As those of us dwelling in Blighty know all too well, there’s a lot more to life in England than a clinical obsession with the Royal Family, forming orderly queues and complaining about the weather.
Take the positives, like the stunning beauty of the English landscape, the sweeping expanse of northern moorlands, postcard-perfect villages dotted around the country and charming retro-feel seaside towns.
Or the never-ending adrenaline hit that comes with each discovery of a cool restaurant, gallery or shop in one of England’s big cities. There are also the world-renowned places to study, which draw hundreds of thousands of bright young minds each year, and the friendly, open people who befriend these visitors from around the globe - and encourage them to stay here for good.
Ultimately, moving anywhere new is at once exciting and terrifying, illuminating and utterly confusing. For expats from across the globe who have made England their home, there have been ups, downs, and - arguably most importantly - global connections from back home to nurture and new friendships to embark upon. Thanks to today’s tech, staying in touch and receiving or sending money back home is now the easy part.
Here’s what moving to England is really like for those who have been there, done it, and felt their upper lips start to stiffen in the process...
“I’ve made friendships for life and I love being part of this incredible melting pot of people in London.”
A major life move from another country is difficult at any stage - but even trickier when bringing a six-month-old baby along for the journey, we’d wager. That’s the situation 38-year-old Annemiek, yogi and blogger at Green Juice and Gin, found herself in when she moved to London from her native Rotterdam, Holland, nine years ago.
“It was pretty challenging to get a foothold into London life,” she explains. “I wasn’t working and had no existence in London besides being a mum to my (now eldest of three) son.”
One of the trickiest bits was getting established in England: bank accounts, letting contracts, energy bills - with everything in her husband’s name, Annemiek found the process of proving her existence in her adopted country frustrating.
“I quickly discovered that having your name on the electric bill and council tax bill was the most important thing ever! If I tell my Dutch friends this, they all raise their eyebrows,” she says.
Staying connected to her family and friends back home has been hugely important - she uses FaceTime to speak to her parents and sends all her daily updates via WhatsApp. Not that getting online hasn’t had its share of challenges...
“It is probably easier to escape from Alcatraz than to connect your home to internet in the UK. I often refer to London as a third-world country as my connection fails for the sixth time during my phone call or there is no connection at all on the busy streets,” she says.
“Although I’m very good at complaining about London, I love to be part of this amazing city. I’m enjoying the daily, crazy buzz and the diversity of its inhabitants.”
“The deal with my family was that I’d call them on the third Sunday of the month - I had a phone card I’d top up to call them on from a phone box. If they didn’t hear from me they’d know something was wrong.”
Alison, 48, originally moved to England from the Australian outback in 1997. She’d been working as a nurse in an aboriginal community, running clinics in the desert, so the studio flat in Bayswater she moved into with a fellow nurse made for quite the change from those wide open spaces in Australia.
Communication looked a bit different then compared to now - Alison’s nursing agency would contact her and her flatmate via pager when shift work was available (she would then call them from a phone box on the street outside to confirm the details), and Alison would write letters to relatives in Australia and call them from a phone box once a month. Getting a landline when she moved into a new flat felt like a luxury - something she finds amusing now that she doesn’t even need one anymore.
Alison still remembers the internet cafe trend and paying £1 per hour at Easy Cafe on Tottenham Court Road to email friends and family. She’s struck by how easy it’s become to stay connected with friends and family anywhere in the world - and what an impact that must have on expats moving here now.
“Living overseas and maintaining close contact has never been easier or better. The one thing that stands out to me in the years I lived in the UK when I was younger was the deep loneliness and disconnect that I felt being away from family and friends,” Alison says.
“Some of these friendships have never recovered from years away. But now? I don’t feel disconnected or lonely - obviously this could be because I have my own family now and I’m older and more mature. But I think it’s due to our ability to stay closely connected to our loved ones at home.”
“Create a family WhatsApp group to keep connected on the everyday stuff.”
When Char, 39, decided to commit to life in England for the long-term, she knew one of the biggest challenges would be leaving behind her big, loving family in Canada. Staying close to them has been one of her top priorities since she settled here over a decade ago and started a family of her own.
Every time there’s a cute photo of the kids or a funny saying she has to share, she sends it to her loved ones back home on the family WhatsApp group.
“When you see each other, it’s just like picking up on a conversation you’re already in. Now that our kids are getting bigger, it’s nice for cousins to get involved, too - sending photos and videos.”
