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England, Lifestyle, Living Abroad

12 Shocking Differences Living in the UK vs US

When living in the UK vs US, there are many differences that you may not even know or think of until you take the plunge and move.  Some things are the conveniences that you will lose when moving from America.  

For instance, if you are used to going on a midnight run for ice cream, think again.  You won’t see a 7/11 on every corner in the UK as you see in the US.  

Since living in the UK, I’ve had to learn to live without some basic things I’ve become accustomed to. The British vs American lifestyle is different, and having to lose some of those things have made me frustrated at times.

Other lifestyle changes were a welcome sight because I had to move differently, like walking more (due to limited parking), eating out less, and cooking more at home.    

Not only that, I’ve saved money from buying everyday things that aren’t as convenient as it is in the US.  Some good, some not so good. 

Some of the differences are niceties that we take for granted when living in America.  

So to prepare you and your mind for that move to England, here are 12 differences in living in UK vs US.

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1. Driving differences while living in UK vs US

Living in UK vs US

The first difference you’ll run into living in UK vs US is driving.  Driving in the UK is very different from in the US.  I’m sure you already know that you drive on the left side of the road in the UK, and the steering wheel of UK spec cars is on the right side.  

However, there are several other differences when driving in the UK vs USA.  For instance, in the UK there are tons and tons of roundabouts.  Roundabouts are a major part of controlling the flow of traffic in the UK. 

If you want to drive in England, you will have to learn the complexities of the roundabouts, like when you can enter the circle, when to yield, and what lane in the roundabout you should be in.  Yes, you can have up to 4-5 lanes within one roundabout. Learning how to drive with the thousands of roundabouts in the UK can be scary, to say the least. However, once you get the hang of it, you will be going with the flow in no time.

When I went back to America

I’ve visited the US while I was living in England, and I can’t tell you how frustrated I became when sitting at a light in traffic for minutes on end.  I think I prefer the roundabouts now instead of all of the traffic lights since it keeps traffic going.  

Another big difference is that most roads (besides motorways) are smaller in the UK vs US.  Some 2-way streets may seem like it’s only one way because of how small it is.  

Another difference to note is that when you’re not driving through a residential area, it’s likely for there will be no street lights.  So on with the high beams and straining your eyes to see.  

That’s one big reason I despise driving in England at night.  Because the roads are smaller and it’s as dark as midnight in the streets.  

Plus, on most of the roads in the country, there isn’t a shoulder to pull over on, so if there’s a tractor-trailer taking up the entire street heading your way, you better back it up or pull over in the trees. LOL. 

2. Fast food differences in UK vs USA

Living in UK vs US you will not see a McDonald’s drive-thru on every corner.  A McDonald’s or Burger King drive-thru are far and few between in the UK compared to US.  And if you do happen to come across one, you will be lucky if the line isn’t super long. 

Due to those differences, it has forced me into cooking dinner much more often than in the US because it’s not as convenient to run to a drive-through on the way home from work.  Believe it or not, it has become a good thing for the family and me..   

What they do have in the UK vs USA are the mom-and-pop restaurants and pubs.  There isn’t a drive-thru either, so you can’t pick up food in pajamas.  Most of them don’t have convenient parking in front of the place.  More than likely, you’ll have to find a car park, get out and walk “probably in the cold” to get your food.  

So you tell me, is a $2 hamburger or bucket of chicken worth all that?  Hmmm.  You be the judge.

3. Drinking age differences in UK vs US

Living in UK vs US

Did you know that the drinking age in the UK compared to the US is quite different?  The all-around drinking age in the UK is 18 compared to 21 in the US.  

Plus, a teenager 16 years old or older can drink beer, wine, or cider in a restaurant or pub as long as they are with an adult and eat a meal.  

Can you believe that?  Yes, it’s legal for them. I’m sure they cannot get sloppy drunk though.  I would advise you not to let a 16-year-old have 3 to 4 drinks at a time.  

In retrospect, I’ve let my daughter have a cider or glass of wine occasionally while out in a restaurant.  At least that way, she will already know how it tastes and won’t feel the need to get wasted (when she gets older), and I can look out for her because she’s under my company. 

4. Refrigerators in the UK compared to US

A significant difference between Uk vs USA is the refrigerators in the homes.  Well, you know that huge American refrigerator you have standing tall in your kitchen?  Maybe you have a double-door stainless steel refrigerator with a water filter and ice maker to match.  Do you know that US refrigerator that has a humongous freezer that can fit a ham, turkey, and 3 whole chickens? 

Well, while living in the UK, you can forget about all that. 

Here in England, you will get a fridge about half the size of an American one.  When I first saw the sizes of the refrigerator, I was like, “this refrigerator is way too small, and how in the world will I fit all my groceries”? 

And don’t get me started on the freezer.  I was struggling with trying to fit items in the refrigerator and freezer.  

In America, it’s common to have a deep freezer in the have or sitting in the garage, not here, though.  So I had to embrace British culture and go to the grocery store once, twice, even 3 times a week because everything doesn’t fit, so we tend to run out of food faster. 

5. Must Love Dogs 

Living in UK vs US

The UK is a very dog-friendly country.  I think America is too, but in England, it’s on another level.  That’s one of the reasons we got a dog in England, and we don’t regret it.   

Anywho, it’s not unusual to see people with their dogs while out shopping.  Dogs are allowed in some cafes and restaurants.  You’ll see people walking their dogs pretty much anywhere.

That’s the good thing about living in England; if you are a dog lover, there are plenty of places for your dog to roam.  There are beautiful parks where dogs can walk around without a lead.  We’ve taken our dog to several of them, including a lavender farm, where they are welcome. 

Additionally, there are some incredible hiking trails in the UK like along the Jurassic Coast, and people can bring their dogs along. 

