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Moving to London from America- What You’ll Miss

Do you dream of moving to London from America?

There are a few life conveniences that you need to know that doesn’t exist on this side of the pond. And they’re things that people living in the great all-American suburbs will really, really miss. Moving to London from America
Let’s get to the list, Sunny friends!

1. Super Stores

Think of how many times you rely on places like Target, The Home Depot, Best Buy, Office Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond. Stores like that pretty much don’t exist in London. Yes, there are department stores like John Lewis and Debenhams here. But, you aren’t going to find the vast selection of items at fairly reasonable prices like you can in America.Moving to London from AmericaMoving to London from America

The philosophy of “I’ll buy it when I get there’ might not work out the way you anticipate. With many items, it might be more feasible to ship them from the US to London. When you calculate the cost of a shipping container against what it will involve buying new items here, you may be surprised to learn that you’re better off with shipping. A few items I wish I had shipped but didn’t are: an iron, a Dustbuster, and a dish drain/drying rack. Of course, they have them here, but they’re either astronomically priced or the selection is extremely limited. With regard to electronics, you might not think it’s worth sending your American products due to the different electrical outlets in the UK. However, converters are fairly cheap and work really well.

2. Drive-thru Coffee Shops

Most Londoners are shocked when I explain that drive-thru Starbucks not only exist but also are in abundance in suburban America. Brits are pretty fascinated with this phenomenon. It’s a great conversation topic, if you’re ever stuck in awkward British silence.Moving to London from America

You might think if you’re living in Central London you have no need for a car, much less a drive-thru anything. Point taken. However, some people living in Greater London own and use a vehicle. Drive-thru coffee locations are few and far between.

3. Shopping in Malls

There are two malls in London like the ones we know in the US. You may recognise the company who owns them both, Westfield. They are on opposite ends of the city, East and West. They are Westfield Stratford City (East) and Westfield London (West). Moving to London from America

So, let’s be clear- London does have malls. You’re ability to get to them can be a challenge not worth taking.

In all the time that I’ve lived here, I have only been to each one once. As a North Londoner, the journeys are just too difficult for me. So, if you’re a girl who loves that weekly shopping trip with your friends to Sephora (Yeah, that’s not here either), Yankee Candle (Nope. In fact, I’ve written a separate post on that) and Ann Taylor (nada), forget it.

4. Television Shows

I still haven’t quite adjusted to British television, so I find myself watching the E! network here if I do turn on the ‘telly.’ Episodes of ‘Fashion Police’ and ‘E! News’ are always out of date in London. Obviously it’s due to the time change. It affects me the most when it’s the big broadcasts that are important to me.Moving to London from America

Do you have any idea what it’s like trying to watch the Super Bowl, Academy Awards or Grammy Awards at 1:00am? Neither do I. That’s because I’ve never been able to stay awake to see them. To be honest, I can’t even remember who played in the Super Bowl this year because no one here talked about it, much less watched it. And, as a Florida State University graduate, you guessed it… I’m sick about not seeing my team play football in the fall!

And, obviously, there’s no Today Show here. 🙁

5. Paper Towels

I bet you are laughing right now. But, it’s true. They’re tough to find in certain places. You can buy paper towels at the grocery store. No problem. But, you can kiss them goodbye in the loo. It’s really rare to find paper towels in a London restroom. Get used to jet drying your hands every where. Meet the Dyson Hand Dryer…Moving to London from America

If you’re in a girl in long distance relationship with a Brit, I have a tip for you. Back in the day when I was travelling to London to see Mr. Sunny before we got married, I took stacks of paper towels at JFK airport and put them in my carry-on when flying to London. After an exhausting 7+ hour flight, I always liked to brush my teeth, wash my face and re-apply some make up before Mr. Sunny met me at Arrivals. There are no paper towels in the airport bathrooms. A supply for yourself makes the whole freshening up process faster.

Oh, and once you move here, try to keep a stash of hand cream in your bag. During the winter, the extensive use of those hand dryers can be brutal on your hands.

So, there you have it! I’d love to hear from other US readers who either are moving to London from America, have done it, or are considering it. And, my international and British readers can certainly add some thoughts about their experiences too. Of course, if you shared this post on your social networks, I think we could help a ton of people considering the move as well.

