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A Complete Guide to Living in England as an American

American Living in England

There’s no shortage of Hollywood films to romanticize an American’s life in England. English living boasts a charm that’s second to none. Whether your aim is to explore cobblestone roads littered with double-decker buses, neighborhood pubs pouring pints of rich ale, learning the collection of regional accents, or stumbling upon medieval relics from centuries of monarchs, there are plenty of reasons to want to make the move across the pond. 

british phone booth and big ben

England is as rich in history as it is in culture, and along with the benefit of speaking the English language, it’s a prime destination for relocation. A recent study in 2021 found that there are approximately 6 million people with non-British nationality living in the UK. And of that migrant population, around 35% live in the capital city of London.

England’s close proximity to continental Europe also makes it an excellent jumping off point to explore a multitude of countries by train or a short flight. If you’ve got England on your mind keep reading to learn about the best places to live in England, health insurance, cost of living, how to get a visa to move there—spoiler alert, it’s not easy—and more!

How long can you stay in England without a visa

Let’s start off with some terminology first. England is just one country that makes up the entirety of the United Kingdom. And while it is 40 times smaller than the US, there is still a vast amount to explore. The United Kingdom (UK) or Britain comprises England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Great Britain refers to the island where England, Wales, and Scotland are located. On a separate island is Northern Ireland and it shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland.

If you are looking to go to England for an extended amount of time it’s important to understand your options, especially since the British border patrol tends to be stricter and more regulated than most of Europe. As a U.S. citizen you are automatically granted a tourist visa where you can enjoy a vacation (or as they call it, a holiday) for up to 6 months—unlike Europe where U.S. citizens are limited to a 90-day stay within a 180-day period.

On this tourist visit, you cannot do any paid or unpaid work (this includes working remotely), claim public funds, marry or register a civil partnership, or attempt to live in the UK through subsequent and frequent visits. It is highly likely that you may be asked by border control to show bank statements to prove you can financially support yourself for the duration of your stay, planned accommodations, and an outbound flight, especially if you’re sticking around for a few months. Coming on a tourist visa is a great way to get a feel for England before committing to a life-changing move. 

How hard is it for an American to move to England

If you don’t have a luxury L.A. mansion to swap with Kate Winslet or a long lost father with English lordship, finding a way to move to England won’t be so easy. Not only is qualifying for a visa difficult, tough immigration laws mean the visa process can be both expensive and meticulous—with reasons for refusal down to small errors in paperwork. Unless you’re going through an organization, school or business to coordinate your visa process for you, consulting a UK immigration lawyer is highly recommended. 

On a positive note, recent developments with Brexit have created a skilled worker shortage in the UK that has inspired lawmakers to expand opportunities for work visas. If there were ever a moment to take your chance on finding employment in England, this may be it. However, the UK still remains the toughest country to crack for US citizens in search of visas, so if you need a more viable option do pick up a copy of  I’m Outta Here! An American’s Ultimate Visa Guide to Living in Europe to explore the 17 easiest countries to move to in Europe based on 50+ viable visa options.

How can an American move to England

Outside of the tourist visa, if your hope is to move to England temporarily, or simply want to get your foot in the door of the UK job market, there are many student and business visitor visas that will allow you to temporarily move to the UK for up to 6 months. The Standard Visitor Visa ​​emcompasses all of these types of visas. This visa allows you to conduct permitted business activities in the UK and doing activities in the UK as a part of an overseas job role. This is a great option if you’re able to do an internship or have a temporary relocation with work. 

Unless you have a partner with UK citizenship to facilitate an application for a Spouse/Partner Visa, you will need to explore the Skilled Worker Visa (previously known as Tier 2). This visa will allow you to live and work in the UK for several years, with the opportunity to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (i.e. settlement status) after 5 years.

To apply for this visa, you will need to have a UK based company offer you sponsorship. While the process for businesses to acquire a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) has become easier and more affordable in recent years, it may still be challenging to find a company willing to do a CoS for a US citizen. On a Skilled Worker Visa your permission to live and work in the UK will be dependent on maintaining your role with this employer for the duration of your visa. 

If you are already a prominent business owner or expert in your field, there are also opportunities for permanent residency through the Self-Sponsorship Visa and Global Talent Visa.

All of the aforementioned visa applications are submitted online, incur fees ranging from £500-£2,000 and have requirements as to whether or not you may apply from within the UK or from the US. It’s highly recommended that you hire a immigration lawyer to help you with your visa application process if you do not have a company’s support, as the paperwork can be quite tedious and applications are frequently rejected over small details. 

Jobs for Americans in England

England is home to many world-class industries including finance, agriculture, energy, manufacturing, media and hospitality. Americans building a career in England will have access to a wealth of international experience and opportunities to work alongside some of the most globally recognized businesses and leaders. 

bank of london

There are over 8,000 jobs that are eligible for the Skilled Worker Visa, ranging across a vast variety of industries. It is likely that you will be able to find a role similar to what you do in the US, and have the added benefit of continuing to work with English as your primary language.

This list of jobs as well as the
list of companies with a Certificate of Sponsorship is public to view online. When searching for a job in England, you will simply need to apply the same logic as to job-hunting in the US: consider what roles would suit you best, what roles you would be happy to commit to for several years and what roles you will be considered a viable candidate to apply for.

