Today is my 9-year anniversary of living in London! Time has flown since I got my first visa and moved to the UK in 2007. But I’ve learned a lot about life in Britain since arriving in England. In celebration of the milestone, today I bring you my 19 expat tips for living in London. Or visiting. Either way, you’re set.

Expat Tips for Living in London

Expat Tips for Living in London

Like many American expats, I moved to London thinking the UK would be pretty similar to the US. Apart from funny accents, a strong class system, and words like “loo”, it would be a lot like home. Then I got here and realized how wrong I was.

Some differences are big, others barely noticeable. But are 19 of them, in no particular order:

Everyone loves the Queen. If you joke about her, you will be tarred and feathered.

The food in Britain is not nearly as bad as it used to be. Neither are the teeth. Don’t let either put you off visiting.

There are a lot of silent letters in British place names. Take Alnwick, for example. There’s a silent L and a silent W. They do it to trick us.

Watching the English by Kate Fox is the expat bible. Everyone I know in London has it (even my English friends). Get it here. Read it. Learn it. Love it.

Trains are never on time. If you’re on a train that’s on time, check a map because you’re probably in Switzerland.

Refrigerators are smaller than bread boxes. Food is normal size. I’m not sure how people who cook at home cope with this. I avoid the problem by eating out all the time.

Christmas is just Christmas in the UK. There’s no “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings”. I even got a Christmas card from a Muslim friend once. I’ve traded all my politically correct sayings for “Happy Christmas” to fit in.

If you’re an American in Britain over Thanksgiving, make sure you know your Squanto from your Miles Standish. Brits love to ask about Thanksgiving, and it’s a bit embarrassing to have forgotten all the things we learned when we were seven.

Mother’s Day is celebrated about three months earlier here than in the States. If you see a Mother’s Day card in the UK, buy it. There won’t be any in the shops when you need to mail one to your mum back home.

Grown men do actually say “whoops-a-daisy” here. It’s not just something they made up for Hugh Grant in Notting Hill.

Underwear are called pants here. Pants are called trousers. This knowledge prevents many awkward moments.

Alcohol consumption is a national sport. If someone invites you for “a” drink, you might need a liver transplant the next day.

Tea consumption is another national sport. If someone invites you for “a” cuppa, be prepared to drink at least five. And don’t put milk in your Earl Grey.

Puns are the highest form of humor. Check your eye rolls at the door.

Taking leftover food home from a restaurant isn’t a thing here. Just ask the restaurant that made me sign a waiver before releasing my extra spaghetti. I’m serious.

Understatement is huge here. Trade “this is the best thing ever!” for “this isn’t entirely crap” and you’ll fit right in.

In London, talking to strangers and making eye contact with other tube passengers is taboo. If you must speak, the two permissible topics are the weather and the stranger’s dog.

Washers and dryers are the same machine here, and it takes around 17 hours to do a load of laundry. If you move to the UK, you may want to quit your job or invest in disposable clothing.

London is the best city on earth (and by that I mean it isn’t entirely crap). If you haven’t been here, you should come.

Are you from abroad? What are your expat tips for living in London?

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Expat Tips for Living in London

30 Comments on Lady’s 19 Expat Survival Tips for London

  1. Happy anniversary! This post is hilarious (I mean, not too boring) πŸ™‚

    If it’s any consolation, trains in Switzerland are sometimes late too. Especially those which originate in Italy. πŸ˜‰

  2. Firstly, happy anniversary! I think you know already I’ve loved watching your blog grow over the years!

    Secondly…on refrigerators…I have been super luckily! In the three flats I’ve lived in in London, all have had American size fridges!

    I did cave in many years ago and buy a standalone dryer (Condensor unit for inside a flat with no ventilation) and it was a fab investment.

  3. Such a great (and funny) read! My dream is to live in London one day, or maybe some other city in the UK. I’ve been there three times now and I friggin’ love it there, especially the accents! And yes, it’s very rare that you talk/make eye contact with strangers in London, but they aren’t so bad to have a conversation with either.

  4. Thanks for this. It’s been a dream, but if The Nightmare happens on Election Day, I may contact you for tips on getting a permanent visa.

  5. This is hilarious Julie! I was nodding along in agreement with so much of this including the train timings especially as Switzerland was the most punctual train experience I’ve ever had! And about thanksgiving aas I am ALWAYS telling my American friends to tell me all about it!πŸ˜€

  6. Just found your blog! Got to London almost 2 months ago, and I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who thought it would only be slight different… hehe.

    I am slowly learning not to talk about things in super positive, over-the-top American terms πŸ˜‰ Though, my partner and I talk about how lucky we are to have an almost American-size fridge in our flat almost daily. We saw some real mini ones on our flat hunting trip!!

  7. Agreed with so much of this!

    Although, I have found the trains to actually (usually) be quite timely… maybe a minute or two late but not more unless there’s a reason.

    Also, my machine washes my clothes in 30 minutes! It’s just the drying that takes another 24 hours because I don’t have a dryer.

  8. Thanks for sharing your tips and the funny read. Just found your blog as I’m headed that way next week and was browsing for some new suggestions for places to visit. I’m reading through the old and new posts now. Had to comment on this as I noticed the fridge and washer/dryer thing on previous visits and I thought it was just the places I had been in, not a standard. Looking forward to perusing the blogs on your other travels, but London is definitely my favorite city to visit.

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