Essential Expat Tips for Moving to England

Britain Expat Tips

5 Challenges Facing Expats When Settling In England

Britain Expat Tips
Flickr by: Amanda Slater

England is an incredible place for expats to move to — it’s got a great culture, fascinating urban landscapes, and a unique countryside full of diverse and stunning scenery. Not to mention some of the world’s best restaurants, museums, music scenes, and sports teams.  But if you’re an expat from the US or Canada looking to settle in England (or the wider UK), there are some challenges you will face.

In this post, we’ll be covering five of the biggest challenges facing expats when setting in England, and what you can do to make these much, much easier to handle. Read on to find out more:

You’re Having a Hard Time Fitting In

You might think that you’re moving to an “America with English-sounding accents” (trust us, people have made this mistake before), but you’d be surprised at the cultural differences when you’re settling in England.  It’s definitely a positive that you don’t have to worry about struggling with a language barrier and learn a new language from scratch, but there are definitely linguistic and cultural differences to be aware of.

British slang is world-famous for being weird and unique (mint, cheeky, skint, and knackered anyone?), so don’t be surprised if you’re confused by a lot of what people say to start with — you will get there, don’t worry. You may even struggle with accents too: there are some amazing — and strong — accents in the UK that you will end up loving (you might just have to listen more carefully to start with).

If you’re worried, then you can always read up on British cultural norms and customs before you go. You could even ask other expats for advice on fitting in and adapting to the cultural landscape.  If you really feel like you’re sticking out like a sore thumb, then just follow other people’s lead and do as they do: respect queueing etiquette, drive on the left-hand side, always say yes to tea, and make sure you get a round in at the pub regularly.

Housing: What do you do & how does it work?

Logistically, sorting out your housing situation in the UK is one of the biggest challenges you will face.

Navigating the housing and renting market is always a challenge any time you move somewhere new — whether it’s an unfamiliar city or a brand new country.  In particular, it’s tough letting go of your mental list of go-to companies. Arrived from Spain? No more energy from Endesa. Come from Canada? You’ll have to find a new mortgage broker; Breezeful can’t help with your house buying. You need a total reset of your usual choices, which can be daunting. Luckily, there are lots of sites and resources online to give you advice and make this particular challenge easier.

It’s probably a good idea to rent before you buy; this is a good way to get a feel for the area you’re planning on settling in, or you can explore other neighborhoods and different cities while you decide. It also gives you time to scout out suitable houses or apartments before committing to something for a long period of time. Renting in many cities and areas in the UK can be extremely cheap — although watch out for sky-high prices in London and other major cities.

Money Management

Sorting out your finances may seem like a huge struggle when you’re moving to England, but actually, it’s much easier than you’d think — as long as you do plenty of research and plan it out.

When you’re thinking of moving to the UK, you do need to consider the financial logistics: will you have a comfortable lifestyle while you’re there? Will you be able to afford the items that you want to buy and the things you want to do? International taxes, benefits, fees for retirement accounts, various other rules and requirements for expats settling in the UK — you’ll need to know how all of this will impact your finances, for better or worse.

Of course, you’ll need to inform your current bank that you’re going aboard; any unusual activity on your account may cause all sorts of problems, like the bank closing or deactivating your account, or charging you additional fees.  As for sorting out an English bank account, it is now much easier than it used to be; you should just need to show some ID (like your passport) and proof of address (like a council tax or utility bill) once you’ve booked an appointment with the bank of your choice. For more information, check out this handy Telegraph article.

Meeting New People & Making Friends

Logistics aside, settling in a brand new country can be a huge emotional challenge for expats.

Moving abroad is a huge life change and while it has many positives, lots of expats struggle with the loss of their personal support network. Most people find they are leaving behind much of their family, their friends, and the people they grew up with.  And if you do join an expat community and make friends that way, you may also find that your friends move away after a few years or so and you have to start from scratch all over again.

If you’re finding it hard to meet people and make new friends, then there are a few things you can do. If you have a particular hobby you like such as painting, dancing or jogging, why not join a club or community? Or you could sign up to a class in something you want to learn, like a new language or skill. You’ll be able to meet like-minded people who enjoy similar things, and the sense of community makes a great setting for bonding and making friends.

Healthcare & Health Logistics

Moving to any new country and trying to understand the healthcare system and logistics is frankly a nightmare. So how does it work if you’re moving over to England as an expat?

Well, of course, one of the things that Brits are most proud of is the NHS (the UK’s National Health Service) — a healthcare system free at the point of access, paid for by taxes. Dental treatment and eyesight check-ups and treatments are not usually included in this.  Healthcare and treatment are free to people who are “ordinarily resident” in the UK — which means you must be living in the UK on a lawful and properly settled basis (and you may be asked to prove this when you sign up to a doctor’s surgery).

If you’re still in the process of settling or moving in, then you will need the appropriate type of insurance to make sure you’re covered. It’s also a good idea to come prepared with any prescription medicines you may need while you are there, and until you can get settled and organized.

These are five of the biggest challenges facing expats when settling in England — but with these tips and a bit of careful planning, you’ll easily be able to smooth out any bumps. 

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