London is home to more than 3 million foreign-born residents, making it one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Between its rich history, diverse cuisine, and easy access to the Continent, moving to London from the US brought plenty of excitement to my life.
As an American living in London, I’ve found the city to be the perfect balance between the new and the familiar. But don’t let our countries’ shared history fool you.
There are plenty of ways that Americans will need to adjust to living in the UK, for better or worse.
If you’re deciding whether to move abroad and are considering The Big Smoke, here’s what you should know before moving to London from the US.
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RELATED: 24 Pros and Cons of Living in London
You can’t move to London from the US without a visa
When I first published this post, I never imagined I’d need to say this. But in case you didn’t know: a US citizen cannot live in the UK without a visa.
Any American moving to London will need to obtain a visa–usually from within the US–which can take weeks to months depending on the circumstances.
It’s illegal to work in the UK on a tourist visa (including as a digital nomad), or even go job hunting, and getting caught will likely result in both deportation and a permament ban.
The UK has become increasingly strict about immigration now that Brexit has passed. It’s a notoriously difficult country to move to as an American. But there are options if you’re willing to put in the effort.
How to move to London: the main pathways
From marriage to master’s degrees, Americans moving to London have a few pathways to get here. These are the most common ways to get a UK resident visa as an American:
- Marry a UK citizen
- Attend college or university in the UK
- Get hired and sponsored by a UK company
- Transfer to a UK office within your current company
- Possess exceptional talent or promise in a desirable field
This is not an exhaustive list of UK visa opportunities. I highly recommend reading the UK goverment page on visas and immigration to fully understand your options and the requirements for each visa type.
Some visas, like the Tier 4 Student Visa or Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer Visa, have no path to citizenship, so do your research.
Check out my in-depth guide on how to move to the UK for more information!
Your healthcare will be (sort of) free
Compared to the nightmare that is the American healthcare system, the UK’s National Health Insurance (NHS) is a dream.
I’d argue it’s one of the best things about living in Enland. The system isn’t perfect, but it does provide healthcare to all residents, regardless of their employment status.
Nearly all medical services and treatments are free, with the exception of certain things like prescriptions and dental procedures. And even those are far cheaper than what you’d typically pay in the US with an average employer insurance plan.
But as they say, nothing in life is truly free. Most people who move to the UK will need to pay the immigration health surcharge when making their visa application.
The amount you have to pay depends on your visa type and your length of stay. If you’re not coming to the UK as a student, you’ll pay £200 for every year of your visa.
This is a little more than what I would pay in a typical year in the US, but I had a pretty generous insurance plan and was in good health.
You’ll also be funding the NHS through your taxes. The amount of money you’ll pay in UK taxes will likely be much higher than what you paid in the US.
Despite the lower take-home pay, I’d rather live in a country where people aren’t filing for bankruptcy because their child was diagnosed with cancer.
That being said, many people (including myself) pay for private health insurance. This gives me access to faster appointments, a wider range of specialists, and even healthcare coverage when I’m back in the US.
How to Find the Best International Health Insurance for You
Even in countries with universal health care, buying an international health insurance plan makes sense for a lot of expats (especially Americans).
But between deductible rules and coverage areas, it’s hard to know which plan is right for you.
Luckily, the brokers at International Citizens Insurance can help you find the right plan for your specific situation. They will do the research, compare plans, and review options with you. A good broker will save you so much time, and best of all, there is no cost to you!
With International Citizens Insurance, you’ll have your pick of plans from the best international health insurance companies (Cigna, GeoBlue, Aetna, etc.). A dedicated agent will answer all of your questions, walk you through the terms and coverage, and make adjustments so that you end up with a plan and premium that works for you.
You’ll spend a lot less on your cell phone plan
According to Money Savings Pro, the average American’s cell phone bill is $80/month. Although I was paying closer to $45/month with my Project Fi plan, that’s still more than double what I’m paying in the UK!
Currently, I’m on an O2 pay-as-you-go tariff, which is £15/month for 1000 texts, 500 minutes, and 15GB of data with rollover. I can also use my mobile data in a number of European countries at no cost, unlike US carriers that charge daily fees.
With so much competition in the UK cellular market, prices are kept very low. And being on a month-to-month payment plan means I can easily switch carriers if I find there’s a better deal. The amount of money I save on my cell phone bill makes the cost of living increase less of a burden.
Your taxes will get complicated when living in London as an American
Spoiler alert: all US citizens are obligated to file a US tax return no matter where they live. If you thought old Uncle Sam couldn’t reach into your wallet from across the pond, you were mistaken!
