New York-Londonfilter: (how) do we decide to move to London?
August 23, 2019 9:42 AM   Subscribe

My husband has dual UK-US citizenship and is in a career that keeps him pretty exclusively in New York. I am a US citizen. We love New York but also would like to live somewhere else, at some point, for some length of time. This was a hypothetical until a possible, rare, internal transfer opportunity with a short deadline to decide recently presented itself that would mean him doing the same work, but in London. I don't know how to make this decision! Have you done something similar? Can you help me figure it out or at least understand the logistics? More details inside.

I love London, have a lot of friends and colleagues there, and we normally visit 1-2 times per year anyway. We don't have kids. I have lived in Europe, but not the UK, previously for a few years for work. In the last 5 years I've made 1 transcontinental and 2 transatlantic moves (work/academia) and have just started feeling settled properly in New York in the last 6 months.

A lot of my ????? is logistical, which I have just started looking into.

Work: It looks like I can get some kind of UK family visa, but what would it take for me to be able to work? I mostly do freelance consulting (mostly around food) and writing, so I'm not looking for a job-job, but can I be self-employed on a family visa? Do I need an innovator visa? I have a PhD and am a publicly visible expert in my field, does that count for anything? If you've moved to the UK as the non-citizen spouse of a citizen, what was it like? could you work? did you go crazy?

Also, housing. London looks, possibly, not as bad in terms of quality and price, as the NYC market? Am I right in this assessment? We live in a $2K, 1 BR apartment in Brooklyn. With the pay difference we could probably afford £1600 or so. It looks doable, but based on your experience, is it actually?

Healthcare. Right now I have a great therapist. What is it like finding a therapist in London, is it covered by the NHS, and how much does it cost if it isn't? I...maybe (?) want kids, but the cost of support and childcare here is a not-insignificant factor in the ambivalence. Are these things more affordable, in your experience, in the UK than in New York?

Brexit. Is it an insanity to even consider this? I know no one knows what's going to happen, but is it going to get worse (pound crashing compared to dollar, food prices soaring, the restaurant industry shuttering) in a way that would be especially bad in our situation?

On a macro level, its about deciding to definitely stay here for ~5 years and not have another opportunity to live anywhere else vs probably go there, and for 3-5 years. We have about a week before he needs to apply if he's going to do it, and even then it's not guaranteed he'll get the job. I've never had to make an opportunity-based decision on this kind of timeline with these stakes before. Basically, it could be super exciting, but as people that usually go into these things with a lot of planning and data and a long lead time, I'm at a bit of a loss.
posted by socktastic to Work & Money (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
> We have about a week before he needs to apply if he's going to do it, and even then it's not guaranteed he'll get the job.

Apply! Don't ever close the door to a new experience until you absolutely have to. If you don't apply now, you definitely can't go, but if you do apply now, you leave that possibility open. :)
posted by mccxxiii at 10:22 AM on August 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

You can work freely on a spouse visa, as any one of several thousand local immigration consultants will readily tell you. (See for example and

I'd go for it, as you don't seem to be risking much, considering that you're both clearly highly qualified and wealthy enough to insulate yourselves from any shocks.

Therapy is covered by the NHS as well:

posted by StrikeTheViol at 11:18 AM on August 23, 2019

Housing: your impression is correct. You're not going to save a ton of money compared to Brooklyn, but you don't need to budget for significantly more. One thing to note: good food is very significantly cheaper in the UK. I think you'll probably come out ahead in terms of cost of living.

Healthcare: giving birth is, on average, safer and much cheaper in the UK. Once they're out they're also cheaper! The details depend on location, but public early childcare is usually available at low or no cost.

Brexit: this wouldn't change my decision, but the pound is a definite downside. Tax advantaged retirement savings options for normal people are much, much better in the UK (ISA >>>>>> 401k), but that's of limited use to you if you plan to leave. Fund your US IRAs and accept that you're going to have a slow couple of years of retirement savings. (And don't forget you generally have to file a US tax return while overseas.)
posted by caek at 11:26 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Parental leave is MUCH more generous in the UK (likely 37 weeks of paid leave, shared between the parents). Also, the dollar is likely to remain strong (in relation to the pound) with Brexit, however it turns out- if you can earn some of your freelance income in US dollars, your money will go quite far.
posted by cushie at 11:38 AM on August 23, 2019

You might find the talk forums at UK Yankee helpful in terms of reading some stories from people who’ve made similar moves. They talk about the bad and the good!
posted by atlantica at 11:43 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

You should go. London is an amazing city and it's so easy to travel in Europe. You can fly all over Europe and north Africa very reasonably and it's a super opportunity to visit many cultures, not just England.

