Hello All, thought you might find this helpful. My experience as an American expat (and family) on a five year work visa. Sponsored by a UK company.
1. Upon arrival you should focus on doing two things. First get your NIS number and letter. Second, get your name on a lease. You will need these things to open a bank account, get a car etc. I stayed in QUB staff housing. They can only put the staff members name on the lease so my wife was SOL in terms of a bank account. We've rented a place on our own now and she's on the lease.
2. Ulster Bank, Bank of NI and a few others. Couldn't even be bothered to help us out. Nando at Santandar University Branch worked with me to open account. Highly recommend.
3. Once I had a bank account, I needed to lease a car. Most dealerships acted as if this was the first time they've ever heard from an expat. Lots of talk, little action. Ivor from Multileasing worked with us and I was able to lease a Kadjar for my wife and I. Much lower down payment and monthly terms than any of the dealers were offering. You'll also need a letter from your employer stating your earnings and visa as well as a letter from your bank stating you're a member.
5. I used Aviva for car and renter's insurance. I live outside of Belfast so my insurance is about £480 for auto and £150 for renter's. Add another £400 for living in Belfast.
6. When renting, there are a lot of things you have to ask about. How is the house heated? How is the water heated? When are the trash days and what bins do you put out on any given trash day. Letting agents are lethargic at best.
7. Schools... I thought that there must be some exception for people moving into a new catchment area after the school sign-up deadline. There is not. We had a choice of five schools where we moved. We were able to get into our first choice but only because we had one daughter starting P1. If it was just my other child starting P2, they most likely would not have taken her. If you have questions, I would call the school you want directly. I never heard back from any e-mails.
8. Weather... We lived in Washington State for two years and thought we knew rain. Really, the rain here isn't bad but it is pretty much always chilly. We packed most of our winter stuff in our shipment (should get here next week). Doing the move again, I would have included warmer clothes. You pretty much need to memorise the c to f conversion for three temperatures Protected content , 15, 20.
9. Health System. Unfortunately, my youngest became very ill had was in intensive care for a week. She was treated great and her doctors were fantastic. Prior to her admission, we wanted to take her to a GP. Our local GP's office would not take her as we did not have her immunisation records (in our shipment.) Had to go directly to A&E which turned out to be a good thing. But if you're coming out, bring immunisation records with you.
10. Mobile Phone. Buy one in the US and make sure it's GSM. They cost way less. You can't get a contract phone unless you've been in the UK for three years.
11. Bus system in Belfast isn't very easy to navigate. But if you open a map or just look confused somebody will ask you if you need help. People here are awesome.
12. Amazon... not nearly as efficient as in the US. Deliveries are farmed out to a multitude of companies and some items are not shipped to NI. You can order things on a US credit card which is helpful.
That's about all I can think of off the top of my head. Cheers. Protected content