Cost of living in England

The United Kingdom is the fourth most expensive country in the UK, with the British Pound (GBP) currently being worth 1.2x more than the US dollar. So it’s important to be prepared as an American moving to England, in the beginning your US savings might not get you as far as you hoped. The monthly estimated cost for a family of four in the UK is around £4k, while an individual can get by on a monthly income of £2k.

Similar to the US, if you want to live in a bigger city, you may consider having roommates to reduce costs, or perhaps living in more suburban or rural areas with more affordable costs of living. In most places within England having a car is not necessary, so there’s more savings to be had by using public transport or cycling to where you need to go.

Can Americans get health insurance in England

As an expat living in the UK, you are automatically covered by the tax-funded National Health Services (NHS). Once you land in England, you will find your local general practitioner (GP) and receive a National Health Service Number. Most of the standard services that you will receive will either be free or significantly cheaper than in the US.

For specialist medical care such as dentistry and dermatologists, you will have the option to visit an NHS-funded practice or a private practice, depending on the level of care and cost you’re willing to pay for the visit. Some employers may also include extra medical services in their benefits package. It is worth mentioning that the British don’t necessarily buy into the annual checkup routine, so it’s worth getting your annual checkup and visiting your specialists in the US ahead of the move. 

Best places to live in England

The first decision you may want to make when choosing a destination within England is whether you’re drawn to a bustling big city or rural life. Considering England itself is a small country, both options lend themselves to ample travel and adventure, as well as access to most modern necessities and pleasures. 

London

They say “a man who is tired of London is tired of life.” Heralding as one of the greatest metropolises of the world, London (or as they call it, the Big Smoke) is truly a dream destination for expats. Its many boroughs are filled with communities from all over the world, and there is an endless amount to discover within this city. The city is also home to numerous world-class universities, restaurants and bars, museums, art galleries, music venues and theaters. A life in London will make you feel at times as if you’re at the center of the world.

aerial view of london

Brighton

Just south of London is the quaint but lively seaside city of Brighton. Known for its inclusive and progressive culture, Brighton is a quintessential English city with a buzzing culture and welcoming community. It’s an incredibly popular destination for expats looking to make a home by the beach but with close proximity to the Big Smoke.

Bristol

If you’re looking for a city with a vibrant creative atmosphere, Bristol may be the place for you. This city is home to many amazing universities with a stunning surrounding landscape. If you’re looking to work in the creative or IT industries, Bristol may be a fantastic place to call home.

Cornwall & Devon

In the southwest part of England lies a landscape that is second to none. Famously home to pirates and surfers alike, both Devon and Cornwall are famous holiday destinations and known for their incredible scenery.

Manchester

Set in northwest of England, Manchester is frequently considered one of the most livable cities in England. As a major metropolis with a rich heritage, Manchester is the home to many world-class industries while maintaining an affordable cost of living. American moving to England may also find the northerners to be a bit friendlier than their southern counterparts, making it easier to build a community. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, it’s the birthplace of some of Britain’s most iconic bands including The Smiths, Joy Division and Oasis.

Living in London as an American

I have lived and worked in London for the better part of five years now as an American and am proud to call it home. My journey over here began during my senior year of college, when I studied abroad in London for one semester on a student visa. It was during that semester that I met and began dating a British guy on Tinder. While the romance only lasted for the duration of my stay, we kept in touch and maintained a close friendship.

Flash forward to four years after that, my British ex-boyfriend suggested I come to visit London as a tourist while I was in between jobs in the US. It was during that time that I was casually introduced to my current London-based employers. They had just begun to build their start-up brewery and I had a digital marketing skillset that they were in need of. At the time, I had no intention of staying in London long-term but over the course of a few weeks getting to know them and their business, they offered me a full-time job and we began the Certificate of Sponsorship process. 

As I was only a UK tourist at the time, I had to return to the US to begin the visa application. It took several months for my employers to complete their CoS application and be approved before I could submit my half of the paperwork. We had hired an immigration lawyer to guide us through the entire process, and after 6-months of waiting stateside, my visa was approved. I am now 3 years into my Tier 2 Visa (now known as Skilled Worker Visa) and will be looking to renew it with my employers at the end of this year. If all goes to plan, I will be able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain in 2 years time and establish permanent settlement in the UK and be able to live and work freely in the UK without a company sponsorship.

American moving to England

England is certainly not the easiest country for Americans to move to, but it is far from impossible. Knowing the ins and outs of the visa options, being diligent with your paperwork and being prepared for a competitive job hunt are essential to the process. But as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. 

 

Living in England allows you to live and work comfortably in a familiar English-speaking culture while being able to easily skip over to Europe. Along with that, England’s many lively cities host some of the best career opportunities and cultural experiences in the world. And when you need an escape, the English countryside with its rolling green hills and breathtaking beach fronts provide a glorious respite. If you are willing to take on the challenge of applying for a British visa and making England your home, you can look forward to being on the path to citizenship.

If you’re interested in other international destinations to move to check out our guides to living in SpainPortugalFranceItaly, the NetherlandsGermanyIreland, Iceland, Mexico, and Colombia.

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2 thoughts on “A Complete Guide to Living in England as an American”

  1. The United Kingdom is one of the top destinations for American expats. Americans hoping to move to the UK will need to obtain a visa. The most common type of visas are the UK work visa and family visas. If neither applies in your case, moving to UK from US can be difficult.

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