Maybe just negotiate what currency you'll be paid in as a hedge against brexit but honestly I'd go anyway.
posted by fshgrl at 12:06 PM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

For the therapy question, the NHS does cover therapy, but it might not be the style, therapist or duration you would choose. There are also long waiting lists in some parts of the country. Most people I know who want therapy over the longer term go private. The only person I have personally known in long term NHS-funded therapy had serious mental health conditions (childhood abuse, eating disorder, GAD and PTSD) and even then she only had one session a month available to her.

Someone who sought NHS therapy recently was offered 4 sessions of CBT over the phone after a wait of 12 weeks. If they wanted more they would need to go back to the back of the waiting list.
posted by kadia_a at 12:25 PM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

For the therapy question, the NHS does cover therapy, but it might not be the style, therapist or duration you would choose. There are also long waiting lists in some parts of the country. Most people I know who want therapy over the longer term go private.

Yeah, just wanted to echo this -- I applied to the NHS to see a therapist, and was told there was a 26-week wait, and I could pick from, like, a Wednesday morning or Thursday afternoon. (This is the structure of an old Soviet joke, so it kind of stuck with me...) I found a private therapist and paid about £35/visit, with no waiting period.
This was in about 2013, but I cannot imagine that it's gotten any easier over the years.
posted by kalimac at 1:04 PM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Therapy definitely just pay out of pocket for, unless you also need a psychiatrist, in which case you should seek further advice about likely costs and how to minimise any waiting lists.

You'd be able to rent a 1-bed flat in Hackney, or Clapham or similar for £1600pcm both are similar in different ways to what I have heard about Brooklyn. Rightmove will give you a good sense of what you can get for your money, although there may be better places to find a flat.

If you search for Operation Yellowhammer which was leaked to the press, you can see what at one point the government considered to be a reasonable worst case scenario for Brexit.

Pregnancy and childbirth is going to be much cheaper in the UK than in the US. The NHS is excellent for emergency and urgent care, particularly in London where there are a number of world-class hospitals. Less fantastic for chronic conditions or anything for which one could be put on a waiting list, although you can always supplement with private health insurance or cash.

The only other thing I'd say is that despite the UK and US both being English speaking countries they are not as similar as people might think, and it can catch you out. It's about expectations more than major differences.

It's worth applying and making a final decision later when you've thought about it more.
posted by plonkee at 1:46 PM on August 23, 2019

The details depend on location, but public early childcare is usually available at low or no cost

This is very much not true to my knowledge. When I looked into it recently in a non-London UK city, full time nursery places were around £700 a month, imagine they’d be significantly more in London. Aged 3 or 4 you get a set number of hours free, from certain approved providers (so some people end up with children shuttling between their free nursery and the paid for one where they spend the rest of the time).

But yeah, childbirth is free (well... paid for by your taxes!). Therapy, as others have said, is available on the NHS but variable and often limited. Private therapy maybe £50/hour but readily available.
posted by penguin pie at 1:56 PM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think the best advice is that New York and London, while ostensibly similar (amazing world cities) are actually very, very different. This isn't bad, but Americans I know who moved to the UK from places like New York can be unhappy because they expect things to be the same, but making friends, working life, grocery shopping, healthcare, paying taxes, everything, is actually pretty different. This is less obvious as a tourist.

As for your questions! I have given birth in America and in the UK, and they were different but both positive experiences. The NHS experience was just fine -- many fewer appointments, they are more reluctant about pain relief, and everything is less cushy after birth (you are on a ward, so no private room), but they also send you home sooner and you get lovely midwives who come visit you AT HOME.

On balance, I probably preferred my US experience, because I liked having a consistent doctor (you see midwives on the NHS if you are low risk (not a bad thing) but different ones every time) and I liked my own room where my husband could also stay comfortably (and I had great insurance so I didn't pay for it), but it wouldn't keep me in the US. There is something called NCT in the UK which helps you make friends really quickly -- it is really wonderful.

I would estimate the chances of getting 1:1 therapy on the NHS as zero, unless you have very serious mental health condition. You will have to pay (or perhaps you will have private insurance?) I've had great experiences and bad experiences on the NHS -- it really just depends what you need from it. It is wonderfully accessible but grossly underfunded (in my opinion.) As an immigrant, you do have to pay a fee for the NHS (but not directly -- I think it's billed alongside your visa fees, but don't quote me on that.)

Childcare is definitely not free in London, but I do think it is cheaper than NYC -- and it becomes MUCH cheaper when kid turns three. I find parenting more laid back in London than in NYC, which is a huge plus for me.

Neighborhood matters a lot more in London than in NYC -- so research this closely, and live near your friends! Rents on rightmove are negotiable, largely (though few negotiate, it seems.) I don't think rent will be so different from Brookyln, depending on the neighborhood.

