12 Essential Websites for British Expats in America

Whether you’re packing for your first trip or planning to make the big move, living in America is going to be a challenge – as well as lots of fun. I still haven’t gotten over the fact that America is big – really, really, big – and while some laws apply everywhere, some vary from state to state.

Visas/Passports
Site: London Embassy

Even with “the special relationship” between the U.S. and U.K., overstaying your welcome could have serious consequences. If you are looking to stay any longer than the 90-day tourism/non-immigrant visa, make sure your paperwork is in order. Also, even if you decide to apply for full citizenship – which gives you the right to vote, get a U.S. passport, and be picked for jury duty – you’ll still need to renew your UK passport. Make sure you apply well in advance of expiration.

See also: The U.S. State Department’s site on immigrants to the U.S. and How to renew your U.K. passport while in the U.S.

Age Limits
Site: Age of Consent

Depending on where you are, there could be different ages for when it’s legal to have sex, smoke or drive. The age for drinking is 21 – quite a shock when you started going into pubs at 16 – but it varies by State for buying alcohol in shops. It’s 18 for buying cigarettes (except in Alabama, Alaska and Utah, where it’s 19), and as for driving, that’s mainly 16 – but can be 14½ to 17…

See also: Minimum ages for unsupervised driving

DMV – Department of Motor Vehicles
Site: DMV List

If you’re here on anything other than a temporary visa, it’s a good idea to apply for a State Identification Card. Bars have a legal requirement to ask for ID no matter how old you are, and you’ll need it for hiring a car, in the bank and at other times too. The DMV is the only place that issues them, so remember to bring a book for the long wait.

Amtrak/Greyhound
Sites: Amtrak and Greyhound

Getting around is something you need to know from day one, and most major cities have bus, train and even underground systems (though that doesn’t mean it will be easy to understand; you’ve seen the confused tourists on the tube in London, right?). Further afield, Amtrak is the train service that criss-crosses the country (look under the “Deals” tab) and Greyhound buses do the same thing, but slower.

Take To The Skies
Site: Expedia

The easiest way to get across the U.S.A. is by air, and you’re spoiled for choice at all levels. The biggest airline is Southwest (covers 42 states) and the hippest low-cost is JetBlue. It’s a good idea to sign up for any and all Air Miles schemes, and plenty of deals can be found online.

See also: CheapFlights

Behind The Wheel
Site: CarMax

Hire cars aside, you can’t drive a car without a valid license here. UK licenses and “International Driving Licenses” might not cut the mustard, and speeding tickets, driving without insurance or drunken driving can be a very costly mistake. If you’re planning to stay, take the driving test. America worships its four wheels, so you’ll have no problem finding new or used ones wherever you are; the biggest national dealer is CarMax.

Somewhere To Lay My Hat
Site: Craigslist

Quite simply, Craigslist is a website that covers countess cities and States and is also an amazingly easy-to-use resource where you can buy a car, a sofa, a job, or potentially find a new friend/partner/pet.

Sporting Chance
Site: ESPN

Until you find a British/Irish pub in your area, the longing to watch the lads playing is going to be hard to satisfy. UK “soccer” can often be found in pubs and bars, but rugby and cricket? Almost never. “Sports” is an obsession here (even in small towns, colleges and universities), so try and learn a little about baseball, “football” and basketball so you can hold your own at the barbeque. Sports Illustrated’s website does the same – but features swimsuit girls.

Television and Radio
Site: TVGuide.com

TV Guide is the magazine/website catch-all for all channels and regions, and the domestic equivalents to BBC here is NPR (radio) and PBS (television).

The Inevitable Taxes
Site: IRS

The idea of Social Security and “the nanny state” is a very hot topic in America, and new residents will have to apply for a Social Security number, which arrives on a small card. Guard it with your life, because you can’t do anything without those magic digits (get a job, open a bank account and so on). Forget the dole, though, and it’s best to assume that unless you’re made redundant (some benefits for a while) you’re on your own until you reach retirement. Of course you’ll pay Social Security in your taxes, a yearly trial that has to be undertaken and assessed by the IRS – people who you simply cannot mess with.

