10 Practical Items Every UK Expat Needs in America

Adapting to the States: no need to toss your old electronics.

Want to make the transition from U.K. resident to U.S. dweller a little easier? Buy everything on our handy list.

A travel guide
You may not be in the U.S. on holiday but some of your expat needs are the same as a tourist’s. I guarantee you’ll want to eat, drink and amuse yourself senseless after days spent flat hunting or queuing at the DMV. An up-to-date guide with restaurant, bar and entertainment recommendations will be invaluable.

A U.S. cell phone
Making local calls from your British mobile is not a wallet-friendly way to communicate, so get yourself a US cell. Unfortunately, contracts are expensive — two to three times the cost of one back home.

A Skype account
You’ll quickly discover that calling the U.K. from your cell — British or American — is financially foolish. Get Skype or Google Voice to avoid phone bills that make you want to take a mallet to your mobile. And don’t think you can avoid charges by having your friends and family ring you: over here, providers also deduct minutes from your plan when you receive calls.

Climate-appropriate clothing
Unless you’re moving to a year-round temperate spot like L.A., prepare for extreme weather. Buying a winter coat somewhere like New York is a serious business and best done before the cold hits. But be warned: serious jackets aren’t cheap, pretty or vegetarian. You’ll look like the Michelin Man and ooze goose feathers but it’ll be worth it.

Choosing over-the-counter drugs back home is easy, even if you’re hallucinating with the flu. You know what’s what just by glancing at the packaging. Here, not so easy. Set aside an hour, when you’re in good health, to familiarize yourself with U.S. brands and put together a medical starter kit. Alternatively, enjoy explaining to your new doctor why you took laxatives for a sore throat.

A good pair of walking shoes
If you’re moving to a city where people use their feet more than their cars, your trotters may suffer. Everything from finding a place to live to exploring parks and getting lost on your way to dinner will savage your soles. Very soon, your blisters will have blisters. Being appropriately shod can make all the difference.

At least five adapters
One or two will not do. Believe me, you’ll arrive in the U.S. brandishing enough British electronics to open your own branch of Dixons. Moving to a country with incompatible plug sockets shouldn’t mean having to throw everything away and start again. But you will need to buy an American hairdryer. Your British model won’t work properly because of the difference in voltage.

Measuring cups
Europeans are considered highly eccentric for measuring our recipe ingredients by weight. Here, pounds and ounces (though, strangely, not stone) are reserved for bodies. Ingredients are measured in cups, and not just any old cup. You’re looking for a set of standardized measuring cups, available in most supermarkets and 99 Cents stores.

A television
TV sets aren’t expensive and having one is useful if you’re trying to learn a new culture and make friends at the water-cooler. A warning, though: cable companies tend to have area monopolies. The lack of competition means providers are free to levy extortionate fees so you could find yourself paying up to three times what you did back home.

An air conditioner
Moved to a region where the summers are scorching? If your apartment doesn’t have built-in air-con, you’ll need to buy your own. Alas, good units cost big bucks and weigh more than you do. Once acquired, you simply dangle the larger part out of an open window and squish it in place by closing the window. In reality, this process takes at least three hours and is roughly as fun as undergoing bowel surgery. (Please note: you can use screws to secure your A/C to the window frame, but your landlord might take issue with you boring holes in his property.)

Think we missed something? Tell us your best relocation purchase.

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.

See more posts by Ruth Margolis
  • Teri

    Helpful article, but the plural of TV does not have an apostrophe in there, as it is neither a possessive pronoun or a shortened form of “TV is”.

  • dw

    In many places, you will really really need a car.

  • gillian

    Yes. I was going to suggest car. And US license, too, depending on the state and how long you’re in the US.

    Also a Forex/money transfer account set up before you leave the UK.

    • dw

      You may have to retake your driving test to get a US licence: the exact details of the test vary by state ,but it will probably be far easier than the one you took in the UK.

      • Mark Smith

        The VA one was a total joke, thankfully :-)

  • neil

    I’s strongly suggest getting a VPN service so you can watch REAL BBC (iPlayer) and not have to bother with BBC America. BananaVPN works great.

    • Julia

      Spending money to watch iPlayer is crazy. I watch everything on Tube Plus.

      • Mark Smith

        Expat Shield works lovely, and doesn’t cost a penny

  • Liz

    Believe it or not but an electric kettle used to be hard to find. Indeed a good one is still not easy so if you see one don’t hesitate just get it. I took mine to work and you would think it was a new iphone the way people hoovered over it with inquiring minds.

    • Liz

      Sorry “hovered” not “hoovered”. No body was vacuuming it!

  • Rebecca

    A “step up transformer” so you dont end up with a hairdryer or straightening irons working at half capacity – or anything else that runs off 220 vaults for that matter. A step up transformer will convert the current coming through the socket to 220V so your appliance will work until you decide to upgrade to a US version of the item. The type you buy depends on the wattage of your appliance but this can be an easy way to use your vacuum, iron, table lamps, music amp, TV, you name it…

  • Claire Barrett

    A great list! Keeping all your important papers easily to hand and getting a social security number ASAP proved helpful too. We were fortunate to have a UK bank with branches here which made transferring our credit score and getting a credit card much more straightforward. I’m writing a blog about our experiences as a way to keep friends, family and others who are interested up to date – Diary of a wimpy Brit

  • J

    I am surprised to find that bodywash is far more expensive with much fewer options here than in the UK. They tend to use soap? If you are loyal to some particular ones, better bring one or two if your luggage allows.

    • Mark Smith

      My moment of bewilderment was realising just how much rarer anti-perspirant sprays are than deodorant sticks here

  • Rachel

    Buy a prepaid cell phone instead of a contract phone. Straight talk is a good one to start with.

    • Abraham

      very true, I have a “mobile” with thats a smartphone (android OS) for $45 a month. Don’t know how that compares to the UK, but it’s the best I can find here. You can find these at your local Walmart.

  • Will Poundstone

    those cell phone contracts do mean that cell phones cost much less in the US than they do in europe

  • CulinaryBee

    Hey! I’m an American who travels to the UK every Spring w/ an Anglophile group of friends! I have been amused by your comments! Do you think it’s any different for us visiting the UK??? Hairdryers: get one which has dual voltage which can be switched back and forth! A travel magazine like Magellan’s is great for stuff like that! Then you just need an adaptor. Come on now, aren’t our small plugs a little less clumsy than yours? Air Con: unless you are going to live in the more seedy areas of our cities, if you are in a city where it is hot all the time (IE anywhere in The South, it will already have air con. TV Cable: sorry we have to pay it too but they do give “bundle” rates sometimes so it’s worth checking. Measuring cups: right! I have a Culinary Degree so I DO weigh ingredients but $$ Stores do have lots of little measuring gizmos. Good Advice on Whole Foods but I would also suggest Trader Joe’s! So here is MY question! What the hell are you doing here when you could be in the UK, a place I love and would move to if it were financially viable! I love the US but find the UK more “liveable!”