Plus, there are many dog-friendly hotels in the UK compared to US.  

In retrospect, the British love their dogs, and they are serious about them.  So, if you mistreat your dog, you could get fined and jailed up to 6 months in prison. 

6. Housekeeping in the UK

One of the things I love about living in UK vs US is the housekeeping options.  Having a housekeeper is more common living in the UK compared to US.  I think it’s because it’s more affordable.  

Having a housekeeper in the US is not as affordable for a low to middle-class family, but it’s totally affordable in England.  I think that goes for Europe in general. 

For instance, if you go with a reputable company, you may pay a monthly fee of £50, then the housekeeper gets paid about £7/hour.  If she comes for 3 hours once a week, that’s a total of £130-140?  It’s much cheaper in the UK vs USA to have a housekeeper.  Living in the USA, you may pay upwards of $300 for one house cleaning. 

There are plenty of other housekeepers who work on their own, so you won’t have to pay a monthly service fee. You’ll only pay per visit.  

7. Reservations for Restaurants differences in UK vs US

Going to a restaurant in the UK vs US is sometimes a struggle.  Unlike the US, most restaurants require a booking to dine in.  

Not all restaurants are like this, but most require a booking, especially dining in London or at a sought out restaurant.  This was yet another thing that took me by surprise.  And if you try to book a restaurant for Saturday a few days before, you might as well forget about it.  They are usually fully booked on weekends, weeks, or even months ahead of time, especially for dinner.  

You may luck up and see an open table for lunch or in between lunch and dinner. 

On another note, some restaurants do not stay open all day in the UK compared to US.  

The restaurant will open for lunch, then close around 2 or 2:30.  Then they’ll reopen for dinner around 5:30.  I think they have something to do with their laws.  I had never seen that before until I moved to England.

8. Tipping culture differences living in UK vs USA

Tipping is not expected in the UK compared to US.  Americans are so accustomed to tipping the waiters in restaurants or food delivery drivers while living in the USA.  However, in the UK, it’s not expected.  

We are often confused about whether we should tip a person while dining out for their service.  I’ve even heard that some locals will get offended if you tip them as it’s a not a thing to do in British culture.  But I haven’t run into that.  Most of them are appreciative or just kind of thrown off guard for the tip.  Though more and more these days, they are more open to tips because of the frequent travelers from the USA.  

However, if you see a service charge on your bill, that is your tip, so an extra one is unnecessary. 

9. Shopping differences living in UK vs US

When moving to the UK from the US, you may want to get out and explore the area. One of my favorite hobbies is shopping. 

Shopping in another country can be fun. You’ll get a chance to see the fashion trends in the area.  Plus you’ll need some furnishings for the new home. 

But before you go on a shopping spree, you must know that in the UK, they will charge you for bags compared to the US.  Say what now?  Yes, you have to pay for shopping bags.  

Buying bags applies when going to grocery stores, clothing stores, home goods stores, etc.  

I’ve come accustomed to bringing my own bags with me, especially when going to the supermarket. I just try to leave extra bags in my car just in case I want to stop at the store. 

Besides, the reusable bags come in various sizes and are better than the little flimsy plastic Wal-Mart bags, IMO.  

Don’t be afraid to bring your bags to save some money, because you won’t be the only one. 

You’ll see other people carrying reusable bags and some people pulling little carts on wheels behind them while walking down the street.  

10. Window Screens Are A Thing of the Past

living in UK vs US

I’ve lived in America all my life until I was 19 years old.  I never thought I’d see the day that I would live in a house with no screens on the window!  That’s right, living in the UK vs US you will not have screens on your window.  

I don’t even know how and why this is possible.  I’ve lived here for over 3 years, and I still don’t understand why the UK doesn’t have screens on the windows. 

Even the sliding door leading to our backyard doesn’t have a screen on it.  I’m sure that’s one thing you never thought you would live without.  

However, I have seen a few people buy window screens, not many people, but occasionally.  So if all else fails and you think you can’t live without it, just buy some window screens.   

11. A/C…What Air Conditioning? 

With that being said, you will also have to live without central Air Conditioning.  Living in UK vs US you will not have Central Air.  In the UK, to have some cool air, you will have to open the windows in your house (with no screens) or buy a portable air conditioner.  

Some Brits have told me they don’t need central A/C because it doesn’t get hot here.  And when it does, in the summer, it doesn’t last long.  

Many of my American co-workers have bought portable A/C’s for a price up to $400.  But we decided to just thug it out and open the windows.  Plus, I’ve collected about 10 fans for when it gets too hot. 

12. A Trip to the Nail Salon…But do you have a booking?

When I first moved to the UK, I wanted to get my nails done.  I decided to look up a nail salon and walk-in for a Mani and Pedi.  They asked, “Do you have a booking” when I walked in? 

Yes, my friends, most nail salons around England will require having an appointment.  No longer are the days when you could walk in practically any nail salon and get your nails done.  

Well, that’s a big difference between US and UK.  Not only that, when booking your appointment, you need to know what you want like mani, design, gel, new set, etc.  That will let the technician know how much time they need to slot you in for.   

At first, I was shocked, like I have to book in advance now?  How inconvenient.  Now I have to prepare ahead of time to get my hands and feet done?! I didn’t like it one bit. LOL.  But now I’m used to it.  

Now I think it’s better to have an appointment because you know you will get seen at your allotted time.  Usually, there is not a wait time when you have an appointment.  However, there could be a line of 6/7 people ahead of you when in the US.  

Additionally, in the UK the nail salons tend to be much smaller here, and it seems like they have fewer workers.  In the US, it’s normal to see about 20 technicians in one shop. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on the differences between the UK vs US.  Are there any that you would like to add? Please let me know below in the comments. 


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