Sunday, August 19, 2007

So you're thinking of living in London

I get emails on a somewhat regular basis from Americans who are thinking of moving to London. They've found my blog via a Google search or a link from an expat site and they're looking for advice or information or maybe just some kind of a cosmic sign that will tell them whether they should pack their bags or abandon this silly idea of living abroad.

I recognize these people because they are me -- or at least the me who spent all of last summer trolling the web for real estate listings and school information and practical advice about an undertaking like moving to London. When we were in the process of making our move, I reached out to anyone and everyone I could find who could give me some sense of what it would really be like to live here. The more people who told me what had worked or not worked for them, I figured, the better chance I had of making this work for us.

I'm incredibly grateful to the strangers who were willing to take the time to answer my emails and my phone calls and my endless stream of questions. Some of them eventually became my friends and others were simply short term correspondents, but all of them impressed me with their willingness to help out someone who they didn't even know. "I've been there," every one of them told me. That sounded a little simplistic to me then, but I get it now. It is because of the difference that all of those people made in my own move that I am always willing to return those "I hate to bother you, but..." emails which show up in my inbox periodically. What goes around comes around, and now it's my turn to be generous with my knowledge and experience.

Sometimes, however, I feel like I'm answering the same questions over and over again (probably because I am!). So if you're thinking of moving to London and you're looking for some information, here are a few links in which I may have already said what you want to know.

My family moved to northwest London in September of 2006. You can read about our experience with renting and furnishing a flat here and if you're curious about the place we ended up renting, you can see pictures of the outside and inside of our flat on the blog as well. We love the area we've settled in and feel fortunate to call it home, but I must admit that there's a flip side to our expat housing stipend that I hadn't anticipated which still sometimes throws me for a bit of a loop.

If you're a parent wondering about how your kids will fare in London, I've documented my early impressions of British education here and my thoughts about the differences between American and British children here and you can start brushing up on the British version of nursery rhymes here. My kids are relatively young, but on the whole, I've found them to be remarkably adaptable... often more so than me.

If you're interested in how your household might run over here, you might want to read up on the things we eat here or our laundry challenges. If there are certain American items that you simply can't live without, you'll certainly want to be forewarned about the wrong way to get them here. And you can also read about how we solved the car dilemma (though I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that despite my bravado when I wrote that post, it's my husband who does all of our car club driving these days... I'm still too damn chicken to get behind the wheel).

I was pretty lost and overwhelmed when we first arrived in London a year ago. I floundered for a while, wondering if this place would ever feel like home. And now it does... not a forever kind of home, but a place where I'm comfortable and happy and one that I know will always be a part of me. I love living in London and I wholeheartedly recommend this experience to anyone who has the opportunity to do something similar.

This is a personal blog. It's filled with stories about my kids and recaps of our travels and musings about life which are probably not interesting to anyone other than me. I'm certainly no expert on expatriation or life in London and I only know the ins and outs of my own small section of this huge city with any degree of confidence. But if you know where to look in my archives, you can get a decent sense of this one family's London experience. If you showed up here hunting for that kind of information, I hope that you found some of what you were looking for. And I hope that your London experience will be every bit as life-altering and wonderful as our is proving to be.



Blogger Iota said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:59 AM  
Blogger Iota said...

You could always open a relocation agency...

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Blogger Ginger said...

Even though I'm not considering a move I really enjoy your blog and your stories of cultural differences.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Vegas Princess said...

I found your blog through Amanda's (London Southern Belle) when she awarded you her Nice Matters award recently and am just delighted to see this post that catches me up on all your wonderful posts about your move to London. Your blog is a delight and I would love to add it to my daily reads, sure I will enjoy all other posts to come.

2:15 AM  
Blogger Kat said...

I just found your blog through a google search. I am also an expat living in London (Hampstead). I have only been here about a month and love reading your blog. I am definitely going though some moving pains and it is reassuring to know that others have been in the sam position. By the way, you write beautifully. I also have a blog.

5:09 PM  
Blogger PickleChatter said...

Not sure if you are still receiving email from this blog now that you are home but I am going to give it a try anyway. My husband's company is getting serious about sending us to London for a few years beginning in December or January. I am trying to research different areas of the city that are accessible to the Northern, Picadilly, and Central lines for my husband's work commute. A good friend of mine who lived there years ago suggested Hampstead. While we've been friends for 20+ years, I am pretty sure she is in a much different socio-economic part of the demographic scale. Your "Pish-Posh" post was very interesting. You mention your mental debate of whether it might have been better to find a section of london that matched up more with being upper middle class than the very upper class neighborhood of Hampstead. If you do get this email would you be open to suggesting those other neighborhoods you mentioned thinking about? We have two children the same gender and about the same ages as yours. They are in 1st and 2nd grade now here. Thanks so much. You can contact me through my blog.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Pop Art Bastard said...

