It’s been six months since Andrew and I hopped across the pond to live in the UK. You could say I’ve had this six-month mark on my mental calendar since the day we arrived in London. I knew the first few months would be difficult. For starters, we had to find a place to live, open a bank account, and I had to get a job. Throughout this challenging “settling in” period, I encouraged myself by thinking about how good it would feel to have it all behind me in about six or seven months. Now I can finally say the struggle is *mostly* behind us! Boy, does it feel good.
Time definitely puts things in perspective. Looking back on this experience, I’ve realised how unrealistic my expectations were. I’ve had a lot of Tom from 500 Days of Summer moments–with Regina Spector playing in the background…
Except I wasn’t sad and alone – just stressed. (I should add that we also managed to have a lot of fun during the moving process, and we learned a ton.)
To celebrate overcoming the challenges of moving, I’ve decided to share my most memorable expectations vs. reality moments. (You might want to play some Regina Spector for this) 🙂
Expectation: If I research enough before we leave, I’ll be prepared for ANYTHING!
Reality: You really need to be in the UK, or hire someone who is in the UK, to accomplish anything. I was all over Right Move before we left the US, and I emailed several letting agencies to enquire about advertised properties. Most of them never responded, and one of the agents that did politely informed me no offers could be made without seeing the property in person. I also tried job hunting, but without a NI number or address, I didn’t stand a chance.
Some of the research I did beforehand was helpful though. Reading about other expat’s experiences encouraged me and helped me know what to expect. I’m sure some of my research helped lighten the workload upon arrival, but I didn’t have much to show for hours spent pouring over the internet.
Expectation: We’ll open a bank account and get a cell phone on day 1.
Reality: HA! To open any type of account, you need proof of permanent address that’s been snail-mailed (online bills/official documents don’t count!). After wondering around London visiting at least 4 different banks, we learned this the hard way. Without a bank account (and credit history) it’s really difficult to set up a phone plan. We ended up buying a cheap pay-as-you-go phone to get us through the first few weeks.
Expectation: 2 weeks is enough time to find a flat and move in.
Reality: This expectation was completely unrealistic. In the UK, advertised properties aren’t usually available to move into immediately. Many of the flats we viewed were 3+ weeks away from being move-in-ready, with the current tenants still living in them. We were used to renting from US apartment companies that have quick application processes, but it’s much different when you are dealing with private owners. The checks are more in-depth, and the fact that we were Americans made it even more time consuming.
That being said, we were extremely fortunate to able to move into our little cottage about 2 weeks after arriving in the UK. Andrew’s company agreed to pay for our hotel for the first 2 weeks, so I don’t know what we would have done if a place hadn’t opened up! I’ll forever be thanking God for providing the perfect home for us. Sure, it wasn’t what we were originally looking for. It’s outside of London, and more “vintage” than we were hoping for, but it’s turned out to be exactly what we needed. It’s located right off our town’s high street which means we are within easy walking distance of grocery stores, transportation, and shops.
Expectation: Furnishing our new home will be easy.
Reality: Like everything else, it’s easier said than done. Even though I had picked out a few essential items before we moved (Ikea to the rescue!), it took some time to understand what we needed and to prioritize accordingly. After our first big Ikea order was delivered, I quickly realised we should have purchased more storage items. I also made the mistake of picking out a cheap “hold us over” bedframe that was wayyy too short and uncomfortable.
Expectation: Living without a car will be difficult.
Reality: Actually, not really. Using public transport has its challenges, but so far I haven’t missed being able to drive myself everywhere. I like being able to read on the way to work, and I’m also more punctual now that I’m dependent on catching the bus.
Expectation: Our things will get to us in 2 months, so we won’t need to buy a whole lot.
Reality: I’ve already complained about how long it’s taken for our things to be shipped, so I won’t do that again here. But if I would have known how complicated international shipping companies can be, I would have gotten rid of a LOT more and shipped less to avoid the hassle. There are some things I really miss, but in the end it’s mostly stuff that can be replaced. It’s something I’ll keep in mind for future moves.