I love and have lived in both cities (I am in the US now) and would totally move if you had the chance, just to have a chance to try something new. But definitely come into it with the view of that it really is a very new experience and that things will be much more radically different than you might expect, even if you think you know London well.
posted by heavenknows at 3:05 PM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Just wanted to jump in on the childcare points too.

Parental leave is indeed generous compared to the US. You can take 52 weeks maternity leave, 39 of them paid (if eligible, meaning you’ve worked for the same employer for around 1 year before the birth). The statutory minimum pay is 6 weeks are st 90% of your salary and the rest at about £150/week. Some companies may offer more than this So not particularly well paid but again generous compared to the USA.

Nursery (what we call daycare) is expensive as pointed out. I’m going to be paying £1400/month in Hackney (London) and that is a lower-than-average cost nursery. Really nice nurseries are around £2000/month. Also, most are not geared up to take children until the age of 6 months or more due to the vast majority of parents using at least that much maternity leave.

I pay £1625/month for a 2 bedroom flat in Hackney. The 2nd bedroom is miniscule though. But we live near a large park in a nice area, but not particularly near lots of transport.

Read up on the UK-Yankee Visa and Citizenship forums about your path to come here. You don’t need a service or a lawyer to apply and those forums will give you all the information you need to navigate the process correctly. The visa itself will be expensive (thousands) and you may need to repeat the process and costs to renew in a few years it depending on what the current rules are (you used to be able to go straight to permanent residency as a long-term spouse but I think that pathway is no longer available). There are lots of rules around how much money the UK spouse needs to be earning. I don’t want to say any more because I’m not well-versed in that area anymore.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 3:12 PM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

My husband and I moved from Seattle to London almost exactly one year ago.

It's wonderful here, I have really enjoyed the move. The ability to cheaply travel around Europe is amazing. London is a crazy fun city to live in.

I do agree, after 1 year, that the cultural differences take quite a while to make themselves known. It is not obvious as a tourist the ways in which daily life is different, but I found getting to know how to live like a Londoner after living in many other big US cities is a fun challenge. Sometimes I feel homesick and like a fish out of water, but the personal growth and the adventure make it all worth it. I am forever changed by this experience and in a very, very good way.

Also, I think that since your husband is British, depending on how familiar with the UK he is, you are a little ahead of the game in this way.

Re: Work: I can't say much about the visa situation, as both my husband and I are US citizens, but I can say that I see a lot more freelance and part time work here than I have seen in the US, lots of professional part timers and consultants and contractors work with companies, I am guessing because the NHS gives people the ability to be flexible if they want it.

Re: Housing: we live in Clapham and it is significantly less expensive than Brooklyn but it feels a lot like Brooklyn. I mean, practically it feels nothing like Brooklyn, but it feels like the Brooklyn of London. Like if Brooklyn was full of English people.

Re: Healthcare: I pay out of pocket for therapy, there is talk therapy available on the NHS, though, but it is a long wait. The NHS is fabulous but there is quite a long wait at times for anything outside of regular doctor's visits or emergency care. But really, the NHS is so impressive and I feel much safer knowing that it's here. I would say, the healthcare system took the most getting used to. They have different instruments, different manners, different priorities, it's all just very different. You get great care, but it is a little jarring at first to get your first smear test. And because you don't pay for anything, they look at you really funny if you ask for something that's not in their plan. For example, I asked the nurse for a flu shot while I was there for something else (jab, here in the UK) and they said, sorry, you're not in the risk group. And I said, well, can I just pay for it? And she looked like I'd grown a horn. "Sure you can pay for it. At the chemist..." she said. I realize that was super weird because they just... don't take money in that scenario. It was like asking to buy a pen at the DMV. How would they sell it to you??

Re: Brexit - who the hell knows? Literally nobody. The timing could be odd for you if you make the move now, and Brexit happens now. I'm not worried about it for myself or my husband personally. I'm worried about it geopolitically and for the long term health of the UK, but that worry exists no matter where I live, really. The things that could impact you would be the length of time it takes to get your visa cleared, I have a feeling if Brexit happens the entire system will be clogged with people trying to sort out their residency and work permits -- and customs, if you are shipping your furniture and things, it may take extra, extra long. Off the top of my head those are the most likely to impact you if Brexit actually happens.

A few other things to consider: The flight back to the US is long, but it's must less painful to the east coast. The time difference to call home is very bad, it's not so bad with the east coast (5 hours) but if you have friends and family on the west coast it is genuinely tricky to stay in touch.

As a US citizen you will still have to file taxes at home, and it's slightly complicated and annoying, but it's not the end of the world.

Renting here is not NYC crazy expensive but the property managers here are HORRIBLE. HORRIBLE. It is agitating to deal with them.

