Living in London as an American: Your ultimate guide to the most valuable tips

The oversized suitcase. The bewildered look at the first roundabout. The hesitant attempt to order a “coffee” instead of a baffling array of lattes and cappuccinos. Yep, you can usually tell who the Americans are when they first come to London.

But hey, I understand – I relocated here too from sunny Italy, so I know how big the adjustment can be at times. And I certainly have no shortage of American friends here showing me that!

If you need help settling in, consider this your guide. I’ll give you all of the tips my own friends found most useful for those moving from The New World to Dear Old Blighty.

Learn British slang

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Learning British lingo is like getting a secret decoder ring for London life. It’ll help you understand what people really mean (because “not bad” often means “fantastic”), master the art of banter (friendly teasing), and avoid awkward moments like asking where to buy a “bum bag” (Americans, it’s a fanny pack!).

So, where can you master this secret language? Immerse yourself in British culture – watch the TV shows, and movies, and listen to podcasts. Pay close attention to how characters chat casually.  

Maybe you can befriend a local willing to be your slang translator – they’ll get a kick out of it! You’d be surprised how fun picking up the lingo is that way too.

Embrace the Tube life

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The Tube, at first glance, might seem like a chaotic labyrinth, but embracing it will transform your experience. Ditch those traffic jams and opt for the Tube’s speedy network that whisks you across the city.  

To navigate it all, get the Citymapper app for stress-free travel, be mindful of the platform gap, and avoid rush hour with luggage. You can also invest in an Oyster Card for easy, contactless journeys. 

Learn to use the buses

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The red buses in London are a budget-friendly way to see the city’s landmarks, from Big Ben to Buckingham Palace, all while getting a healthy dose of fresh air (well, sometimes).

To hail a bus, give it a friendly wave and use a contactless card for easy payment. They’re among the best ways to get around, so try one as soon as you can.

Stand on the right, walk on the left

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Londoners are a busy bunch, and escalators are no place for dawdling. This is why standing on the right frees up the left side for those on the go, keeping the flow of traffic smooth.

Ever wondered why this rule exists? It all goes back to the early days of the Tube when escalators had folks disembarking to the left. Now, it’s a cultural quirk that adds to the unique charm (and slight eccentricity) of the London Underground.

Prepare for long queues

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If you thought waiting in line at the DMV was bad, you haven’t experienced the meditative power of a proper London queue. Pack a good book, charge your phone, and settle in – this is your chance to practise the art of zen waiting.

But here’s the secret: the queue is where the fun happens. It’s your crash course in patience, a stage for people-watching, and a chance to socialise. Basically a networking event with a side of British quirkiness.

Always be polite

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The UK places high value on politeness. Brits appreciate personal space and understated communication, so avoid being overly loud and soften requests with phrases like “could you possibly”. 

Embrace the British swiftness for apology too –  a “terribly sorry” can disarm tense situations, even when you’re not entirely at fault. 

And no, embracing British politeness doesn’t mean losing your American spark. It’s about adjusting your style to create genuine connections. 

Sort out the snack spectrum: chips, crisps, and fries

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London’s got its own potato lingo, and if you want to avoid the ultimate food failure, it’s time to learn the difference. 

So what do those words really mean? Well, potato chips are called “crisps” while thick fries are called  “chips”. Fries are the thinner fries you know from McDonald’s.

Join in on the pub culture

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Pubs are where Brits let loose (within reason, of course). Feel free to strike up a chat with the person next to you, you might learn about the best local spots, hear some hilarious gossip, or even get roped into a spirited debate about football (we call it soccer).

Pub etiquette also includes the delightful tradition of buying “rounds”. Taking your turn to buy a drink for the group is a great way to break the ice and integrate yourself. Don’t worry, they’ll return the favour!

Get familiar with the British currency 

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Familiarise yourself with the different coins (1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, and £2) and notes (£5, £10, £20, and £50). It seems to help some people to figure out what something’s worth in dollars too. 

For that, a handy trick is to roughly multiply the pound price by the current conversion rate (that’s 1.254, but you can check the latest conversion rate here).

Learn quick hacks for the metric system

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London operates on the metric system – think metres, litres, grams, and Celsius. Embracing the metric system is your key to conquering everyday life in London.

The metric system shines in its simplicity. It’s based on powers of ten, making mental conversions a breeze compared to the complex calculations of the Imperial system. 

Need to decode Celsius on the fly? Many Europeans use a handy trick: multiply the Celsius temperature by 2, then add 30. That’ll get you surprisingly close to the Fahrenheit equivalent most of the time.

Limit shopping hours on Sundays

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We know that most Americans are used to on-demand everything, but London Sundays generally force you to slow down. 

So, take up that hobby you’ve neglected, explore a sprawling park, or have a leisurely pub lunch with friends. Speaking of pubs, you can check out our article for the oldest pubs in London!

Be ready to talk about the weather (always)

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Did you know that at any given moment, a third of the British population is likely chatting about the weather? It’s a national pastime and you should embrace it if you want to fit in.  

To start, bone up on your weather vocabulary. Learn the difference between “drizzling” and “pouring”, and how to describe those gloomy “cloudy” days.  

Simple observations like “It’s quite chilly today, isn’t it?” or “Looks like it’s going to rain again” are perfect conversation starters. Don’t be afraid to add a touch of playful exasperation – after all, who doesn’t bond over shared inconvenience?  

Make your peace with the ubiquitousness of tea

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Tea in Britain is like air – it’s everywhere! Try adding milk to your tea, a traditional British twist. Make sure to explore the incredible world of tea blends as well, because heaven knows we have no end of those!  

Oh, and if you like snacks and scones, try our high tea. Every American I know has fallen in love with it.

For parents-to-be, enjoy one year off for maternity

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If you’re used to the sadly short US maternity leave (12 weeks), the UK system can feel like a breath of fresh air. You’re entitled to a full year (52 weeks!) of maternity leave, opening up precious time to bond with your new arrival.  

However, don’t confuse ample time with endless paid vacation. Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) isn’t exactly generous after the initial few weeks. Do your homework on your company’s specific policy, figure out your budget, and understand the eligibility rules for SMP. 

Be prepared to not have AC in your apartment 

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Most residential buildings don’t include AC here. But don’t despair! You can still embrace the power of a strategically placed fan, become a master of nighttime cross-breezes, and find those glorious pockets of air-conditioned bliss in museums or stores during the hottest hours. 

Stay hydrated, try the classic British “cold washcloth on the neck” trick, and think of it as a challenge. But if you can’t really take the heat in the summers, no one is stopping you from buying your own AC unit. 

Say goodbye to dryers

Media from londonlaundrydc

As an American, saying goodbye to your trusty dryer might be one of the biggest adjustments when moving to London. Dryers are less common due to a combination of small living spaces and a focus on energy conservation.  

But don’t worry, you can invest in a sturdy clothes drying rack (or two), strategically drape items over radiators in the winter, and embrace those rare sunny days for outdoor drying.

Sure, it might require a mindset shift, but you’ll save on your electricity bill and maybe even find a strange sense of satisfaction in the art of air-drying your clothes.

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