I love this post.
I'm an american, and i've been wanting to move to the uk. I need a lot of help and tips tho...Could i possibly get in touch with you for some advice?

11:24 PM  
Blogger Aleah said...

This is exactly what I was hoping to find. Now I just have to read everything highlighted in blue.

My husband has always wanted to be "British", as he calls it, and says things like "blotto" and "cheers" and "bloody rubbish" so when he found out he could have the chance to live in London for work, (he teaches music production) he was pumped!

We have a two year old daughter and my thoughts were about school, transport, cost of living, safe neighborhoods, etc. You have it all, my dear, and I am thanking to you. So very much thanking to you...

No really, thank you!

9:46 PM  
Blogger cedric said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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8:59 PM  
Blogger Lulu said...

I think I should just go ahead and move to London--I love to cook from scratch, always hang most of my things to dry from the washer anyway, would love to have a washer/dryer combo in the kitchen so I don't have to haul everything to the basement, and love to iron (it's like washing dishes for me, my brain goes off to lala land when I do these tasks) !!!

5:43 PM  
Blogger Nikki vc said...

Hi there,

I'm writing an article about expats in the UK and would love your input, but don't have contact details... Can i get hold of you via email? N i k k i

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Blogger Rebecca said...

Hi Nikki,

Feel free to email me at


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it's not a personal question to ask but from some of the articles that you wrote am I correct to assume that you and your family are only temporary residents in U.K. meaning that at some point in life will you all move back to the States?

10:13 PM  
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are possibly moving to London this summer. Your northwest neighborhood sounds fabulous, but I have to admit that I know something about myself, and I know that I would not be comfortable having the smallest house of all my children's friends. So, given that we will be attempting to live graciously without servants, what other neighborhoods do you recommend? We might have to even do (gulp!) suburbs (sigh.). Any recommendations there? Thanks for any information you can provide. Thank you also for your is a wealth of well-written information.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found your blog while (you guessed it!) perusing google for any hint or glimmer of what it would be as a citizen of the U.S. to live in London. I have had this fear of living in big cities, as I've always had vast amounts of my own space and love to garden and highly value the importance of self-sustainability...however, I cannot remain in tiny backwards towns (i've begun to call them villages) with a severe lack of artistic or musical culture. (And pretty much everything else.) Not to mention, in places like where we live, no one recycles and not many people pursue an education. My husband and I want so much more for our young children and he can work for a company that would give us the opportunity to transfer to London. I have family in Europe, though not London.
Thanks for writing this blog and giving me some insight!

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Anonymous Phillippa Rutt said...

Loved reading through this blog & the comments this morning and recognise a lot of similarities with a lot of the people who we assist - we are an American owned Relocation company who specialise in relocating people to London - we also work in the same way that the North American "multiple listing system" does which means we get our clienst placed in homes they love very quickly. If anyone needs some help with finding a home in London do give us a call!

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Blogger Jen Stekkinger said...

As an American Expat myself I run into people all the time that complain that they are not really happy living abroad. As if they were downsizing. In my experience, you will only create more trouble for yourself if you think like that. Everyone thinks their country has the best infrastructure or has a better social atmosphere to make friends or has a better social or political system even if you don't think so. Everyone sees the world with a blind fold on and there is nothing anyone can do to change that mentality. So what if it isn't better there are a lot of things you don't have in your home country that may be better somewhere else. Hey by the way if you are moving I got a great tip if if you need to move yourself home or abroad.

Good luck stay positive!

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I look forward to perusing your blog. I have found it via the ever so helpful Google. Thank you for sharing your experience and willingness to help the rest of us dreamers.

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Blogger Mark Sindone said...

Wow good tips there. I’m from Marrickville and I know of many people who have stored their belongings into their self storage unit and are trying to relocate to London. I’m not sure if they are there for work or just for a better live but many don’t really know what they will get themselves into. Your blog helps a lot. Some will return, either to sell off the items in the storage unit, or they return because they just aren’t used to the new environment. I suppose living long-term in a new country is very different from being a tourist.

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Hi, I was reading the comments re property over here in the UK and we found a company who really went the extra mile run by a guy called Adam Ellis who owns a finding company and keeps it personal and tailored to your needs. Sure helped us rent here in London and found the house we have now in Surrey. Check it out. Hope it helps.


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Anonymous Amber said...

What did you do about your mail in America? I am moving to London in November and won't have an American address anymore, just a storage unit. I'm not sure about the efficiency or cost effectiveness of mail forwarding services. Any recommendations?

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I just came across your blog after all these years as we may be relocating to London. We are currently expats in Dubai so I can already relate to some of your posts about adjusting to a different lifestyle/culture and the desire to feel at home. Thanks for sharing your thoughts - love your blog and your thoughtful, honest, humorous writing style.

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