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A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in the UK

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  • Jan-Peter van Tijk

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

What is like to live in the UK? What makes the UK an interesting expat destination? As a developed country, with a rich history and culture, living in the UK can be filled with exciting opportunities; a simple afternoon stroll can become an impromptu history lesson, the music scene is legendary, and it is home to some of the most prestigious museums in the world.

Here, you will find information about the pros and cons of living in the UK. We will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of aspects such as healthcare, education, the job market, and even the weather. Then, you will find essential information on emergency numbers, and main airports and embassies. And finally, we will explore all practicalities of life in the UK, the country’s first-class communications, and advanced driving infrastructure and public transportation system.

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Pros and cons of Living in the UK

We have compiled a summary of the pros and cons of living in the UK. We will first review the benefits of the healthcare system, job market, weather, freedom of movement, and education, and then discuss their downsides.

Benefits of Living in the UK

The Job Market:

  • The job market in the UK has a lot on offer. And, despite all the uncertainties around Brexit and the threat of a global turndown, the economy is steadily creating more jobs and increasing pay levels. To give you an idea, for those in full-time work, the average salary in the UK is currently 35,000 GBP (45,420 USD) per year.

Access to Europe: 

  •  A huge advantage of living in the UK is the easy access to the rest of Europe. So, if you feel you need a break from it, expats can travel for short stays to most European destinations. Mainly due to the growth of budget airlines and intercountry trains like the Eurostar, it is both logistically and financially accessible.


  • Children of those who are ordinarily residents in the UK have the right to attend public schools at no cost. In terms of higher education, the UK has a long-standing tradition of providing quality education. The standard of teaching and research at UK universities and colleges is routinely assessed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) in order to ensure that all the benchmarks are met.

Disadvantages of Living in the UK

 The Healthcare System:

  • The National Health Service (NHS) often has long waiting lists for specialist treatments. It is possible to bypass the wait times by acquiring private healthcare, which can be costly. Expats who have chronic conditions or significant health issues should consider investing in a private health insurance policy. For detailed information about the UK public healthcare system, check out our UK healthcare section.

The Weather:

  • The UK has a worldwide reputation for bad weather, for good reason. The winters are long and cold, and the days are very short. On winter days, it can get dark before 4pm.

Diminished Freedom of Movement:

  • Brexit has led to a lot of uncertainty for foreigners residing in the UK and how Britain’s decision to leave the EU will affect them. Britain is now in a transition period (until December 2021) while the government negotiates the specific terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. For more information on this topic, read our UK Guide to Visas and Work Permit Requirements.

High Cost of Living

  • The UK’s capital, London, is one of the most expensive places to live in the world. Accommodation prices drive up overall spending, but everyday life is costly too. Rent prices per month vary greatly depending on the region. To give you an idea, in Greater London the average monthly rent is around 1,700 GBP (2,200 USD), much higher than the national average of about 1,000 GBP (USD 1,300 USD).

Before delving into the practical hard facts, some British trivia may help you immerse yourself in your destination. For instance, did you know that even though the Queen has visited over 100 countries, she does not have a passport? The reason is because British passports are issued in her name. Also, did you know that London has the most extensive library in the world? In fact, the British Library in King’s Cross has more than 170 million items in its catalogue.

 Quick facts about the UK

  • Population: Over 66 million
  • Capital city: London
  • Main languages: English, Scots, Welsh and Irish. Interestingly, of the over 56.1 million residents of England and Wales, approximately 546,000 speak Polish, around the same number of people who speak Welsh.
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Political system: Parliamentary constitutional monarchy
  • Time: GMT -GMT+1 or British Summer Time (BST) from late March to late October
  • Electricity: 230 volts, 50Hz.
  • Currency: British pound (GBP)
  • International dialing code: +44
  • Road Traffic: Drives on the left

Emergency Numbers in the UK

Although the last thing you will want to preempt is that things will go wrong, it is better to be safe than sorry. So, what numbers should you call in the event of an emergency in the UK? The main emergency number is 999; you should only dial it in life-threatening situations. If you need medical assistance fast, but it’s not an emergency, you should call the NHS New Number 111.

