Help us use our transatlantic move to save money on stuff!
July 28, 2011 11:20 PM   Subscribe

We're moving back to the UK (London) from the US (SoCal) in a few months. What would you stock up on if you were us? Much more detail about our tastes and situation inside...

My wife and I and our (fingers crossed!) by then six month old will be moving to the UK from the US early next year. I grew up there, this will be a first for her and (obviously) the baby.

We're talking a hard look at all our possessions and ditching anything we can, but we'll probably end up taking an edited selection of furniture, books, clothes, and other personal crap, and we'll have room to throw in some extras if they're non perishable and not huge.

A previous comment or link from this site about a woman who moved to Israel and stuffed every last corner of her container with disposable diapers and baby wipes because they're apparently so expensive there got me thinking - what should we be stocking up on, and conversely, what should we postpone buying until we're there, because we'll save money that way?

Things I'm especially interested in your ideas on:
- Semi-legal stuff - Not guns or California pot, but it's my understanding that drug-store teeth whitening strips aren't approved in the UK and can only be bought through a dentist, so I'll be bringing some! Likewise the B vitamins I take regularly. What else is like this?

- US made and unavailable/expensive to get? I'm slowly replacing our aging cookware with All-Clad when I can get it on sale, because while it's available in the UK and considered about the best there is, ebayers and discounters won't ship there or it's so heavy it costs a fortune, so it's hard to find it without paying full import + luxury markup prices.

- Too cheap to bother paying to ship? I'm seriously worried about our hot sauce options, and I don't want to go to an expensive and obscure store for something that's $3 in Ralph's. I'm not going to pay $12 to ship it either, I'd rather pick up a case before we go.

- Exchange rate makes it worth it/inexplicably more expensive? The exchange rate sucks for us right now, making buying just about anything cheaper here if shipping is out of the equation, although obviously we can't bring 10 years worth of groceries. What else is like the diapers to Israel example for the US to the UK? My mum claims lots of baby stuff is cheaper in the US, but as we don't have a kid yet I'm finding it all hard to figure out.

More random info: We're not rich but we're doing ok enough that we can pick up stuff like the All-Clad, we'll be moving from one urban apartment to another, we like to cook, I like to sew, I love furniture and design, we're a little bit into new tech stuff, neither of us does any kind of sports or likes them... Any ideas folks? I'm especially interested in suggestions from parents, as that's a huge range of stuff we haven't had to consider yet.

posted by crabintheocean to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
South asian and carribean hot sauce is easy to buy from indian supermarkets.
posted by singingfish at 11:29 PM on July 28, 2011

I think your list is a bit out of date - London is awash in hotsauce and vitamin supplements - your average Boots or Sainsbury's will cover your needs there. Not enough selection? Wholefoods or one of the 7,000,000 specialist ethnic markets will cover you on the hotsauce (whether it's Mexican, US barbeque, or any other kind) and health food stores will cover specialised vitamins. Unless you use special brands you know are US only, no need to pack that stuff.

I'd pack any US painkillers you use (such as Alleve or Advil), as well as (if this applies to you) any craft supplies. If you or your wife knit, spin, crochet or sew, there are many makers of yarn/patterns that are US specific and don't ship at all cheaply, though there are, of course, lovely UK equivalents. Still, might want to stock up on favorite US stuff if this applies to you.

I'd imagine sports and other hobby stuff is similar.
posted by Wylla at 11:33 PM on July 28, 2011

Melatonin isn't sold over here over the counter like it is in the US.
posted by koolkat at 11:38 PM on July 28, 2011

Response by poster: Unless you use special brands you know are US only, no need to pack that stuff.

Yes, this is the point, plus saving money and not having to traipse half way over London to a specialty store. I know there's great hot sauce in London, but I never saw Marie Sharps anywhere in Hackney. Maybe I'm weird, I have been having my family bring me multiple bottles of Pizza Express salad dressing for the past seven years.

Advil however is just Nurofen, actually I'm looking forward to being re-united with the excellent and codeine-licious Syndol. But my mum is having to get high dose B12 on prescription for £7 a bottle, when I can buy a huge quantity in Target for $2. Is she really just missing something?
posted by crabintheocean at 11:51 PM on July 28, 2011

I've had no issues buying B12 supplements at healthfood shops, though not for £2 - I haven't tried any of the big-box shops because I don't need them in massive bulk. If what your mum is taking is prescription meds, though, then the £7 NHS fee is presumably the way to go, as I'd assume that the prescription stuff differs in some way from over-the-counter stuff like Solgar (which is the most common brand I've found for the 1-a-day chewables. )

Marie Sharps is, indeed, available in the UK, though I can't speak for specific shops, as it's not the brand I cook with. Google turned it up in several of the mailorders, which suggests it's around and about.
posted by Wylla at 12:24 AM on July 29, 2011

Outdoor clothing? Raincoats, 3-in-1 jackets, any sort of winter gear - all might be cheaper in the States (like most clothing is). Even if you're not athletic, it's definitely worth considering having a look at at least outlet sites (and their clearance sections!). I'm a SoCal person living in Europe and I am very, very lucky to ever get even 25% off on quality outdoor clothing from brands with a good reputation.

