Author Topic: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE  (Read 5506 times)

Trudie

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Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« on: September 03, 2014, 05:20:35 PM »
As of late I've been pondering WHAT I want to do upon achieving fire in 5-6 years, and this consists of significant travel which includes the possibility of an extended term in the UK.  Without getting too much into WHY I/we want to do this I'll just say that we've already traveled quite a bit, but are drawn to the UK to explore our heritage and its rich literary and cultural history.

I'm interested in practical advice about such an endeavor, both from those within the UK and from those who may have done something similar.  I'm interested in the following:

(1)  Suggestions on where to use as a "home base" (close to public transport) in/around England's larger cities (I'm particularly interested in smaller villages that are within commutable(by train) distance of the major cities.
(2)  What to do about health care if we should get sick while traveling
(3)  Practical tips about "getting along" while we're there (things to do, how to interact with the locals whilst not becoming the dreaded "obnoxious Americans", economical tips about shopping and taking care of things on a day-to-day basis.

We're not interested in having the typical tourist experience.  Although we will certainly do many of the things in the tourism guides what we're seeking is a bit more of a cultural experience where we can interact with people.

In case it's helpful -- my husband will be retiring from a career working in academic administration at a college and I in accounting/financial services.  I have thought of perhaps seeking out community in a small college setting or perhaps through an affiliation with a church.

Has anyone else done this?  What helped you enjoy the experience (or not)?

daverobev

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2014, 05:57:36 PM »
Where are you from? Just get medical insurance in your home country.

Rail is best spoke-like from London, but there are cross-cutting trains. Again, where are you from? Trains will get you to all cities. There are also intercity buses, and plenty of good local bus services.

What do you want to see? Nottingham is 'central' (ish), but why not do weeks in hostels? YHA have hostels all over and at most you can rent a room.

Obnoxious: Don't say you're enjoying your trip to Europe, don't claim you are actually English because 5 generations ago one family member came from there. Queue nicely. Don't huff when something isn't going smoothly.

Get a credit card with 'EMV' (a chip). One with no forex fee too. BofA Travel Rewards is one (almost all US cards with a chip are chip and signature, where everyone else used chip and pin, but even having the chip can help, so I hear). Probably get a visa and mastercard. AMEX is accepted in larger shops, but not in small ones. AFAIK Discover is no good.

There is a global ATM alliance; IIRC BofA debit cards work with Barclays ATMs with reduced or no fees (though the forex rate won't be good). You'll be better off using a credit card where you can if it is a no forex fee one.

Rich literary history.. Ok, there are libraries and universities all over. Cambridge and Oxford and London are not too far apart if its that kind of thing you're after.

I guess if you really want a home base you need to list the places you want to go, the amount of time you'll spend in each one, and figure out the most central.

You can get a special train pass for tourists, I forget what it's called. And obviously you can get the train from London to Paris in a couple of hours, so there's that whole cultural thing too.

If it was me, I'd maybe have three 2-month home bases, or at least two. Do you want to do Scotland too?

Argyle

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2014, 06:14:49 PM »
I haven't done this per se but I have a lot of experience in doing something similar.

The villages outside the larger cities will often be expensive, so I'd look for a house exchange (e.g. HomeExchange.com) or a housesitting gig.  I believe there are housesitting gigs advertised on the major house exchange websites as well.  Ideally you'll want a village with a good grocery within walkable distance, because adding a car to the mix will raise the expenses and complications considerably.  You could also go for a somewhat larger town, for instance Wells, Salisbury, etc.  If you're in the south somewhere, the place may well be bikable all winter long.

A tourist visa gets you 6 months in the UK, but you'll want to have ample proof of funds to support yourself, and a ticket back, before Immigration lets you in.  You should also prepare a statement about your plan: "We'll be travelling around studying 15th-century churches" or something will probably fly better than "We're looking on settling in and hanging out."  They are wary of people who look like they might not leave again.

You'll want to make sure your insurance will cover you abroad.  Some will merely consider you "out of network," while HMOs and the like won't cover you at all.  So read the booklets.  In practical terms, the NHS often covers foreigners with medical problems simply because they're not well set up to charge.  But you don't want to rely on it, and they won't if it involves something fabulously expensive.  You may also want to make sure your insurance covers repatriation expenses, just in case you're severely injured and need to be gotten back to the U.S.

