual so for me it complicates the whole process as I don’t know how to drive manual car, I always had automatic. If you take exam with automatic car then you won’t get a full driving license, which means if you need to rent a car you won’t be able to rent manual and it’s not as easy to find automatic car to rent in the U.K.
I would like to get the license eventually but am still contemplating on how to get my head around the learning to drive manual as well the whole thing driving on the other side of the road.
Luckily with easy excess to trams, buses and trains, I don’t feel extremely restricted from going places, at least not locally.
But if you noticed our family likes to travel and traveling by car is much more convenient for a family with kids. We didn’t last long without a car and got us one 6 months after we moved to England. We loved road trips in America and being right in the middle of the United Kingdom makes it really easy to travel in any direction by car. For example it’s only 2 hours from Nottingham to London and about 4,5 hours to Edinburgh. It is of course possible to take a train (plain for further destinations) to most cities so travel is still easy enough even without a car.
Moving to foreign country is not an easy thing to do but ultimately it will all depend how you react and process what comes your way. So try to keep calm and know that one day everything settles down and all problems will be resolved!
Just remember it’s an adventure and great life experience not every one has a chance to have. So if you maintain such mindset and think more about what it will give you instead what you are saying goodbye to then I am pretty sure you enjoy your new life in a foreign land very much!
Trust me I lived trough 3 international moves, everything will be alright!
I hope you found some valuable information in my post.
If you have any questions regarding living in England or moving to the U.K. I would be happy to answer or help to find answers for you if I cannot answer myself!
Good luck with everything!