A great winter jacket with all the latest technical bells and whistles, for example, might be $200 in the US but well over €200 here, which is a significant enough difference that if you're looking at replacing what you've got or just need new stuff, it's worth thinking about.

Also - used clothes for your baby might be a good idea too.
posted by mdonley at 12:57 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have All-Clad and are happy to ship it, I'd say yes, bring it. You won't find anything as good at a price you could afford over here.

Neosporin and A&D Ointment are items I always bring home from the States. I've yet to find a British equivalent for either of them. Likewise Melatonin, which isn't sold here.

If you have wide or half-sized feet, bring as many shoes as you'll need. Most British shoe shops don't sell wide fittings or half-sizes, and you'll end up with a limited choice of retailers, paying £100 for shoes that'd cost you $40 in the States.

We've had a couple of bad winters, and I'm forever grateful I bought a pair of Sorel snow boots in the States - they cost me $60 in a sale but are about £150 in the UK.

Branded jeans are ridiculously expensive in the UK - a pair of Levis 501s will set you back £95 ($155), compared with $64 in the States.

In the UK our sales tax (VAT) is included in the price, not added on at the checkout. It's not levied on all goods (children's clothes and food are VAT-exempt, for example) but the standard VAT rate is 20%, so you'll find most things more expensive than they are in the States because of that hidden extra 20%.

Also : Meetup!
posted by essexjan at 1:17 AM on July 29, 2011

Hi, Kentucky expat now permanently settled in Leeds checking in.

-Good-quality ziploc bags. You can get ziploc bags here, but they are thin and cheap. Almost all freezer and storage bags available either have tie-handles or terrible sticky closures. I never thought I would miss ziploc bags.

-Hidden Valley Ranch dressing. I was never a ranch-dressing obsessive but sometimes I crave it in the summer with fresh tomatoes and cucumber, so I get a few packets of the powdered mix when I'm back in the states. There are a few brands of bottled "ranch" dressing here but it is always too vinegary and tart- basically creamy Italian, not Ranch.

-not that you'll want to bring one with you, but I found that flat, triangular brooms (witch-style) are hard to find. Most people here use push brooms, which don't work in corners. Buy the first one you see, because it might be a while before you see another one.

-Dill pickles without sugar are nearly impossible to find. Look in the Polish section of the supermarket. They're still not what I crave, though - I like fresh, bright green, crunchy pickles (Vlasic!) so I've started making my own.

-Hot sauce brands that are easy to find over here at major grocery stores include Tabasco (all varietys), Cholula, Tapatio (sometimes), and Texas Pete. Beyond that, you'll need to go to a specialty store. I've also found some more esoteric varieties of American sauces at T. K. Maxx (the UK version of T. J. Maxx. No idea why they need to change that one letter).

-Best place for Mexican ingredients and fresh corn tortillas is the Cool Chile Company. They have a shop in London, a stall at the Borough Market in London and also do mail order across the country. Highly recommended.
posted by cilantro at 2:07 AM on July 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

But my mum is having to get high dose B12 on prescription for £7 a bottle
You don't need a prescription but depending on the size of the bottle, the prescription fee may be cheaper - I get 250x 1,000mcg doses for <>
Any pricey electronics - particularly computers, you pretty much change the $ for a £ price-wise so you'd be saving a lot of money if you upgrade any computers etc before you leave. Obviously you'll need adapters for them but you'd still be saving a bundle.
posted by missmagenta at 2:07 AM on July 29, 2011

I live in Brussels, so I don't know for sure if this advice applies to the UK, but in the US we were able to buy huge bottles of things like ibuprofen for almost nothing. In Belgium, you can usually only buy like 30 doses for like twice as much as the big bottle would have cost in the US. Same with things like Zyrtec, etc. So we are always bringing bottles of such things back with us when we visit the US.

It is true that baby stuff is enormously more expensive in Europe than the US. Prices for baby clothes aren't so different, but things like car seats and strollers can cost as much as three or four times as much.

Finally, Chuck Taylors often sell for €80 here in Belgium, when you can get them for $25 in the US.
posted by dseaton at 2:23 AM on July 29, 2011

Remember the Customs people will probably have a look at what your are bringing. They like to charge you for it. I have had to explain via letters with them that i should not be charged for backup harddrives that i had shipped. Your shipping list will be of interest to them, so watch for this cost as well.
posted by stuartmm at 2:29 AM on July 29, 2011

Response by poster: Stuartmm - if you are moving your "normal home" to the UK, you can bring personal possesions free of tax or duty.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:42 AM on July 29, 2011

Good luck with the move; we just did NYC to London earlier this year.