Getting used to doing business over the phone with thick English accents can be a little intimidating at first. In person you can make things out from context and facial expressions, but on the phone you will have to ask people to repeat themselves many times and you will feel super awkward.

At first you may be shocked at how easy it is to get along with everybody. Then after time, you will start to notice passive aggressive behavior of some Brits and once you sense it, it can really leave you reeling sometimes. At first you will likely be impervious to it, because it is so nuanced you won't even pick up on it, but the longer you stay, when you realize how angry someone is because now you can read the signals, it can be really breathtaking at first.

You will miss coffee and bagels, but you will learn a love for tea and biscuits like you did not know was possible.
posted by pazazygeek at 3:25 PM on August 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

£1400/month for full time daycare (as mentioned above) is certainly expensive (obscene even!) in an absolute sense, but the question is about how things compare to New York. That's roughly the same as in New York.

For public (i.e. free) childcare, the details vary significantly by borough/city, and New York's public pre-K option is a moving target right now (so might look quite different by the time e.g. the OP has kids). But it's true to say that public options for the equivalent of pre-K (or earlier) are more widespread in the UK than in New York, although they are not always full time.

You may find this question useful for translating from Brooklyn neighborhoods to rough London equivalents. But because London is much less compact than New York City, you should look for where your friends live, rather than what feels most like your favourite Brooklyn neighborhood.
posted by caek at 3:42 PM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Re: I want to echo what everyone else has said. Long waiting periods, but happy it's there. Long waiting lists for therapists.

I've heard some people in London are unable to get GP appointments and opt for private ones instead. They can be more affordable there, but in my area they range from £100 - £150 for a private GP appointment. If your Mister has private insurance, that will cover a lot and get you in faster.

PM me if you have any non-London specific queries, I've been here for 10+ years, but I've never lived in London and haven't spent a lot of time in New York.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 4:43 AM on August 24, 2019

Hello, dual US/UK citizen here. Currently celebrating my ten year London-versary; lived in NY for ~8 years before that.

Work: Based on friends’ experiences I suspect you can work on the spousal visa. Sounds like it won’t be a problem for you but be aware there is a minimum income requirement.

Housing: Yep, you are correct, and that figure sounds doable. As mentioned above London is loads bigger spatial/transport wise than NYC so if you want to see existing friends regularly try to pick something close to them or on the same tube or train line.

Healthcare: N’thing above, NHS therapists are hard to come by but it’s pretty easy to find a private therapist. I see a counsellor at ~£50 per session and found them through BCAP.

I have a 8 month old baby. We used St Thomas’ Hospital and received wonderful care. Otherwise you visit midwives a few times. Overall it’s pretty hands off but if you have any sort of problem or worry they will help you AND ITS ALL FREE!!! And the parental leave is sooooo much better than the US.

Childcare, on the other hand, is very expensive. Once they are three years old you can get some government support but until then ~£1000-1200 is not unusual.

Brexit: Honest to god nobody knows what’s going to happen- including the UK government. It’s a scary mess. Operation Yellowhammer linked above will give you an overview of what a possible no-deal Brexit would look like. Right now this is what we’re headed for. Current mood in London is somewhere between 🤷‍♀️ and 😱.
posted by Concordia at 10:07 AM on August 25, 2019

We moved to London in 2006 as a married US-citizen couple. We naturalised when we realised our child was eligible after spending squillions on immigration lawyers and juggling visas and ILR and all that rot. We giggled when our parents said they had a few thousand saved up to pay for the birth costs and we said "uh, we paid like £2.30 in bus fare, you mean?"

But we did it in another age. London was the place of the 2012 olympics, still slightly buzzing from a campy era of "Cool Britannia" and the worst scandal we had was that an MP expensed maintenance of a moat (oh yeah, and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq which, uh...)

But London right now is bracing for impact. Brexit has been a haymaker punch ready to land hard on this country. We're already back into hostilities on the Irish border, with at least one confirmed bomb explosion. Other parts of the country are still cheering the process on, but London is readying for collapse. Yellowhammer is explicitly a document outlining the best case in a "no-deal" Brexit. We are un-ironically stockpiling food, medicines, and toilet paper like some revolting right-wing "preppers" just because we know what will happen when the import chain seizes up for even a few days.

Being paid in dollars is helpful right now, but it's exhausting playing the currency arbitrage games based on terrifying headlines. And we don't know how much longer the NHS can keep running on fumes with all the skilled foreign staff either being deported or swanning off in a "Screw you: I can get a better job on the continent!" exit of their own.

I don't know what London will be like in November. I march and I argue online and I try to provide for my family, but we could just be the next Brazilian rain forest for all I know. I'm not leaving, but this is an unusual time to try to move here!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:10 PM on August 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

I presume the OP is now following this thread
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:21 AM on August 29, 2019

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