I’ve been living in England for over 2 years now after moving from the US. I cannot believe it’s been that long already. Things I’ve learned while living in England have been amazing so far, even though I’ve had my ups and downs of getting accustomed.
However, I’ve learned so much about the culture while living here and grown to love so many things about it.
Like, I am more comfortable when talking to the Brits now. And I cannot fake a British accent so whenever I do talk to them, they automatically know that I am American.
I enjoy learning about their culture and how they grew up. As well as trying new foods and going to new places that the British love and recommend.
Learning so much as I go
While living in England, I try to take full advantage of the cultural experience. Although the Coronavirus Pandemic has changed the trajectory of traveling throughout the United Kingdom and Europe, I’ve still been able to gain some knowledge and insight.
The reason why I’ve moved to England from the US is because of my job and being able to travel. So, I’ve been fortunate to move here through the US Air Force. I had decided that I needed a change and a break from the United States, so I put in for an assignment overseas.
Here I am…Living in the UK while working for the military. Alongside other military members and local British citizens too.
In this article, I am going to cover 10 things that I’ve learned while living in England and what other Americans can expect if you are thinking of moving abroad too.
So follow along as I share with you some of the things I’ve learned while living in England.
This post contains affiliate links to the products that I use and recommend. If you click on any of the links and make a purchase, then I may earn a small commission. For more info click my full disclosure.
It’s Pretty Expensive
So have you guys heard of the exchange rate? The English pound’s rate in comparison to the US is about £1.35 for every US Dollar. You may think oh that’s not too bad. But when you have an American brain you think spending 50 dollars is just 50 dollars. Oh no my friend that actually equates to $69.35 US Dollars..yeah. I know. It tends to add up rather quickly. And if you are still using an American bank most likely you will get charged for conversion fees. It tends to be pennies on the dollar, however, if you swipe your debit card for everything it can become quite expensive.
Then there are taxes for purchasing things in the UK. The taxes are called VAT (Value-Added Taxes). Of course, I know that the US has taxes too. But the VAT rate currently in the United Kingdom is 20%!! Yes, 20% on any goods and services. So if you need to buy furniture that costs 500 pounds then add 20% on top of that. I don’t know about you but that seems pretty steep to me.
Fortunately for the US military personnel is exempt from most of VAT for big purchases and services like buying furniture, getting a car serviced, etc. But you must go through the base to get a VAT-free approved invoice.
Another thing after moving here is that you have to buy all new UK spec electronics and appliances. Unless you luck up and find a home with dual voltage with 110 outlets like I did but that is rare. However, I still had to purchase a few UK items like fans, electronic heaters, power surge extension, and so on. And on some of your 110 appliances, an adapter just won’t do because you can blow it out. Like my daughter tried to use our US vacuum cleaner with just a US to UK adapter plug and blew it out. And my mom did the same thing with our electric heater. So to convert voltages of 110 to 220, you should use a transformer converter.
In addition to that, if you want to watch live cable TV while living in England in your home or business then you must purchase a TV license. I mean it blew my mind when I first heard this. And they are serious about this too if they find out that you are watching television without paying they will come knocking at your door. Anyway, it cost a whopping £159 to get a TV license for the year. The penalty of not having a TV license could be up to £1,000 in fees.
Whew…it costs a grip for entertainment.
Other costs come with living in the United Kingdom, but I’ll have to continue that in a later post.
Driving in England is a Challenge
Driving in the UK is a bit crazy and scary at the same time, especially in the beginning. When I first arrived in England I was shocked at how small the roads are and how people drive around here.
First off, if you didn’t already know, they do drive on the other side of the road (left side). And our minds are trained to drive on the right side of the road so therefore we have to concentrate really hard while driving here.
The European spec cars here have the steering wheel located on the right side too. Plus, I like the fact that you can get a decent European luxury car like BMW, Mercedes, etc. for a decent price.
Ahhh…Yes…the small roads
Anywho, as previously mentioned, the roads here are much smaller in England than in the US. Driving around town can be a challenge because a lot of the roads are two-way lanes and when a car is coming you barely have room between the passing cars. I would pretty much have to be all the way over on the left side to keep from getting hit.
Oh and around here, they are big on farming and pasturing in most parts of England. You could pass by huge farming vehicles like tractor trucks. And mind you if we are on a small “2-way” street I have to sometimes pull over (to a shoulder that doesn’t exist usually), just so they can pass by and so I won’t get demolished by this ginormous equipment.
They do have motorways. Which are the same as the main highways or the Interstate for the states. But they aren’t as many as the states, so unless I’m going into a different city I hardly take the motorway. Most of the roads are the small backwoods country roads lol.
