Regina Beach moved to the UK after marrying her British husband.
Courtesy of Regina Beach
Regina Beach left the US and moved to the UK in 2020.Beach say she works fewer hours and has a better quality of life in Wales.She also says healthcare, driving, and working in the UK are some things that shocked her the most.
I met my British husband when I was teaching English in Laos and he was riding a motorbike around Southeast Asia. After two years of long distance dating, we decided to elope in Chicago, where I’d spent my 20s.
After I got my visa, I arrived in the United Kingdom in March 2020. We lodged with a friend in Bristol, England, then my husband and I eventually bought a home in Wales.
I’ve lived in Great Britain for over three years now, and these are the things that shocked me the most.
Buying a home in the UK
The house buying process is belabored. It took us six months from putting in an offer to getting the keys — which isn’t unusual. Also, homes are typically smaller here than in suburban America. Many properties, like mine, are in terrace rows, while others are semi-detached — what I’d call a side-by-side duplex.
This means my yard, or what Brits call a garden, is smaller and there’s a bit less privacy. However the increased population density and the lack of zoning laws mean nearly anyone, who lives in a town or city, can walk to local amenities like a shop, post office, and pub.
Popular British traditions
There’s a lot of focus on the pub as a community hub and many Brits — true to the reputation — drink a lot. It’s also common for people to bring their kids to the pub during the day.
One of my favorite British traditions is the Sunday Roast which is the equivalent to a weekly Thanksgiving dinner. It features lamb, beef, ham, or a veggie-friendly nut roast — rather than turkey.
Lamb is a very popular menu item in the UK and from February to April the fields are dotted with sheep and their adorable offspring. There aren’t sprawling suburbs in much of the UK so the countryside starts immediately at the edge of town and two-lane streets with sidewalks turn into single lanes with no edge lines.
Driving in the UK
In the countryside, brambles and hedgerows grow immediately at the side of the road, often thwacking my side mirrors. Driving in the UK is not for the faint of heart and the driving test is taken very seriously.
There are different licenses issued based on whether you drive a car with an automatic or standard transmission during the test. Also, you can’t just exchange your American license for a British one and I, like nearly half of UK drivers, failed the practical exam the first time I took it.
Even though most people in South Wales, where I live, speak English, all of the street signs, utility bills, and government correspondence are also written in Welsh. I admit I barely know the basics, but those that are fluent can find plenty of work interpreting or translating.
Healthcare in the UK
As an immigrant, I pay a National Health Service (NHS) surcharge. This means, for less than £100 per month, I get free healthcare at the point of use. I also get free prescriptions because I live in Wales.
Private healthcare and insurance exists here, and may mean you get an expedited appointment, but the clinicians are the same — many work in both the public and private systems.
Working in the UK
Thirty-five hours of work per week or more is considered full time. In the UK, most workers seem to have better boundaries than my stateside colleagues, when it comes to actually taking lunch and leaving work on time. It took me a long time to break the habit of eating at my desk, even if I know it’s better for my physical and mental health.
Coming from the US, part-time worker’s rights and generous paid family-leave was a real culture shock for me. Around a quarter of the workforce in the UK is part time — compared to 16% in the US. There’s also incredible leniency with taking time off for doctors appointments.
Salaries are generally lower in the UK than in the US, and income tax is set at 20% for income between £12,570 and £37,700 then jumps to 40% for additional income up to £125,140. Despite lower take home pay, I’m way less stressed . The five-weeks paid holiday —that everyone actually takes — certainly helps.
I work fewer hours and have a better quality of life than I did living in Chicago. As a recovering workaholic, adjusting to what I originally saw as a way-too-relaxed work culture has really helped me set my priorities and put myself first. I honestly can’t imagine living full-time in the US again.