Once you get to the UK and have set up house, hopefully these will be some helpful tips on living here and getting around.  One major thing about moving here: It will be different from home.  A lot of people, Americans in particular, interpret ‘different’ to be to equal to ‘wrong’.  Generally, those that search out programs overseas don’t suffer from this like others, but I have met several here that come off as UK-haters because nothing is as good as home.  Please don’t fall into that trap if you move here.  Different can be better, worse or just plain different.  I think the problem is exacerbated by those whose only major points of contact are other Americans, so seek out opportunities to be friends with locals.  I say instead of bemoaning what you don’t like, celebrate the differences and engage the people and culture.  It makes it all so much more enjoyable (and it keeps you from sounding like an arrogant American).

Working in the UK: Here’s some basic info about getting set-up in the UK system, and see the comments for a helpful description of taxes here from a local.

Here are a couple of posts that I’ve done on the English schooling system: Part 1–generic description, levels and Durham links–and Part 2–timing, types of schools, admissions.

Here’s a post on phone calling in the UK.

Personal Connections: You gotta come planning to keep connections at home and build ones here.

Churches in Durham: Here’s a few brief thoughts on churches here.

Traveling in the UK: Planes, trains, and automobiles….  One important note: always carry change because bus drivers won’t give you change for a £10 or a £20, and only maybe for a £5.

Driving in the UK: Thoughts on Driving in the UK, Driving in the UK, pt 2 and What’s life like without a car?

Places to stay when visiting Durham: I list a couple of reasonable hotels and B&B options at the colleges.

Going to the Doctor: No insurance premiums to pay because they have universal health care here–you can’t beat it. Post #1, Post #2

Financing the UK PhD: It’s lots of money, but a great experience. In a related note, here’s a primer on currency exchange rates, which will affect the cost. Here is the latest $/£ exchange rate.


19 Responses to “Living in the UK”

  1. John Says:

    When we move to Durham this fall, my wife and I will be members of Ustinov. Within the Ustinov accommodation system, do you know the differences between the flats in Dryburn Court and Keenan House? We prefer the location of Dryburn, and I remember you making a comment some weeks ago about being surprised how nice the flats there were. Would you recommend that we live there? We have no kids.


  2. Ben Says:

    From everything they say about it on their website, I’m 99% certain that Dryburn Court is Keenan House (Brackenberry and Keenan Houses are at Dryburn Court). There are pluses and minuses to any place here. That’s where at least half of the North Americans live, and they are satisfied with it. Being near others is a big plus. The big issue with that part of town is no close grocery shopping, so most just buy there stuff online at Tesco, which seems to work well. The smaller apartments feel a little dorm roomish, whereas the larger ones feel more like a regular apartment. They are all furnished (though not lavishly), which saves some money. If we didn’t have kids, I’m pretty sure that’s where we’d be.

  3. tritons56 Says:

    I just noticed on the Ustinov website that there is couples housing at Howlands Farm, not just Dryburn Court. So I am now torn between the two locations.

    1) How far removed from the city center would we be if we lived in Dryburn? Is Dryburn further from the city center than Howlands?

    2) Does Howlands have a grocery store nearby? Does Tesco deliver straight to your door step?

    3) Also, what is Elvet Riverside? It was mentioned as a landmark on the Ustinov website?

    If you could assist us in the decision making process by sharing some information about the strengths and weaknesses of the two locations, we would appreciate it.

    Thanks again,

  4. Ben Says:

    Since I’ve never been to Howlands Farm, I can only give some general pros/cons of Dryburn vs Howlands Farm:

    1) Dryburn (Keenan House) is about a 20-25 minute walk. Looking at the Ustinov website, it seems that Howlands is about as far into the city centre/Elvet Riverside as Keenan House.

    2) For Howlands, there is not much other than colleges and university buildings out that direction (south of town) that I am aware of from when I’ve driven that way. On the other hand, Keenan house is relatively near Framwellgate Moor, Pity Me, and Newton Hall, which have more local amenities. Although, most people seem to do their shopping, etc. in the city centre. For regular shopping, though, Tesco.com is the most common choice, and they deliver to your door.

    3) Elvet Riverside is one of the major classroom buildings for the university. Although there is not one contiguous campus for Durham, Elvet Riverside is about as ‘central’ a landmark as you get (especially for the central/north side of campus as opposed to the south side where the main library, Howlands, etc. are). ER is less than a 5 min walk from the theology dept. at Palace Green.

    I know of only 2 people that live at Howlands (vs about 10 or 12 at KH). From their description it is mostly suited for single postgrads rather than couples/families, so I think most people there will be in a diffent stage of life than you. A big positive would be the proximity to the main library (.5 miles per Ustinov). However, I think most people would be best suited going with Keenan House. KH is newer (2005 vs 1998), and more importantly, several other couples/families live there. Building community here can be much more challenging than in the States if you live apart from others because of transportation issues in the evenings. So it’s nice to live right there with others.

