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Your Move to England: What You Should Know

Updated on June 8, 2012
Stonehenge | Source

If you are moving from the United States to the United Kingdom, than this is for you. A cross-country move can make anybody nervous, but when you think about the differences between the two places it can become downright terrifying. Let me make things easier for you by giving you the information I wish I had known!

In January of 2012 the US Military sent my husband and I to England. Neither of us has lived abroad before and I had never been out of the country save for a few trips to Mexico. While the packing and moving of our things were taken care of for us, we were left on our own to figure everything else out. We arrived with little information and quickly discovered the vast differences.

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle | Source

Don’t bring all of your American furniture!

British houses are cute, but small. There is a good chance that your king sized box spring will not fit in the door, and if it does there is little chance it will make it up the stairs. Americans often have to saw their box spring in half, then put it back together with brackets once it is in the room. In some stores here you can find box springs that come in two parts already and this may be a good option for you. If you can, I just recommend downsizing to a queen bed. Many British bedrooms are too crowded with a king bed anyhow. Here, queen sized beds are called King sized so don’t be fooled when you look online.

You know that awesomely large sectional couch you have? It might not fit in the loving room. Many British living rooms are longer, and narrower, and are nothing compared to the size of American rooms. Have you ever noticed how small IKEA couches seem? That’s because they are a Swedish company and the Swedes by my understanding have small houses like the English.

Consider downsizing your things in general. Many houses have garages, but they are small, one car garages. Keep in mind that cars are much narrower than American cars so a one car garage you are used to will be bigger than a one car garage in the UK. Storage units here are not cheap (at least £99 for a small one) so getting one in the states if you are coming back would be your best option if you don’t want to sell all of your things.

How to navigate a roundabout

Driving on the left side of the road is not that bad

I was terrified to drive here. I didn’t like the idea of the “wrong” side of the road, I didn’t like that my steering wheel was on the “wrong” side of the car. The roads look scary, and those roundabouts! I didn’t want to do it. Eventually I did have to do it, and it wasn’t so bad. After about four weeks of sporadic driving I was comfortable and things felt natural. Now, when I watch movies I catch myself thinking, “He’s on the wrong side of the road!” I have only been here six months and driving feels as normal here as it did when I lived in the States. I do strongly suggest getting a car GPS as there are often no street signs to help you find your way, and roads wander every which way. Without the GPS it can be next to impossible to get somewhere.

The hardest part for many to get used to are the roundabouts. It’s a big circle, with anywhere from three streets on up attached to it. This is England’s way of not having many stoplights. Stop signs are not used here, and lights only in really busy areas. For the most part, roundabouts are the intersections here. There are a few things that will help you. There are signs by bigger roundabouts telling you where each exit is going. Glance at that sign, and you will have an idea. Your GPS will tell you which exit to take, usually by saying, “Take fourth exit” Count the exits as you go around, and you will be fine.

The people to your right have the right-of-way. This is important; it is how to avoid crashing. When you approach a roundabout, look to your right. If the way is clear you keep going into the roundabout. If it is not clear, you stop and wait until it is. Simple as that! They look scary but once you understand how they work it is not so bad, and now I like them better than stoplights.

On the note of driving,

Consider buying a British car

You can bring your American car over here; you just need to make a few adjustments to it. However, I recommend getting a British one for a few reasons. First, it is easier driving on the left hand side of the road if you have a right had drive car. Even things like paying tolls and parking fees would be difficult in a left had drive car. The main reason though, is because American cars are often just too big for England. What we consider small cars in the States are on the larger side in the UK. You have never seen small until you live here! Parking spaces are extremely tight, and you may find getting around on the narrow roads difficult in an American width car.

Cathedral Ruins
Cathedral Ruins | Source

Look into English Heritage

If you like traveling and intend to sightsee as much as you can while in England, consider buying an annual pass with English Heritage. Many of the biggest British sights are operated by this foundation, including Stonehenge and the Tower of London. The pass is around £85 for two people (last time we signed up) and it gets you in free all year to those places. They also have castles, manors and ruins to tour, and events throughout the year. A quick Google search will tell you all you need to know.

Cambridge University
Cambridge University | Source

Make use of the park and rides into big cities

If you are going into a big city such as London or Cambridge, look into using the park and rides. For London you can part at the farthest out tube station by your house and ride in to the city, saving you the stress and hassle of driving in the overcrowded cities – and paying the hefty tolls to get in. Cambridge and many other large cities have large parking lots on the outskirts of the city where you can park and take a bus in to the main historical and shopping areas. The fee isn’t much for the ride and it is worth it to not try and squeeze your car down narrow one-way roads.

