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How to manage culture shock when moving from the US to the UK

When Americans move from the US to the UK, they’re often surprised at how different the culture feels. This can lead to feelings of homesickness and isolation. This article provides useful information for American's looking to move to the UK

Written by Amy Morton on 24 June 2024

When Americans move from the US to the UK, they’re often surprised at how different the culture feels. This can lead to feelings of homesickness and isolation.

We spoke to Expat Coach & Consultant Amy Morton about the biggest culture shocks US expats might face when moving to the UK, how to avoid feeling homesick and what support is out there for expats to settle in and adjust to life in the UK from both a practical and emotional perspective.

Watch the interview

What are the biggest culture shocks that many expats from the US face when they first move to the UK?

Many people who move from the US to the UK are surprised at how much culture shock they experience. As both countries speak English, most people assume the culture is going to be pretty similar. In fact, there are some huge differences – and the extent of the culture shock depends on from where you're from in the US and where you're moving to in the UK. Some of the biggest culture shocks for US expats are:

Cost of living

The price of energy is very high in the UK right now, as is the cost of housing, especially in the cities. On top of that, high living expenses like food all add up. Many expats coming to the UK don’t expect the cost of living here to be quite so much.


While many US expats look forward to the free health care here, it’s important for them to be aware that while free health care is available via the NHS, it is currently overcrowded and underfunded. This means wait times for appointments and emergency care can be longer than people are used to, so it’s worth looking at health insurance before you come over to reduce that culture shock.

British slang

You might think it’s just words, and it's not a big difference. But when you're surrounded by British slang and hearing it every day – things like sidewalk/pavement, french fries/chips or eggplant/aubergine – it does create a definite sense of being in a different country and experiencing a new culture.

Home comforts

As an expat in the UK, there are lots of little things around the house that remind you you’re not at home: the sinks, the hot and cold taps, the power outlets, even the yoghurt flavours! Lots of US expats are surprised that they can’t find the same types of food products in the UK shops, and that UK supermarkets are very different.

Customer service

US expats can often be surprised at the customer service in the UK – or lack of it! Workers in the US tend to go out of their way to deliver customer service, but that’s not something you encounter very often in the UK. And that can exacerbate feelings of loneliness, because it can feel like people aren’t willing to help you and you’re having to find out a lot of things on your own.

Bank accounts

Opening a bank account can be a struggle for US expats, as to open a UK bank account you’ll usually need rental paperwork and three months’ worth of proof of address. Expats can find themselves stuck here, and not having access to money can make you feel very lost. However, there are ways to open a UK bank account before you arrive, but do plan ahead so you don’t get stuck.

What are your top tips for dealing with homesickness for US expats who move to the UK?

When it comes to reducing homesickness, I always advise my clients to be proactive. Those who have done their research before they arrive in the UK and expect to encounter cultural differences tend to experience less culture shock and settle in much quicker.

Research life in the UK and speak to people living here

The expats who experience the least homesickness are those who have researched life in the part of the UK they’re moving to and have spoken to people who live there. As a result, they feel less isolated. There are lots of YouTube videos and resources out there to find out about day to day living in all parts of the UK. Of course, while the internet presents a wealth of information, it can be difficult to know what to trust. That’s where I can help, as my role is to be a trusted source and give people guidance on moving to and living in the UK. 

Expect to experience culture shock and give yourself time to settle in

It’s perfectly normal not to feel settled right away, and many people are surprised at how long it can take to feel at home. I would say, allow yourself at least 18 months to get over culture shock and homesickness. It sounds like a long time, but this is the average time it takes expats to feel truly at home in a new country. Especially if they’re on their own and they haven’t had anyone to help them settle in.

You’re probably going to feel anxious and excited when you’re preparing to leave, then go through a honeymoon period where everything feels new and interesting, you’re eager to explore your new surroundings and enthused about the new culture. Then, for a lot of people, culture shock and homesickness kick in. This is when many people start feeling isolated and lonely. Small differences can start to be annoying.  If you don't do anything about it, it’s easy to find yourself in a dip where you want to go home. That’s when you need to really focus on adapting and integrating, seeking out the support you need so that you can thrive in your new life.

