Moving to London from the US: Top Tips from an Expat

Dreaming of moving to London from the US? These are some common questions I’ve been asked on how I made my dream of moving to a new country possible. Moving to England as an American might seem impossible but with enough dedication, you can make your dream happen too! These are my top tips on moving from the US to the UK and how to prepare for a move abroad. You can trust that I have a lot of experience in this area being an ex-pat and American living in London! So for all you Americans moving to London, get ready for all the information I’m about to share!

Note: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to purchase something through the links, at no additional cost to you. Read our Affiliate Disclosure here.

My favorite book that helped me when I first came to London was Pretty City London. I highly recommend buying it as it’s also a pretty book to have at home. It tells you all the beautiful cafes and neighborhoods to visit and was founded by the Instagram page @prettycitylondon.

moving to London from US red bus in hampstead village
Moving to London from US

Why did you want to move abroad?

I never had the chance to live abroad in school and so I made it my mission to live abroad and work. After working at Delta, I became obsessed with travel (read my travel story and more about me). I want to be within such close proximity to so many beautiful countries and see the world. Travel has changed me to make me a more in-dependable person and have an open outlook on life.

I chose London because of the common language making it easier for me to communicate and work here. You definitely won’t have a language barrier moving here. Also, it allows me to travel all around Europe for cheap! You can follow all my travels on Instagram here.

the ultimate guide to moving to london

Purchase this e-book on the ultimate guide to moving to London.

It includes:
– Visa types for your move
– List of companies that sponsor
– Budgeting guide for your move
– Tips on adjusting to your new life
– Packing guide for your move to the UK
– Neighborhoods ideal for a move to London
– and much more!

How did you move to London from the United States?

If you are out of school, I think the easiest way to move to London or any part of the UK as an American would be through your current company. You have to be sponsored to get a working visa and it can be difficult to get a company to do this as it comes with a cost and a risk for them.

Previously, I worked for CNN in Atlanta, GA as a Manager of Digital Analytics. I made the effort to constantly keep my eye open for positions in the London office. On my third try, I finally landed a job so you really have to keep persistent to make your dream of moving abroad come true. I was lucky enough that the hiring manager was all about hiring within the company. He said it excites him to do something like this. Not all hiring managers would be open to it so you might have to try to build connections with people throughout the company to make a company transfer possible.

Being at a more senior level helps too – if you are applying at entry level you may have less luck at moving abroad. I moved on the Tier 2 Skilled Worker Visa and there are certain requirements such as keeping the position open for at least one month to prove you are a skilled worker and they couldn’t hire someone locally to do the job. You also have to make at least £30,000 per year to qualify for this visa.

One thing I found was that the salary is much lower than in the US. Maybe it’s because the pound is not as strong as it once was but I had to take a promotion to get paid around the same money I was getting at a lower level.

⭐ Check out my Instagram story highlights for more tips about transitioning from America to the UK
🎥 Check out this Instagram Reel to see my cost of living comparison
👉 Follow @joujoutravels on Instagram for solo travel inspo!

Types of Visas & Options for Moving to the UK

Here I will describe the most common visa types and the best way to make your move to the United Kingdom come to a reality.

  1. Tier 2 Skilled Worker Visa: This is how I moved abroad as mentioned above. It is when a company sponsors you. This is the best work visa to get on because once you live here for 5 years you can gain permanent residency – which is called Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). Once you have ILR you are free to work wherever you want without sponsorship. And after one more year, the good news is that you can apply to become a permanent British citizen. I have just applied for my British citizenship and am waiting for a decision.
  2. Student Visa: You can study in the UK to live here legally. It will allow you to stay in the UK for 5 years if you are studying full-time.
  3. Teach abroad – If you have previous teaching experience, you may qualify for a visa in the UK.
  4. Spousal visa – if you live with your significant other for 2 years and they are able to get sponsored you can move with them. You don’t have to be married either.
  5. Innovator/Startup Visa – If you have a unique business idea and a starting budget you can qualify for this but it’s a bit of a tricky process.
  6. NEW! High Potential Individual UK visa (May 30, 2022) – This is a new visa that the UK introduced that will allow high potential individuals to live in the UK without the need of sponsorship. To qualify for this visa, you must have graduated from top global university. The list of universities that qualify is listed here. Some include Harvard, Yale, NYU, the University of Texas, and more! The aim of this visa is to bring in highly skilled and academically elite talent to positively contribute to the UK economy.