If you wear Levis, definitely get them in the US, as was said earlier.

I found Sriracha at a specialty spice store, but it's not as common here as NYC. Also, the salsa is terrible. More like tomato marmalade or chutney than actual salsa.

If you're a musician, Fender, Gibson, and even Squier guitars are way more expensive here. ditto on US-made effects pedals, etc.

Kids' clothes: we found that the Circo brand stuff fits our son really well, so we've stocked up whenever we've gone back to the US. Ditto to the brand of sippy cup from Target that we like, and isn't available here. Diapers are around £5-6 a package for name brand, less for the store version.

I brought backup hard drives, making sure to find ones that had switchable power supplies. I wish I'd brought US female to UK male adapters as well.
posted by dubold at 2:54 AM on July 29, 2011

Do bring your high quality cotton sheets if you have them, have found getting decent high thread count linens here very expensive (though I'm not in London so you might find good quality at better cost there)

Also seconding the half size/wide shoes. Being a UK 3 1/2 has been a nightmare, not just in terms of fashion, but even in getting a pair of sensible shoes. I know I'm petitel but I would have thought moving from a small population (NZ 4 million) to a high poplution market would have made this easier not harder.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 3:16 AM on July 29, 2011

A high-quality shower bar and some shower curtains. My boyfriend is working in London for the year (from Chicago), and this has been his number one* gripe. The showers over there are really stupid. (Don't mean to offend anyone's true, dudes.) I just don't get the half-door thing--I mean, do you like stepping out into (or cleaning up) a massive puddle every time you use the thing? No? Then bring a shower curtain.

While it's not totally impossible to find one (the only place we found any was Argos, after a decent amount of searching), it's shit quality.

*Number two is the inability to buy anything in bulk, particularly hand soap. It's so wasteful to have to buy a new 8 oz pump bottle every few weeks. Also, yes, the ziplock bags definitely suck over there.
posted by phunniemee at 3:43 AM on July 29, 2011

I mean, do you like stepping out into (or cleaning up) a massive puddle every time you use the thing?

if you're making a huge puddle, you're doing it wrong.
posted by missmagenta at 3:45 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

...I'd also add though that shower curtains are plentiful over here and far more common than the half door thing
posted by missmagenta at 3:46 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pepto-Bismol. Chewable tablets. Or the CVS generic. I don't think that stuff has made it to Europe for some reason.
posted by Busoni at 4:10 AM on July 29, 2011

Phunniemee, I buy huge bottles of value liquid soap at Tesco's and refill all the hand soap dispensers with it. It lasts over 3 months and costs something ridiculous like 18p.

I'm an expat from the US living in a small town in Scotland so the list of things I can't get will be much, much longer than what you can't find in London. But I get friends to bring me Glad Press and Seal, Chipotle Tabasco, and Crystal Light.

Clothes and shoes are much more expensive in the UK so stock up in the sales before you leave. Also depending on whether you want a UK warranty or not, you'll want to buy your electronics like a laptop, camera, kindle etc in the US before you leave, too. If they break you're kinda stuffed, though.
posted by hazyjane at 4:14 AM on July 29, 2011

I just returned from London and I found that everything in the "drug store" area was very expensive. Even hairbrushes and the like. I have a new friend visiting from there and she is gobbling up ready to wear clothing.
posted by JXBeach at 4:51 AM on July 29, 2011

I grew up in the Midwest and now live in a small village outside London. I found Sriracha sauce at Tesco. If you are into sweets, finding Reese's pieces or Reese's peanut butter cups is nearly impossible. You should also check out the website Uk-Yankee. Good luck with the move!
posted by xyla2000 at 5:08 AM on July 29, 2011

expat of 8 years based in London. here's what i still bring back when visiting the US:

Cold and Flu medicine - i generally find the OTC stuff in the UK total rubbish and completely ineffectual. i also stock up on my specific hair dye colour, and my preferred deodorant.

Melatonin and stevia - not approved for sale here

as mentioned above: hard-to-fit clothing items (for me, this is bras, shoes, and jeans)

also seconding sheets/duvet covers - all cotton linens are pretty inexpensive at Target, etc, but very dear over here.

I also bring back Downy Wrinkle Releaser and Gonzo stain remover.