Driving at night
Another thing, don’t drive at night. Not around town anyway, because I don’t think the Brits believe in street lights all that much. Woah during the winter when it gets dark early, man it is so hard to see while driving somewhere because there are usually no street lights or far and few between. Most of the time you have to drive with your high beams on. And even that is nerve-racking, especially because they have a lot of winding and curvy roads with SHARP turns.
But wait there’s more…
Roundabouts are a big part of the road infrastructure here. Instead of red lights, there are roundabouts directing traffic most of the places. And if you don’t get any driving lessons or read about driving in England you will be in for a RUDE awakening. Most roundabouts are for directing traffic for 3-5 different ways to turn or exit. But the ultimate roundabout of all time is the “Magic Roundabout” in Swindon, UK. Man, this roundabout had 5, yes FIVE roundabouts in One. I just prayed for dear life every time I had to go through it. As many times as I had to take it, I still don’t know the right way to get through that monstrosity. But it is traffic going every which way in that roundabout.
I could go on and on about driving in England, but for now, I digress.
The Houses are Smaller
When I first found out I was moving to England, I started to do some research on housing. A girl gotta have somewhere to live right? I wanted to find a nice house for me and my family. And so many people told me about how small the house was. But nothing could have prepared me once I actually saw the places in person.
I was stunned to see how small many of the houses are. They are also close together. Not only were they small, but the rent is pretty expensive especially around the military bases and big cities.
The homes are also blotchy and compartmentalized. Meaning, no open space home layouts. The house I am in now has one or two doors to every single room and living area.
Another thing is, the Flats (apartments) that I’ve seen are super duper small. So we looked into an apartment that was 3 stories thinking it will be enough space for me and my daughter. The 3d floor is set up similar to a loft. My daughter was stoked because she thought she could get the entire 3d floor to herself. A whole floor for a teenager?? I don’t think so…not until she pays some bills up in here. LOL. I’m just kidding.
Trying to fit American furniture in a small house
However, looking for a home in England was frustrating because American furniture is BIG and it’s difficult trying to find a home here that will fit the furniture even through the door.
Some of my co-workers told me they had to bring their bedroom furniture in through a window on the 2d floor because it couldn’t go up the narrow stairs and low hanging ceiling. The struggle is real yall.
So what I’ve learned while living in England is to either A). Sell your HUGE living room sectional and humongous dining room table and buy European-style furniture locally. Or B). You will have to look further out in the sticks (country) and more outside of the city to find a bigger house. Yes, they do have them here, however, your commute will be insane.
I lucked up and was able to find a decent size house that is close to the job. It marks some of the things that I wanted to have, but still doesn’t quite satisfy me to the fullest. Like I hate with a passion my Master Bedroom en suite. It is tiny. It’s so small it could only fit a stand-up shower, toilet, and sink. You might as well forget about 2 people trying to be in there at once. It ain’t gonna happen.
Also, my BIG American dinnerware like my dinner plates won’t even fit in the kitchen cabinets all the way. The cabinet door won’t close all the way. I guess our American size appetites are not the same as the English. LOL
In my post 10 Things to do Before A PCS Move Overseas, I talk more in-depth about things to do before you move abroad. This doesn’t just apply to the military, there are some awesome tips for everyone moving overseas.
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Going Grocery Shopping
While living in England, going grocery shopping to the local supermarket for the first time can be a challenge.
But, let me start by saying that I love shopping at the local supermarkets. The produce is so fresh and cheap compared to the states. A lot of their items seem more organic. There are so many produce items as far as vegetables and fruit to choose from. We love the fresh bread and pastries that are available too.
A biscuit is not a “biscuit”
But when you first go to the local market, you may be a bit overwhelmed. Some of the products are not called the same thing as the products in the US. For instance, if you’ve seen my post on The Best Gifts to Buy in England, you would have seen me talk about the traditional food items to send back home to family and friends.
For instance, they call cookies biscuits. Now if you are like me you think that a biscuit is the doughy flaky bread that you eat for breakfast in the morning with a sausage patty or jam in the middle. Oh no-no-no. It is actually a cookie. Some are thin wafers in the shape of crackers, and others are round cookies covered in chocolate. They are delicious, I absolutely love their biscuits. Scones are the US version of biscuits, except some and sweet and made with fruit in it. And it is yummy.
There are also simple things like Ground Arrowroot powder or Thickening Granules is the same as Cornstarch. Oh, Chips is French Fries. And Chips are Crisps. And the list goes on and on. Yes, we do plenty of Googling while out shopping. To learn more about other foods and souvenirs click on my post here.
You Will Get a Speeding Ticket…GUARANTEED
I swear England has got to have one of the BEST speed monitoring systems known to man. Once I first started living in England and found a home to lay in, within the first week of driving back and forth from work to home, Guess what? I got a speeding ticket. SMH. Oh, and it’s not because a policeman pulled me over.