Finding Fellow Brits
Site: MeetUp.com

Meeting up with your fellow expats should be easy in the big cities – just Google “Brits in (city name)” and you should be up and running – but there’s also MeetUp.com, Britsin.LA and bigapplebrits.com for the East and West Coast big cities.

What websites have you found invaluable now you’ve come over the pond?

James Bartlett

James Bartlett

James Bartlett writes about travel, film and the weird and wonderful side of living in L.A. He has been published in over 90 magazines and newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, Los Angeles Magazine, Angeleno, Hemispheres, Delta Sky, Westways, Variety and Bizarre. He is also a contributor to BBC radio and RTE in Ireland, and is the author of Gourmet Ghosts - Los Angeles, a "history and mystery" guide to bars and restaurants in L.A. - details can be found at www.gourmetghosts.com.

See more posts by James Bartlett
  • jonathanwthomas

    And Anglotopia.net if you want to keep in touch with back home!

  • Hannah

    Kayak.com is my preferred cheap plane tickets site!

  • Andy
    • Gillian Bell

      The pork pies are great!

  • Traci

    I agree with Joanthan – Anglotopia.net keeps me going!

  • Alan

    also for car rental advice and rates we use U.S. specialist http://www.usrentacar.co.uk

  • Sue

    Great article but you missed us out ;)
    http://www.britishexpats.com

  • david leonard

    http://www.movetoamerica.us is a good site to help you sort out your move and also assist you in adjusting to life in the US

  • Bron

    Nice article but definitely needs a section on where to buy British Food. Eg britsuperstore.com if I recall it’s URL correctly.

  • Joyce Pigge

    I am not a Brit, but, taught in UK for a semester—-another food option is World Market! I routinely get my Digestives “fix” at World Market!!

    • gocanux

      They carry decent tea too, brands and varieties you surely won’t find in US supermarkets. No Jammie Dodgers though, but you might find a fez….

      • James

        The World Market in El Paso, TX carries Jammie Dodgers.

  • gocanux

    American-British and British-American Dictionary online:
    http://www.travelfurther.net/dictionaries/
    Because we definitely don’t speak the same language!

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  • Derek

    Thanks for adding Big Apple Brits to the list for the east coasts top British Expat group …

    The Big Apple Brits Team!

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  • PJay

    Where were you (this blog) 12 years ago…….. :(
    Could have soooooo done with MOST of this info all those years ago! Great idea though ….. :)

  • Lyndall

    Myers of Keswick in NYC and online. Fabulous home made Cumberland sausages, chipolatas as well as the various grocery items and pies.

  • Darcy

    Scratch Greyhounds– way too expensive. Check out Chinatown buses instead. It’s dirt cheap and therefore, often full to the brim. So if you go this route, make sure to get to the bus stop an hour ahead of time… but it gets your from one city to another quickly and for next to nothing

  • JANE

    Simple advice:

    1.Contact an estate agent before you come, they are called “realtors” in the US or look on Craigslist for rentals.

    2.If you can work, find out if your spouse can work immediately or what the wait time is. I had clients when I was working in real estate, the husband had a job with a corporation but the wife was a solicitor. She couldn’t work and had to take the bar exam and courses in the State she was working in. He started staying out late, she became a frustrated housewife and now they are now divorced. Bottom Line: Be prepared and do your homework thoroughly. visit http://www.uscis.gov

    3. Find out what social groups are available not just expats groups. The best site is http://www.meetup.com

    4. 1st stop, get a social security card, take your driving test (most states within require this with’in 30 days) and buy or lease two cars, one for each if you’re a couple.

    5. Don’t sell your house at home until you’ve lived in the US for a year and you know you’re staying. Rent out your house if you need the money and simply rent here.

