Tips that we hope you find helpful for settling into the UK and Durham.

HOUSING: We have a family, so we decided to go with a “privately let” house. If you don’t have kids, it’s probably easiest to just do housing through your college–most Americans live in Ustinov’s Keenan House (at Dryburn Court). Here’s a quick vocab lesson: detached house–normal house, semi-detached–like duplex, terraced–like townhome (a row of houses all attached), bungalo–single-story house, flat–apartment, estate–a group of houses together with the same postal code. Most address are based on estate and not the road, so it can be quite confusing trying to find houses here since there is often no connection to the road on a map.

We ended up in the Gilesgate area (see post code DH1 2HZ). It’s about a 30 min walk into the city center, with a couple of hills that make you healthy. We like the area and are just a couple of blocks from Tesco (~Super Walmart), so that makes shopping easy! Any further out than Gilesgate or Keenan House and you’d have to catch a bus in or have a car (but there is no free parking within a 15-20 min walk of town). Almost everybody walks and only use the buses when weather is bad, etc. I had expected to bike everywhere, but it is quite hilly so very few do. However, I’m doing it more often just because it saves so much time. See this post on places to live and this file on general housing information, which has info about different accommodations and different parts of town.

Durham University has an accomodations office, but we found that almost all their houses were really for a group of undergrads and not really in the condition for a family. So, we went through a real estate agency here in town. We were looking for a 3 bdrm (hopefully furnished) place. After looking at about 10 different houses, we learned that our original budget of £500-£600 was a little low based on our expectations. We did find places in the lower half of that range, but they were on busy streets, too far, run down, no garden for our boys, etc. We eventually went with one in Gilesgate (about 1 mile east of the city center), and it was actually just built this year. It has 3 bdrms, and the letting agent got the landlord to furnish the place for us—beds, dining table, wardrobes, couches, etc. One thing about furnishings is that sometimes even kitchen appliances are considered “furnishings”, so you may find something listed as partially-furnished and that may mean with major kitchen appliances but no other furniture. Although, we found almost all places to have the major appliances (dish washer, clothes washer—often in the kitchen, and refrigerator/freezer–about 1/2 the size of standard US one). We only found one house with decent furnishings (beds/couches) other than this one but it was too far out.

The letting agent we used was Martin Hunter with JW Wood ( Other main agents are Robinsons, Reeds Rains, Cathedral Lettings, Dowen, Countrywide, and Stuart Edwards. They won’t do much more than schedule an appointment to go house hunting before you arrive. We had booked showings for the next day after we arrived for about 8 houses with JWW and Reeds Rains. I also walked into Robinsons and they showed me a couple the next day. We tried to get pre-approved to speed up the process but they never did anything with the info we sent. After selecting a place, we submitted an application (fee of £125). Then they wanted a personal reference (done by email) and financial references (bank statements—they took mine from the US w/o any trouble.) We told them that we’d like to expedite the normal 2 week process, and we were moved in within 5 days of the application. The Reeds woman said that since we had no UK credit history, we’d have to pay 6 months rent up front. For Wood, we did the standard deposit and 1 months rent on move in.

On Council Tax (~Property Tax): Here property tax is levied against the occupants, not the owners. If you have an international student visa, you should not have to pay council tax (assuming your spouse is not British). However, just about everyone I’ve spoken with has been hit up for tax for the time between their arrival and the beginning of term (1 Oct). It worked out to £85 or so for the 2 months we were here. Although, it took several iterations (5 to be exact) with the local gov’t before they got down to the correct bill. This only applies to regular houses. That is, no issue if you are in college housing (again, assuming your spouse is not British).

On College Housing: Keenan House (Ustinov) has several advantages.: around other friends from the department, shares a parking lot with the hospital, and relatively new accommodations, near New College (a gym where we play BB), and decent price without utilities. The 1 bedroom apartments give the feel of college dorms. The 3 bedroomers feel like an apartment. The furnishings are “functional”. There is not any grass that I’ve seen for the kids to play on. It’s also at the top of a long hill from the school. It about a 20-30 walk to the city center. Probably the biggest draw back is no grocery store right near it. Some buy groceries from Tesco online, others buy them in the city center and walk them up, and others take the bus up.