Without a visa, you are only allowed to visit the UK for 6 months on a tourist visa. Once you get sponsored as a US Citizen or other nationality, you can bring family members with you on a dependent visa.

The types of possible working visas are described here.

Don’t miss some of my London guides on the blog!
I love finding hidden gems in London and if you’re a first time visitor and want to see if London is right for you, you should do everything in my 4 day Itinerary Guide to London!

expat life in London piccadilly circus tube station
Life as an expat in London

Describe what the UK visa application process is like?

Working at a large company, the process should be seamless. My job took care of everything for me. I just had to send in the relevant documents and then one month later I received my visa and booked my one-way ticket to London!

What are the main differences in the working culture between UK & US?

  • Holiday time: In Europe, you get much more holiday time than in the US. In the UK you get 25 days + 8 bank holidays. In other countries like France and Germany, you get even more days off! My company in the US started with 18 days off and I know some companies give even less than that.
  • Work fewer hours: This isn’t always the case but in the UK you seem to work less overtime and no one really checks their email after hours. In August, the office turns quiet as if it was Christmas time. Everyone goes on holiday during this time for 2 weeks at a time. This can be a stark difference from places in the US like New York where it is common to work very long hours.
  • It is common to take one year off for maternity: One thing that I was surprised about was the maternity leave time. In the US you leave typically for 3 months but across Europe, you leave for 1 year and in Germany, even 2 years can be common.
  • Sick Time & Wellbeing: In the US, I think you have 2 weeks of paid sick time at my company but in Europe, you seem to have unlimited. I have seen people take months off due to stress or other circumstances. There can be really strict regulations on your wellbeing – for example, certain countries don’t allow you to work overtime or check work emails after work hours.
  • After-work beers: The British people love to go to a pub after work and drink. London has so many cute pubs and at the slightest inkling of warm weather, everyone gathers around outside for drinks.
  • British culture: You may find the British people to be a bit more reserved. There are some British slang and sayings I cover in my moving to London e-book you should be aware of so you don’t make any funny mistakes.
expat living in london standing in front of a red phone booth
Living in London as an expat from America

What has this international move taught you?

I love experiencing new things and different experiences Traveling, in general, has taught me to embrace the differences in the world. I love working in a multi-cultural office – I work with 6 offices and didn’t know they even existed when I was in Atlanta (Istanbul, Dubai, Munich, Copenhagen, Madrid, & Paris). It’s cool to work with so many different cultures. I’m Egyptian originally and never met many other Egyptians (I grew up in Mississippi) but there is one on my team and 3 Arabic speakers as well. I’ve always been really independent / adaptable to new places so it is not for everyone but I’m loving every minute of it. 

What do you miss most since moving?

I miss my friends and family 👪 of course. It’s hard being so far away from them and with the time difference talking to them.

I miss good iced lattes ☕ only in the summertime are they available in London and they aren’t sweetened or with syrups, unless you go to a chain like Starbucks but I am all about supporting local!

Good sushi! 🍣The sushi in London is either super fancy or super not fancy and gross (places like Yoobi or Itsu). There is no in-between and I miss my good sushi! I have found a few good ones like Sticks n Sushi & Chotto Matte and I am still continuing the search!

Sunny ☀️weather: I love my sunny summers but London can stay around 68 degrees Fahrenheit constantly. The city is not built for warm weather because there is no air conditioning in the flats or in the Tube. So, on the sporadic days when it is really hot in London, I do regret it when I am boiling in the tube. I come from Atlanta (aka Hotlanta!) where it’s 90+ degrees all summer. However, there you hop in your air-conditioned car to your air-conditioned apartment so that’s the difference.

American expat standing on a rainy street in London on St Luke's Mews
How to prepare for a move to London from America

What to pack when moving abroad?

I would recommend only bringing just your essentials like your clothing. My company relocated me so I brought a lot more than I should have. The flats in London are much smaller than you will likely be used to depending on where you move from. In my relocation package it literally said, “In this country, your bedroom may resemble the size of a closet.”

A lot of places come furnished in London which I found surprising. Therefore, I would not recommend bringing any furniture with you. The beds are much larger in the US than European beds. A queen in the UK is more like a full-size bed in the US. Also, you will find it hard to get things like a large couch through the stairs and narrow doorways.

I would also not bring anything with a plug – you will have issues with the adapters and things may blow out because of the voltage differences.

In my moving to London e-book, I provide a packing list for your move so be sure to grab your copy of my book here!

What are the essentials needed for your first month in the UK?

