Expat Guide

Moving to the UK

It’s an enormous undertaking to make a move abroad. Less than half of Americans even get a passport to travel outside the US borders, which is understandable when America is so large, and there’s so much to see of it. You may not have considered travelling abroad at all until you are surprised by an unexpected opportunity, a long distance love, a dual nationality family, or a work/study abroad opportunity. 

Going Expat

It’s not an easy journey, and often doesn’t go smoothly, from visas and immigration to moving and settling in, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong. When setting on this adventure, you’re also leaving a life behind, the former life that you knew, your friends, family and community, they will go on without you. The people and places will change, develop, and pass away and there will probably be times when it feels foreign to you when you return to visit. That will be the new normal.

Many people underestimate the culture change when moving to Britain, due to the common language. I can only imagine how difficult that it would be to go to a country where few speak English, but perhaps that awareness prepares you for the massive change you’re undertaking.  Beyond the excitement, moving and changing circumstances can be very stressful, everyone handles it differently. Some people decide that living in the UK is not what they expected nor the life they want. It can be very lonely and isolated without family and friends nearby. The stress can cause problems in relationships, and it can magnify existing problems. It’s important to be prepared for the possible struggles, the culture shock and bouts of homesickness, by setting realistic expectations before getting on the plane. Preparation will give you the best chance possible at a happy expat life in Britain.

Why Move to the UK?

Americans consider moving to the UK for many reasons and in countless circumstances. Many come to work or study, some come for love or family, and others come to experience and explore a country rich in history and atmosphere. For some, it’s a dream to live abroad and experience more of the world.

I’ve managed the UK Yankee website and expat community for over fifteen years ( founded 1999), and a majority of the expats I’ve known moved because they fell in love with a British Citizen, either in real life or online. They endured months or years of long distance relationships for love, waiting to save for visa costs and then processing time. Whatever your reason for moving abroad, our journey has ups and downs, this is an experience that expats uniquely share.

It seems to be a common misconception that an American can just pick up and move to the UK just because they’d like to, there's a "special friendship" and we share the English language. This isn't accurate, you need to qualify for a specific visa to move to the UK and it isn't as easy as we would wish.

With all of the visa categories, it is essential to prove that you will not need to be supported by state funds (welfare) and that you have somewhere appropriate to live. It is important to note that not just *any* job can get you a work permit, and a casual relationship (ie one where you have not been living together and do not yet intend to marry) will not give you enough ties to emigrate. This is a difficult process, so buckle up.

The UK Visas & Immigration section will give some detail on the different categories, and give links to government departments which contain the information you will need. If you have questions about the process, please post them on our dedicated UK Visa discussion board

Things You Should Know

There is a great post on our forum by one of our members, who moved to the UK over 15 years ago. There are many things that people don't think about when considering moving, being excited and/or in love and naturally they can be carried away by that. After seeing people post about their struggles on our forums for almost a decade, she made some good observations.

"You can move here and make a life and be happy, but there are some things that I think would be a good idea to ask yourself.

UK Visas & Immigration

UK Immigration is pretty simple and to the point, you may not need a lawyer. You can do the paperwork yourself if it is an uncomplicated situtation (such as for fiance and spousal visas).

There are several different ways of emigrating to the UK, and finding the right one for you can get complex, so make sure you do all your research before you buy your ticket!

Electronics Compatibility

US-to-UK Electronics

One of the most often asked questions is what electrical devices you can bring from the US. The UK has a completely different electrical standard, voltage, frequency and plug type. This website and its author(s) will not be held responsible for any accidents or lawsuits that occur from following this advice, it is not professional electrician advice.


Shipping Your Stuff to the UK

For those who want to bring more of their possessions than can be brought as luggage, here are some of your options.

Moving Pets to the UK

The British have no rabies in their country, and want to keep it that way. (At the end of 2002, they had their first case in 100 years, from a bat bite in Dundee, Scotland.)

Formerly, all pets (dogs and cats) had to go through a 6 month quarantine before being able to enter the UK. Finally, the Pet Travel Scheme became available, which the US was recently included in it’s list of allowed countries!

Just Visiting the UK?

Tourists/visitors from the United States usually do not need Advance Entry Clearance, also called a Visitor Visa. Be aware that as a visitor to the UK, it is against a violation of the terms of your visit visa to do any work or look for work.

If you have previously been refused a Visa, if you have previously been refused entry into the United Kingdom, or if you have a criminal record you will need to apply for a Visit Visa before you wish to travel to the UK.

Visit our affiliate partner

UK Yankee is a resource and community for expatriate Americans living in or planning to move to the UK, established in 1999. Please join the discussions in our friendly expat community.