Top 11 things to know before moving from the USA to the UK

Discover the essentials of moving to the UK as an American. Read our guide to learn about UK visas, cultural quirks, relocation costs and language barriers.


6 minute read
Updated on 7 Nov 2023

While you may know that the British tend to be polite or that they use a different metric system, there’re other nuances you still need to discover.

To make your move from the US to the UK smoother, we've put together a list of the top 11 things that every American should know before living in the UK. You can also refer to our relocation checklist for the UK, which breaks down your move across the pond.

1. Types of visas for Americans moving to the UK

US nationals who plan on living in the UK for longer than 6 months need a visa. As an American citizen moving to the UK, you can apply for a number of UK visas. We’ll look at the most common ones for American citizens.

Student visa

  • Who can apply for it: Students whose studies are longer than 6 months and have been accepted into an educational institution in the UK. Additionally, you need to provide proof of finances (to support yourself and pay tuition).
  • Validity: Your UK student visa’s validity depends on the length of your study programme, but usually, you can stay up to 5 years.
  • Application: As you’ll be applying outside of the UK, the earliest you can apply is 6 months before the start of your studies. So if you’re starting in October, you can apply for a student visa in May by providing a valid passport and Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) from your course provider.
  • Can you settle in the UK? No.

Skilled workers visa (Tier 2 General work visa)

  • Who can apply for it: The Skilled worker's visa is available to American citizens with a confirmed job offer by a UK-based employer. Your company has to issue a certificate of sponsorship which explains your role, and you need to earn at least the minimum salary in the UK. The role that you’re filling has to:

    • require a university degree (e.g. scientists, doctors)
    • be a managerial or administrative role
    • be a skilled trade (e.g. carpenter, plumber)
  • Validity: The Skilled worker's visa is valid for up to 5 years.

  • Application: You can apply online on the website up to 3 months before the start of your contract by providing the following documents:

    • Valid passport
    • Employer-issued sponsorship certificate (and its reference number)
    • Job title and annual salary
    • Your job’s occupation code (a 4-digit number)
    • Name of your employer and their sponsorship licence number
  • Can you settle in the UK? Yes (after 5 years).

You can check our UK work visa guide to see what other types of visas you can apply for.

Tip: If you need to speed up the visa approval time, you can apply for a Priority processing time when submitting your visa documents which shortens the visa approval time to 5 days. Keep in mind that you have to pay between $600 and $1,228 additionally to your visa fees.

2. How much does it cost to move from the US to the UK?

As your belonging will travel across an ocean, the costs associated with moving are high. Let’s break down the essential expenses you’ll have when you’re moving to the UK from the US:

  • Visa application fees: between $631 (Student visa) and $1,828 (Skilled worker visa)
  • Healthcare surcharge ($593.35 for students and $787.77 for everyone else)
  • Flight tickets: $700—$1,000 (Tip: Flights to and from larger cities will be much cheaper.)
  • Shipping costs: $4,000—$10,000 (depending on what you’re shipping)

Tip: If you're planning on moving to the UK for a few years only, you can save on shipping costs by finding fully furnished apartments for rent in London or any other British city you're moving to.

3. Living costs in the UK compared to the US

To get a better understanding of what you should expect in terms of living expenses, we’ve compared the monthly cost of living in London (the UK’s most expensive city) to the 2 most expensive cities in the US— New York and Los Angeles.

CityMonthly cost
New York$3,947
Los Angeles$3,230

As you can see, living in London is cheaper than living in New York or Los Angeles. This is largely due to the cost of renting accommodation.

4. Tea-making is a serious endeavour

There’s a right way and a wrong way to make a cup of tea, and microwaving the water's the wrong way.

The right way to make a cup of tea is by putting the tea bag in your cup and pouring boiling water over it. Steep the tea for several minutes and add sugar or milk to your preference.

British people take their tea-making extremely seriously, so one of the first things you should buy after moving to the UK is a kettle to warm your water.

On the topic of tea, when you order tea at a café or restaurant, you’ll get black tea. This’s why British people add milk to their tea, as it’s too strong otherwise.

5. British healthcare is basically free

British healthcare is free and accessible to everyone, but it has longer waiting times. Health insurance is mandatory in the UK, and all residents are covered by the National Health Service (NHS). You can check out our UK health insurance guide to find out how to set up yours.

6. You need to continue paying taxes in the US after moving to the UK

As the US taxation system is citizenship-based, all American citizens and permanent residents need to continue paying US taxes even if they don’t live in the country anymore. There’re certain laws which prevent double taxation. It’s best to consult an accountant or the IRS in order to find out what the requirements are for you.

Another tax-related issue you should know before moving from the US to the UK is that the European country has higher taxes than the US. For example, the income tax in the US is 37% (when earning more than $532,000), whereas, in the UK, it's 45% (earning more than £150,000). This shouldn't discourage you as the taxes you pay in the UK are used for social welfare programs, like free healthcare.

7. The UK has a better work-life balance than the US

Comparing the two countries, the UK has a more favourable work-life balance, with statutory paid holidays (at least 28 days per year in the UK) and shorter working hours compared to the US (36.4 hours in the UK vs. 40.05 hours in the US weekly).

In the UK, employees also have longer maternity (up to 52 paid weeks in the UK vs. up to 12 weeks unpaid in the US, for those eligible) and paternity leave (1-2 weeks in the UK vs. 0 weeks in the US), promoting a healthier balance between work and personal life.

8. There’re tons of American expat communities

The UK is home to various American expat communities, especially in major cities like London, Edinburgh, and Manchester. There’re many websites and Facebook groups which you can join, like Americans Living in the UK, Americans moving to, and living in the UK, American Women in the UK, and Young Americans in the UK.

9. British English vs American English

Although Americans and British people speak English, you can add some new words to your vocabulary. For example, the British call the trash “rubbish”. Let’s check out some other differences you might run into in your daily life:

American EnglishBritish English
French friesChips
Parking lotCar park

10. Say hello to walking and using public transport

Prepare to walk a lot more as stores, restaurants, universities, and offices are within walking distance or easily accessible by public transport. You can get virtually anywhere with public transport so you really don’t need a car.

11. British restaurants are different from American restaurants

British portion sizes in restaurants are generally smaller than in the US. Their meals incorporate more vegetables and are often cooked rather than fried.

At the end of your meal, _the waiter typically brings the pin machine to your table rather than taking your card with them. Also, while it’s common to leave a tip for your server, the amount is at your discretion.

Once you’ve officially moved from the US, don’t forget to open a bank account in the UK to manage your finances easier and make sure you book accommodation through a trusted source like HousingAnywhere so you don’t end up being scammed.

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