If you’re moving to London from the US, I have some good news and some bad news.
The good news is that the US and UK have a tax treaty that allows you to deduct your UK taxes from what you’d owe in the US.
There are exceptions to this of course, because nothing about US taxes is ever simple. US expats earning investment income, for example, will owe tax on the profits.
The bad news is that there are additional US tax forms for citizens living abroad, including the FBAR for foreign bank accounts. It can get very complicated very quickly.
Depending on your financial situation, you may end up paying several thousand dollars (yes, you read that right!) to a professional to ensure your taxes are done right. We hired a dual UK / US expat tax firm to handle our US returns, and it cost around $2,000.
Some day, I’ll write a detailed post on expat taxes. In the meantime, start saving for that tax preparation bill.
How to Easily Transfer Money Between US and UK Accounts
One of the most common questions I get asked is how to move money between US and UK bank accounts without paying a fortune in fees. Luckily, there’s an easy and cheap solution:
I first used Wise (formerly TransferWise) when we needed to pay our London flat deposit, and it was SO much simpler and cost-effective than doing an international wire transfer from my bank. Today, I regularly use Wise to send money from my UK bank account to my US accounts.
And because I wanted access to a UK bank account right away, I opened a Wise Multi Currency Account. It lets me send and receive money in over different 40 currencies, and even comes with a multi-currency debit card! You can start paying for things in pounds before you even arrive in the UK.
Open a Wise account today to get real exchange rates, speedy transfers, and ultra-low fees.
Save me for later!
You’ll need to learn new words for familiar things
Everyone knows about “chips”. But for Americans that haven’t traveled abroad, expect to encounter many different and sometimes confusing terms for familiar things.
I’ve even written an entire post on British vs American words and slang to help you overcome the language barrier.
Here are just a few to keep in mind at London’s grocery stores and in daily life:
- Chips are steak fries, but not all fries are chips. If you see “fries” on a menu, they’ll be thin-cut like what you’d get at McDonalds.
- Crisps are (American) chips, and you’ll find fun flavors like prawn and sweet chili on grocery store shelves.
- Courgettes are zucchini. Because French words sound fancy.
- Rocket is arugula, and you’ll find it in all sorts of salads and brunch dishes.
- Trousers are pants, but pants are underwear. Don’t embarrass yourself at the dry cleaner like I did my first week here.
- Cheers means thanks, but only in a casual way. You say “cheers” when someone brings you a beer, but not when you’re being served tea at The Aqua Shard. Unless you want the waiter to laugh at you. Not that I would know…
RELATED: Cheap Eats in London: A Budget Travel Guide
Your utilities will be billed very differently
Back to the serious stuff. In most US cities, you pay monthly bills for your water, gas, and electricity to the lone providers of those utilities in your area.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a choice in providers, the amount you’ll save on your bill rarely offsets the hassle of switching.
In London, there are tons of options for utility providers and payment schedules. There’s even a handy website called uSwitch that lets you compare prices and suppliers for your address.
For electric and gas, most providers let you pay monthly, quarterly, or annually. If you pay monthly or quarterly, the amount will be based on the estimated average for the year, divided by the number of payments.
Depending on how your house/flat is set up, you may need to submit a gas and electric meter reading every couple of months. Places equipped with a Smart Reader are billed by usage, like a typical US residence.
For water, you’ll likely be served by Thames Water. If your place has a water meter, you’ll be billed twice a year.
Flats/houses without water meters, like ours, are billed annually. However, you are not required to pay in a lump sum (though we chose to do so for convenience). Thames Water allows you to pay in installments, as frequently as once a week.
Although the price of gas and electricity is more expensive in the UK than the US, the milder weather means less energy goes towards heating and cooling. Overall, our utility bills are cheaper here than when we lived in a similar-sized flat in Philadelphia.
What about moving to London with pets?
Moving to the UK with pets was by far the most stressful part of our relocation. It’s also the topic I get asked about most frequently, which isn’t surprising!
Between the paperwork requirements, logistics, and lack of pet-friendly landlords, it’s incredibly difficult to DIY. Not to mention that a single mistake can lead to an expensive quarantine or denied entry.
I highly recommend working with a pet relocation specialist like Pets Lets.
Their experienced agents know how to choose a good location and space for not only a pet, but also your other needs such as schooling and commuting. Plus, they can recommend amazing areas to live that non-locals rarely know about.