BANKS. (Also see my post on British Banking) We originally tried to go with HSBC, but as an international student you have to sign up over the internet and then wait to receive some letter, which was an unacceptable wait for us. So I went over to Barclays and all it took was a 1-hr appointment with the student banking representative and a £2000 deposit to open an account. It can go below £2000 after that, but you’ll be charged a £5 fee each month that it is below £2000, which seemed to be standard across the other banks I looked at. To open the account, he’ll want your offer letter from DU back in the states as confirmation of your US address. We sold a condo in Dallas before coming so the address on that letter wouldn’t be going to any family (that is, until it got forwarded). Fortunately for me, he let us go ahead and use it b/c no mail will be sent there anyway. But I could definitely tell he was a little reluctant to do it, so if the address they sent the letter to you is different than your current US mailing address, I might not mention it. You can change it over the internet as soon as they set up your account anyway. We opened the bank account the day we found out that we were accepted for the house so we just used that address for the local one, but I believe they shouldn’t give much trouble using a Ustinov or other mailing address.

They are very much more particular about opening an account here than in the US (again, see my post on British Banking). I suppose you have heard, but if you bring a $ denominated check to open your account it will take about 6 weeks for it to clear. It was recommended to us to either get a check in £ or just pull £’s out of the ATM until you have enough to deposit, and we did the latter because our bank doesn’t charge for using other ATMs and it gave us a market exchange rate rather than a 2.5%+ charge. It seems that you can get £400 or £500 per day depending on which bank’s ATM you go to—we did mostly Barclays. But it will take a bit to get all the money you need with £2000 for bank deposit and £1400+ for house move in—not to mention eating, etc. when you arrive.

PHONE: I just called up BT to set up our phone the day we got approved for the house. It was very easy to set it up, and everything was finished over the phone. They did want a £50 deposit b/c no UK credit history, which they took from my US visa card. However, I had another friend whose card they wouldn’t take, so he just used ours and reimbursed us. You are charged for all but 0800 calls. Most companies use 0845 numbers which are 3-5p/min. Landline calls are 5p/min or so from BT.

We use Vonage to call people in the US and landline calls in the UK (for free). Just buy it in the US, and you get a US number people can call just like they would if you were in the US. It runs over DSL with no troubles, and it sounds like you are right next door. If you are interested in going with Vonage, let me know b/c we can both get discounts if I recommend you. Before the DSL got set up to use Vonage we used this number 0844 861 9090 to get 1p/min. calls to the US.

MOBILES: You almost have to go with a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) phone when you get here because you have no credit history. I wanted to get a PDA phone from T-Mobile after we had been here about 4 months. It took 4 separate trips, signing up over the web, and a £100 deposit, but I finally walked out with one. You are only charged when making calls, not when receiving, with PAYG and contract. The best route is to bring your phones from the states and just use them here (assuming they are GSM). Just make sure you get them unlocked so you can use another company’s sim card. There’s a little more info on my moving electronics to the UK post. See also a more extended discussion by a recent addition to the Durham phd family on Mobiles.

DSL: I tried to go with Sky, but they were really slow getting back with me because they were just rolling it out. My guess is that they don’t have enough servers to support VOIP calling (e.g., Vonage), as we experienced with We have been very disappointed with Virgin, and would NOT recommend them. They were cheap, but had VERY poor customer service and didn’t have enough servers to handle all the traffic when the students arrived in October, so we were effectively unable to use Vonage. But the BT Broadband up to 8MB, with 6GB downloads works just fine. It’s comparably priced and definitely large enough to depend on for an adequate number of servers to maintain speed. Most DSL modems run £50+, so I would buy one in the US before you arrive. However, BT does give you a free one, so check with the provider you are interested in.

TV: There are no cable companies in Durham, so it’s Sky for satellite or rabbit ears. We got a 20″ TV for about £90, and there is an annual TV tax of £130. About half the TV shows or more seem to be from the US (except on the BBC channels). They don’t include English football games on the sports package, you have to pay extra for that if you are interested. Most just go to a local pub to watch. Although, weekly NFL games are televised on Sunday evenings here–usually four games per weekend. If you go with sky let me know, and I think we get discounts if I officially recommend you.

UTILITIES: Water, Gas, and Electric were automatically turned on before we moved in, under the same companies that the last tenant had. We eventually got letters from each service about a month after we moved in. There is a choice here for companies for gas and for electric, and you get discounts for direct debit and for using the same company for each. Instead of billing you for actual use monthly, you pay a flat amount each month of your choosing. (about £30-50/month for each). Then they adjust it each year. After a few months I went shopping and found to be handy for picking out the cheapest rates, and setting up the switch. Get your name and your spouse’s name on the bill, so your spouse can get a bank account. A paid utility bill is required for proof of address at the bank. I would strongly recommed against British Gas, as they have very poor systems for dealing with problems: see here and here.