Cheers, Sunny friends!

If you’re visiting London for the the first time (especially the NFL in London Games this Fall), check out my ‘Guide to London for Americans Visiting the First Time!’ Or you can subscribe to Sunny in London weekly emails. I’m happy to help Americans find their way here faster, so share this post or that one if you have friends travelling here soon.

You can read more about the expat experience on the blog. Be sure to see the review of an international shipping company, which includes a discount for you. Below are my 10 Tips for Applying for a UK Visa (based on my experience and an interview I did with an immigration attorney after the Brexit vote). Also you’ll find the differences between US and UK schools.

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    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Anna! Glad you found the ideas to be the same. I absolutely agree that spacious rooms is something I miss every day. Everything really is small here! How long have you lived in London?

    1. Hi Caroline! I frequently meet Londoners who would LOVE to move to NYC or somewhere else in the States. I wish there was some type of visa swap program for us all!

      1. Oooh…I like that idea! A visa swap to England. Of course, I wouldn’t come back. My suggestion: and shipping savvy friends and family. Problems solved!

  1. I hear ya, Gina! As I just commented above, a visa swap program would really be popular for many US citizens and Londoners. Maybe some day… 😉

  2. I really enjoyed reading this. There are many things that we don’t do on the scale of the states. We do have some big stores but they are not easily accessible and on mass like they are in the states. If your looking for all things home: bedding, curtains, blinds, rugs etc Dunelm Mills is the place to go. Home Bargins is another shop that is cheap for food, beauty staples.

    Yankee candles can be found in the strangest of places in the UK Clinton Cards and big department stores.

    I would love it if we had more drive through Starbucks the only one I know that exists of the A3.

    Lucy x

    1. Thanks for the tips, Lucy! I’ve seen Yankee Candle in small quantities here. However, in the States there are giant stores filled with rows and rows of candles. The array of scents is mind boggling!

  3. I can definitely relate to the super stores! Even from an Aussie perspective. I miss Target and K-Mart so much! I feel like there aren’t any of those types of stores here. Also, my work recently got rid of paper towels and put hand dryers in. Worst decision ever!

  4. Oh yes, and you must not forget that you will not get your bags packed for you at the grocery store!
    And I find that Starbucks taste different in London!
    I Hope you have a great week,

    1. Hi Tammy! Yes, I wrote about the grocery bags in a previous post. It’s certainly a learning curve. I haven’t been to Starbucks here because it’s an American chain, so I like to visit ones from Europe or local places.

  5. Interesting that there aren’t many shopping malls in London! I honestly didn’t even really notice the absence of any of these when I lived in the UK until you mentioned it. Gotta agree the sports thing: going an entire year without watching hockey is like a prison sentence for a Canadian!

    1. Ryan, I understand! I lived in Buffalo for several years and learned a lot about hockey. Any chance you’re a Tim Horton’s fan?? Miss that coffee!!

  6. I brought a large supply of ziplock bags in our move. (Of course the supply was large, I purchased them from Costco! Sweet, sweet Costco.) Alas, I’ve used them all up, and the sticky seal bags from the grocery store just don’t cut it.

    I did a double take on the bus when we passed a McD’s drive through out by Kew. What I wouldn’t give for a large iced tea…..

      1. Thank you for reading! That’s great to know. Again, compared to the US, that’s a huge difference. We have so many super stores available to us every where we turn!

  7. I think the only thing I’d miss from your list would be the paper towels. The rest I wouldn’t cry too much for …

  8. Speaking as an Aussie who has lived in the UK both in and outside of London, a lot of these problems you cite actually don’t exist outside the capital!

    – Most towns/cities have big out of town retail parks with superstores eg. Dunelm Mill / B&M Bargains / Homebase / B&Q / Currys etc.

    – Every other town / city also has large mall or two of its own. London’s quite unique in this way! Never as big as back in Aus or in the States though. I think Brits have a penchant for high street shopping.

    – Sport on TV isn’t a huge problem for me as I’m mostly a soccer fan anyway haha.

