Moving to the U.K. soon after the summer season can be challenging in more ways than one. Especially so, if you are moving along with your family and have school-aged children. We first got here over a year and a half ago and while I cannot say we aced everything, it has been relatively hassle-free. This was partially down to some amount of luck and largely due to a fair amount of planning and research. This year, as I see new families move in and struggle a bit to settle down, I was tempted to put together a two-part write up that will hopefully be of help and make life easier for those of you who are new here.
In the first part detailed below, I have brought together some information, tips and tricks that we found useful when we first moved here. I have mostly referenced to resources that are available all over the country. I am certain you will be able to find smaller and similar groups / associations / communities closer to the region you move into.
Please note this is not all-encompassing in terms of information and not necessarily what may work best for all families. However, it will provide you with some good information that can serve as a starting point for you and your loved ones. Do leave me a note if you found this useful, and also, please share this post with folks who might find it helpful.
Here are my top 10 pointers to help you with your move here:
- Background Research: Do your homework on the region or locality you will be moving into within the UK. Look into neighborhood demographics, schools, application processes and housing options well before the move. Some basic online research and networking will yield all useful information, including rental and sale prices on housing, school availability and application process and a lot more. Keep a few important factors in mind:
Schooling – If you have school going children, identify a locality/ council with schools rated well by OFSTED and make sure you are looking for houses in the vicinity of good schools. Your children will be eligible for seats in schools provided you are in the “catchment area” for those schools (subject to availability of seats at those schools). This is especially important if your children will be going to state schools. Ideally, your choice of home should be based on both factors – good schools + safe middle class neighbourhood. It is always a good idea to visit the school so you get an idea of the environment – both literally and figuratively speaking. Also keep in mind that housing in the U.K. is expensive, and the typical English home is very small in size. So, if you are used to American sizes and standards, I suggest you leave your furniture behind in your old home 😉. In the U.K., unless we are talking museums and parks, small is beautiful!
With regard to schooling, while the local council is supposed to ensure your child secures a seat in the local school, they do tend to take their time and their suggestions are not always the best options. Therefore, I suggest you proactively identify the best schools in your catchment, write to them and follow up with the schools regularly on your child’s placement while working with the local city council in parallel to secure your child’s seat. Also remember, Reception, Year I and Year VII (secondary school) admissions are through council announcements in September of the previous year, so keep a watch out for those. This would be your biggest problem sorted. And as they say, well begun is half the task done.
Housing: https://www.rightmove.co.uk/, https://www.zoopla.co.uk/,
Schools: https://admissionsday.co.uk/, https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofsted,
- Connectivity – If you will be driving in the UK from the get-go, your choice of accommodation or location of residence will not be limited. But if you are going to live in London proper, or live elsewhere in the UK and won’t be driving, make sure you live close to a train (or tube or DLR in London) line or in the very least, on the bus route. This will be super important given your commute to work and your children’s schools. It is an equally important factor if you are a stay-at-home adult, as life here can get disconnected and lonely, especially in the winters. Public transport in the UK is decent, if not the best. And you would be wise to make good use of it and get out and about easily during the duller part of the year, to keep your spirits up. Ask around at the train / bus stations or check on-line for deals on transport services if you are likely to use public transport on a regular basis – there will be plenty of frequent traveler plans that will work well for you. You can drive in the U.K. for the first year of your residence with an international travel permit, if you have one. But the sooner you take the local driving test, the better it is. I am told it is not an easy one at all!
Trains in the UK: https://www.thetrainline.com/
London Underground: https://tfl.gov.uk/
Driving License: https://www.gov.uk/browse/driving/driving-licences
- Money Matters: Taxation in the UK is very high and leaves you with far lesser disposable income than most countries. Living expenses are higher than average as well, more so in London. Do some research on pay averages in your sector and plan your finances. Be prepared to feel the pinch a bit in the initial months of settling in, when you are likely to have more expenses. It also takes a considerable amount of time to get your bank accounts opened and going and the country is particular about its paperwork and all related regulations, so I would recommend that you have an existing account with a reputed international bank when you come into the country. This makes your initial months of settling in easier.
- Weather in the U.K. and Surviving It: Listen to and register all the popular and well-intended advice. Take your Vitamin – D supplements regularly starting as soon as Summer ends. If you choose to follow only one piece of advice, let it be this one. For any of us who come from tropical countries – winter in the U.K. can be extremely dreary and depressing. It is not the cold weather, but the absolute lack of sunlight for days on end, that gets to you. Make sure you step out during the morning once you have finished all your chores, even if you have nowhere particular to go to. Getting ready and stepping out for a bit of day-light can be a great mood enhancer during the dull days. England is one of the best places to explore on foot. It’s tree lined avenues and narrow streets make for brilliant walks. You can choose a different path every day as you explore your neighborhood and you can pick up your essentials and groceries on your way back. You can also take the bus or train into the nearest city-center and do some solo adventures. Libraries, community centers, charity shops and organizations are plenty in the UK and most of them are looking for volunteers. If you are a stay-at-home parent and still waiting to build your social circle, you can consider volunteering some time with your local charity. It is a nice way to spend your time, support a good cause and make friends in the bargain. Also, do not let a sunny day trick you into believing it will be warm outside. Get into the routine of checking the weather predictions before you head out the door, and just so you know, they are rarely wrong. The predictions on the weather app, I mean😊
In the cold season, dress in layers – and always carry an umbrella or a rain-coat. As the saying goes, you are likely to face 4 seasons in a day in the U.K.; so be prepared.