    6. If you have kids, contact the local school district to see if
    a) They have places for each of your children (some schools are impacted, in other words full so kids may need to go outside the immediate area). Carpooling is common and organised so your kids can share a ride which will free up some time for you.

    b) Many schools have fantastic extra-curricular activities, everything from sports to languages, the arts, debate, spelling bee. You can contact the school’s website to find out all about extra-curricular activities.

    7. Shop around for health insurance, car insurance and look for the small print, and read it again, and then again. Don’t buy insurance online, use a local broker. They do the work for you at no extra cost.

    8. The quicker you and your kids integrate the better, joining even one group in meetup or one activity for each of your kids will make all the difference in the world. Eating meals together as a family when you first move is imperative, sounds corny but I’ve seen many familities split because they’re too busy.

    9. Healthfood isn’t necessarily healthy food. Read the label and avoid high fructose corn syrup or you’ll be obese in seconds.

    10. Americans are usually very welcoming and friendly and want to tell you their live story immediately. This is normal, just chill, relax, don’t be closed and be prepared to divulge a little, it’s normal.

    11. Decide when you’re next going home for a visit and book the tickets, Vigin-style of course :-)

    12. There are plenty of British food shops around and on the internet if you’re missing your baked beans or good chocolate. The Bay Area has loads and even good supermarkets carry McVities, Cadburys, Cornflakes, Weetabix and so forth.

    13. Find a good comedy club and go out on a date night. San Francisco has Cobbs which is the best and New York has some fabulous underground comedy clubs and well as the touristy ones.

    14. Just because everybody else does, don’t start working 8am to 7pm or you’ll fall into the trap. Being well organized at work and with the home timetable makes for a smooth transition (sign up to Franklin Covey if you really have to). I’ve known people who fall into the corporate slavery trap and work 70 hours a week and others who work 40 for the same company and achieve the same results. Set your tone from the beginning

    15.VACATION: OOOHHH and don’t forget to negotiate a generous vacation package. It’s usual to start with 2 weeks a year here. I’ve worked in HR management, you can negotiate anything within reason, I would push for 4 weeks initially even if 2 are not paid. And that does not include mandatory holidays (usually 9-12 days a year). I got 6 weeks agreed :-) REMEMBER, if it ain’t in writing it ain’t there. Don’t expect any company to honor an agreement if it’s not in writing. Staff change and so do HR directors. This is important!

    16. If your furniture won’t arrive for 6 weeks due to being stuck in customs, rent from CORTS or elsewhere.

    17. Most landlords won’t accept your UK credit history so it’s true, sometimes you have to start from scratch but bring a copy along anyway and references bank, building society, new employer offer letter, reference from previous landlord or employer, all this helps. Even a bank statement showing large balance….cross out the account numbers and all personally identifiable info.

    If you follow all this and contact the meetup groups in advance, it will feel like home in no time, well sort of.

    Been here 16 years!

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  • Roy Evans

    The supermarket Stop and shop does carry a small selection of british foods in New York.

  • dw

    “Also, even if you decide to apply for full citizenship – which gives you the right to vote, get a U.S. passport, and be picked for jury duty – you’ll still need to renew your UK passport.”

    If you become a U.S. citizen, you will be required to renounce your U.K. citizenship, under oath, as part of the naturalization ceremony.

    It’s true that the U.K. government won’t recognize your renunciation as valid, and the U.S. government is unlikely to come after you if you continue to use your U.K. passport, but I think there’s something unseemly about taking an oath and then breaking it to blatantly.

    • Graham WG

      Becoming US Citizen is not a good idea as they tax you for ever on all income, but you can still vote in UK for 15 years; and if you apply for Global Entry you can travel from USA using UK passport, and come back in to USA with Green Card very easily indeed-Washington DC airport was a breeze compared with Heathrow this month. And how wants to repeat jury service anywhere?

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