Pets Lets’ local UK agents are experts at finding pet-friendly rentals and negotiating contracts. They’ll also connect you with a transportation company to safely bring your beloved furry friends into the country.
Your place probably won’t have air conditioning or a dryer
The other reason you’ll likely save on gas and electric is the lack of air conditioning (a.k.a. “air con”) and dryers in the UK. The summers are generally mild, making air con unnecessary.
Unfortunately, every summer since 2018 has come with multiple heatwaves and 90+ degree days. I make several trips to Sainsbury’s just so I can stand in the frozen food aisle…
During those few hot days, I deeply regret moving to London from the US. But then things cool down and it’s right back to comfy and cool weather.
If you have seasonal allergies or other needs that call for AC, I recommend getting a portable unit.
Dryers are also a rarity in UK, especially in London where space is at a premium. Get yourself a good clothes drying rack and plan your washing accordingly. No one wants to put on wet socks because someone forgot about laundry day.
RELATED: The Essential Moving Abroad Packing Checklist
You’ll be hard-pressed to find drip coffee
Ah, coffee. Is there anything more American than going to a diner and getting unlimited refills of that steamy, watered-down goodness? My husband says of the few things he misses about the US, drip coffee is number one.
Finding drip coffee in London is nigh impossible.
If you walk into a cafe and ask for coffee, one of two things will happen. Either the person behind the counter will blankly stare at you for a moment before asking “…what kind?”. Or, they’ll hear your accent and assume you want an Americano.
For the uninitiated, an Americano is simply a watered down espresso. Allegedly, it was invented by American G.I.’s during World War II, because they wanted something that tasted closer to the coffee back home.
Unfortunately, the price of an Americano in most London cafes does not reflect that it’s 50% water.
Thankfully, filter coffee is a rapidly growing trend, and the taste is pretty similar to old-fashioned drip coffee! Many independent cafes offer filter coffee brewed in a pour-over pot such as a Chemex.
RELATED: Moving to England From The USA: 10 Tips for Americans
Final Thoughts on Moving to London from the US
Expat life always has its challenges, and moving to London from the US is no exception. However, if you move here with a little advanced research and an open mind, you’ll be ready to tackle these differences.
If you haven’t visited the city (which you should absolutely do before you find a flat in London), my flexible London itineraryis a great resource for planning your trip.
I’ve also written a detailed moving to London checklist for expats that will help guide you through the whole process.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything you should know before moving to London. Stay tuned for more relocation and expat tips, and consider joining my Patreon group for more resources!
Want more travel + relocation tips?
Become a member of my Patreon group for exclusive access to my resource library, including:
- Printable packing lists for moving + travel
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- And much more
The most common type of visas are the UK work visa and family visas. If neither applies in your case, unfortunately moving to UK from US can be difficult. But there's no need to worry! There are a few different work visas depending on the situation, and you can also apply for different kind of visas.How long can an American live in London? ›
As an American citizen, moving from the US to the UK to travel, study, and live is permitted for up to six months at a time. However, you cannot work during this period. If you want to hold down a job, you'll have to have a suitable visa.Is London a good place to live for an American? ›
If you're looking for a big city with plenty of opportunities and a diverse population, London is definitely worth considering. Just be prepared for some culture shock in the beginning and make sure you have a solid support system in place.Do Americans go through customs in London? ›
If your baggage is checked through to your final destination, that's where you clear customs. If you're collecting your baggage and checking in to your next flight yourself, you need to pass through customs at Heathrow.Is London immigrant friendly? ›
The UK has become one of the world's most accepting places for foreign workers, according to a survey in 24 nations revealing a sharp increase in British acceptance of economic migration.Which area in London is best to live? ›
- Borough of Bromley. Bromley is our top-rated London location, with an average score of 4.62 out of 5 among reviewers in the borough. ...
- Borough of Kingston upon Thames. ...
- Borough of Richmond upon Thames. ...
- Borough of Sutton. ...
- Borough of Islington. ...
- Borough of Hackney. ...
- Harrow. ...
You can usually stay in the UK for up to 6 months. You might be able to apply to stay for longer in certain circumstances, for example to get medical treatment.Can I retire in the UK as a US citizen? ›
The U.K. recently closed its retirement visa program, meaning retirees don't have a straightforward way to get into the country. Fortunately, the U.K.'s other visa avenues are still open. So, retired couples can apply for work, ancestry or family visas. These visas have varying costs and requirements.What American city is London most like? ›
Instead of London: Boston, MA
While Boston fought hard to separate itself from British rule in the 18th century, the city undeniably reflects the charm and culture of London.
