10 Things That Are Pricier in the U.S. Than in Britain

Anyone who tells you that the cost of living in the U.S. is much lower than back home is sadly mistaken. If you’re coming to America, prepare to feel the pinch.

1. Smartphones
Prepare to hand over some serious wonga when you buy a cell. Contracts cost double what they do in the UK. Plus, you’ll be charged – or have free minutes deducted – for receiving calls and texts. The people who’ll sell mobiles are experts at concealing the bizarre hidden charges that will show up on your bill every month.

2. Shower Gel and hand-wash
Cleaning your body is an expensive business in America, unless you’re prepared to switch to dermis-drying cheap soap. A regular sized bottle of shower gel by one of the leading manufacturers will cost you anything up to eight bucks.

3. Corn oil
This one I simply can’t fathom. America grows this sacred, hugely subsidized crop on every available surface, but a small bottle of its oil costs about four times what it would back home. Yet, strangely, there’s no noticeable mark up on imported olive oil.

4. Cable and the Internet
Thanks to area monopolies, cable companies charge what they like – usually two to three times what customers pay in the UK. And don’t expect to receive faultless service just because you’re paying exorbitant fees. Most days, my high-speed connection is no better than dial-up. 

5. Bread
The aerated cake that passes for bread in this country is so unpleasant that you’ll probably end up relying on alternative starch sources, like pasta, rice and potatoes. But if you do stick with supermarket loaves, expect to pay around $4.99.

6. Muesli
American cereal isn’t necessarily expensive, but it’s crammed with sugar. Even their muesli – or granola as it’s more often called here – is dripping with high fructose corn syrup. Very occasionally, I’ll locate a dusty box of proper unsweetened muesli and it’s always upwards of eight dollars.

7. Yogurt
Curdled milk hasn’t really taken off here yet, so we pay a premium. I regularly fork out nearly four dollars for a medium-sized tub. Crème fraiche and mascarpone are similarly pricey. 

8. Flour and sugar
If you want to bake then you’ll have to swallow the added cost of these basic ingredients. Here, a bag of no frills sugar or flour costs at least double what it does in Sainsbury’s. 

9. Flights and rail travel
As much as we all like to moan about budget airlines and trains back home, there are still genuine bargains to be had. But in the U.S. a plane or train ticket – even to a nearby domestic destination – will set you back several hundred dollars. Expats on a budget should learn to love Greyhounds.

10. College
If you’re planning to raise kids in the U.S., you’ll probably need to sell a few organs and heirlooms to make a dent in their university fees. Think tuition charges back home are heinous? In the U.S., it’s normal for twenty-somethings to leave higher education with a six-figure debt.

What are must-have products but their price tag makes you cringe?

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.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.
  • Claire Barrett

    Another great list! It is worth noting that if you do not have a US Social Security number, you may be expected to pay a large security deposit for your phone – $500 per phone for us which they keep for a year. I’ve resorted to making bread every couple of weeks too as the bread here in general is far too sweet the other is too expensive!

  • Claire Barrett

    Another great list! It is worth noting that if you do not have a US Social Security number, you may be expected to pay a large security deposit for your phone – $500 per phone for us which they keep for a year.

  • Caroline

    Wow, where do you shop?? I live in a major metropolitan area and the cost of groceries in my area is roughly half of what you’re quoting (and often less than that if you buy on sale). And the average student loan debt for someone graduating with a Bachelors is under $25K. 6-figure debt is only “normal” for those pursuing advanced degrees in the medical or legal fields. Don’t scare your readers unnecessarily!

    • Jacqueline O. Moleski

      Nope on the student loan debt. Mine ballooned from $30,000 to $80, 000 to $100,000 and that was JUST for 2 years out of state graduate tuition. Which is why I support the one-time student loan forgiveness act. And I suspect some of the arguments about grocery prices are regional – the author lives in LA, I live in the Midwest – I think that explains why I pay about $2.00 for a local grocery store brand bread and $4.00/$5.00 for artesan bread at the same store.

  • http://twitter.com/e_wat Erick Watson

    Well, these prices seem completely on-par with what we pay here in Australia. Although, we do get free health-care.

  • Leland

    It sort of depends on WHERE in the U.S. you are for a lot of this list. Here in the heartland, away from places like New York City and Los Angeles, prices for the staple products are for the most part less than half of what the author apparently pays. ie. Bread – around $2.00 a loaf for store brands and maybe $4.00 for bakery fresh, sometimes less, and gasoline here right now, $3.29 per gallon.