Frugality is a matter of many of the same practices as in the U.S.  Long-distance travel is cheaper by bus (coach), but slower.  For rail travel you can get a railcard for people traveling together which will give you around 30% off traveling off peak.  Theatre tickets are generally cheaper than in the U.S., and there are often day-of-sale deals, as well as a discount TKTS booth in London for the more touristy productions.  For food, the Co-op groceries are a good deal and they are true cooperatives (cooperatively owned), as is the supermarket chain Waitrose.  Hiking ("rambling") is a big thing, with many public footpaths, and obviously a frugal form of recreation.

As for not looking like an obnoxious American, speak more softly than you're accustomed to and don't wear sneakers.  (This especially goes for women.) Dial back the smiliness; understatement is the name of the game.  British people are indeed more reserved than Americans, so you may not make many social inroads.  Hanging out at the local pub, assuming it's not a dive, will at least put you on nodding terms with some folks.  And then look and see what other communal activities are taking place: ramblers' associations, local clean-up campaigns, book festivals, etc.

Sounds like fun -- good luck!

MsRichLife

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2014, 08:34:08 PM »
This is something we are also considering when FIRE. I have dual Australian-UK Citizenship, so hopefully that will be of some use to us (not sure what that means for my husband and son though).

Commenting so I can follow this thread.

Mother Fussbudget

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2014, 10:04:15 PM »
Many social groups like Mensa have travel groups - you can make contact with fellow Mensans in the UK, and 'couch surf' for the cost of some intelligent conversation.  Look for Meetup groups in the UK that match your interests, and follow them.  You can always follow the recommendations of Rick Steves or some other travel guide.  The sky's the limit - just remember you'll pay a premium to live within the 3-main-rings of London.  We're talking $88/night for a single-bed 'cell' of a room in Islington.  I have family living on the channel islands - I'll ask their opinion...

theadvicist

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #5 on: September 04, 2014, 03:47:25 AM »
Ok, as a Brit I'll add to the advice on not coming across as obnoxious Americans (though in doing so, I will come across as an obnoxious Brit, sorry. I'll say this now otherwise it will be few tips and lots of disclaimers. I hope I don't offend anyone):

I second on speaking more quietly. That's probably the main one. Also, waiting patiently. You don't need that drink right now, the service isn't 'terrible' if the waiter is busy dealing with someone else. (Wages for service staff are high here. Everyone is paid the minimum wage and tips are smaller. As a result businesses can't flood the floor with staff as we have found elsewhere).

The food isn't bland, it just isn't full of sugar. (I cannot believe the things US Supermarkets put sugar in.) Also, we seem to like our food a lot drier, there are fewer sauces. In a pub, you can usually just ask for more gravy or ketchup or whatever, and they will be happy to oblige. You will find eating out insanely expensive. And the portions small. Avoid soft drinks. They are tiny compared to what you are used to, pricey and no-one has ever heard of a free refill.

You will probably consider us stand-off-ish. Sorry about that. We will probably consider you fake, sorry. No-one will tell you to 'Have a nice day' unless they actually mean it (ie no-one will ever say it. If you are friends, it is implied that they hope you have a nice day. If you are paying them for a service, it will seem, I dunno, like you are paying them to pander to you, which is not appreciated).

Also, people will say 'thank you', but never 'you're welcome'. We just don't have the equivalent to  danke and bitte, it's just 'thanks' here. We're not being rude, it's just a language thing.

Don't tell me I have a 'cute' accent. It's patronising. And you are the one with the accent when we're on British soil. (By all means say you like the British accent, just avoid 'cute').

I also agree with the sneakers thing, nothing says American tourist like bright white running shoes. I really don't get it either. Us Europeans walk a lot, and we just wear normal leather shoes, and we are fine. When you are just walking around a city, sneakers, waterproofs etc is just overkill. Also, 'bum bags'. I think you call them 'f*nny packs'. That means something totally different here (seriously don't say f*nny)! And visors. The sun is not strong enough to ever necessitate them.

Don't tell me about your torn rotator cuff, your IBS, your allergies, your intolerance to whatever. Get on with things quietly. I'm sorry you have a bad knee or whatever, but your 'surgeries' are your business. Any kind of bracing device will make us think you are 1) neurotic about your health 2) suing someone for something 3) getting scammed by a doctor who is making a huge profit. (I know none of this may be true. I'm just saying, this is what the Brits are thinking)

Also, don't tell me about the medications you're on. Or mention how much we drink. You think we drink too much, we think you take too many pills. We are probably all achieving the same thing.

On the same subject, NEVER be rude about the NHS. By all means ask how it works, what we think of it, how we would improve it. But seriously, don't diss it. We love our NHS with the fire of a thousand suns.