Tower Bridge, London
Tower Bridge, London | Source

Supplement your diet with vitamins

As Americans we are so used to our food being fortified with every sort of vitamin that many of us do not feel the need to take a multivitamin. Here, unless it is children’s food, most do not have any added vitamins. When I first moved here I was feeling tired, sluggish, and all around yucky and I could not figure out why. I went to the doctor and discovered that it was likely a vitamin deficiency. Also be sure you get enough vitamin D because especially in the winter time there is not much sun. I began taking a multivitamin and within a couple of weeks I was feeling back to normal. On that note, also begin using a fluoride rinse, as the water here is not treated with fluoride.

You will need transformers, not just plug adapters

The voltage here is 220, not 110. If you just get a plug adapter for your 110 electronics they will be fried, if not catch on fire. Many small electronics are dual voltage, read your things and see if they say something like 110~220. If they do, then a plug adapter will be just fine. If they do not say anything, or only say 110 then you need to use a transformer. Especially check your expensive electronics such as televisions and computers. If you are not sure, call the manufacturer they have that kind of information. You can buy transformers on Amazon, and I recommend this because it is much cheaper than trying to find them in a store.

Get blackout curtains before summer

In the wintertime, the sun will rise around 9 AM, and then set by 3:30 in the afternoon. I was appalled at this and wondered if I would ever see the sun again! Now that summertime has it, it is not getting dark until 10:30 at night and I am told it will get to be about 11PM for sunsets before summer is up. The sun rises around 4:30 here (we are in the southern, eastern part of England) so there is only less than five hours of darkness. Sleeping can be very difficult in these conditions but blackout curtains make a huge difference. I have also had people recommend bringing portable air conditioners with you from the states. They are expensive here, and the majority of houses (In fact I have not seen one that does at all) have heat but no air conditioning. Most summers can reach in the mid 80’s with a short while in the 90’s.

Taking these things into consideration will help your adjustment be smooth and less stressful. The best advice I can give you above all is explore! You are in England, see the amazing sights and learn the history. You will not regret this opportunity of a lifetime!


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    • Colleen Fowler profile image

      Colleen Fowler 5 years ago from Mildenhall, England

      Hi Jeff, yes, manuals are the standard here - I hadn't thought about that since I have driven manual transmissions my whole life! But that would pose a problem to somebody new here.

      I visited Ireland a few months back and I do remember being asked, "Are you okay?" I didn't go into enough shops to realize this was common but now I look back and laugh! That would be confusing!


      You know, now that I have lived here I often think about how the United States must look to the English! I wonder if it would be overwhelming at the amount of shopping areas the states has, since it seems like there are less department stores and less options on any particular item than we have in the states - at least where I live anyhow.

      Everything is definitely smaller, but I love the charm of the country. My husband and I remarked when we first got here how much the country feels like Disneyland only because we do not see such old architecture and atmosphere in the States - we only saw recreations in amusement parks! It's exciting even just driving around here because things are so different and new and exciting.

    • Tallgardener profile image

      Tallgardener 5 years ago from Somerset, UK

      As an Englishman, I found this a very interesting read! We are a cosy little country and everything is smaller (Well, I'm 6 foot 7, but you know what I mean)

      Many of the things you touch upon I have never even considered as being odd, but then I would be in awe of the 'largeness' of the States if I ever visited!

      Very interesting and thought-provoking :)

    • Jeff Berndt profile image

      Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan

      Good article with useful advice!

      I lived in Ireland for a short time, and was astonished at the early sunrise. When I woke up after my first night in Dublin, I assumed I'd overslept and rushed to get showered and dressed. When I got to the street, everything was closed, there was no traffic, and not a soul was in sight. I looked at a clock and saw that it was only a little after 5am. Whoops!

      Also, the little differences can be the most confusing. For the first few days, I thought I must be coming down with something, because whenever I tried to buy something at a shop, the person behind the counter would ask me, "Are you okay?" Turns out, that was just the Irish version of, "Can I help you?"

      The Heritage Card is a wonderful thing to have. Ireland has a similar scheme, and if you like visiting historic sites, the Heritage Card is cheap at twice the price.

      As for the car, when I returned to Ireland some years later, I learned that you have to specify that you want an automatic transmission when you hire a car, because the default is a manual. (I was fine on flat motorways and in cities, but in the hilly countryside it was...more challenging.) Are manual transmissions also the default in England?

      Great hub, Colleen. Voted up and useful!