London Skyline

8 Essential Tips for an American Relocating to London

Relocating across the pond to London is a huge step – and one that no doubt fills you with equal portions of both excitement and trepidation…

Now, there are plenty of fairly obvious things that you need to know about relocating. These include such things as securing the correct visas and finding a place to live when you first arrive.

But what we’re going to concentrate on here is some insider tips that every American needs to know if they’re planning on relocating to London.

1. American English and British English are not the same

In fact, in some cases it’s like we’re speaking a different language all together!

It’s not only that some words have totally different meanings: pants in London are an item of underwear – the Brits call them trousers. A cell is not a phone (that’s a mobile), but somewhere a prisoner is locked up. Gas is not the fuel you put in your car – that’s petrol – but instead it means, ahem, to pass wind…!

Not only do words have different meanings, but there are grammatical differences too. For instance, the Brits tend to use an “s” instead of a “z,” they don’t use a comma before the word “and” in a list, in a lot of words there’s an extra “u” (such as in the words labour and colour), and they also have different ways of constructing some sentences as well.

Oxford Dictionaries are a great place to begin to get a handle on the differences between American and British English.

2. There are unwritten “Tube” rules

Nowhere are these Tube rules written down, but it’s a brave person who attempts not to follow them. Before we get into that, for those who don’t know, The Tube is the underground train system that crisscrosses the whole of the London. It’s a great system, and one that works well, despite the millions of people who use it on a daily basis.

So – the rules: Stand on the right when on escalators. This leaves the left side free for those who want to walk (or run) up and down.

Always let people off the train before getting on yourself. In fact, if you travel in the rush hour, you probably won’t be able to squeeze on until a few people have gotten off…

We don’t talk on The Tube. It’s a crazy fact that you simply stare into space, ignoring those around you, even though you might be pushed hard up against them in a way far too intimate for a complete stranger.

Okay, this might all sound a bit weird – but it does work. A top tip for travelling during the rush hour on The Tube: the front and back carriages are always slightly less crowded.

So, make your way to the very end of the platform – even if it means you have to wait for the next train (they run every few minutes).

Having a little bit of personal space makes for a far more pleasant journey if you have to go more than one or two stops. 

3. The weather is not like it is back home

In London you can truly experience four seasons in one day. For that reason, always carry an umbrella – and dress in layers so you can discard some clothes if you get to hot, or layer up when the temperature drops.

Learn to love BBC Weather, as do most Brits – we all have a weather app on our phone. And once you’ve lived here a few weeks, you’ll soon understand why… 

4. You need a PIN number for your bank card

In the UK (and indeed most of Europe), we have what is known as ‘chip and PIN’ on our debit and credit cards. This means that we can’t sign a chitty any more to make a payment – it’s done simply by keying in a PIN number at the payment terminal.

For this reason, it’s really worth getting a UK bank account, simply to prevent any difficulties in withdrawing cash or paying for items.

In addition to this, if you continue to use your US credit or checking card, you’ll end up paying your bank a fortune in conversion fees with every payment you make.

Chip and PIN is now appearing in the US, but it’s still a fairly new phenomenon, so you might not yet be familiar with it. 

5. You don’t need a car

Thanks to the wonders of London public transport, it really isn’t necessary to own a car. Not only that, but you have to pay a congestion charge (either £10 or £11.50 per day) for the privilege of driving here.

And if you can actually find a parking space, it’ll cost you a fortune to use it…

That’s why a large percentage of Londoners don’t own a car. Plus gas (petrol) prices are about 4 times as much as they are in the US.

Public transport (and The Tube in particular) can see you getting pretty much anywhere in London with ease.

6. Learn to love walking

Not only is there no need to own a car, but in addition, London is a fabulous city for walking. Especially in the centre, everything is fairly close by.

And taking a walk past amazing historical buildings such as The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul’s Cathedral on your way into work is not something to be sniffed at…

7. Despite what you hear, Londoners are NOT rude

In fact, we’re actually a pretty friendly bunch. Sure, there’s always the exception to the rule, but you’ll find that in every city around the world.

And we don’t mind giving directions – in fact, most people are happy to help.

Sure, if you stop someone who looks like they’re racing for their next meeting you’ll probably be met with “a look,” but pick a regular person, and they’ll more than likely be happy to help you with what you need to know.

8. And remember, we drive on the left

It might sound obvious, but that means that traffic comes from the opposite direction when you cross the road. And in reality, it’s really hard to train yourself to look the other way when you’ve always looked left first, not right (we find it just as confusing when we go to mainland Europe).

Take your time when crossing roads at when you first arrive. Not only does the traffic come from the “wrong” direction, but in London, it also appears out of nowhere.

And there are also a huge number of pushbikes on the road that travel pretty fast as well.