Don't mention our teeth. We know. We are sensitive about it.

My biggest tip is just don't make a fuss. Honestly, 'Keep calm and carry on' is a slogan for a reason. It really isn't as bad as you think, you'll be fine. (this applies to public transport, hotel rooms, service, food. If you don't want to be seen as obnoxious just remember 'don't make a fuss'.)

All that said, the fact you are asking how not to be obnoxious tells me you're not obnoxious. So you can probably ignore all of the above and just carry on being a decent person.

As for where to stay, Cambridge is a great suggestion, and there are lots of pretty villages nearby. Norwich is also beautiful, lots of villages, coastline, and cheaper. About 2 hours from London on a very regular train service.

As for Churches, the Church of England (local parish churches) are usually stunning buildings. Particularly in Norfolk, they will most by Norman (so built after the Norman conquest of 1066). However, the congregation of the C of E are definitely at the more standoffish end of the spectrum. They are the upright citizens of the village, it will take months to get much more than a polite, 'How do you do?'. If you are looking for a more social experience, I would suggest the local Methodist church. They tend (in my experience) to be more welcoming, and have more mixer type events. That said, they often don't drink. Ugh.

You will find living in a village difficult without a car. Buses are infrequent, and taxis are expensive. If you do decide to drive, read up on roundabouts.

And enjoy yourselves! What a great trip!

PS feel free to give me tips on how to be a better tourist in the US. We love to visit! (And yes, I say, 'It's all so big!' to everyone I meet. Is that endearing or annoying?)

Phil_Moore

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #6 on: September 04, 2014, 06:28:45 AM »
Personally I would try and stay within easy reach of London, at least for part of it. A lot of great 'cultural' spots are in the city and as mentioned above the trainlines spoke out from there so you can range around pretty easily to Bristol or Bath or Liverpool or Cambridge or Paris or whatever.
 
Frankly, as someone not from either place, I've lived in the US and UK and beyond the 1990s stand-up type stuff there's not a huge amount of differences to worry about.  With so much film and tv and music crossover I can't imagine a lot of culture shock will exist for people. I would humbly offer three small tips that have served me well though:

1)if someone asks if you are "alright" you say "not bad" or "alright", they don't want a rundown of how you are doing and your various exploits and tales of derring-do.

2)people on public transport are generally not up for a chat. They will think you are mental.

3)for the most part, the further you get from London the more friendly the people are.

theadvicist

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #7 on: September 04, 2014, 07:52:50 AM »
Fungalist, you said what I was trying to say in three sentences!

Also, had to laugh at "the further you get from London the more friendly the people are." Very true, when I moved North and was all, 'why are you talking to me? Are you trying to steal my handbag?' Oh, hang on, this is that friendly thing I've heard of!

rockstache

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #8 on: September 04, 2014, 11:31:51 AM »
1)if someone asks if you are "alright" you say "not bad" or "alright", they don't want a rundown of how you are doing and your various exploits and tales of derring-do.

2)people on public transport are generally not up for a chat. They will think you are mental.

3)for the most part, the further you get from London the more friendly the people are.

Sounds like you would do very well up here in Boston and a good chunk of New England!

Argyle

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2014, 11:43:41 AM »
Housing in Cambridge is crazy expensive it is like Silicon Valley, and the villages around Cambridge are also sky-high.  Norwich would be a better bet: a lovely town, and quieter and cheaper, although farther from London.  You might also try south of London.  Hastings is a bit down-at-heel but cheaper because of that.

There's a series of mini-features in the Guardian on UK places to move to, called "Let's Move to": you could read through a bunch to get ideas. http://www.theguardian.com/money/series/letsmoveto

They also have a home-exchange site: http://www.guardianhomeexchange.co.uk/

NinetyFour

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2014, 12:30:32 PM »
Commenting so I can follow this conversation.

Reading this thread has also been therapeutic:  I am more understanding now of the effects my British heritage has had on me--especially in terms of social interactions!  :)

Phil_Moore

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #11 on: September 05, 2014, 04:53:09 AM »
Sounds like you would do very well up here in Boston and a good chunk of New England!

Not 100% sure if meant as compliment or not, but thanks!

Squirrel away

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #12 on: September 05, 2014, 05:07:33 AM »


3)for the most part, the further you get from London the more friendly the people are.