North London is a popular area to live in the capital as it can be more affordable and quieter than other areas. North London tends to have a more liberal, laidback feel to it and there are many attractions here, including Camden Market, Regent's Canal and Hampstead Heath along with some of the best green spaces.
- Pros of Living as an Expat in London. Diversity – A Vibrant Culture. Job Opportunities – Great Job Opportunities. Cultural Attractions. ...
- Cons of Living as an Expat in London. Cost of Living – High cost of living. Weather – An Unpredictable weather. Public Transportation – Crowded and busy.
The largest single local cluster of Americans in the UK recorded by the 2001 UK Census was in Mildenhall in North-West Suffolk—the site of RAF Mildenhall and nearby RAF Lakenheath. This is because of the legacy of the Cold War and NATO cooperation. 17.28% of Mildenhall's population were born in the United States.Can I move to England without a job? ›
Yes, you can move to the UK without a job if you have enough money to support yourself and if you are born to British parents or qualify for one of the following visa's: Tier 5 Youth Mobility (this is country and age-restricted) UK Ancestry.Can an American get a job in London? ›
To live and work in the United Kingdom, U.S. citizens must obtain a work visa from the British government. If you're wondering how to get a work visa in the UK, you'll be happy to know that the process is relatively simple.Can you bring food from US to London? ›
You can bring the following into Great Britain from any country without any restrictions: bread, but not sandwiches filled with meat or dairy products. cakes without fresh cream. biscuits.What do Americans need to enter UK? ›
You must have a valid passport to enter the UK. It should be valid for the whole of your stay. You may also need a visa, depending on which country you're from.How does a US citizen work in London? ›
If you are a US national and would like to work in the UK, you will need to secure a work visa before you travel here. In most cases, to secure a UK work permit, you will need a suitable job offer from a UK employer with a sponsor licence granted by the UK Home Office.Who are the most foreigners in London? ›
Percentages are found in the data table. Of Londoners not born in the UK, more were born in India than any other country. 349,000 Londoners were born in India and the second most common non-UK born country is Nigeria with a population of 135,000.What is the largest immigrant group in London? ›
Leading nationalities of non-British population in London 2021, by nationality. In 2021, there were approximately 357,000 Indian residents living in London, the most of any foreign nationality.What are the new immigration rules for the UK in 2023? ›
Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme
The ETA scheme will come into force on 13 April 2023. It applies to anyone that is not British or Irish who wants to visit or transit through the UK and who do not currently need a visa for short stays.
With its picturesque Victorian houses and proximity to the King's Road and Chelsea, Fulham is a desirable suburb popular with middle-class families as well as young professionals. Putney is just south of Fulham, over the river, and is popular with Australians, New Zealanders and South African expats.What is London most expensive city to live in? ›
London jumps up one place in the ranking of the most expensive cities in the world, overtaking Tokyo to become 4th, ECA International's (ECA) latest cost of living report reveals. Hong Kong retains its spot at number one, while New York moves further up the ranking, overtaking Geneva (3rd) to secure second place.Can you be a dual citizen of US and UK? ›
Both the UK and US allow dual citizenship so Americans who would like to apply for British citizenship are able to maintain both citizenships. There is no specific application process to apply for American British dual nationality – all you need to do is to apply to become a UK citizen.How can a US citizen live permanently in UK? ›
- Apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (settled and pre-settled status)
- Prove you have right of abode in the UK.
- Apply to stay in the UK as a stateless person.
|Distribution of people born in the USA|
|Whole of Britain||143,590||155,030|
|East of England||38,698||30,924|
Normally, people who are not U.S. citizens may receive U.S. Social Security benefits while outside the U.S. only if they meet certain requirements. Under the agreement, however, you may receive benefits as long as you reside in the United Kingdom regardless of your nationality.Can I get my US pension if I live abroad? ›
If you earned Social Security benefits, you can visit or live in most foreign countries and still receive payments. Look up the country on the SSA Payments Abroad Screening Tool to be sure you can receive your payments.What is the US retirement age in the UK? ›
The State Pension age is currently 66 years old for both men and women but will start gradually increasing again from 6 May 2026.Which US cities fly direct to London? ›
British Airways - offers direct flights to London from several US cities including New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Virgin Atlantic - offers direct flights to London and Manchester from multiple airports in the US. United Airlines - offers direct flights all year round from New York to London.What is the best city to fly to London from? ›
- New York City. New York City is kind of an obvious one since it has the shortest distance to travel and both are major cities in their respective countries. ...
