Big Ben to Big Apple: A guide for Brits moving from London to New York City

If you've recently moved from London to New York, read on for tips on securing homesickness, finding a flat, getting around the Big Apple, and managing your finances in the U.S.

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Alison Rogers
Journalist and real estate broker

Winston Churchill famously said that the U.S. and the U.K., sharing a common language, have a “Special Relationship.” The largest cities of the two allies are somewhat twinned as well. New York and London are so symbiotic that there’s even a name for people who travel back and forth: Nylons. There are nearly 200 flights per day between London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) and New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). Many U.K. citizens are in New York for more than a famous "New York minute." The Telegraph (UK) estimated that there are more than 120,000 Brits in New York City. The West Villageand the Upper East Side in Manhattan and Park Slope and Boerum Hill in Brooklyn are all neighborhoods with a strong British presence. 

Feeling homesick? 

If you want to watch football (which in the U.S. is called soccer) you’ve got plenty of pubs (that’s “bars” to local New Yorkers) to choose from. Carragher’s near Times Square, named after renowned defender Jamie Carragher, is all Liverpool, all the time. Smithfield Hall in Chelsea, the Winslow Gin House near Union Square and the Black Horse Pub in Park Slope, Brooklyn, are popular choices for Premier League fans as well.

If you’re looking for just the right skincare and makeup, local big box store Target sells the Boots No7 brand. Myers of Keswick is a traditional British grocery store, and Butcher Block in Sunnyside, Queens carries British and Irish chips, sweets, and condiments. 

For TV, the BBC and ITV have created the digital streaming service BritBox, which offers such popular picks as The Office, Vera and Inspector Morse. BBC America is offered by many cable services, showing favorites like Graham Norton and Doctor Who. You can also check out PBS, the American public broadcaster, which hosts a variety of content from documentaries to music and arts shows.

Among the best pubs in Manhattan are GMT (which stands for Greenwich Mean Time) Tavern, the Cock and Bull, and Jones Wood Foundry. For whisky, the Caledonia bar is uptown. In Brooklyn, stop by The Monro Pub in Park Slope. If you want Welsh food you’ll need to trek to Snowdonia in Astoria, Queens.

Last but not least if you’re in search of comfort food, head to Tea and Sympathy, a tiny shop on Greenwich Avenue that has been around for nearly four decades (David Bowie had his fiftieth birthday party there). 

How to find a flat

Head over to our general tips on finding apartments in the U.S. if you're looking for a list of do's and dont's. Realize that in the Big Apple, the terminology is a little different from the lingo in London: New Yorkers refer to a “flat” as an apartment. In NYC, a “bedsit” is a “studio apartment” or simply “studio” (though NYC studios are an upgrade in that they have private, not shared, bathrooms.) Try to forget preconceptions, too. In London, new-build flats may have a reputation for poor quality, but that doesn’t necessarily hold true in New York, where new construction is often aimed at the luxury market. Your best bet may be a little old-fashioned detective work. If you’re interested in a building, ask other residents what it’s like to live there, and if they have any issues with the landlord or the way the building is run.

Your landlord will want you to have a steady income (or proof of assets). Even if you don’t have a U.S. guarantor, you can opt for services like TheGuarantors, a company that offers a third-party lease guarantee service for a fee. Until recently, tenants generally paid broker fees, which customarily ranged between one month’s rent and 15% of a year’s rent. However, New York City regulators recently banned this practice. The real estate industry will likely challenge that ruling in court, so keep an eye out for additional changes. In addition, many condominiums will charge move-in deposits and move-in fees, so make sure that you go over the fine details with your broker or potential landlord. 

As a Canadian expat in NYC, use your international credit history as part of your rental application

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The good news is that security deposits are, by a recent NYC regulation, capped at one month’s rent. Unlike in the U.K., security deposits do not go into a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme. As a New York City tenant, however, you must be notified which New York State bank your deposit is held in; the name of the bank is generally written into the lease. Your deposit will be returned, minus recompense for damages that are above normal “wear and tear,” after your lease ends. Legally, that return is due by 14 days after you have vacated the property and surrendered the keys.

How to get around 

The New York City subway is larger than the London Tube. There are more stations -- 472 in NYC vs. 270 in London. Ridership is higher too: The Tube supports 1.35 billion rides per year, while New York City subway riders make 1.68 billion trips.

The subway is unzoned, so it costs the same fare, currently $2.75, to ride the subway from any station to any other station. At current exchange rates, that’s about £2.1, so subway fares will seem like a bargain if you’re coming from Britain. Unlike London, New York City subway fares do not vary by time of day. 

In keeping with New York being “The City that Never Sleeps,” the subways run 24 hours a day. The subway is beginning to implement contactless payments, but they’re not yet available on all train lines. Trains run every 2 to 10 minutes during rush hour, but many trains are plagued by delays. The transit agency that runs the subways has proposed a massive program to upgrade subway signals. Much of the work will be done on nights and weekends, so make sure you consult “The Weekender” web page, or a transit app like CityMapper, to make sure that your planned train is running as scheduled. Also be aware of the distinction between “local” and “express” -- listen to train announcements to make sure that your train doesn’t suddenly run express and skip your stop. 

You can drive in New York with a valid UK license. Drive on the right, please. Thirty days after you become a New York resident, you are required to get a New York State driver’s license, which involves bringing identification, taking a written test, and then taking a road test.

Managing your finances

If you’ve just moved to the U.S., Nova Credit can help you start off on the right foot by helping Brits new to the States to use their UK credit history to apply for products and services here in the U.S. After you obtain your first U.S. credit line, your use of the card will typically start building a credit history at one or more of the three major U.S. bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. All of Nova Credit's lending partners will report your credit performance to at least one of these credit bureaus. Over time you can build your U.S. credit score and apply for a wider variety of products to keep building your score. 

Credit card: Nova Credit’s partner American Express will allow you to apply for a card by transferring your credit history from the UK. Explore the best American Express cards for newcomers here.

New! You can use your international credit history from Australia, Canada, India, Mexico and the UK to apply for an American Express ® Personal Card in the U.S.

Banking: You’ll likely need to set up a U.S. checking account after your arrival., but if you’re an 

HSBC customer you can set up a bank account in the U.S. from outside the U.S. if you’re already a current customer of the bank. Monzo is a London-based startup, which offers app-based banking with a linked MasterCard debit card in the U.S. Barclays offers online savings accounts, but, as of this writing, no traditional checking account product in the U.S. 

Taxes: If you’re planning to be gone for one full tax year (from April 6th to April 5th of the following year), you need to notify the taxman in the form of HM Revenue and Customs. When you get to New York, you’ll find a sales tax of 8.875% on most goods and services. That’s lower than the VAT of 20% that you’ve been paying in London. 

Moving money across the pond:  The barter economy looks old-fashioned until you look at the high exchange rate spreads and hefty fees involved in moving currency. If you have a lot of money on deposit, a large international bank such as Citi can offer “multi-currency” accounts, so that you can keep money in both pounds sterling and dollars, and try to time the currency markets. 

Another good option is Transferwise, which pairs one client’s currency movement from Point A to Point B with another client’s currency movement from Point B to Point A to reduce friction (and fees) on both the transactions. 

The takeaway

Learn more about products available for British newcomers to the U.S. here. For more resources on how to navigate your new life in the U.S., you can visit Nova Credit’s resource library where you can learn about everything from renting an apartment to finding the best credit cards for noncitizens.

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