  5. tritons56 Says:

    If I may, I’d like to pose yet another question about apartments in Keenan House. Soon we will have to decide whether we will rent a one or two bedroom flat. Although I realize that you do not live in college housing, you’ve mentioned before that the smaller apartments are dorm-roomish. So, what would you recommend? Any counsel would be helpful.


  6. Ben Says:

    No problem. I talked with a couple tonight who lives there and they offered a couple of thoughts that lend towards 2 bdrms:
    1) If you expect to have anyone come visit for more than 1 or 2 nights, a 2 bdrm is almost a must.
    2) If you think you might do studying at home, 2 bdrms would be much easier.
    3) The 1 bdrm only has 1 internet outlet and it’s in the bedroom, so it’s hard on the spouse to cruise the net if you’re studying, or you may be distracting to the spouse that wants to sleep.
    4) Depending on how long you’ve been out of school, the 1 bdrm may feel like too much of a return to the old college days.

    However, we have several friends that live in a 1 bdrm (none have kids, obviously) but they don’t complain and adjust to the situation. A little extra simplicity for Americans who like to live large probably isn’t a bad thing.

  7. tritons56 Says:

    Thanks so much, we’ve decided to go with the 2 bedroom!

  8. Dave Briones Says:

    Hey Ben,

    My wife Mindy and I are living in York for the next two months, but we were wondering if we could meet up in Durham? Laurie (Robert Cavin’s wife) gave us a forwarded email about getting together. Let us know if and when that would work.

    Thank you so much for your time.

  9. Katie Says:

    I was curious if you guys still had a U.S. bank account? We are wanting to keep a U.S. account for certain support but we want it to be accessible and easy to draw from while in the UK. Any pointers??

  10. Ben Says:

    Yes, we still have a US account since we still pay a couple of bills from it, especially when we buy $ stuff on credit cards. I would say the big criteria for a US account would be these:

    1) Online banking/bill-pay (obvious)
    2) Free use at any ATM (even internationally)
    3) No foreign currency charges/commissions
    4) Costs/ease of wire transfers
    5) Mail-in deposits (assuming you get $ gifts)
    6) Interbank transfers — can’t do this internationally but it’s handy if you have other US accounts (savings, etc.)

    I imagine that most internet based banks would best fit this bill, especially no ATM/currency fees. The exchange rate is already bad enough, and you don’t want to lose another 2.5% on currency fees (also you don’t have to worry about travelers cheques either and losing on exchange fees for those). We use E*Trade Bank (www.etrade.com). They do all that stuff above, although we haven’t tried doing wire tranfers since we just pull money out of ATMs to tranfer to £’s. We’ve banked with them for about 6 years and have been pleased. I had a friend who had access to USAA, and said they were really good about international stuff since it’s tied to military people, who are often overseas. But you have to have some kind of family military connection to open an account with them.

    Does that help?

  11. Katie Says:

    Thank you so much. This is very helpful! One more question. Do you ever write checks to yourself from your U.S. account and deposit into your UK account and then they convert to £’s?? Seems like that may be the simplest way to transfer money over if it is possible. Thanks very much.

  12. Ben Says:

    Haven’t done that. I’ve heard from a few sources that $ checks take 6+ weeks to clear in a £ account. For really large amounts, most people wire money. For smaller amounts I just use the ATM. We can pull out £400/day from the ATM, so it just depends on how quickly you need the money.

  13. Katie Says:

    Okay. That’s good to know. And your bank has no ATM fee when you do that? That should work great then. Thanks a lot!

  14. Ben Says:

    That’s right, no ATM fees and no currency conversion fees with Etrade, at least with the account we’ve got, but I wouldn’t expect that it would be different with any others that they offer.

  15. Irene Says:

    I’m trying to find a rental for when I go to Ustinov College this Fall… They didn’t have accommodations there because I waited too long…

    I wanted to find out what areas were the closest to Ustinov College to get a rental..

    When I visit this website:

    Which areas are the closest when you click on WHICH AREA ARE YOU LOOKING IN?

    Could someone please let me know!
    Thank you!


  16. Ashley Powell Says:

    Your website is wonderful! My husband (Adam Powell) will be starting at Durham in January and reading your posts have really helped with our planning! One area that is causing a lot of stress is our sweet dog:) We have found a lot of information on what is required to bring her, but we can’t find any information regarding life in the UK with a pet. From your experience, is the UK dog friendly? Do you have any tips for us? Thanks for your time.

    1. Ben Says:

      Hi Ashley, Looking forward to meeting y’all. I’d say the UK is even more dog friendly than the US. If you’re out, you always see somebody walking their dog. The only possible complication is finding a house that allows them if you are letting. It’s not uncommon to find a house to let, but I think it is more expensive. But I’m not really sure since we never looked into it.

    2. Jodi Says:

      I am an American who is doing my PhD in Brighton and will be moving up to Durham in the fall since my sister will be getting her Masters there at Durham University. I have a dog and had to go through the expense of flying her over here, all the steps necessary to meet the requirements and she and I love it over here – everyone is a dog lover esp in Brighton, but I find that everywhere. They will make the transition easily if you do.

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