  • HauteontheSpot

    So true, especially the bit about transportation (NOT including London Taxi’s, the London Underground, & most Coaches).

    But I live in New York so everything is expensive…Like it is in the USA, things are a LOT more expensive in London than say a small town in Northern England.

    Add (from my personal experience): Barbour jackets & some other Britain-based clothing brands, a lot of hardcover & paperback books, chocolate (Cadbury is generally way cheaper in the UK than Hershey’s is in the USA), & Cocktails/Beer (at the AVERAGE pub or bar). Otherwise, everything is priced in GBP the same as in USD$ (so basically 1.5-2x the price).

  • Vic Radin

    You’re shopping in the wrong places. Look to your local ethnic markets and smaller retailers, especially the eastern European markets. GOOD quality Greek-style (NO chemical additives) yogurt can be had for $2.50/quart. Good bakery-fresh bread, is $1.50/lb; Flour, sugar, and other baking supplies can be had relatively inexpensively (compared to mass-market stores); I make my own Granola in bulk with better ingredients than the pre-packaged stuff at a cost of about $1/lb.

    Corn Oil is expensive because most corn subsidized goes into High Fructose Corn Syrup and Ethanol for mixing with gasoline. Substitute the less expensive safflower or other oil.

    Everything else is true, and greatly dependent on the American “Free Market”of corporations charging whatever they can make the market bear in the name of profit.

    Shopping locally at smaller merchants instead of the mass markets not only supports the local economy, but helps drive the exorbitant mega-mart prices down.

  • deb

    i agree as when i go home i go grocery shopping and find prices so much cheaper than here in the US, I even bring back the receipt and compare…we also pay a whole lot more for car insurance to.

  • Jen

    Get a better phone plan (I recommend Virgin Mobile at $35 per month for a smartphone), and shop at better stores. I live in Chicago and I’ve never paid $5 for a loaf of bread, even at Whole Foods!

    You missed healthcare off that list. Even going private in the UK is cheaper than what most of us pay. It costs me $125 out of pocket to take my kids to the doctor when they’re sick, never mind if they need drugs ($30 plus). Childbirth alone cost me $6,000 in co-pays. Like most expats, it will be healthcare that eventually drives me (and my tax dollars) out of this country.

    • Jess

      I agree! I am glad I am not the only one saying this! I have told my American boyfriend, I will NOT be giving birth in the land of the ‘free’… free my ass.

      • http://www.facebook.com/mmontone Tone Montone

        good, piss off!

  • http://www.facebook.com/steelcd Christina Steel

    I’m sorry to say I laughed uproariously reading this–sadly because most of those prices are reasonably accurate at my local Food Lion, Kroger, and Walgreens. What really got me was our “aerated cake.” I must agree that our bread is unrecognizably different than homemade bread. Regarding the higher education cost, though, I must agree with Caroline; I typically hear of debt levels in the $20-$30 thousand range for Baccalaureate degrees, while professional (M.D. or Ph.D.) degrees can run you over $250 thousand.

  • http://twitter.com/kathy19752 kathy

    You must shop at a whole foods, because your are way over paying for grocery items. Perhaps you need to do more research before you annouce bread is $4.99 a loaf, I can purchase plain white for less than $1.00 a loaf. Just to site one under researched item on your list.

  • Josie

    I’m American, and I’ve never seen a loaf of bread for $4.99. It’s usually $2.50 or something like that. ha ha.

