Monday, August 16, 2010

It's Help-a-Brit time

I received this e-mail this morning from Lucy Pask, and thought I would call on my readers to help:

I’ve just been reading your (various) fabulous blogs about life as an expat in the USA.

Firstly, thank you. It’s been really helpful to me (and funny) and put me onto – a mine of useful info and contacts.

This week, my husband accepted an opportunity to start his business with a company based in Itaska, Ill (wheeeeere?) near Chicago.

Visa now sorted, so in ten weeks time it’s goodbye to London, farewell to the pretty Chiltern Hills and hello to goodness knows what…

Am v excited about our new life, but also nervous about being a “dependent” and slightly clueless about moving.

I was wondering if you or your readers could offer me / direct me to answers to the question:

What do you wish you had known (or done) before you moved to the USA?

So far people have said things like:

1.       It can be lonely in the suburbs if you have no kids
2.       No one walks anywhere unless you live in the City
3.       Its either bloody cold or bloody hot so don’t bother bringing any of your English clothes
4.       Magnificent Mile + world’s third largest mall = epic joy
5.       Living is cheaper, money goes further
6.       In UK you ask an estate agent to find you a certain number of rooms. In USA it’s a certain amount of square footage
7.       Don’t bother shipping non essential furniture or heavy items, save your money and buy new or via Craigs List 

   Can you add anything to these gems…?

If you have a moment, I would love to know your thoughts.

So, gentle readers, if anyone has any words of wisdom for Lucy, please feel free to add them.


  1. Ah, the pretty Chiltern Hills - that's my neck of the woods (when I'm not in the Midwest).

    Moving anywhere new can be lonely. I would say, start following expat blogs, or join the forums on expat women, and develop a circle of online friends who you can ask advice from. (Happy for you to add my email address to your list!)

    The best piece of advice I was given was to embrace your new culture, and not always to be comparing it to Britain. That's where the whole "not wrong, just different" thing came from.

    As for specifics... I would say, living IS cheaper and money does go further, but don't go mad when you first arrive. Wait till you've been paid in dollars, and have had to foot car/house/health insurance bills for a few months. It doesn't seem quite so cheap after a while.

    Good luck!

  2. As an American born and bred (but lucky enough to live in England for a little while so I know where you are coming from) I would love to help out as much a poss. Just so you know I live near D.C., so things could be slightly different in Ill.

    I'll go point by point:

    1. I can attest that this is indeed true (at least in my area) and I have 1 child. Even with children, it's not all that easy, especially here in the Northeast, people tend to keep very much to themselves. Now if you have children who are involved in sports and school activities, this makes it easier to meet other parents and make friends.

    2.Yep, unless it's on purpose for exercise.

    3. For the most part this is true,especially this year. But once in a while we have a decent Spring or Autumn. In general each lasts about six weeks during a good year.

    4. That's what I've heard. Lucky you!

    5. Like I said I've lived in both places and I think it's all relative. Income is relative to cost of living, although you do get more house for your money in America. But everything is bigger here right?

    6. That is not true. Watch the house hunting shows and they all say how may rooms and how many baths. We suck at math. We don't walk around with square footage figures in our head.

    7. The military shipped my goods back from England so I can't give a solid answer here but I can't imagine paying the cost of shipping non-essential furniture. Save your sterling and take advantage of the weak dollar when you arrive. Plenty of used furniture and antique shops if you don't want to buy new.

    Drop me a line thru my blog if you would like more help.

    Welcome to America!

  3. Positives .... Americans are very friendly and welcoming. People will go out of their way to help you settle in. Consumer goods are cheaper (though other costs, eg health insurance, are high). Food is cheap ... but we found organic/free-range options thin on the ground and more expensive than in the UK. There's lots of space and the natural environment is spectacular. You get a lot more house and garden for your money, whether buying or renting. It's cheap and easy to eat out a lot.

    Negatives ...... You'll have no credit profile, despite a lifetime of good finances in the UK. Everyone drives everywhere (even for very very short distances) and taking a walk or using the bus/train will be seen as strange behaviour. Schools are about 18 months behind the UK. The built environment is depressing - endless chains of shops and restaurants and little in the way of old buildings (we were in the West though, the East is probably quite different). And the TV is quite dreadful ........ but then if you live somewhere hot you'll be making the most of the warm evenings and will be out and about.

  4. Be prepared to condense your life story in to one quick line. It will make conversation so much easier!

  5. About Chicago(land) - it's pretty expensive compared to many places in the States, especially as you get closer to the city.
    We do talk in square footage when trying to give someone an idea of the size of a house, although if you're working with an agent and just looking for something to rent, it'd be number of bedrooms and whether you want parking.

  6. I'm in NY so probably a bit different but...
    Don't ask for the toilet or ladies, ask for the 'restroom"
    Liquor Stores don't sell beer and corner stores that sell beer don't sell liquor & wine.
    Half and Half is half cream and not semi skimmed milk (my husband only learned this after having it on his cereal at work for over a year)
    Don't park your car next to that vacant spot by a fire hydrant. It's vacant cause anyone who parks there will get their vehicle towed.
    Not sure any of my other tips would be unique to NY or not so will leave it there :)
    Have fun

  7. Re. credit history. That is a challenge. However, when I arrived (over 12 years ago now), I went to a local credit union, vs. big bank, and they were willing to give me a car loan and that helped begin to build my credit. Not sure if that has been everyone's experience, but it certainly worked for me to go local and small, as far as banking and finance was concerned.

    Best of luck with the move.


  8. I am not an expat but I have a good friend who is.... and moved to the US in 2008 from Britain.
    She had problems re the credit history stuff for sure as the others have said. She also found out that the Americans don't like the word toilet... restroom or bathroom, and I have been to the magnificent is fabulous. Good luck!! Enjoy

  9. Definitely true about credit history. Get a UK credit card with no commission charges (eg Post Office card) for when you first arrive, as you won't be able to apply for a US credit card for some time. And make sure you get social security cards as soon as you can, as you really can't do anything without them.
    Also check out the driving situation in Illinois. We could not buy a car or get insurance until we had obtained New York driving licences (which meant taking the test unfortunately). You cannot drive on a UK licence for longer than 3 months if you become resident.

  10. When we moved to La Jolla, hubby had a friend send newspapers ... made him happier than a pig in poop

  11. Hope you are having a nice time here in the UK and that you all are warm enough.

    I feel a bit expattish when I go back to America every summer but have been living here in the UK now for 21 years. Depending where you are in America, I would say lingo and customs can be very different.
    New England is pretty easy for the lingo but I find food expensive as everything is so BIG in portions. 2lb bags of crisps, gallons of milk, 1 and a half dozen of eggs, a quart of jam, and then there is the meat. It's all a finger long thick and you pay for it. I also agree with the organic and free range, which few Americans know about or care about. It is pricey if you can find it.
    Coffee on the other hand is cheap and cheerful and everywhere!

  12. Never ever overtake a school bus you have to stop behind it at all costs. Bring your own chocolate and tea bags & comfort items. Everything in USA is "lots of" 500 choices for a cheque design, sndwiches...the list goes on forever.even how you take your coffee. Bring as few furniture items as possible, food is more expensive, join a gym to meet people.Be orepared to hear "I just love your accent" 5 million times a day! Good luck!


The more the merrier....

Blog Archive