Living in London as an American: the honest reality (2024)

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After 10+ years of living in London as an American, there’s a lot I’ve learned about the experience in the UK as an American.

London, in particular, is an interesting place to live as an American because it’s such a big city with people from all over the world that you’re sort-of-an-outsider, but sort-of-not.

In fact, there’s a large community of Americans in London, so sometimes you can surround yourself with enough people that it feels like home.

And other times, living in London as an American is a painful and lonely experience, made worse by a city that can be hard to make friends in and doesn’t exactly have the best weather.

So without any embellishing, or exaggerating, or lying to you, here’s what I think you should know as an American that lives in London (if you’re not quite there yet, but what to know how to do it, check out my guide on how to move to London as an American).

Me in Greenwich, London
Girl Gone London the book

1. You won’t understand all of the language

British English is similar, in many ways to American English, except for all of the ways where it definitely isn’t, which includes words like “brolley” (umbrella), “pram” (stroller), “creche” (nursery), “bin” (garbage can) and so much more.

Plenty of phrases will throw you off, too, including “Bob’s your uncle!”, “sod it,” “on the lash” and, while you’ll eventually pick it up, it’s just a phase you go through where you’re mostly sure what people are saying, but sometimes have those confusing moments where you have to sit there and go, “huh?”

2. Pub culture differs to American bar culture

When you live in London as an American, you quickly learn that pub culture is unique to the UK and different than bar culture at home.

Pubs, while they serve alcohol and might be best known for this, are so much more than that. They often have a full sit-down menu for food, are gathering places no matter what you’re drinking, and are family-friendly.

Work colleagues might meet up at the pub for lunch (and having a drink at a work lunch is actually usually not frowned upon in the UK), and families with little kids will all meet at the pub for a meal.

It isn’t a bar (London has those too), and you should get to know your local pubs and spend time in them to appreciate this very British way of life.

Check out my guide to the best pubs in London.

3. British work life balance is better

It’s said that Americans live to work, and the Brits work to live.

Even in a city like London that’s fast-paced with lots of big companies, the work life balance in the UK is much better than in America.

For starters, there are actual government mandated days off per year that are “paid holiday” (5.6 weeks), whereas in the USA, there are 0 government mandated days off.

There is also typically much more flexibility when you’re sick (this does NOT come out of your vacation time) and for maternity leave, mothers can take up to 52 weeks off and still be secure in their job when they return, provided they have worked for their company long enough before leaving.

Enjoy the more balanced attitude to work in London.

That’s not to say people don’t work hard, but office culture also differs in how much emphasis is put on “tea breaks” and a bit of small talk before getting into meetings.

Don’t be the American that tries to bulldoze everyone with your relentless productivity.

Just enjoy.

4. There are lots of places to find fellow Americans

London is the best place in the UK to find fellow Americans. There are so many American meet-up groups to join, as well as things like baseball teams where you’ll find lots of Americans.

If you’re looking for general areas in London with lots of Americans, many American families live in St. John’s Wood and Maida Vale (there’s an American school nearby), and there are 2 hotspots for American students studying abroad: Kensington and Bloomsbury.

You’ll also meet other Americans in restaurants like Passayunk Avenue, an American dive bar with Philly cheesesteaks.

5. The darkness is worse than most places in America

Harry Potter tour London

While the weather in London is said to be similar to Seattle and Portland in terms of the rain and grey, the darkness can be worse. Because of the geographical location of London, being further north on the globe than most of the US (except Alaska), the daylight hours vary more significantly and this means that in the winter, it does tend to get dark much earlier than you’ll be used to.

You can combat this with a SAD lamp, getting outside as much as possible, and turning the darkness into a “cozy” atmosphere, with lots of blankets and candles and movies in your flat over the winter so it doesn’t feel so oppressive.

6. Brits are much more reserved than Americans

One thing you’ll instantly notice as an American living in London is that Brits tend to be much more reserved than Americans.

This has to do with outward displays of emotion (Americans wear their heart on their sleeve a lot more), but also to do with how long it takes to get to know someone.

They’ll often be more reserved in what they share with you as you get to know them, and that’s totally normal. Don’t expect people knocking on your door bringing you a bread basket because you just moved into the neighborhood (well, don’t expect that in any major city anyway!).

7. London transportation is better than anywhere in the US

The London tube and London buses are far superior than any other transportation in major US cities.

The maps are so easy to read, the service is quick and reliable (except on strike days, but that doesn’t happen that often), and you’ll feel totally safe taking them on your own at night which is such a change from big cities in the USA like NYC.

You’ll fall in love with how easy it is to get around in London, and if you visit the US or move back to the US, you’ll be longing for the cleanliness, safety, and ease of the Tube.

8. Some people have prejudices against Americans

As with anywhere, people have their own thoughts about Americans prejudices based on stereotypes.

You might encounter this in London – you also might not, but there’s a chance that you will so it’s good to be prepared to accept things in good humor and be able to either give it back as good as you get or laugh it off.

Some of the more negative stereotypes about Americans that I’ve encountered are that we are dumb, over-the-top, too enthusiastic, not worldly, not educated, and not health-minded.

I’ve never been exposed to people actively bullying me, but you make hear some comments so be prepared.

9. You might be asked to answer for all of America’s problems

People are curious, and with that comes curiosity about what’s going on in a country, particularly with a political landscape.

Because you’re American, you may suddenly feel like you’re being asked to answer for all of America’s “problems,” as seen by those outside of America, including stances on American healthcare, guns, politics, and more.

Engage in these conversations if you want, or give them a “hard pass” and redirect them, but just know that they may happen and you might be the first American someone has spoken to in person in awhile and they want to let you know everything they think after reading the news.

10. Tipping culture is much less expensive

Tipping culture in London is much different than in America. While it is generally accept nowadays that some restaurants will add a “service charge” to the bill, there’s no expectation to tip if they don’t.

Similarly, there is no expectation to tip at coffee shops, pubs, ice cream shops, etc – all places where, in the US, you’ll surely encounter a tipping culture.

Half the time the servers will actually just click “no” on the tipping option on the card machine before handing it to you, so enjoy saving yourself a bit of money and don’t feel the need to tip in the American sense.

11. London is safer than any American city I’ve been to

London bike tour

London feels so much safer than New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Orlando, Dallas, etc – the list goes on.

While there are petty crimes like phone theft and the occasional knife crime (that is almost always between people who already know each other), wandering around London feels idyllic compared to New York City.

The Tube, buses, and all forms of transportation feel safe, even late at night, and while you should always use your city street smarts still, be prepared to be able to breathe a bit and relax a little compared to what you might be used in the States.

12. Your accent will still stand out

While London is a cosmopolitan city with so many accents, your American accent will still stand out because it’s likely that most people you will encounter will still be British.

There’s nothing you can do about it, so don’t be ashamed about it and keep on talking like your normal self – don’t be that weird American that seems to think they need to actively change their accent to fit in.

You still won’t fit in, they’ll know anyway, and if there’s one thing you don’t want to do as an American in London, it’s losing your identity!

13. Seek out groups celebrating American holidays

Whether it’s Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, there are American holidays that the Brits don’t celebrate.

However, London is a great place to be on those days because there will be a small subset of Americans also celebrating – you just have to find them.

For Thanksgiving, a few restaurants do Thanksgiving menus for the Americans that you can book ahead of time, and you can often preorder Thanksgiving turkeys from somewhere like Whole Foods.

For Fourth of July, there is usually the Independence Day Picnic held by the American Democrats abroad, as well as some smaller events that vary based on the year.

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