20 Responses to “Settling In”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Hey Ben,

    I was wondering if you had any advice on staying connected with your extended family and friends? I was just accepted into the program and am now trying to figure out how I can keep my wife from feeling too isolated. She’s worried that she will lose contact with her close friends. We’re moving from western Canada.

    Have you or your wife struggled with this? How have you coped?

    I wish you all the best with your studies.

    Kevin H.

  2. Ben Says:

    Kevin, It’s easier to stay connected than I expected, but it’s harder to get connected than I expected, too. I did a post on settling in on the personal side: Keeping in Touch.

    My wife has lived away from her family since college, but has always stayed in close contact through the phone. That part is just as easy here, except for the time difference. I think a big part of settling in is making friends here and thinking of this as home. We’ve tried to do both of those and our transition has been relatively easy and rewarding.

    Let me know if I you want more detail.

    FYI, There’s a family here from Saskatchewan; he’s doing NT.

  3. Kevin Says:

    Thanks Ben. This blog is a tremendous resource. I have also been impressed by your positive attitude. Some PhD students make the process sound like going through hell. Although I expect it requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice, it’s nice to hear that you seem to be enjoying your time there.

    I think the challenge of adapting to a new country will be particularily hard for my wife because we are both relatively young (mid twenties), but like you said, a lot of it has to do with mindset. If we go to Durham knowing that we will have to work to keep our old friends, and also put effort into developing new relationships, we should be ok.

    Perhaps I’ll see you next year (though I’m studying Patristics).


  4. Ben Says:

    Thanks. We do really like it here. John is great as a supervisor, and the people we’ve met here are fun. The pace is kind of what you make it, so I haven’t found it that stressful. I always feel that I’m 3 books behind what I should be, but when can you ever get away from that. The people who have gone through the MATR in Durham, say the pace for that is much harder.

    I’m actually dabbling in patristics for my thesis. I’ll be about 2/3 Paul and 1/3 patristics (Irenaeus and Cyril). There are surprisingly few patristics people here under Louth, who by the way is very nice (though shy at first).

    If you come through for a visit or something let us know, and we’ll have you for dinner.

  5. Kevin Says:

    Theosis in Paul, and its significance for Protestants, is an important subject. I’m fairly convinced Paul has a doctrine of theosis (or is very close to it). But, as far as I know, very few people have fleshed this out. Its not uncommon to find books on deification (such as Jules Gross’ Divinization of the Christian) which touch on Pual, but these are usually very short summaries.

    Have you read Veli-Matti Karkkainen’s One With God: Salvation as Deification and Justification? He touches most on Luther’s theology, but it could have some value. You might find it too basic.

    I’ll definitely let you know if we make a visit. We’re talking about it right now.


    Do you have any advice regarding going from Koine to Patristic Greek? Besides Lampe’s Patristic Lexicon, I can’t think of any works on Patristic Greek. Have you found the transition difficult?

  6. Ben Says:

    Yeah, I feel like I’ve stumbled into an area that has very few works. For the Orthodox they are happy focusing primarily on the Fathers for detailed support of theosis, and most Protestants that I’ve seen deal with it also seem to stay on the systematic level (like Karkkainen, which I thought was a decent intro). I’ve come across a couple of essays dealing with Paul, but as you said they are fairly superficial. I haven’t read Gross, so I’ll have to pick it up.

    On Patristic Greek, it hasn’t been too bad, but it’s harder b/c there aren’t as many resources or options to check your translation against. For the most part, everybody here relies on LSJ as the standard lexicon, and seldomly seem to consult Lampe since it’s not broad enough in the words it treats. Advice?? I’ve only really dabbled a little so far since I’m focussing on Paul first. I figure like NT, just jumping in and doing translation is the best.

  7. John Says:

    Have you found a good church (or two) that you’d recommend in or around Durham? When we arrive in the Fall my wife and I would prefer to attend a non-charismatic evangelical church of any size with decent expository preaching. Are there any like that in the area? Also, have you had a chance to attend the Cathedral for a worship service? If so, how was your experience, and how often does ‘Bishop Tom’ preach at that venue?