It was when I opened my mailbox and saw that dreadful letter in there that read the Department of the UK Government, Notice of Intended Prosecution. I was like dang…They got me.
They caught me on Camera. Yes CCTV my friends will get you every time. There is no hiding from them. They have cameras everywhere. I am not kidding. If you come to the UK for the first time, you will get a speeding ticket. Why? Because most foreigners do not know where the speed traps are and do not know about CCTV. Oh, and it doesn’t matter if you are 2 miles over the speeding limit or 20. You’re gonna get that ticket.
Where are the police?
I don’t think I have ever seen a police car pull someone over (except the SFS on base) but time and time again we tend to get those letters in the mailbox if you have been caught speeding. CCTV takes a picture of your license plate. Shoot, I even got caught up with getting fined a Congestion Charge for driving in London!!!
Yes, can you believe that? Driving in London is a Congestion Charge zone during certain hours of the day will get you a fine!! Well, that is what I learned very quickly. I didn’t know that until I received the letter in the mail. And they didn’t just have a picture of my plates, they had a picture of my whole car with me and my daughter in it. Blasphemy I tell ya. I was in total shock.
Is it safer?
In any case, please be on the lookout for these speed cameras and the signs. To be honest, though, I think I like CCTV better than getting pulled over by the cops. It eliminates the anxiety of getting pulled over and it’s safer for the citizen and the policeman too. These days you never know what would happen if you get pulled over by the cops, it just eliminates an incident from happening, especially for just a speeding ticket.
Small Appliances in the Home
So I previously covered how small the homes are in England. Therefore it’s only fitting that the appliances will be small too, right? Remember I told you about that 3 story apartment that I looked at? Well, the Living Room and Kitchen were one big open space, so I was looking around for the refrigerator and did not spot it. Then I asked the Estate Agent where it was. And guess what yall? It was underneath the kitchen countertops flushed with the cabinets. It was pretty much like one of those small personal refrigerators like what you would have in your office at work. I asked here, how am I supposed to buy food? She said well you have to go grocery shopping every week or every few days. Uhh..no thank you.
Anyway, the house I have now while living in England has a taller refrigerator thank God, but it’s still smaller than the full-size refrigerators that we are used to having in the US. It takes time trying to maneuver your groceries in the refrigerator and the compact freezer.
Doing laundry is a job…
Next, the washing machines are very different here too. Most are small so it’ll take you longer to wash your loads of clothes. It is almost half the size of my American washing machine for sure. Also, most British people do not have dryers in their homes.
But we are Americans and we are spoiled. The dryer that the military loaned me is super small as well, and guess what yall? They don’t have a dryer vent to dispense the water to the outside of the home. This little plastic box holds all the water that gets pulled from the clothes. This is why after every load or 2 I have to pull the plastic box out of the dryer and empty the water…ooh child. It’s some work there. And it tends to take forever for the clothes to dry. To be honest it seems like they don’t ever get quite all the way dry. There is still a little dampness to it. We just learned to deal with it.
The Weather is…
It never rains in Southern California. I still love that song by Tony Toni Tone. Well, you are not in the states anymore and it does rain here… Most of the time.
When I first started living in England it was the beginning of the winter season. It’s gloomy, cloudy, mostly raining, and cold. It even gets dark around 4 PM.
Winter is…not that bad?
When I touched down in London that frigid cold air hit me smack in the face. I’m from the deep South of Mississippi and I grew up in HOT sunny, humid weather. But this weather here is something else. During the wintertime, it makes you not want to even venture out because it’s cold, rainy and the sun sets so early. I was not prepared for all the rain that comes down here.
But it’s not like we have thunderstorms every day or that it just pours every single minute of the day. No, it’s not like that. It’s mostly overcast the majority of the day and drizzling rain on and off during the days. If it does start to pour down raining it doesn’t last a long time. It tends to come in spurts. So you should always have a jacket, umbrella, and a hat.
What I’ve learned to do while living in England is to always layer up my clothes with items to include a scarf, undershirt(s), gloves, etc. Because the wind around here is disrespectful and will knock you down especially if you are out and about in London or hiking up some cliffs of the Jurassic Coast.
Anyway, everyone loves when Springtime finally arrives, because the sun begins to shine again. And the days start to become longer as well. The sun will rise pretty early around 0400 in the morning. Then the sun typically sets at 10-11 PM! I know, crazy right? I like the fact that we get longer days because you can stay and hang out longer with your friends and family.
We love to roam the streets of London in the nice weather. I mean it just is a good time to be out in the streets…LOL.
However, some people don’t like the early sunrise like my daughter and the youngins’. Being that our bodies are used to waking up with the sun, so we may get less sleep during the spring and summer months because of that.
