Skip to main content
Best Posts to Get You Started!Hop to EuropeLondon Expat LifeTo Move to PW

The Big London Expat Move: Basic Planning & Packing

It’s already been two and a half weeks since our plane touched down in London. As soon as the wheels hit the runway my mind finally wrapped around the idea that London will be home, for a long time. In fact, maybe the longest consecutive time I’ve ever been away from the East Coast.

With a job transfer opportunity for X (husband) and my own freelancing, it was a golden opportunity to try something we’ve always dreamed about. Live abroad, see iconic European cities on the weekends, be surrounded by a rainbow of people and plant roots in a major metropolitan city. I would be a full-fledged London Expat.

So, we did it. Did we do it gracefully, though?

Of course not.

No matter how much I read up on a “London Expat” move and how many people I asked for advice, per usual it all went out the window when I actually went about doing it. Let’s hope I can prevent others from making all the silly mistakes I do.

Classic London phonebooth with cloudy sky

This Is The Real Deal

First thing? Take this seriously. Yes, a certain air of denial can help you cope with a big international move, but a lack of preparation will stress you out big time. Even if you’re a global traveler, even if you’re not going alone, this is still massive. If your friends or family offer to help pack and store things, let them. You’ll think you’re close to finished, but you’re not, trust me. We were sure about two weeks before we were almost done – then 12 more trash bags, 4 donation bags and six more storage containers later we still hadn’t completed the task. That also goes without saying – probably buy twice as many storage container than you think you need.  Give yourself tons of time to organize, relax and prepare. Consider giving yourself a buffer off work emotionally and mentally for a few days at home, for travel and when you get there as well.

Classic London phonebooth with cloudy sky

Try To Get Shit Done In Advance

We landed in London without any permanent apartment, bank account, phones or knowledge of public transport. Small bureaucratic things like knowing you can’t get a phone contract without a UK address, and you can’t get a UK bank account without a UK address, and we didn’t plan on having a UK address for about a month…oy vey. I wish I had gotten a SIM card online or had a plan for a phone from the first day on, because I felt very lost without one. I also couldn’t contact any agents to apartment hunt without one, so that was all delayed for days. We did eventually work things out, but we did it the hard way. Some people choose to hire a relocation expert to hold their hand – you certainly can, but they are very pricey. Decide if you want to invest in a consultant or a shiny new espresso machine with European plugs (we picked the latter), the choice is yours.

Outdoor pub in Brighton England UK

Know The Ropes

There are so many little things an American living in the UK might not realize right away that can greatly impact your experience. For instance, I had no idea it wasn’t standard here for everyone to move on the first of the month. We have temporary housing until August 1st and assumed we’d find an apartment that lined up with that date. Wrong. Our dream place didn’t have a move=in time until August 23rd, so now we’re scrambling a little cover another month of temporary housing. You can be resourceful if you don’t mind living out of a suitcase for a while. We chatted with the Airbnb guy who graciously let us extend our stay for a discounted rate. And afterward for a couple weeks, we’re going to take a housesitting gig and watch some doggies in the suburbs.

Just keep in mind the chaos of the first few months is only temporary. That mantra has got me through the time without my creature comforts and a permanent place to live. It’ll all be fine. Breathe.

Integrate ASAP

It was tempting to just stroll through central London along the river every day and contemplate how wonderful life is. But that’s not really how I’d be living and I needed to settle instead. Take a couple days to sightsee, then work on doing what locals do as soon as possible so you don’t feel like you’re on vacation. I met up with some London writers for a picnic one weekend and joined a softball team the next week. A bonus of finding groups to hang with? You learn how the city works even faster. I quickly found out I can drink openly in the park or on the field, which is SO much cheaper than parking yourself in a pub for hours. It’s also way more fun. Don’t feel like finding people online is creepy – it can lead to friends of friends you might have more in common with, or lead to other in-person events with further interaction. Prepare to say yes a lot at first to feel out a scene and find your place.

Watching football in Battersea Park, London

Let’s recap, shall we?

  • If you plan to store ALL THE THINGS, give yourself 2-4 weeks to figure out your belongings; what to bring, what to give away and what to keep. Add a week for every year you’ve lived in your current place.
  • Try to sort out a phone, even a temporary one, before you leave or as soon as your land. It will be your lifeline. Same goes for easily accessible Wifi.
  • Go through a normal move at home in your head, then find out how the new city operates in those instances. Such as, finding a place to live, transportation, current weather conditions, job prospects and more.
  • Have fun for a little time playing tourist, but then work on meeting locals and doing everyday things that will make your new city feel like home.
Eileen Cotter Wright

Author Eileen Cotter Wright

Eileen Cotter is a freelance travel journalist and owner of Pure Wander. She's our resident expat extraordinaire and falls down a lot in yoga class. Follow her on Instagram @Pure_Wander.

More posts by Eileen Cotter Wright

Join the discussion 2 Comments

Leave a Reply