  8. Ben Says:

    Christ Church is the closest to that description, and it draws most of the north american evangelicals. I’ll try to do my next durham post on churches here to give you a better view. I’ve only been to the cathedral for official type events–lectures. I know Tom doesn’t preach there as often as I thought, and I haven’t found the place to see when he does. If you (or someone else) does, pass it along.

    Update: Here’s a post about churches:

  9. John Says:

    My family (my wife, infant son, and myself) are travelling to St. Andrews to begin studies this fall. I think I am supposed to be there on September 24th. I plan to go a bit earlier in order to set up housing, banking, phone, etc. before my wife and son come over to join me. How much earlier than Sept. 24th do you recommend me coming in order to get a place and to get it settled?

  10. Ben Says:

    If you already have a house or other accommodation set up, I would think 2 weeks would give you plenty of time to get settled in. If you are house hunting as well, I would add at least a week if not more. We were here 2 months before term because of schooling for my 6 yr old. It was a very nice way to settle in, and I would encourage more time than less so you and your family can adjust to a new culture before you also have to throw going to school into the mix.

  11. tritons56 Says:

    Do you know if it is possible to establish cell phone plans and a bank account prior to arriving in Durham? We’d like to get as much done over hear as possible, especially since you mention that having internet and a mailing address is necessary at times. Also, hassles aside, which companies would recommend for each service?

  12. Ben Says:

    I would assume no–I’ve not heard of anyone doing it. Until you arrive you have not established residency, so I’m pretty sure neither a bank or mobile company would go for it.

    If you are moving into Keenan house the need for an account immediately is not that great since you won’t have any bills to direct debit immediately (that I can think of), and working off a cash (assuming you are using the ATMs) isn’t that difficult.
    We have Barclays for a bank and we like them. We have friends that also an equivalent experience with Lloyds. Again, assuming you are in Keenan House, you should be able to open an account the day you arrive (if you had an appointment).

    On mobiles, we were high users of cell phones in the States, but here there is just not a lot to use them for. So, most go with Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) plans. T-Mobile seems to have the cheapest rates (Mates Rates, currently 5p/min) to other T-Mobile customers. So all you would need to do is buy a sim, assuming you already have an unlocked GSM phone from the states. (Remember, you only pay for calls made, not received.) After being here 4 months, I finally got them to let me have a monthly plan–but that was because I wanted a specific pda phone and it was cheaper to pay for the lowest monthly plan than it was to buy the phone outright. They really gave me a hassle b/c I didn’t have any credit history.

  13. John Says:

    I am applying for a visa and it seems a bit more complicated than it was to apply for a passport. Perhaps you could comment on how your application process went. My main questions are as follows:

    1)How long does it take to get your application back once you have applied?

    2)I noticed that my visa application asked me if my wife and son were coming with me. However, I am not sure if they need their own application form or if they can send their passports and fees in with my application?

    3)The application asks me where I will be living when I arrive so I was wondering if I had to establish a residence before hand. I recall that you did not, so what did you put for this question.

    Thanks for your time.

  14. Ben Says:

    1. We found the visa process to be very quick–we did the online application, mailed our stuff in, and got the reply less than two weeks later.

    2. We weren’t sure about that either, so we called the $2/min UK helpline. They said you should fill out separate applications for each of you but you mail them in in one package. We’re not sure why they have the other option.

    3. We just put the hotel/b&b address that we were planning on staying at–that is what the international office here at Durham told us. It worked fine.

  15. John Says:

    I’ve been looking for Barclays bank on googlemap, but it does not appear, even though many others do. Where is Barclays located?

  16. Ben Says:

    There are two branches–
    1) City Centre right in the square where the statue and St. Nic’s church are.
    2) Across the street from the Elvet Riverside buildings (on New Elvet road, just before it turns into Church road)

  17. […] Sunday, 17 February 2008 Phone Calling in the UK Posted by Ben under International Life   Landlines: Here in Durham, British Telecom (BT) is just about the only landline company available, and the basic cost is about £10/month.  It’s fairly easy to set up, but they’ll want a £50 deposit for new international customers (see more details here). […]

  18. […] the process from our first try 3 years ago since it made it easier the second time around: Settling In 4pm, narrow down the list and make viewing appointments, learn that several are already taken. 6pm, […]

  19. […] Moving to the UK? Posted by Ben under International Life Leave a Comment  If you are moving to the UK, could I ask a quick favour from those of you that have benefited from this blog?  There are a […]

  20. […] are a couple of other helpful links about banking in the UK. Here (about halfway down the page) and here. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to […]

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