- Atlanta. ...
- Raleigh-Durham. ...
- Chicago. ...
- Orlando. ...
- Portland. ...
- Los Angeles. ...
London has more green space than New York. Although Manhattan is densely populated, it does not have many parks besides Central Park. London has a lot of open spaces and parks such as Hyde Park, and St Jame's Park, which makes it a more attractive place to live and visit for people that need green spaces.Where is London's happiest place to live? ›
Taking the crown for the happiest London borough is Richmond upon Thames. In second place is Islington, followed by Westminster in third and Wandsworth and Southwark in fourth and fifth respectively. Several of these boroughs are known to be more leafy and prosperous, but they're also some of the wealthiest too.What is the most American place in the UK? ›
Cambridge is one of the most American cities in Britain with 2,284 people living in the city born in the United States, according to the last Census in 2011.What is the lifestyle like in London? ›
Life in London is fast paced
This means that most Londoners live a very fast-paced life, constantly rushing to fit in their next meeting or engagement. What does this mean to you? Well, apart from also having a very fast-paced lifestyle, you'll also encounter plenty of Londoners racing around on a daily basis.
It's some of the most expensive rent in the world. So much so, that many people who move to London don't even think about living on their own and just move into a house share or flat share.
It's absolutely true: London wages are the highest in the country. According to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), the average London annual pay in 2013 was £40,903. If that sounds a little high, it's because it's skewed upwards by a proportion of people earning very high salaries.Can I get a job in London as an American? ›
To live and work in the United Kingdom, U.S. citizens must obtain a work visa from the British government. If you're wondering how to get a work visa in the UK, you'll be happy to know that the process is relatively simple.How much does it cost to move to London from US? ›
What's the cost of moving to London from the US? Quick answer: The cost of moving to London from the US averages $3000 to $7000. The size of your move and service are the most significant cost factors when moving abroad. However, the time of year and mover you choose can also affect the cost.Can I move to London without a job? ›
Yes, you can move to the UK without a job if you have enough money to support yourself and if you are born to British parents or qualify for one of the following visa's: Tier 5 Youth Mobility (this is country and age-restricted) UK Ancestry. Right to Abode.How hard is it to get a job in London? ›
Competition for jobs in London is high with hundreds of applicants often applying for a single position so it's important to make sure you're using all the resources you have at your disposal. Employer conventions can seem rigid, requiring specific formats for CVs, covering letters and applications.
According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the average salary for a full-time employee in London was £36,611 in 2020.How long can I stay in the UK as a US citizen? ›
You can usually stay in the UK for up to 6 months. You might be able to apply to stay for longer in certain circumstances, for example to get medical treatment.Does London allow dual citizenship? ›
Dual citizenship (also known as dual nationality) is allowed in the UK. This means you can be a British citizen and also a citizen of other countries. You do not need to apply for dual citizenship. You can apply for foreign citizenship and keep your British citizenship.How can I move to London permanently from the US? ›
- Get a Work Visa. ...
- Get a Student Visa. ...
- Marry a UK Citizen. ...
- Be a Celebrity or Have Exceptional Talent. ...
- Get an Ancestry Visa. ...
- Get an Investor Visa. ...
- Get a Tourist Visa.
Check if you meet the citizenship requirements
These are the general requirements for naturalisation, but most applicants must also have: Lived in the UK for at least 5 years, without an absence longer than 450 days. Travelled outside of the UK for no more than 90 days in the last year.
So all in all, before you move to the UK you're going to need potentially $3,000 to $4,000 for the cost of your visa and health care. Once you're there you might want to have $2000 available to cover rent, bills and bond.Is it cheaper to live in the UK than the USA? ›
When it comes to grocery and food prices, the UK is the winner in terms of overall affordability. The average British household spends less on groceries per month compared to the average American household, and UK supermarkets tend to offer more own-brand products, which are generally cheaper but still of good quality.Is it better to live in New York or London? ›
Almost half the amount of people live per square mile in London than in New York, as London has a population density of 15,328 per square mile. This makes London a more comfortable place to live, despite housing being perhaps quite minimal.How can I legally live in London? ›
- you have 'right of abode' in the UK, if you're a British citizen.
- you're a citizen of Ireland.
- you have pre-settled or settled status through the EU Settlement Scheme.
- you have indefinite leave to enter (ILE) or remain in the UK (ILR)