  • Kevin

    Bought a bar of Ivory soap for less than a buck. I’ll take the dermis drying soap over spending eight bucks. As to corn oil vs olive oil, they haven’t figured out a way to force us to buy it as an additive to gasoline yet. Burning up food supplies to try and make a cheaper (and inferior according to my car’s engine) form of fuel is stupid, and that is why corn oil and products made from corn will be more expensive. As to cable and the internet, those are luxuries. Real television is still free, and every library (thank you Andrew Carnegie you wonderful Scot!) has free internet access. Bread. Yep. Good bread costs. Unless you make it yourself, which is still the best way to go. Muesli? You gotta be kidding. Stick with regular oatmeal. I don’t eat yogurt except on Gyros sandwiches. However, my kids love the stuff. I don’t know why. Flour is not that expensive here in the far midwest. Sugar has been rising. Out here in this part of the country there is no particular need for air travel, and railroads here carry freight, not passengers, although that would be neat if they did. We just get on the interstate or the state or county highways and drive to where we need to get to, although long commutes will cost you with the rising price of gasoline (petrol), and that isn’t going to change. Of course, a lot of people still travel by horses around here, but that is the exception, not the rule (for now). I drive sixty-seven miles twice a day to my job (insane, I know, it’s a long story, hope to fix it soon), so I understand the gas pinch. College. I am still paying off my student loans. College costs. The reason, every college is drunk the Federal Government gaurunteeing loans. There isn’t risk to providing education to anyone for the colleges. The Government assumes the risk. This is part of our debt problem. Not to worry. When the world’s financial system craps out in a year or so it won’t matter because the dollar will be worthless, and only hard goods or Yuans and specialized international bank drafts will be tradeable. Of course, if you have something our government wants, namely LAND (which I don’t) and you owe them money (as I do) then you are likely to lose it. But for those who want a higher education, a choice which I support, the local community colleges are still the best way to go for the economy minded. And of course, nothing teaches like experience. The School of life will teach the best lessons. So maybe that fancy eastern or west coast college is not the best choice. As to the debate as what is more or less expensive here in the US than compared elsewhere, I would say that, as always, it depends on where you live in the States, and what your needs are, and what luxuries you desire.

  • Michael

    I guarantee that the British people will be paying far more for these items than the Americans, just as soon as our beloved Prime Minister gets around to raising fuel duty and VAT in Britain. YET AGAIN!

  • MrsA

    I expected everything might be cheaper in the States when I came but was surprised when I moved here and started grocery shopping. Bread and a lot of the produce are waaaay more expensive in the UK, although I can’t say I ever spend $4.99 for one loaf. However, I don’t go for the best quality one there right enough. I have too much else to buy and have a budget. The college thing was a shock. Thankfully my hubby was almost done paying his loan back when we married. I always wondered why people went on about saving for college. Now I know. It’s absolutely ridiculous. Well, it looks like we’ll need to do it for our kids.

  • hwhamlin

    Perhaps flights are pricier here than back home in part because it’s over a hundred miles farther between New York and Chicago than between Land’s End and John o’Groat’s. Which still leaves you two-thirds of the U.S. yet to cross.
    In terms of cross-country flight costs, size does matter.

    • http://profiles.google.com/brainlock72 Brain Lock

      yep. a friend in the NY/NJ area was saying they had a relation from the UK over and they expected to drive down to Disney in Florida in under a couple hours. My friend is still laughing over that.

      • Jacqueline O. Moleski

        I have heard that cliche’ many times (once it was “drive from Detroit to Florida for the day” – um, that’s a three-DAY drive in and of itself. The following, though cliched, really is pretty much true: The difference between Americans and the British is that Americans think 100 years is a long time and 100 miles is a short distance. The British think the opposite – 100 miles is a long way and 100 years is a short amount of time. Even well-educated Brits that I’ve met are (a) shocked at the vast distances between places in the US, (b) even more shocked at the casual attitude Americans have towards long drives. See the author’s entry on this blog about driving in the US.

  • Akuin

    Just want to point out The train is cheaper now. I was looking at a vacation to northern California from southern California, not only was the train several hours faster, it was almost 100 dollars cheaper. it was 98 vs almost 200, and that’s because of the increase in gas prices.

  • Rachelle

    Well of coarse things are pricier, British money is worth more than american

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.roberts.733 Dan Roberts

    The problem with the prices for foodstuffs in New York City is one of logistics. NYC doesn’t actually GROW anything, so they have to ship foodstuffs from hundreds of miles away to feed millions of people.

  • Regular Guy

    I wouldn’t pay that much for a loaf of bread unless it was just baked from a fine bakery. Grocery store bread is a buck fifity. ($1.50)

  • RoseKB50

    Check out Costco! It’s a great place to buy food in bulk, plus anything else you might need. This includes clothes, hair care products, camping equipment, office supplies, and vehicle maintenance.

  • tim

    you’re on drugs if you’ve ever paid $4.99 for a loaf of bread

  • A

    I’ve lived in both the US and the UK and I have, without a doubt, found the US to be cheaper all around. Those quotes for food prices are way off, in my opinion, and I live in one of the more expensive states. Even my health insurance isn’t much more than the amount of tax I’d pay in the UK to fund the health service (I believe there is a sliding scale of taxing for the National Health Service depending on how much you earn.)