Set up a bank account: You will need to first set up a bank account and this can be difficult because you have to prove you are working and have the right to live in the UK. My work set me up with Barclays and helped with some of the legwork but I hear Monzo is really great and easy to get set up with as a new expat. Make sure you bring enough money over to bring a balance to your new account.

Get a UK phone number. As a newbie, I would recommend one of the monthly no-contract providers like Voxi. I only pay 15 pounds a month and get unlimited social data!

Find a flat: This is really tricky in London. Start your search through Right Move or Zoopla.

Most of the time, you have to go through agents and it’s not possible to have one agent search all of London for you. Instead, there will be one per area so it’s important to nail down which London neighborhood you want to live in (whether it’s in East London, Notting Hill, or others). I have also found that a lot of the flats are carpeted and outdated.

The good ones go super quickly so you have to make connections with the agents so they can show you the good ones first and then you have to move fast. You have to make an offer on the flat too – sometimes you can even offer less than asking but I have never tried that as I fell in love with my place and didn’t want to risk losing it.

If you go the route of flat sharing as most people do, Spare Room is a great place to find shared flats. I have lived alone for several years and couldn’t bring myself to living with people again!

For a full guide on the best neighborhoods to look for housing, property prices, and hidden fees you need to be prepared for, be sure to grab your copy of my moving to London e-book here!

Master the Tube: Public transport is so easy in London. I didn’t realize until later that you can pay for the tube by touching your contactless card (instead of Oyster Card) onto the ticketing entrances. You can also tap your phone and pay with Apple or Google Pay which is really neat. I hate keeping up with cards and have my phone on me all the time so this is most convenient. You aren’t charged more than £6.80 a day if you are traveling during peak times. You just need to use the same card so it knows and it caps off at that rate with unlimited travel.

But you can save money by getting an Oyster Card monthly pass (for £130 a month zones 1 & 2) and even more by getting a City Mapper Pass for £31 a week. It’s cool because you can pause it while you go on holiday and not get charged.

Meet new friends!: If you are moving alone as I did, you should make it a point to join groups such as the popular London New Girl, Bumble BFF, Meetup, or Internations. This is how I met a lot of my friends here. You will also find a good community of American expats here. I have also attended conferences for work and introduced myself to people as well as found friends through work. Social media is another way to get yourself out there to meet people. I’ve found British people to be super friendly.

But it can be lonely and hard – I find that a lot of people don’t want to travel very far to hang out and it’s a transient city where many people live here for only a short time. I am not going to lie – it will get lonely moving to a new country and the friends you make might not be the same as what you’re used to in your home country.

Last words to inspire you to live your dream

Yes, it may be difficult to move to England as a US citizen but if you dream hard enough, anything can happen. I wanted to let you know that I lost my job due to covid in December 2020. I thought my dream would be crushed and I would have to pack my bags and move back to the US if I couldn’t find a new sponsor.

However, I had 3 months before being kicked out of the country when my visa would expire and I applied to everything related to my field. Many companies would not even consider me because of the sponsorship but there were a handful of companies willing to sponsor me. I landed a new job before my 3 months expired and I was thankfully able to stay in London. I believe you can do anything you put your mind to!

I hope this helps you learn how you can live your dream of moving abroad and learn the essentials of moving to a new country!

Moving to London e-Book

Need more detail? I go into the step-by-step way to move to the UK in this e-book and it even goes into all the logistics you need to prepare for your move and adjust to life in the UK. If it’s your first move abroad, it can be a daunting process so my e-book will help make that process smoother.

It includes:
– Visa types for your move
– List of companies that sponsor
– Budgeting guide for your move
– How to set up a bank account in the UK
– Tips on adjusting to UK life and moving process
– Information about the UK healthcare system and private health insurance
– Packing guide for your move to the UK
– Average cost of living in London, NY, and Atlanta comparison. You might be surprised London is not the most expensive cities.
– Neighborhoods ideal for a move to London

the ultimate guide to moving to london

Need more detail? I go into the step-by-step way to move to the UK in this e-book and even more!

For more reading, you may also like these:
👩How to travel the world SOLO, safely & confidently
♀️Best Places for Solo Female Travel
🤫Travel Secrets & Tips
💎Best Hidden Gems in Europe
📸Most Beautiful Cities in Europe

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    1. Jou Jou,
      Do you know any American ex-pats that have used the Youth Mobility Scheme visa? I’m an American citizen, 27 years old, and wonder if I would qualify for this particular visa. If I qualified, I wonder if I could find a job in the U.K. (or would companies not be interested in hiring me since the visa only lasts two years?).