HiFX is a UK-based foreign exchange money broker, offering its transfer services to folks with family or work connections spanning more than one country – folks such as wayward expats like me. Indeed, it appears the expatriate community makes up a significant chunk of the HiFX customer base.
Tapping into the worldly wisdom of all these globetrotters and hoping to give a little something back to people who use their services (or might need to in the near future), HiFX has recently asked expats who blog (and there seems to be quite a lot of us out there doing just that) to contribute some advice to their new Expat Tips page. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’d qualify as any sort of expert or not, but I certainly have my opinions about being from one country and living in another. I was happy to pitch in with some thoughts for US citizens contemplating a move to the UK when asked if I’d like to participate.”
The tips I’m going to share are probably a little more nuanced than what you might expect. If you’re looking for hard facts and thorough explanations of visa requirements etc, I recommend checking out the American Citizen Services page of the US Embassy in London’s webpage. It’s an incredibly dry reading, but the info you need to know is there:
- To start things off, I’m going to sound like a real grouch, but that fact is I love living in UK and very much consider London to be my home. I just feel I should acknowledge that this place is not without its quirks or occasional hassle. Also, I feel that I must qualify anything mentioned in this post by saying that I really don’t have a clue as to what life must be like anywhere in the UK outside of London. Asking me about life in, say, the Cotswolds or even another British city, would be like asking a British person who’s only lived in New York for ideas on what it’s like to live in rural Kansas. Dunno!
- Anyway, the first bit of advice that comes to mind when thinking about making a move ‘across the pond’ is to prepare to be shocked by how much people drink in London and the UK. It’s not as intense as when I first moved here (or maybe I’m inured to it after all these years), but the British attitude toward alcohol is very different to how most Americans drink.
- Once you start to feel settled, you should definitely take the time to do all the “touristy” stuff – the UK is a culturally and historically rich country with all sorts of thigns to blow your New World mind – but equally try to be part of your new community. It can be a little tough as an American over here. Brits are generally very reserved – super polite but not necessarily friendly in the same way as many Americans reckon they should be. For a good overview of English society and guidelines for avoiding a bunch of all-American foibles, get a copy of Kate Fox’s classic book, Watching the English ASAP!
- Don’t get too hung up on any misunderstandings or minor screw ups though. As an American you’re considered outside the class system. You’d probably be considered extremely bizarre is you didn’t come across as out-of-place now and again. One of the best things about London is how diverse and tolerant it is. Nearly half of the people who live in London are foreign born.
- Still, be prepared to stand out. Sometimes it’s fun and beneficial to be a novelty. Other times, it’s down right annoying and can complicate even the most basic and mundane activities. I hate having to tell my life story over and over again just because people pick up on my “funny accent.” Be patient and try to realize how much of a novelty you must be (especially in smaller towns and villages) for many locals who are only trying to show genuine interest in your life.
In closing, I’d just like to suggest that you keep an open mind and give yourself at least six months to get through the transition of moving before deciding on whether you actually like living here. I actually hated my initial six months in London but grew to absolutely love this city and find it difficult to imagine having as fulfilling a life almost anywhere else.