AIM Expat Transition model - explained in the following text

AIM Expat Transition model

Don’t play the comparison game

It can be too easy to compare your new life in the UK to your old life in the US, because it's so similar. Instead, remind yourself why you left the US and came to the UK. While it might be tempting to hang out with people from the US and go to the US-style stores, you're not going to integrate or feel at home in the UK if you keep clinging onto life in the US. Meet people, engage in British culture and think of yourself as a resident, not a tourist.

To keep you from dwelling on the negatives when you’re feeling homesick, it can help to make a list of all the good things you like about in the UK and look at it once in a while. It might sound silly, but having it on paper and reminding yourself of the positives significantly helps.

Also, try not to call home too much. Obviously, you need to talk to your family and friends at home. You’ll want to speak with them when you're having a low moment, but phoning home daily is likely to make you feel more homesick and make you want to go back.

Keep doing the hobbies you loved back home

Whatever you were into back home – sports, crafts or any other hobby – you’ll be able to find a place to do it in the UK. This is a great way to reduce homesickness, connect with people and feel integrated into the community.  

Be mindful of how you use social media

On one hand, social media can offer you many opportunities to connect with and meet people – such as Facebook groups for US expats moving to UK. But it can also be tempting to look at people back home having fun and getting together all the time and feel like you’re missing out. Additionally, you might be looking at people who have also moved to the UK who look like they're having more fun and have settled in more easily. But remember, social media is not always the truth.

Remember how courageous you’ve been

You had the courage and the confidence to move overseas in the first place. Remember that and tell yourself that getting out of your house and meeting new people is nothing compared to what you've done already. So, get yourself out there, stay curious and enjoy finding out about all the new opportunities you have.

Where can US expats in the UK go to find connection and community?

The best way for US expats in the UK to connect and find their community is to get out of the house. Don't focus on your phone, physcially get out there. While Facebook has plenty of helpful groups to give you advice on things like visas, tax and immigration, when it comes to networking you want to get out there in the real world.

For many expats, making new friends doesn’t feel easy – and the more isolated and lonely we feel, the more difficult it is to find the confidence to go out and meet new people. That’s when we can get caught in a cycle which leaves us feeling more and more lonely.

However, with social media and online platforms, meeting people is easier than it used to be.  Look for local clubs, events or activities that align with your interests to meet like-minded people.

Always be open to invitations. Sometimes it can feel like a huge effort to find the motivation to get out there, but it’s always worthwhile. Like any relationship, you have to put the work into making friends – but making it a priority to meet people can help hugely with culture shock and homesickness.

What support do you offer to help US expats to settle in the UK?

I help expats successfully integrate abroad without the overwhelm, stress and isolation. I can support with both the logistical and emotional side of things, which is just as important.

There’s a lot of noise out there online around immigration, tax, etc. and it's very overwhelming to know where to start. My role is to be that starting point and act as a friendly, trusted source of advice, whether people need help with practicalities, professional recommendations, visas, health care or emotional support.

When I work with expats who are homesick or struggling to settle in, we identify the main reasons why they’re feeling unhappy. We work together to set small weekly goals, and I keep them accountable – whether that’s finding new friends, starting a career or making sure they feel at home in a new place.

Do you have any final words of advice for US expats moving to the UK?

If you move to a new country, don't expect to settle in immediately. I've had clients come to me saying: “It’s been two days, I've got the admin all sorted, I thought I'd be enjoying it by now.” Let yourself feel overwhelmed. It is overwhelming. But remember, you don't have to do it on your own.

Don’t suffer in silence. Loneliness is transitory and taking proactive steps can makes a significant difference in your expat journey. Reach out, get professional support if you need to, and start living that exciting life overseas you always thought it was going to be.

In association with

AIM Coaching