  • Ambulance: 999 or 112
  • Fire: 999 or 112
  • Police: 999 or 112
  • Gas emergency: 0800 111 999
  • NHS new number: 111

Main Embassies in the UK

As expected, London is home to the majority of foreign embassies. To be specific, the British capital hosts 167 embassies and high commissions. Additionally, there are 339 consulates and 23 other representations in the United Kingdom.

The main embassies in the UK:

Embassy of the United States:

Address: 33 Nine Elms Ln, Nine Elms, London SW11 7US, United Kingdom

Phone: +44 20 7499 9000

Embassy of India:

Address: India House Aldwych, Covent Garden, London WC2B 4NA, United Kingdom

Phone: +44 20 7836 8484

Embassy of Canada:

Address: Canada House, Trafalgar Square, London SW1Y 5BJ, United Kingdom

Phone: +44 20 7004 6000

Embassy of New Zealand:

Address: 80 Haymarket, St. James’s, London SW1Y 4TE, United Kingdom

Phone: +44 20 7930 8422

Embassy of Australia:

Address: 80 Haymarket, St. James’s, London SW1Y 4TE, United Kingdom

Phone: +44 20 7930 8422

Should you need to visit an embassy or consulate not listed above, The London Diplomatic List contains all the addresses and contact details of all embassies and high commissions in the UK.

Main Airports in the UK

There are 16 major airports in the UK, all of which receive international and domestic flights. In alphabetical order, these airports are Aberdeen, Belfast International, Belfast City, Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Leeds, London City, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, London Stansted, London Luton, Manchester, and Newcastle. Below, you can find a list of the five most important ones with their corresponding address, contact telephone number, and website.

London Gatwick 

West Sussex RH6 0NP

Telephone: 01293 535 353


London Heathrow 

Heathrow Point West, Bath Road, Harlington, Middlesex UB3 5AP

Telephone: 08700 000123


London Luton

Airport Way, Luton LU2 9LY

Telephone: 01582 405100


London Stansted Airport

Essex CM24 1QW

Telephone: 0870 0000 303


Manchester Airport

Manchester M90 1QX

Telephone: 0161 489 8000


Culture and Social Etiquette

The Brits are known for being particular about many things; for starters, they drive on the other side of the road. They are also known worldwide for being indirect communicators whose favorite word is sorry, and they have a good sense of humor.

To help you get a head start in the social aspects of your life as an expat, here is a compilation of interesting UK cultural and social etiquette.


  • A firm but not too strong handshake is the most common way of greeting someone, especially if you’ve never met them. Only close friends sometimes kiss one another on the cheek or give each other a hug.
  • British people don’t get intimate quickly. For example, they will probably not ask too many questions when they’ve just met you, not because they are not interested, but because they don’t want to be intrusive.


  • Remember to say “please” and “thank you.” Don’t expect your polite tone to convey your intentions.
  • The British don’t usually ask direct questions, especially to people they don’t consider close friends. It is considered impolite to ask about personal finances, age, weight, etc.
  • This is a golden rule: do not cut the line! If there is a line, always queue and wait for your turn. If you cut in, even inadvertently, be prepared for some serious death stares.
  • When you are at a restaurant and you need to get the waiter’s attention, it is customary to wait until you make eye contact, and then nod or raise your hand. You can also say “excuse me” or something along those lines as the waiter passes by. This is preferred over waving or calling out from afar.
  • Don’t be alarmed when you notice that people keep apologizing to you. The word “sorry” generally has a different connotation in the UK. People don’t use this word only for when they feel sadness or regret. It is very typically used as a way of being polite. Here are some sentences you will hear frequently: “Sorry to bother you, do you know [input any request for information]?”; “Sorry I’m late”, “Sorry, I couldn’t hear what you said”, etc. Brits say sorry when they sneeze, when they bump into you, or even when you bump into them. It sounds complicated, but you will fully understand it after spending just a few days in the UK.