But I’m perfectly fine with it. I have to take advantage of all the sun I can while I am in here. Oh yeah, a tidbit is that while living in England it is highly recommended that you take Vitamin D. Especially since the sun doesn’t shine as much so we are not getting the amount of sun we need to balance our bodies so we must take a supplement. If not some may fall into a slight depression because of that lack of sunshine. Don’t worry, that’s an easy fix, just take the vitamins and you will be just fine.
No Air Conditioners in the Homes
I am an American and I am spoiled. Well, not me per se but all of my American friends and co-workers absolutely hate the fact that most of the homes in England do not come with central Air Conditioning. It will be a big shocker to someone if they haven’t done the proper research before moving to England.
So what I’ve learned is that the Brits lived without A/C in their homes while growing up. And most of them will tell you that it is tolerable because it doesn’t get that hot for that long here. Well, some of this may be true. For instance, it’ll get up to like 90+ degrees during the summer for maybe a week straight, and then it’ll cool back down to the 50s, 60s, and 70 degrees.
But boy being with A/C for that entire week and trying to get some sleep is Torture. Pure Torture.
Living without A/C
The Brits usually open up the windows and let the outside air cool them down. But during those peaks of hot weather, even that doesn’t work, not for me. I have bought about 4 fans (maybe more) since living in England. During the summer we will have 2 running in the living room and 2 in the bedroom and even that is not enough on those very hot days. You can however buy a portable A/C, which most Americans I know have done. But I just haven’t bitten the bullet to pay $400 for it. Hmph…We will continue to survive.
It is Not as Fast-Paced
The British culture is not as fast-paced as it is in the US. Most Americans expect things to be done right now. Even moving into a home takes a lot of time. You can’t just move in right away. It takes forever to get things done. Once I moved into a house to rent, it took about a month to get my cable and wi-fi installed. Yes, you guys an entire month.
How can one live without wi-fi for an entire month?! We had to buy a pocket wi-fi or hot spot for the time being. If not we would’ve been bored out of our minds!
On the flip side, I needed to get a new bed for my mom because she was visiting us for a few months. So I decided against buying an American-style bed on base because the spare bedroom I have is tiny and American furniture’s dimensions are of course bigger. So I bought a nice full-size bed for my mom, but guess what? The bed wasn’t in stock and it took over 1 month almost 2 to even get shipped in. I’m like why is it taking so long? So apparently that’s how long it takes for most things around here. There were other pieces of furniture I wanted to purchase but it was going to take a few months to come in. I was like Nah…that’s alright.
Another thing, going out to eat you may spend hours at a restaurant. Their typical style of eating in Europe is pretty slow if you ask me. One thing I’ve learned while living in England is that if you order an appetizer after they bring it to you, they will wait until you eat it all before they bring out the main course. I didn’t know this at first so I would get frustrated waiting on my main course for such a long time. So you will have to track the waiter down to bring your food. The same goes for bringing the check. It’s not an automatic thing here at most restaurants. You have to ask for it.
Getting the car ready…takes forever
To get my car serviced was the same thing. I needed to have an inspection done once my car arrived and I went to make an appointment, and yet again I had to wait an entire month. I called around to several shops and it was all the same answer. Waiting for at least 3 weeks before I could get it looked at.
Getting my car registered was another headache and I had to wait for that as well. You can’t just go in the DMV like in the states and walk out with your plates and V5 (registration). No, we had to mail our registration off and wait a few weeks for it to come in the mail. So in the meantime, I had to have a rental car until I had everything complete. A long process to get the car good and fit for the road.
The Language is Different…
So of course when an American thinks about moving abroad it can be quite settling that living in England would be the easiest transition culturally-wise since they speak English.
However, their English language is very different from ours in the US. For one, the Brits have a very thick English accent that sometimes it’s hard to interpret what they are saying.
The next thing is that the phrases they use are different from America. So while living in England I’ve learned quite a bit of their phrases and I started saying them too. For instance, the trunk of a car means a boot for them. Oh and a Jumper means a Sweater.
Here are a few other language differences:
- And if you hear a person saying I’m feeling peckish, that means they are hungry.
- Here are a few more differences:
- Mind the queue means getting in a line to wait.
- A flat means an apartment.
- The underground for the Brits is the same as a Subway train in America.
- If you want to order food To Go you have to say Takeaway instead. They will look at you crazy if you say you want it To Go.
- A Lorry here is the same as a Semi-Truck or Big Rig in the US.
- If you ever want to get on an elevator, you will not see that sign, you will have to take the Lift.
- If you need to use the bathroom, you must say “where’s the toilet or the Loo”.
- And of course, they say mummy instead of mommy or mama.
- Last but not least, a Car Park is the same as a Parking Lot in the States.
I hope you enjoyed my post and learned some things about England and British culture. Let me know your thoughts by commenting below.