Moving to Redding, I mean Reading.
July 30, 2012 1:37 AM   Subscribe

Moving to England. To Reading, to be exact. Need advice.

I will be starting a post graduate program at the University of Reading in October. I will be moving with my husband, who works from home, and my two children, aged 3.5 and 5.5
I have a Mexican passport, while my husband are children are Italian citizens.
The program lasts 12 months.

I have some questions:

a) I suppose I need a bank account. What bank should I prefer?
b) I will be transferring funds to said account from my trust fund in the US. Are there any fiscal implications to this? I'm thinking GBP20K
c) My eldest child will be starting school in a month precisely. He's never been to school, only preschool, so he can read slowly, write clumsily and slowly, and does no math yet. Should I enroll him in Reception class or in first grade?
d) We will try to rent a furnished house, but in case we find one that we really like and it's not furnished, recommendations for cheap European moving services?
e)any general advice you can think of re. moving to England is welcome.

posted by buck:fuller to Travel & Transportation around Reading, England (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
a: The high street banks are much the same, with the exception of Santander who seem to be pretty poor. First Direct are online and do not have branches but do well in customer satisfaction surveys. (FTR, I have no connection with them.)
posted by biffa at 2:07 AM on July 30, 2012

For c) you're probably best off discussing this with whatever school you enroll him in. For what it's worth, my parents moved to the UK when I was a year older, and I started straight into year 2 (rather than year 1 or reception) despite knowing very little English and having only gone to kindergarten in Denmark.

Don't think I have anything particularly useful to say on the rest, sorry.
posted by Dysk at 2:07 AM on July 30, 2012

(c) You probably won't get to choose. UK state schools typically assign children to classes based on age, although there can be flexibility in extreme cases. It's actually quite likely that you'll be offered a place for your younger child too (albeit just for a couple of mornings or afternoons per week). But I wouldn't worry too much. I have two children of 6 and 2.5 who both attend a local primary school, and they do an excellent job there of catering to different ability levels. 5 and a half is still very young, and many of the children in your son's class at that age will be slow readers too.
posted by pipeski at 2:09 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

a) HSBC has a reasonable reputation amongst foreigners in the UK I'm told. Be prepared for the need for a stack of documentation.

b) Not that I'm aware of, unless you have a weird tax status. You should talk to a suitable lawyer if you're concerned.

c) Probably first grade. For reference, my youngest child is the same age & is transferring to first year in September: he can read simple picture books and write slowly and carefully but does neither fluently.

d) The overwhelming majority of UK rental stock is furnished, mostly for legal reasons IIRC.

e) What do you want to know about?
posted by pharm at 2:11 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

a) I suppose I need a bank account. What bank should I prefer?

It's more like which you should avoid. Santander has terrible customer service. Natwest and RBS have recently had huge technical problems where people couldn't access their money, see their balance, or payments have been taken twice. Barclays are being investigated for fraud.

The Co-Operative Bank have OK customer service and good ethical investment policies although their highstreet branches are a bit thin on the ground. First Direct are reputed to have the best customer service, but they are online/phone only (no physical branches).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:21 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the banks, agreeing with most people. FirstDirect (I am a user but no other connection) are the best but, as others have said, it is all online/by phone. However, they are very good with that. As for the Co-op, they are not as ethical as they claim to be (though far more so than the major high street banks). They have just acquired a load of Lloyds branches, so will soon have far more physical branches.

I transferred a lot of money when moving from the US and had no problems with HMRC (=the British IRS).

As for moving, your US-based (I am assuming you are US-based) mover should make arrangements for a mover at this end. You don't say where you are moving from. I moved from the DC area and can recommend someone there.
posted by TheRaven at 2:39 AM on July 30, 2012

Best answer: a) There's an HSBC, Barclays and Lloyds in the town centre. There's also a Metro about to open, the first[?] outside London. I'd lean towards the HSBC, but it's worth Googling Metro, they're trying to do something new. There are ATMs on-campus. Tell the banks you're a student, see what they offer you.

c) Talk to the school. Do you know which one you're going to put him in, yet?

e) You're probably looking at about £1000/month with a two-month deposit, and lots of "fees" for sketchy things like credit checks and cleaning bills. The rental market is a racket. Talk to the university, they must be used to dealing with people in your position (eg no UK credit history). The University and the river are really pleasant environments, Caversham is "the posh bit", the town centre is small and there isn't much going on at night, a cheap-day train ticket to London will cost you <£20, if you're going to use the bus a lot the cheapest way is probably a 3-month ticket for £150, everything's going to cost a bit more than you think (including utilities), supermarkets deliver but I prefer the market in town (Weds-Sat) for fresh produce, your first night you're probably going to buy take-out, Khukuri are pretty good... what else do you want to know? Memail me and I might be able to answer specific questions about the town.
posted by Leon at 2:46 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an expat living in the UK and I can agree that Santander is frustrating as all hell.