  • The first thing you need to know is that greeting cards are still very popular in the UK. British people send more cards than any other nationality worldwide. The latest GCA Market Report shows that in 2017 the UK public spent 1.7 billion GBP (2.19 billion USD) on greeting cards. So, if you receive a card instead of a gift for your birthday, or any other occasion, don’t be surprised.
  • The British don’t shy away from token gifts: chocolates, mugs, flowers, etc. It’s not considered rude or careless to make these gift choices, especially if you don’t know the person the well.


  • Do not turn up to a British person’s house unannounced or bring other people along without asking beforehand.
  • If someone invites you to come around to their house, avoid arriving early.
  • Do not arrive late either. Punctuality is important in British culture. People go to great lengths to arrive on time, so it is viewed as impolite to be late. If you are delayed, make sure you let whoever you are meeting know, even if they are a friend.
  • Being late is more acceptable when attending large social gatherings.



  • Indirect communication: be prepared for this, as the British tend to avoid confrontation. You will quickly pick up on it and learn how to read between the lines. For example, if someone at work asks you to have a look at something “when you have a minute,” they might actually be asking you to get it done quickly.
  • Humor: The British enjoy self-deprecating humor and sarcasm. They are very good at it and sometimes it can be quite subtle and hard to detect by people who are not accustomed to it.
  • Listening: the British are polite listeners, so they will probably not talk over you or interrupt you unless they need clarification.


  • Personal Space: the British respect and expect personal space, so make sure to not stand or sit extremely close to people. For instance, if you sit next to someone, never lean your body against theirs.
  • Patience: British people are patient and waiting in line is second nature to them. You should respect this as it’s ingrained in British culture and will be considered rude if you don’t follow this social norm.

Connect with like-minded expatriates

Discover our welcoming community of expats! You’ll find many ways to network, socialize, and make new friends. Attend online and in-person events that bring global minds together.

Driving in the UK

Is driving in the UK a good idea? Although the public transportation system in the UK is generally quite good, there are cities with better traffic conditions where you might want to consider buying or renting a car. If you decide to get yourself some wheels, what do you need to know?

Driving in the UK your EU or EEA or US license

Driving in the UK with your EU or EEA license is possible. You may even be eligible for a British driving license if your country has an agreement with the UK in this respect. You can find all the relevant information regarding changes to driving standards, and book both your theoretical and practical test through the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). The Driver and Vehicle Licensing agency (DVLA) issues the license once you complete and pass your test.

Bear in mind that rules have changed concerning expats and the driving test. In the past, it was possible to request a voiceover and interpretation in the person’s language of origin. Now, it is required for your level of English to be sufficient to pass the test.

Use this tool to check if are allowed to drive in the UK with your non-GB driving license.

You can find out here how to exchange your non-British driving license for a UK one.

If you are neither an EU nor an EEA citizen, or if you are not eligible for a license exchange, you can only drive in the UK for the first 12 months from your arrival. After this period, it will be mandatory for you to take a theoretical and practical driving test and obtain your local license.

The Age for Driving in the UK

The minimum age for driving in the UK is 17, although you can apply for a provisional driving license when you are 15 years and 9 months old. There is no upper age limit, but the DVSA will send you a form to renew your license when you turn 70 years old. After this, you will have to re-apply for your license every 3 years.

How to get a UK Driving License?

Steps on how to get a UK driving license

Driving in the UK Rules

Basic rules about driving in the UK:

  • You will need to drive on the left side of the road. If you’re not comfortable with this, start driving in more remote areas until you gain confidence.
  • The UK uses miles per hour (mph), not kilometers per hour (kmph).
  • The speed limit on highways is usually 70 mph (113 kmh), but on country roads it’s about 40 (65 kmh), or 50 mph (80 kmh). Once you enter a village, a city center, or a built-up residential area, the speed limit is never over 30 mph (48 kmh) and may even be 20 mph (33 kmh) or less.
  • Speed cameras are widely used, so respect the speed limits.
  • Drivers are allowed to do a U-turn or three-point-turn on any UK road where it can be carried out safely, and it is not expressly forbidden. You will know when U-turns are prohibited because you will see a sign with an upside-down “U” crossed out with a red line.
  • Road signs are fairly uniform to international standards; however, there are some that are pretty unique, so you might be unfamiliar with them. It’s a good idea to get to know your local traffic signs.
  • It is mandatory to wear a seatbelt, otherwise you could be fined up to 500 GBP (645 USD).
  • It is illegal to use your cellphone while driving. There are some exceptions around hands-free features.
  • The legal blood alcohol limit in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood (equivalent to 0.08 percent blood alcohol content-BAC). Scotland is stricter, with a limit of 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood (or a 0.05 percent BAC).

Renting a Car

If you intend to drive a rental car in the UK, you will have plenty of choice in terms of rental companies. Some will ask for more documents than others, so you have to be prepared. Here’s a list we have put together to make sure you are covered.

  • Current driver’s license and passport
  • International Driving Permit (IDP) valid for 12 months. Keep in mind that this does not replace your license.
  • Proof of address: Bring along a utility bill or bank statement with your address.
  • Proof of previous travel dates: You may be asked to provide details of travel dates to and from the country. You can use your flight tickets or hotel confirmations.
  • You should also bring proof of insurance. If you didn’t get one, you will have the option to buy it from the rental company.

Public Transportation in the UK

Newcomers will be pleased to know that navigating the country is relatively easy in larger cities. So, if you are visiting a town or village, or anywhere in the countryside, you might want to consider renting a car. Larger cities have efficient networks of overground and underground rail, and frequent bus services that have an easy-to-use contactless payment system. The UK has 15 easily accessible main airports, which combined with the recent growth of low-cost airlines make flying frequently more viable. Owning a car in the UK is non-essential in bigger cities. However, the excellent infrastructure and well-maintained roads make driving around town or the beautiful countryside a pleasure.

How is Public Transportation in the UK?

Trains are the most popular form of public transportation within the United Kingdom. The railway network, operated by National Rail, covers England, Scotland, and Wales. Northern Ireland Railways covers the network throughout that region.

Between 1994 and 1997, British Rail was privatized to a public-private system; for this reason, you will find a number of companies offering services. The United Kingdom has the oldest passenger railway system in the world, which opened on September 15, 1830 with service between Liverpool and Manchester. It sometimes faces criticism about network delays and peak hour overcrowding, but you will generally find traveling around the UK by train a fast and pleasant way to explore the country.

What is the Cost of Public Transport in the UK?

A 2017 study revealed that UK workers are spending up to a seventh of their income on rail fares, about six times as much as employees across Europe. To give you an idea, it found that commuters traveling between Luton and London St Pancras spent 14% of an average salary on a monthly pass costing around GBP 390 (USD 510). An easy way of gauging how expensive transport is in the UK is by comparing it to other European countries; for instance, a monthly pass for a similar route length-wise in France costs around GBP 60 or USD 78 (equivalent to 2.4% of the French average monthly wage), and 62 GBP or 81 USD in Italy (3.1% of the average monthly wage).

Public Transportation in London

Even though there is a lot more to the UK than its capital city. London is the first location that comes to mind when people think of the UK, and it is without doubt expats’ favorite destination.

Transport for London -TFL

The heart of the Public transportation system in the UK is The London Underground (also known as “The Tube”). It provides a train service across London and into the neighboring counties of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, and Essex. The Underground opened in 1863 and is served by 270 stations and 11 lines, making it both the world’s oldest underground railway, and the oldest and most comprehensive rapid transit system. No wonder it’s famous worldwide! Transport for London (TFL) is a local government body responsible for the transport system in Greater London, England. The best way of planning your journey in this area is by using their journey planner, or transport apps like Citymapper.

How to Purchase Tickets

Tickets for the London underground can be purchased in a variety of ways, the most expensive being a Single Fare costing GBP 4.90 or USD 6.40.