5. Make good use of the internet and social media: Sign up to be a part of the residential and networking groups local to you. There are many expat groups in the UK, depending on your ethnicity. Choose to be a part of the groups that are local to where you will be living. Reach out and put yourself out there in the open and ask for help. People will be forthcoming with advice, inputs and help to ensure you feel at ease in a new place. We moved to a small quiet town in the West Midlands at the end of summer. I signed-up on a Facebook group that was focused on my area and asked to make friends with folks as I was feeling a bit lonely. You will be pleasantly surprised at how many people responded – with invitations to tea, walks and a catch-up. Some, who have turned out to be great friends since that first ping! I also suggest you try to go to the first few open-house or festive meetings and gatherings – makes for an opportunity to make some interesting new friends.
6. This country works on a planned approach to life. The British do not care much for surprises and they definitely don’t deal very well with them. So, if you are the spontaneous sorts, I suggest you leave the spontaneity bit aside for when you take an impromptu walk in the park. Get on-board with the scheduling of meetings, appointments, lunches, birthday and anniversary tea-parties weeks in advance! Heck, even doctor appointments, where possible must be well-planned (Please don’t ask me how that is done, I haven’t figured it out until now). And if you are planning Christmas lunches, send out your invites soon as autumn sets in. As for term-end holidays, the country goes mental. So you would be wise to plan your travel and stay bookings for your holidays at least a few months in advance, if you want decent deals.
- Register with your local NHS clinic soon as you have moved into your new home. If you have children under 10 or adults over 65 in your family, make sure you avail of the free flu-jab facilities for them. Especially if you are going to face your first winter in the UK. It can be very harsh and the flu is no fun at all!! Also, if your income and benefits permit, you may want to consider taking on an additional insurance package that allows you private health and dental coverage – especially if you have family members with special medical needs. From my limited experience, NHS care in this country is brilliant, but getting the appointments and getting your slots on-time can be a harrowing and painful experience, particularly during the winter months. Keep in mind that you can call NHS 111 for some immediate phone assistance if you cannot reach your GP in an emergency. Also know that you can walk into your local pharmacy and get some immediate help for basic ailments with some OTC meds.
- The U.K. is extremely family and disabled friendly and if you don’t mind the weather, you will always find plenty to do for you and your family. Find a community center in your area. Most neighborhoods have one. There will be lots of activities for adults and children alike that will be conducted at these places. And the charges are usually reasonable. Dabble about with a few hobbies until you find something you like to be engaged with, on a more regular basis. Every big city has numerous places of interest to explore such as parks, farms, museums, libraries, canals and mansions and quite a few of them with free or very nominal entry charges. And if you are willing to venture out a bit further, there will be castles and ancient manors and mills galore for you and your loved ones to explore. This country is a wonderful mix of history and modern amenities. And it is haven for those of you who love the outdoors and adventure activities. You can pack picnic lunches for all in the family and head out to some of the lovely day-holiday destinations or National Trust properties for the day. There are plenty of options to choose from, depending on what interests you as a family! Also, the National Trust annual membership is well worth investing in as it gives you and your family free entry and parking at all their beautiful heritage properties for an entire year! It was suggested to us by a friend and has to be one of the best pieces of advice we have received till date.
9. Most shops, malls and department stores operate from 9.00 to 5:30 PM, Mon- Sat. Neighbourhood supermarkets will be open until much later. Restaurants and pubs are not welcoming of children after 7.30 pm. So, plan ahead when stepping out! And if you are looking to lunch out on the weekend, you would be wise to make reservations. We had quite a shock the first few months. We moved here from Dubai where malls are open through mid-night, 365 days of the year; And we were stunned to find the city center all shut and dead at 5.30 PM on a Sunday evening!!!
- You now live in a technologically and logistically advanced country. Everything that you could possibly ask for is available online – information and services likewise. Online shopping and parcel drop/pick-up services are brilliant. From your milk to your medicines, you can get them all delivered at your door-step. If you are likely to be away from home on work all day, you can make use of the parcel-shop services. Pay close attention to the sale seasons as well. You can avail of some good deals if you shop cleverly. Even your energy and telephone service providers will have plenty of deals to offer depending on your family type and consumption needs. And for the thrifty shoppers, there are the charity stores that can sometimes deal you a few pleasant bargains.
Settling in can be a bit tricky in the U.K.. But once you cross that first hurdle, it is a lovely country with an eclectic mix of the traditional and the modern. And there is something for everyone here! So, give yourself a bit of time to feel at home. And then, as they say here, Keep Calm and Carry On!
P.S.: I have no affiliations to or business associations with any of the organizations that I have referred to above. They have been mentioned here purely as a starting point for some research/reference and these views are all my own basis our experience here.