I think it would be helpful to know where you're living right now. The US? Italy? If you're in the EU you can probably ignore this, but if you're in the US, you'll need to re-do your driver's test (written AND practical) if you're going to be here for more than 12 months and you plan to be driving. Insurance also works differently here as well. MeMail me for more details if you want, it's been interesting figuring all of this out.

I used Stevens Worldwide to move all my stuff from Boston to southwest England and I had no problems with them (they also had good rates compared to the other quotes I got). They arrange for local movers in the US and local movers in your new home to manage all your stuff, take care of customs, etc.

Again, this isn't really relevant if you're EU-based, but if you are from the US, and you're going to be spending a lot of time in not-London, beware the Chip and PIN card system. Debit and credit cards here have a chip on them that is associated with a PIN, rather than swiping and signing. The card readers are different. TECHNICALLY all shops should still take your normal US-style cards, but I've found that outside of London, a lot of retail workers simply don't know how to deal with them, ATMs won't take them (out of 4 US debit and credit cards, only one of my credit cards was accepted by an ATM), ticket machines in train stations won't take them, and it can be absolutely infuriating when you're trying to set up a new home and buy food and set up cell phones and you can't access any of your money. It will also take some time to get yourself set up with a bank. So my recommendation is to get a Travelex chip-and-PIN card preloaded with Sterling, just in case. (Note that I managed three trips here, including to the city I eventually moved to, without noticing this problem because I was always getting cash and doing basic shopping in London. Once I moved here and was trying to spend money here, I was screwed.)
posted by olinerd at 2:49 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

For general advice, a really good forum is UK Yankee, which while being specifically aimed at American expats is a good resource for anybody moving to the UK, from anywhere, especially if you have US-based finances.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:02 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: a) Reading HSBC has huge wait times; there's nothing really to choose between the banks on the high street, although I don't know what the new Metro will bring. There is a large Nationwide (a mutual, but a big and commercial one) in the centre of town near the train station, but I don't know if they're any better than any others. First Direct are meant to be excellent, but they do have a minimum balance or monthly input requirement.

b) You should probably get qualified advice about fund transfer and tax liabilities.

c) I don't have kids, but friends say there are some good and some bad schools for young kids in Reading. As I understand it, your choice of schools is related to where you live, and this might figure in your choice of neighbourhoods to try and move to. The school reports can be accessed here - try a search for 5 miles around the postcode location RG11AA and you'll get loads. BUT - you can't substitute for local knowledge on this: if you know anyone else in your department or group with kids, ask them (it's all my friends with kids seem to talk about!)

d) Furnished housing is pretty easy to come by, but even an unfurnished house will probably have washing machine, stove, light fittings. Concur with the above for £1000/month for a family home in a safe area right now, and also for the upfront fees. Assuming you're looking to get to the main university campus at Whiteknights, you might want to look at the neighbourhoods ("wards") of Katesgrove, Christchurch and Redlands (in ascending order of average price). Rightmove is probably your best bet. Reading is a very, very diverse place - not just people from all over the world, but it absolutely varies street by street; I can't honestly think of a more difficult place to rent a house remotely. There are some fantastic bargains to be had - getting into London in 35 minutes for less than £20 at the weekend; houses with river views - but whilst I have come to love the place in it's rather grubby way, there are local regions of quite serious poverty and with non-trivial rates of crime. If there's any way you can find university accommodation until your feet are on the ground and you can see properties in person I'd really strongly recommend it. A lot of universities do have such housing for students with families; not pretty but safe and reliable in the short term.

By the way, you and your whole family can (and probably should) register straight away on arrival at the university medical practice, who are a full mini medical centre and don't just deal with students.
posted by cromagnon at 3:33 AM on July 30, 2012

Be prepared for the need for a stack of documentation

As a foreigner who moved here to the UK I found that the hassle of opening a bank account to be somewhat overstated. You should be able to organise it through the student services department of the university. In my case, they arranged an appointment with the local bank (Lloyds TSB).

All you need is proof of identity, proof of address (a utility bill or two, maybe a council tax notice?) and proof of UK residency (Your passport and visa). I don't consider this to be any more onerous than setting up a bank account anywhere else in the world.