  • Many stations will have ticket machines and/or ticket offices.
  • You can also use an Oyster Card (a contactless payment system with discounted rates) or your debit or credit card to pay directly (if it’s contactless) by touching in and out at the yellow card readers for rail travel, and by just touching in for buses.
  • The TFL site has comprehensive information on buying tickets and Oyster cards.

The Oyster and contactless payments in general are the cheapest options for travel, with prices ranging from:

  • Off-peak times: 2.40 GBP (3.20 USD) to 3.10 GBP (4.00 USD).
  • Peak hours: 2.40 GBP (3.20 USD) to 4.70 GBP (6.15 USD). Peak hours are Monday to Friday, 06.30 am-9.30 and 16.00 – 19.00.
  • There is a daily cap ranging from 7.20 GBP (9.40 USD) –13.20 GBP (17.20 SD), depending on which zones you are traveling to. You can check out the London travel zones on the TFL site.

National Rail

National Rail tickets are easy to purchase either online or at the train station, but you will find cheaper prices if you book in advance and online.

There are also discount cards.

  • The Senior Rail Card (for those over 60 years)
  • The 16-25 Rail Card (for students aged 16-25)

If you find yourself frequently using National Rail, it is recommended to purchase either a weekly, monthly or yearly pass in order to save money. Prices will vary depending on the routes you use.

Buses and Coaches in the UK

Let’s begin by clarifying the difference between bus and coach in the UK. Usually, buses operate as part of a service that drops off and picks up at various and frequent intervals (e.g. public transportation bus). On the other hand, coaches make infrequent stops and drive long-distances, such as between towns, cities, or even countries.

Traveling by coach in the UK, is another way to travel long-distance throughout the country. While they generally take longer than trains, mainly due to traffic congestion and speed limits, they will get you right near the center of most towns.

There are two main services for coaches:

  • National Express – serving all major destinations with frequency.
  • Megabus – covers a limited number of destinations at a discounted price, popular with students.

Coach services are not usually fully-booked and are quite comfortable, making them a great alternative means of transport. They often cost less than half of what you would pay for a similar train journey.

Taxis in the UK

The UK also offers easily-accessible taxi services that come in two main forms:

  • The iconic black cab—you can hail these mainly in London. They often wait around public services like train and bus depots.
  • Minicabs—usually they will need to be pre-booked online or over the phone and offer cheaper rates.
  • On-call ride services, such as Uber, are everywhere in major cities and offer a cheaper service than black cabs. The advantages are that they can be ordered more swiftly and last minute. Even though Uber’s operating license was temporarily revoked in 2017 in London due to public safety concerns with unlicensed and uninsured drivers, they are still legally operating in the UK as they went to court and won back a temporary license by demonstrating new safety features, and changed their executives, among other things. Bear in mind that, in many smaller cities and towns, ride sharing apps are not in operation yet, but there will be local taxi services available.

Taxi services are generally expensive and more often are used for short distances, carrying luggage, or late nights when rail and bus services are less frequent.

When using taxi services, you should check that the driver is displaying their taxi license number and the meters are using the correct rate.

Ferries in the UK

Ferries are a popular form of transportation when it comes to getting to and from the United Kingdom and seeing more of the world around you. Ferry connections can be used for more than just entering and leaving the country; they’re indispensable when it comes to traveling along the Scottish Highlands.

Tickets are usually best bought directly from the operator, either online or at local ferry terminals, but you can find an overview of the various ferry companies and travel routes on websites, such as Discover Ferries.

Public Transportation Resources for the Disabled

Most trains in the UK carry a wheelchair access ramp, and buses are often able to tilt down to meet the sidewalk. If you look at the London Tube map, you’ll also notice that stations with disabled access are clearly marked.

For more information, visit Transport for London also provides more specific local advice on the accessibility of trains, buses, and the Tube in the capital. Finally, Disabled Travel Advice offers lots of useful tips on public transportation in the UK for expats and travelers alike.

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