  9. its funny because my family live in San Diego, California, but I am English and based in London. I miss more when I come back from anextended stay in the US than when I go the other way, but I think if I was full time in CA I would miss the seasons from the UK. I love watching the leaves turn their beautiful colours when autumn comes, we take it for granted when moaning about the rain 🙂

    1. Rain? What Rain? 😉 Thanks for reading and commenting. California is certainly a gorgeous state and absolutely huge! Lake Tahoe seems to offer one of the most unique settings. Snow and Boating!

  10. I found a Yankee Candle outlet store on our way back from Dover a few months ago. It was still a bit expensive, but we found some nice things on clearance and nabbed them up! I do miss candles and room sprays during Fall and Christmas the most. I try to stalk up when we’re in the US because nothing here is even close to as good as Bath & Body Works!!!
    Are you familiar with USTVNOW: You can sign up for free and watch the basic US channels. It’s of course in real time. I loved it to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Otherwise I can’t say I use it much, but it’s nice to know it’s there.
    English country living and London city living is different too. We don’t have a drive through Starbucks, but there is a drive through McDonalds. 😉 We don’t even have a local Starbucks. It’s a 30 minute drive for us. We do have malls down this way too.
    Did you know there is quite an American football following here? They do show some of the games on the Sky sports channels. There has also been a professional game played once a year since 2007. I think this year is the first time there will be 3 games played here. If you’re really into it, you could get tickets! =)
    I do miss a lot of stuff from America, but I’ve learned to do without. Or just stock up when I get a chance to go home! =)

    1. Wow Tina! Thanks for all the info. I’ve seen Yankee Candles sold in very limited quantities here, but not the really good, fun scents like we have in the States. I’ll be sure to check out USTVNOW. I can’t deal with not seeing the Parade this year. It’ll be my first ‘Thanksgiving’ in London. Actually, last year the Steelers played football here, so I do know about the NFL games. My family is from Pittsburgh, so that’s my team! I don’t know what a game would be like here. Could be interesting. Hope I see you soon!

      1. Sunny in London — I live across the channel in the Netherlands right now, transplanted about 18 months ago from the US. This past season I just had to go to Wembley to see the NFL in London! Wow! What a GREAT experiance!!! So nice in fact…I already have tickets for one of the games next season…again, three games! I am not really a fan of any of the six teams playing in London next year, but I loved the “experiance” of the NFL in London that I just had to go back! One of the greatest memories was the playing of the national anthems…they started with the Star Spangled Banner…and there were a lot of Americans in the stadium so you could hear the typical murmurring along with the song. 🙂 But then…..God Save the Queen came on!!! WOW!!! You could not hear the on fiedll singer WHO HAD A MICROPHONE over the ROAR of the crowd singing along!! It gave me goosebumps and made ME proud just to be standing in the same place! Oh! And I will be eating at Byrons (no shcking up for THIS guy!!!)!!!! 🙂 We are going to argue…but Byron’s beats any other place – EVER! 🙂 I absolutley LOVE London and could see myself living there if it wasn’t so darned expensive…but now that I have stumbled across your blog….I may have to look for the right tips to make it happen 🙂

        1. Hello there! Thank you so much for reading. If I heard correctly, next year the Buffalo Bills are playing the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. That will be a tough day for me. I lived in Buffalo, New York for 10 years, and I am from Florida. Not sure whom to cheer for that day… I LOVE that you’re a Byron fan. I rarely pick one company over another entirely. The burgers at Byron were super fabulous, and I really like that they offer more of a restaurant experience. But, I have to stand tall with the New York burgers here and claim Shake Shack. 😉 Oh, and they’re a bit cheaper, which makes living in London a little bit more affordable. HAHA!

  11. I get what you mean…as a German expat living in the UK there are some things I really miss from my culture. They are small things I can live without, because UK and Germany and the EU…all feels the same to be honest so the things I miss from home, I can still find as an alternative version here in the UK. I can imagine it must be hard when you’ve moved from a completely different continent though.

    Anyway…you mention the Super Bowl….why should Europeans talk about a football/ American mass TV event? It’s not a common sport in Europe either. Same as when I assume Americans would be interested in the Eurovision Song Contest. I bet no one in America talks about that.

