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Living in the UK?

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Jan-Peter van Tijk

Living in Great Britain, from Netherlands

"I wish I'd found InterNations sooner: It would have made my first few month as an expat in London much less overwhelming."

Therese Yeboah

Living in Great Britain, from Ghana

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The UK at a Glance

Life in the UK

Are you preparing for expatriate life in the UK? There are lots of famous clichés about life in the UK, concerning, for instance, the weather. InterNations has some tips beyond these stereotypes to help you make the best out of your time in the UK, with info on accommodation, healthcare, and more.

Let's begin by refuting a common stereotype: The weather isn´t all that bad. Depending on the area you’ve chosen, you might suffer from more than average rainfall. In general, though, the climate is moderate. England’s south gets a lot of sunshine in summer, and temperatures can easily reach 27 °C. In northern parts of the UK, however, you’ll have to put up with more rain and much lower temperatures.

The high humidity has its good side, too. It makes for a lush countryside with green meadows, rolling hills, and woods. The UK has plenty of National Parks, and locals know how to make use of them. Life in the UK includes a wide array of outdoor sports and leisure activities, e.g. hiking, cycling, rock-climbing, or kayaking. You can even go on a beach holiday. The British love their beach huts, and there are some stunning beaches on the south coast, particularly in the southwest.

Accommodation in the UK

If you are considering life in the UK for an expat assignment, you will probably be looking to rent a studio apartment, a flat or a small house. You might get help from your employer. However, if you´re sorting out your own accommodation, here are a few house hunting tips to get you started:

While going through an estate agent can save you a lot of hassle, it doesn´t always ensure you get the best deal as they tend to charge various administration fees. Another way of finding accommodation when living in the UK is via Loot, a classified ads newspaper, which also has its own website and regularly advertises property. The Internet in general is a good source, with websites like Gumtree catering to all tastes and budgets. If you are planning to live in London, Moveflat is highly recommended, especially for younger people happy to stay in shared accommodation.

Unless you stay in up-market accommodation, you might find some buildings lacking in modern comforts compared to the standards you may be used to. A lot of British houses date back to the Victorian period. While they are beautiful to look at, they are not always the most comfortable places to live. If your flat has any gas appliances, ask your landlord or estate agent for proof of a recent safety check.

Are you planning on renting an apartment or maybe even buying a house? The articles in the Housing and Accommodation section of our UK Extended Guide will help guide you through the process.

Driving in the UK

Every aspect of life in the UK contains at least one element of surprise, something that´s a little different from what you are used to. Driving a car is one of these things. While in most other countries, people drive on the right-hand side of the road, people in the UK do things differently. You drive on the left side, and the steering wheel of British cars is on the right. You might want to take this into account if you consider bringing along your own car for your life in the UK.

Other than that, there are no obstacles to driving in the UK as long as you are over 17 years of age and have a valid driving license. While living in the UK, a driving license issued in your former country of residence only remains valid for up to three years (EU/EEA countries) or 12 months (other countries). At the end of this period, you´ll need to exchange it for a British license (EU/EEA countries) or get a provisional license and pass a driving test (other countries). While driving on a foreign license, you must be registered with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. If you are unsure about using your driving license while living in the UK, use the driving in GB interactive tool.

Public Transport

The alternative to driving is public transport. Public transportation in the UK is usually fairly good, albeit not cheap. The entire UK is covered by a vast network of rail and coach services. They make even remote parts of the country readily accessible (if you don´t mind occasional delays due to ongoing “improvement work”). Most cities have an extensive network of bus and light rail services, too.

If you live in London, public transport is usually the quickest and cheapest way of getting around in the central areas of town since the introduction of the Congestion Charge in 2003. This road charge levied to help reduce and control inner-city traffic and covers a considerable area of inner London. The quickest means of transport in London is the notorious London Underground, but be aware that it gets hopelessly overcrowded during peak hours.

Check out our Transport and Driving articles for further information on driving in the UK, getting a driving license, owning a car, public transport and more.

InterNations Expat Magazine