An American in London: My experience

78D25C55-5DDE-46BB-9B67-A1C3D006ABF4I don’t normally write personal posts, but I’ve gotten so many messages from you all about what brought me to London and what my experience has been, I thought I’d share my story.

One of the biggest questions I get asked is “how can I move to the UK?”

The short answer is: it’s complicated!

We were moved here for my husbands job. This meant a big change for us, because we were both working full time, had a 1 1/2 year old, a car, a (small) house, and family nearby. But we were excited for the chance to live overseas, so we went for it. His company paid for our move, sponsored visas for the whole family (including a visa allowing me to work in the UK, too), and paid for relocation expenses, helped us find a place to live, etc. After talking with MANY other expats about their experience, I feel we got a pretty middle of the road to generous package. Other experiences I’ve heard from friends include companies that pay for your flights and basically wish you luck, while still others will pay for living expenses (including rent, car expenses, etc.), trips home, private school tuition, the list goes on and on.

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For anyone who wants to come over to the UK on a work sponsored (tier 2) visa – and I do think this is the best way if you’re seeking a more permanent relocation – it is all about negotiation. Know what’s important to you before signing anything, making sure you tick off the checklist of important things.

As an American, the best/easiest way to come to the UK right now is to find a firm you want to work for with offices in the US and UK, discuss transfers during any interview processes, and hopefully that will be a way in!

If you’re after a more temporary living situ, I’d recommend embassy/government work or applying to university/graduate school. You can also get a visa by marrying a Brit, but hey, let’s not get too drastic, ok??

IMG_6330Visa laws were tightened right before we moved here, so to make it crystal clear – if you want to move to the UK as an American you have THREE options:

1) work for an international company with offices in the US and UK, get transferred to the UK office

2) go to university and come on a student visa – I think you have 6 months from graduation to find a job, and I know people that have done it successfully and others who couldn’t manage to find anything. I think it varies by profession.

3) marry a British citizen (even this is not as straightforward as you would think!)

It is actually illegal to move here without a job, with the intent of job searching. If you get caught doing this you could face some hefty penalties or even risk losing the ability to ever get a UK visa! So go through the right channels, even though it can be frustrating. And who knows what will happen with the Brexit negotiations, things could change down the road, though this is the current reality.

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Because I get a lot of questions on expat life in the UK and how to choose a neighborhood, I want to give a little bit more of my story that hopefully can be helpful!

We stayed in temporary housing for about 6 weeks. It was great to have a landing pad when we got here because that first week was very disorienting!

I think it was on day 3 or 4 of living here, we were taken around London by a housing specialist to view properties. We’d identified a few neighborhoods we might want to live in on our measly American budget which we didn’t understand at the time was quite small! Looking back, I really wish the specialist would’ve recommended like-minded neighborhoods in our budget. Maybe they did and I didn’t want to listen – that sounds more like me.

After an exhausting and stressful day of house hunting in neighborhoods we couldn’t afford, we found an adorable 2 bedroom flat on a quiet street in Highgate, a little leafy village in North London. We signed a year lease, but after the first 6 months, I was miserable. I didn’t have any close friends, I couldn’t find a job, and I went through some very very difficult personal things at the time. Add in the dark winters – it felt like we made the worst decision by moving to London. Oh, also my husband broke both of his arms in a bicycle accident on his commute home one rainy evening. We were miserable, to put it mildly.

But, we stuck with it. I realized that maybe Highgate – with all its charms – was a bit too far removed from the city life I had been used to living in D.C. (and before that Manhattan). So, I turned to Instagram. I found a few friends who lived in West London and started going down there a couple times a month to meet up for play dates with our children and visit the lovely parks and museums. I felt like I had found our place. I convinced my husband that we needed to go on a long walk around a few West London neighborhoods, and that’s how we ended up walking through Brook Green and feeling completely at peace in this cute little village.

IMG_2479.JPGWe found a new flat, just in time so I could nest and get ready for the impending arrival of our baby girl. And I think the rest is history! This area of London is full of expats, people from around the world, and lots of friendly families. Now I can genuinely say we love London, have made some of our happiest memories here, and the homesickness only comes around every 4th of July and Thanksgiving, if I’m being honest. Some days we long for a more quiet life, but with young kids that’s not really a reality for us anyway, so we’re embracing this stage of city life. Who knows what will lie ahead.

Living in London wasn’t an easy transition for us, but once we figured out how to navigate it, I feel like it’s easier to live here than any place I’ve lived before. A few things that save us in the city: online grocery shopping and delivery, amazon prime, babysitting swaps with friends, gorgeous green parks everywhere, an amazing transportation system that means we don’t need a car, and museums that the kids love.

We also just went through the process of Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) which was a very long process, and perhaps I’ll share in another post. But this means we can stay in the UK for as long as we would like. How long will that be? Only time will tell!

 

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