    Caz x

  12. Fun read! I’m originally from Germany but I’ve lived in Canada for 2,5 years and will be moving to London in a few weeks. I can totally relate to this. When l first came to Canada l was overwhelmed with the abundance of space, drive through ATMs (hello? Lazy much?) But now that lm so used to it l’m certain l’ll experience reverse cultural shock. Would love to chat and hear if you have any great tips for the move…

    1. Thank you! Best wishes for your upcoming move. Let me know when you arrive. If you need help with accomodation or other stuff, I have tons of resources. Also, if you go to the Advice section of the Menu I have loads of blogger and expat advice posts that may help you for your move too.

  13. I always put a travel-size pack of facial cleansing wipes in my travel bag when I flew to visit my Scottish boyfriend (now husband of 12 years), so I never noticed the lack of paper towels at Heathrow. As an artist, the thing I missed most was easy access to large-scale arts supply stores, but the lovely thing about Britain IS that the local shops are wonderful and the art shops will order anything they don’t have in-store. It’s sad to see places like ASDA and super-size Tesco come in on the outskirts and start affecting retail in city centres. They’re SO convenient, but we’ve seen several family-owned butcher shops, bakeries and other stores go out of business recently, and I think it’s changing what’s really fantastic about British towns. I kinda wish they’d take our generic-looking suburban strip malls (that make every city in the US look exactly the same) as a warning and stop that nonsense before it destroys their beautiful, thriving, busy city centers. We don’t live in the UK anymore, but visit there often, and love it there! Enjoy.

  14. Haha! I love your blog. It’s fab. I would say, having lived in UK for 6 years, I miss my dryer. Boo hoo. My flat is always filled with clothes hanging to dry, esp in the winter. Sigh. A small price I guess, for international experience. Though I sometimes feel I stepped back into collegiate life.

    Thanks for all the time you put into this site. Would love to meet you someday!


    1. Christine, thank you for reading. I’m just seeing my original response didn’t go throw. Yes, I completely degree it’s a reminder of college life with clothes hanging every where here!

  15. Not sure if it’s this way in Europe but what they won’t tell you is the REAL reason America’s malls are dying or dead is because the stores are all the same.

    I was lucky to grow up in just the tiny bit where malls were all unique even here in Salem Oregon Lancaster Mall and Salem Centre I mean Center mall all had way different stores and eateries and we would go to both.

    Now it’s all *trendy* stores for women into designer wares or hip hop gang style type clothes so we don’t go like we used to.

    Jc Penny was great for discount prices up to the early 00s and had decent quality as it was half Chinese made and half Taiwan which still made good quality.

    Now it’s all crap at high prices and made for teen age punks and young women who have money to burn (or parents with lots of money) and not care how they look.

  16. As for entertainment all we have in our malls are stupid mobile phone shops and they call it *entertainment*. In big cities there are literally no less then 5 such shops like Americans can’t get enough of staring at those tiny screens.

    I know Europe has mobile phones too but in videos me and my parents have seen you rarely ever see someone being glued to it and talking loudly into one.

    They just use them for quick calls when they need to which is the actual purpose of a smartphone. Weird huh.
    I’m sure smartphone addicted people exist in Europe but they just don’t loudly advertise themselves so are a bit of a challenge to find.

    I still use Windows 7 Pro and if I don’t go to dodgy sites doing weird file formats then I do just fine despite the Windows 10 nay sayers who think you can’t use 7 or shouldn’t. Windows 10 is too smartphone like including quietly herding the sheep tothe MS App store.

    If Windows 10.1 comes out I think MS App store will be the key component and you will probably only be able to get it that method and no way else trying to mimic the Apple store. They already tried their own I-Tunes called Zune and it failed after a while as it was a pain in the ass to use compared to I-Tunes but I-TUnes is insanely cost prohibitive as with anything Apple.

  17. When I was little entertainment in malls actually was that with book stores/game stores and independent gift stores. Each mall was different in what it had to offer.

    Is it that way in Europe where it’s all bland and *trendy* meaning only those with high end jobs can afford it and malls that can’t are ghettos overran by gangs/thugs or do they still cater to the general family over the pond?

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