Of course you don't need to stick with whatever bank the University works with. Once you have one bank account somewhere, it is easy to switch to whatever bank you prefer.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 3:44 AM on July 30, 2012

Find out if your postgrad studies class you as a full time student. If so, you're eligible for a discount on your Council Tax.

Worth getting!
posted by Simon_ at 3:57 AM on July 30, 2012

Best answer: (c) I can only really talk about secondary schools but would assume its a similar situation with primary schools

Reading is actually served by 3 different local authorities. Reading, Wokingham and West Berks, Reading doesn't have a great reputation but schools in Wokingham and West Berks tend to have better ones.

Some schools will not allow you to keep your child back a year and would insist they're enrolled in the correct year. I don't think it would be a problem and many schools will be used to having children arriving with different educational backgrounds. But if he can read and write he's probably ahead of most children in year 1.

I lived in Reading for 8 years before leaving last year, taught in Reading for 4 years and did my PGCE at Reading uni so if I can help feel free to contact me!

Banks - I would recommend nationwide (building society - mutual)

Be careful with landlords. Document and photograph everything before you move in to give yourself the best chance of getting your deposit back!
posted by tanc at 4:11 AM on July 30, 2012

The university medical practice above also has an NHS dentist attached to it which you can register to straight away, although NHS services are free, NHS dentists do charge, from £16 for a standard check up at the dentist.

There is a good language club through for Spanish and Italian, I have attended the Italian meetup, generally they go to a pub and play board games, or do trips out.
posted by ellieBOA at 4:26 AM on July 30, 2012

Best answer: Just wanted to add to the chorus that you don't need to worry about your son starting in Year 1. I am a primary school teacher (Year 1) and many children in his class will be at his level. There'll be a range of ability in the class - he may well be a better reader than some children, and from my experience it sounds like he probably won't be the poorest . Re Maths - can he count? Does he understand the basic concepts of addition (children in reception often learn this as 'giving some more') and subtraction ('taking some away')? Can he recognise and name some basic 2D shapes? Even if not, please don't worry. He will catch up in no time.
posted by schmoo at 5:22 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, left someone off my Banks To Avoid list - HSBC have been laundering money for terrorists and drug barons (although that's more of a moral issue obviously).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:38 AM on July 30, 2012

The university medical practice above also has an NHS dentist attached to it which you can register to straight away, although NHS services are free, NHS dentists do charge, from £16 for a standard check up at the dentist.

Also it's free for kids.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:40 AM on July 30, 2012

If you are a full time student you should be eligible for a student bank account - all high street banks offer them and they come with various perks. These banks are normally quite happy to accept international students, too, so it should be easy to open an account although you will need your enrolment form. Check if your current bank is affiliated with any particular bank, too, to make transferring money easier and cheaper.

Talk to the school - they generally assign children based on age not skills and if your child struggles in an area they should give extra support in that area. And yes, your younger child will become old enough to start school shortly in the UK and will be offered a place for a few hrs a week initially going up to full time over the year.

It is exceptionally unlikely that it will ever make economic sense to ship your furniture on an international move if you have to pay for it yourself. For a transatlantic move even employers often opt to pay for storage in your home country and give you a relocation allowance to furnish a place in your host country because it is so expensive and most appliances won't work look for furnished. Most 'student' accommodation may not be suitable as a family home so you may have to cast a wider net.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:35 AM on July 30, 2012

If HSBC is on your 'banks to avoid' list, you'll also need to avoid First Direct, who are part of HSBC (which is unfortunate, because their customer service is outstanding).
posted by inire at 10:12 AM on July 30, 2012

Nothing very specific, but I moved from Canada to the UK 3 years ago and think it's the best decision I've ever made. I love it here; you will too! I'm a teacher in secondary and the primary schools are excellent with catering to a wide variety of abilities. You child will need to wear a uniform which tend to be available from several shops. The school year has several half-term holidays which is a great time for city breaks etc.
posted by CdnMathTeacher at 1:12 PM on July 30, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all for your answers.
We're moving from Italy, and I'll be in Reading next week to see houses hoping to find one that I can rent immediately. I used and have appointments with different dealers.
posted by buck:fuller at 2:18 PM on July 30, 2012

From Italy you may be able to ship at a push but it is unlikely to be significantly cheaper than buying stuff, if you use a moving company.

You could also have a look at some expat forums - I imagine there are some in both Italy and the UK - and see if anybody is moving stuff the other way and wants to take a load back on the way back. Or if there is a 'man with a van' who people have had positive experiences with.

That would be the cheapest option but chances are there is no insurance for damage to your possessions and you'd have to navigate customs yourself whereas an international moving company will sort that out for you.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:10 AM on July 31, 2012

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