(i also LOVE sugared cereals like Lucky Charms, so tend to bring back a box or two. would love to bring back dill pickles, but the potential for breakage/spillage is too great)

pretty much everything else i no longer bother with, or can now find here easily enough these days.
posted by wayward vagabond at 5:21 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

oh yeah: things which are grape, cinnamon, or peanut butter flavoured are very hard to find here, so if you love them, bring them!
posted by wayward vagabond at 5:22 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

FWIW I lived in the UK for 10 years and now live in Ireland. I visit my family in the US annually. The only thing I have ever brought back is clothing (see: Levis), 3 Alarm Chili Mix, Sudafed, cookware and sheets and towels.

Desetin is the default nappy rash cream. Ziplocks are available but are sold as freezer bags.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:51 AM on July 29, 2011

See that most of my must-haves are already covered (US-quality Ziploc freezer bags, megabottles of painkillers and vitamins, chewy Pepto-Bismol, Crest teeth-whitening strips, Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix, bbq sauces, dill pickles, cinnamon-and-grape-flavored things like Big Red chewing gum or Welch's grape jelly).

Chlorosceptic (or generic equivalent) mouthwash. Nothing like it over here for aft/mouthsore pain.

Mitchum's scentless deodorant. Get the men's version; the formula is identical to the womens' version but cheaper. Only Syneo works as well, but it's very expensive.

I live in the Netherlands, and recently the EU approved stevia and melatonin for retail sale. I can now get both.

But if there is any state-of-the-US-art cosmetic or skincare product that you use, stock up. Formulas for same-name products are often different in Europe due to EU regulations re ingredients and/or testing delays for new products. Cases in point: some of Maybelline's US versions of mascara contain ingredients banned in the EU, and SkinMedica's TNS Recovery products are still being tested but also debated because of semi-controversial ingredients. (Works the other way round for the US when EU-developed products are concerned, of course.)
posted by likeso at 6:09 AM on July 29, 2011

*and some products are completely unavailable due to testing delays

posted by likeso at 6:34 AM on July 29, 2011

The only thing that ever drove me nuts in Europe/UK was the lack of and crazy prices for maple syrup. (the real stuff, not the vile flavoured HFCS shit.)
posted by elizardbits at 8:14 AM on July 29, 2011

Most of this stuff has been said, previously.

Lucky Charms (and other sugary cereals) are massively expensive in the UK, as are Oreo's (my brother in law took back several packages when he came to visit from the UK a few years ago). If you're really into Mexican food, it might be useful to take dried chilies or other dry spices, as they are less common in the UK (but even then, you can get them at specialty stores...for a price). I could be totally making this up, but I had a hard time finding Trident gum over there (people in the UK currently, correct me if I'm wrong here) and that's the only brand I like. Also, instant sauce packets (particularly if they're more American sauces, like alfredo) are a good investment.

Obviously iPods/computers/technology stuff is more expensive if it's US based (like Apple products). Stock up, and bring extra connectors (like battery chargers for laptops, iPods, etc.). Basically, if you use it often and it's from the US, bring a spare.

We have the opposite problem right now - we search for Salad Cream, Marmite, Jelly Babies, Bisto, pickles, Jaffa Cakes (seriously, those are like crack - enjoy them over there!!!), HobNobs, Branston's Pickle (disgusting...). Those are the things my British ex-pat husband misses.

It's funny that all the things Americans miss in the UK are toiletries, painkillers, and processed food. :-) That said, when we move over there in a few years, I'm going to appreciate this list...
posted by guster4lovers at 11:27 AM on July 29, 2011

If there's a Costco near you and you're eligible to join, you can find lots of American stuff in there - the Costco own-brand Kirkdale products, such as big containers of maple syrup, extra-strong trash bags, good, cheap coffee, things like that. In the UK you have to be working in an eligible category in order to join - such as police, fire service, banking, teaching, legal, medical/dental or running your own business.
posted by essexjan at 5:26 PM on July 29, 2011

I'm pretty sure anyone can join Costco here, it's just that if you're in those work categories you can get special trade membership which gives you extra privileges. I get the impression the membership cost is only worth it if you shop there a lot though.
I get non-brand painkillers - paracetamol and ibuprofen - really cheaply all the time in Britain. My local Netto does packets for about 29p. I've definitely seen Pepto-Bismol in the chemist, though no idea about price.
Definitely stock up on sweets and sugary cereals if you've got any favourites, as most US brands only exist here as overpriced imports. Also, I'm sorry to tell you that Pop Tarts only come in chocolate or strawberry flavours here.
If you want to check prices for things like baby wipes, you could try checking Tesco's website to get an indication (they let you browse the online shopping bit without having to register).
posted by pocketfluff at 8:09 PM on July 30, 2011

No, pocketfluff, to be allowed to join Costco you have to work in one of the approved categories and provide evidence of it. I work in financial services and am also a lawyer, so I'm entitled to an Individual membership. Only self-employed business people can have Trade membership. I've seen people come in and try to join and been turned away because they're not in the required categories.
posted by essexjan at 11:37 AM on July 31, 2011

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