“We also use apps like TouchNote to send photo postcards. Nothing quite beats getting a postcard in the mix with the rest of the regular snail mail!” Charmian says.
“Class and language is an area I’ve found complicated – the distinction of tea (in the Northern sense of evening meal) as opposed to dinner or supper took ages to work out!”
Masha, 34, first moved to England from Russia in the early noughties, and had to buy phone cards to communicate with her relatives (she’s since moved on to Instagram to keep up with friend and family news and WhatsApp for calls and group chats). Maintaining good communication with relatives back home is crucial, especially since the UK still requires those coming from a variety of Eastern European countries to obtain a special visa in order to visit.
“England is multi-cultural and welcoming, definitely a much easier place to settle than a lot of other countries,” Masha says.
“On the flip side, there is a lot of cultural information you have to take in before you feel you really belong. I particularly struggled with all the information about regional affiliations/history/assumptions. I come from the easternmost part of Russia, 10,000 km from Moscow, but I’ve never felt the regional accent in Vladivostok is dramatically different to how people speak in Moscow or St. Petersburg, whereas in the UK regional accents are such a big thing, and also have connotations of class.
“Don’t miss things like team drinks with English colleagues,” she advises - crucial for forging new friendships and getting a better understanding of the English culture. When you can use the phrase ‘cheeky pint’ successfully in a sentence, you’ve nailed it.
“What I struggled with most is their tendency to speak in riddles.”
Francesco, 40, first came to London from Rome as a student 15 years ago - and he was pleasantly surprised. Truth is, he wasn’t expecting to like the people here quite so much.
“What struck me most was that British people are a lot more welcoming than I ever thought. They are extremely patient which means they will overlook any faux pas if made in good faith. So rest assured, you will be made to feel at home immediately,” Francesco says of his experience.
Not that there weren’t cultural clashes - for Italians, who say what they think and don’t have any qualms about expressing what they’re feeling, Francesco found the English trait of keeping their cards close to their chest a bit of a nightmare at first.
“It is not in their nature to be direct, plain speaking and to say what they actually feel. In fact, quite often, they will say the exact opposite of what they actually mean or think! My advice would be, be mindful and tactful, British people are a lot more sensitive than you may think and always ask for confirmation of what they actually mean or want, especially in a work situation!” he says.
“In Russia we joke about the roads; they’re non-existent here.
Sometimes the best moves are the spontaneous ones. Sofya came to the UK from her native Russia in July 2007 - a move that wasn’t initially planned or particularly well thought-out.
“I was so taken by the amazing city of London and how great my life there turned out to be,” she says. “I was lucky enough to find an office job as a PA to the founder of a property management company. Life here seemed possible.”
In early 2010 Sofya realised that she’d left things unfinished back in Russia - she needed to sell some property there and to decide whether or not she wanted to come back to the UK or stay in Russia for good.
“The choice was made and I returned in 2011, got married and now have two beautiful children. This country is good to those who love it and who are eager to make their living. You work hard, you get rewarded. And the NHS is absolutely outstanding in my opinion.”
Sofya also likes the role that the UK authorities play in ensuring everything is run in an orderly fashion - even in small, rural areas.
“I feel safe and comfortable and hope that my children will be happy here. I would tell people moving here to stay strong, believe in yourself and your abilities, be honest and respect the people and the country you live in.”
“London was everything I ever wanted it to be and more - I can’t even explain my connection to that city.”
Farah moved to London from her native South Africa as a 24-year-old in 2015, wanting to turn her lifelong dream of living in England into reality. She found the whole process tougher than she’d expected, and also trickier than she’d heard it would be from others who had done the same. In fact, most of her friends had left South Africa and are living all over the world, sending photos and staying in touch via WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram.
“Coming from South Africa, we consider the UK to be a really modern, really first-world country where everything is really easy and efficient. I struggled with basics like not being able to open a bank account for a while, finding it difficult to rent a flat and really having to adjust to not having a car,” she says.
After the initial road bumps of settling into life in a new country, Farah was able to start enjoying the many high points London has to offer its inhabitants - “being able to travel to Europe so easily, having something different going on every night - concerts, restaurants, everything,” she says.
And homesickness? It hasn’t been an issue.
“For me, technology is a lifesaver when it comes to communicating with home,” Farah says.
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Correction: An earlier version of this piece used the headline ‘The Reality Of Moving To Live In England From Those Who Have Done It.’ This has been amended to better reflect the contents of the article.