Very true and I can admit that as a Londoner. One of my American friends found the people in London incredibly standoffish when she first came here but she learned not to take it personally.:)

former player

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #13 on: September 05, 2014, 06:09:08 AM »
5/6 years seems a long time ahead to me - by then Scotland could be a separate country and the UK could be out of the EU.  Still, no harm in dreaming and planning.

Public transport in the UK is pretty good wherever you are in comparison to most of the USA, but smaller villages are less likely to have services.  Anywhere on the train network will serve you reasonably well.  For long journeys trains are more comfortable and quicker, long-distance coaches cheaper and slower: both are safe and clean.  As a "home base" I'd suggest looking at a market town (pop approx. 10,000 to 40,000, based around a historic market place) for decent transport options, reasonable housing options and a selection of Christian denominations to join in with.  In the south-east you could try an out-of season seaside resort for cheaper housing (the obvious Brighton, 50 miles from London, is remarkable to visit but is unlikely to have cheap housing at any season).

I think one of the great pleasures of the UK is that the landscape changes quickly - you do not need to travel far to see a different type of landscape, and you are never more than 70 miles from the sea.  If you read a history of the UK landscape before you come, you will get a lot more out of looking at it when you are here

Bank

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #14 on: September 05, 2014, 11:35:57 AM »
Commenting to follow the thread.  Thanks for all the good information so far.  As a New Englander, I have to agree that the cultures sound similar in many way.

Trudie

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Re: Practical tips for living abroad in UK for 3-6 months upon FIRE
« Reply #15 on: September 08, 2014, 01:13:16 PM »


PS feel free to give me tips on how to be a better tourist in the US. We love to visit! (And yes, I say, 'It's all so big!' to everyone I meet. Is that endearing or annoying?)

@ the advicist

Thanks for all the straightforward advice on how to get along all-right during our future (and hopefully lengthy) trip to the UK.  I think my husband and I will fit in okay without much fuss as we are generally very reserved, quiet people who don't want to be a bother.  On the other hand, I am the kind of person who enjoys people-watching and strive to  understand the "goings-on" about how other people live so I am hoping we will have an opportunity to make some connections if we are there for a lengthy period.

Some of your post made me laugh -- particularly the bit about the NHS because I am quite envious of it, actually.  I am also quite envious of your train system, theatre, and hiking trails (in no particular order).

As for how to get along in the U.S. that is tough to answer because as you pointed out we are such a large, diverse country.  We have cousins in Norway who ask many questions about traveling in the U.S. and sometimes it's difficult to convey just how long and complicated it is to get from point A to point B, especially without the benefit of excellent mass transit.  Just as some may call your accent "cute", we find this similarly-annoying tendency both within and outside our country to assume that we are a cultural monolith.  For instance, I am from Iowa and once while visiting Arizona had a shopkeeper ask, "So, do you have a farm?"  That would be like me asking about your sheep herd!  Since Iowa is the host to the first in the nation presidential caucuses we get lots of media attention in election years -- much of which is distorted and unflattering.  It's aggravating, really.  People have to be from "somewhere" and just as in most countries, most of us are average people from average places -- cities, small towns, and very rural areas.  I may be from Iowa but no, I do not:  (1)  Raise pigs; (2) Pepper conversations with Biblical scripture; (3) Live on a diet of roast beef and potatoes.

The other thing that cracks me up is that when people visit the US they want to visit New York, LA, Chicago and other "mythical" places they've heard about.  Our cousins, for instance, will fly from Norway to Houston to shop (it's cheap), but have no interest in seeing the "boring" midwest -- often referred to as "fly -over" territory.  Nonetheless, I think a lot of our smaller cities (the "average" places) and town have a lot to offer and people are pretty open and friendly, even if they try a bit too hard sometimes.

My husband and I have traveled a fair bit in Canada and Europe and always feel a bit sheepish about the image of the "ugly American."  It's sad, really, and I think traveling more -- not less -- is part of the answer.  If truth be told, I do think one of the divides that is difficult for some in Europe to understand is how tremendously expensive and difficult it is for the average American to travel abroad given the geographic distance in our own country (access to major airports), lack of paid vacation time,  and expense of it.  Our Norwegian cousins talk about flying to Paris for a holiday weekend and I'm jealous.

I could write volumes on how some Americans truly believe that we are the "best" country in the world (as if there's a prize for this) or the many ways in which we are "great" (an overused American word.)  I am not unpatriotic and see our collective virtues and downfalls -- but it's kind of like being raised into a certain family or religion... if it all went reasonably well, you liked the people, and weren't scarred in any way you have an affection, comfort, and loyalty to them/it that's hard to explain.