By Christine Haney, Executive Vice President, Global Relocation and Referral Services, Douglas Elliman
(Originally published as “Encouraging Words for Relocated Americans in the UK” in the Fall 2023 issue of American in Britain magazine.)
As the head of a global relocation services team for one of the largest independent real estate brokerages in the United States, I have worked with our partners at the London-based firm Knight Frank Residential to help innumerable American clients relocate to the United Kingdom.
And as the daughter of parents who relocated from a small town in Connecticut and spent seven years living in Europe, I suppose you could say expatriation is in my blood.
As a result, I know intimately how exciting and enriching—as well as frustrating and downright demoralizing—it can be for Americans who decide to make a life outside of the USA, particularly in the UK. After all, how hard can it be when everyone speaks English?
So, whether you’re getting ready to go, you’ve just arrived, you’re well established,
or you’re preparing to pull up stakes and head back home, I want to share some pro tips and lessons learned that I’ve collected from clients in the hope that they’ll help you make the most of your time on the other side of the pond.
1. Yes, You Are in a Different Country!
While you have perhaps vacationed in the UK or elsewhere in Europe, taking in the sites and eating different foods, it probably was not a thoroughly deep dive into the culture. The little things you may have missed were only briefly out of reach, and there was comfort in knowing you would return home to your “normal” life, with its homey habits and familiar foods. This will be different, whether it lasts several months or several years. Yes, the coffee is stronger! The sooner you embrace your “new normal,” the better the transition will be for you and yours.
2. What to Bring
File this one under “Know Before You Go”: If you plan to go light and leave many of your possessions at home, you’ll likely be able to find clothing, furniture, dishes, and other items in the UK. Unless you have a plethora of adaptors, leave your appliances and plan on buying new ones (I can’t tell you how many people pack their favorite blender only to realize they can’t use it). However, one essential appliance for many Americans turns out to be rather scarce in Great Britain: the air conditioner. So, if you’re not prepared to adapt to an AC-free lifestyle, consider bringing your trusty window unit – along with the proper adaptor, of course.
3. What to Leave Behind
As for the things you decide to leave behind in storage, you would be wise to channel Marie Kondo and be ruthlessly honest about what you think will still spark joy years later, when—or if—you ever come back to reclaim it. Take it from my parents, whose reunion with their gold-green and beige ‘70s-era couch was truly tearful—with regret at having paid for seven years of storage.
4. Don’t Be Shy
This good advice for life in general is especially vital for any expat who wants to maximize their experience in their host country. Get out there and meet people, make new friends, try new foods and activities, travel, do things you’ve always thought you were afraid to do – embrace the enviable opportunity to be something of a stranger in a strange land. And if your kids are along for the ride, allow them the opportunity to embrace this potentially life- changing experience!
5. Don’t Be a Stranger
Even as you make an effort to immerse yourself in your new social and cultural environment, do not neglect the importance of staying connected with your family and friends back home. And even though you may be having the time of your life, do not assume your family and friends will appreciate you regaling them with tales of your daily culinary adventures or regular excursions through the easily traversable European Union. Ask what they are up to and let them know you’re thinking about them. And try your best to reach out regularly, beyond the holiday card.
6. Don’t Be Forgotten
This one is for those of you who have relocated in order to work in the UK while most, if not all of your managers and colleagues remain in the US. Even if you may be succeeding at the job you were sent here to do, the power of “out of sight, out of mind” is real. Keep in close contact with your stateside managers and colleagues, make your presence known, and don’t let them forget that you’re still an integral part of the team. How? Make the effort to work around their schedule. Participate on that conference call, even if it’s 9pm your time. Continue to invite them to your meetings, so they feel they are still involved with your new direction or decisions. Be the glue that keeps everything and everyone connected.
7. The Perils of Re-Entry
When/if the time comes for you to return to the US, do not underestimate the enormity of the adjustment you’ll be facing. You may understand already that you cannot simply pick up where you left off. But even if you have been diligent about staying in touch with your family, friends, and colleagues back home, reacclimatizing to life in the States may be every bit as disorienting and stressful as it was when you were first settling in as a newly relocated American in the UK. Everything will be different.
9. Embrace the New You—But Don’t Force Everyone Else To!
With your newfound wealth of experiences and lifestyle changes, you may be eager to share the ‘New You’ with everyone back home. But, hard to believe as it may be, not everyone will be ready (or willing) to meet this person. Be considerate, and put their lives first before gradually introducing them to your new persona.
10. Ask for Help
If your company is sending you back home, be sure the relocation package offers the same support as when you left. Employers often assume returning colleagues don’t need as much help as they did when they left – as my parents told me, they were sort of “dropped on their heads” with little support. Well, things will be different, and you will need help. Your children will be older and have to matriculate into a completely different educational system. Your relocation benefits should also include area tours – even if you are returning to the same town. And if you are not interested in returning to the same town you left behind, see if there is a different location you can work from. Finally, does your company offer internal resources or groups for those returning home? Having someone to talk to who can relate to your experience will go a long way.
Whether you’re moving abroad or getting ready to head back home, let the Douglas Elliman and Knight Frank Residential team help you. From selling your current home to buying a new one to settling in wherever you land, our relocation experts will be with you every step of the way.