After 11 years, here’s 17 surprising things I learned as a Brit living in America. From income & food costs to mortgages & road trips!
17 Surprising Things I Learned As A Brit Living In America
Hi, guys! Today’s list comes straight from my husband. In case you don’t know, I’m from Ohio and my husband is from England.
He’s been living in America for 11 years now, so I thought it would be fun to have him make a list of the most surprising things he learned being British Living In America.
Here’s what he came up with!
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Top Surprises When You’re A British Living In America
Before we start, I want to say we LOVE both England and America. England is a beautiful country full of lovely people. This is just a list of things that surprised my British husband after moving to America.
1. Roads Are BIGGER in America
Whether you’re on highways, neighborhood streets, in shopping areas, or business districts, the roads in the US tend to be noticeably wider.
Let’s use residential streets as an example. Many of the residential streets in the UK are about 15 feet wide. Which sounds wide, but you generally have cars parked all along both sides of that street.
That leaves just enough space for 1 car to squeeze between the parked cars. But the roads aren’t usually one way roads.
So, when another car approaches you, one of you has to find an empty “parking space” to pull into so the other can pass. It can be a pain sometimes.
And, America has the benefit of tons of wide open land & big highway budgets. So, we’ve got an amazing network of highways crisscrossing this country. That makes long-distance travel quicker and easier.
Traveling 100 miles in the UK can take a few hours when you have to use old, narrow, winding country roads to travel between cities. Often 1 car will have to pull over to let opposing traffic pass here too.
Watch Bridget Jones’ Diary for great examples of the beautiful English countryside AND the skinny country roads. You’ll see what I mean.
2. Parking Spaces Are BIGGER in America Too
The same size difference is true for parking spaces and parking garages too. You wouldn’t believe how small and tight some parking lots and parking garages can be in the UK.
British parking lots for most places, including grocery stores, are pretty small compared to the giant parking lots we have in the US.
Heck, truck drivers and RV owners can pull over and sleep in Walmart parking lots because they’re so big! On top of parking lots being smaller, the parking spaces in those parking lots are smaller too.
British parking spaces are barely wider than the average car. And, the driving lane you’re backing into is super tight too. Maybe 9′ feet wide. So, you end up doing a 12-point reverse out of these tight spots.
To this day, as soon as I start to back out of a parking lot space in the US, my husband asks if I want him to “back me out”.
Meaning, he wants to get out and give me hand signals to make sure I get out without hitting anything. Which is something I never actually need here. It’s just what he did for 20 years when he lived in the UK.
3. Public Transportation Is More Available And Easier In The UK
Anyone and everyone in the UK uses public transportation, at least sometimes. If you want to spend the day in London, it’s pretty easy to hop on a train from many cities across the UK.
Once there, London has a GREAT subway (aka underground) and bus system!
But, Britain also has widely used buses all across the country. So, a lot of people will walk to bus stops to do grocery shopping, meet friends for a drink, or to get to the City Center.
I know, I know, we have buses in American cities too. But, most Americans do not ride a public bus with any regularity, if at all. British people do!
That common use of public transportation is fantastic for older people that can’t drive but still want to get out as much as they did when they were younger.
Although, I have to say, we love using Uber when traveling around the US. Having a ride anywhere you want in less than 10 minutes is so convenient.
4. America Is Tops When It Comes To Restaurant Service And Portion Size
My husband LOVES a big portion, guys. Luckily for him, American restaurants serve big meals for a good price. In fact, Americans are used to taking leftovers home whenever we eat at certain restaurants.
In fact, Olive Garden’s unlimited breadsticks and salad used to be my go to when I wanted a nice, affordable dinner AND enough leftovers to have for lunch the next day.
Food portions in the UK tend to be more expensive and about 2/3rds the size of ours. Except for when it comes to Fish And Chips. You always get a GIANT portion of that in the UK.
As a Brit Living in America, he also likes how friendly and helpful most restaurant staff is here. Making small talk with customers or letting customers make food substitutions isn’t really the norm in the UK.
And, of course, American servers are used to checking on you or asking if you want refills every ten minutes. Many restaurants in Britain charge for refills.
Don’t get me wrong though, British restaurant staff work hard and serve delicious food. It’s just different cultural norms and different expectations between the UK and the USA.
5. Mortgages Are Better In The US
OK, here’s something that most people probably don’t think about when they’re thinking about moving to another country, mortgage differences!
Being British living in America, my husband is a big fan of America’s fixed-rate mortgages. So am I. You always know what you’re payment will be, whether it’s a 15-year or 30-year mortgage.
A fixed-rate mortgage in the UK lasts only 2, 3, or 5 years. When that term is up, you have to refinance the loan with the current interest rate. That includes paying closing costs again (called Arrangement fees).
Homebuyers generally need a LARGER down payment to purchase in the UK too. This makes buying a first home much harder in the UK.
And finally, you can pay most American mortgages off early, without a penalty. That early payment can really help to reduce the total interest you’ll pay over the life of your mortgage.
Many UK mortgages can include early repayment limits and fees.
The British mortgage system heavily favors the banks, not the borrower. I hope the UK get better mortgage rules sometime, the British people deserve a fair system too.
6. DIY Is Easier In America!
In case you’re new here, this is primarily a DIY blog, I’m constantly remodeling this house or building furniture. So, we spend a lot of time in American home improvement and hardware stores.
My husband likes how easy it is to buy replacement parts for anything from lawn mower equipment to sprinkler systems, pool equipment, and electrical outlets.
We generally have standardized sizes for hardware, tools, electrical, plumbing, anything and everything a DIYer might need.
In fact, after a few minutes of Googling and YouTube videos, he can generally have a replacement part for anything within a day or two from Amazon. It’s not quite as easy in the UK, yet.
My husband owns a few flats in the UK. So, we’ve spent some quality time in British hardware stores and home improvement stores. It’s harder to find some parts, tools, and building supplies there.
7. Less Vacation Time In The US
One of the downsides, when you’re British working in America, is the difference in vacation time. In Britain, most full-time employees get 5 1/2 weeks of PAID vacation. I think that includes hourly workers.
BUT, in the US, most hourly workers don’t get any paid time off. They’ll probably just have a small allotment of unpaid time off every year.
AND, the salary workers in the US generally start with 2 weeks of paid time off. Plus, a few sick days. Then they can slowly work up to 4 weeks paid time off over the course of 3 or 4 years.
When my husband and I moved to Texas, he was able to get 4 weeks paid time off. But, he had 6 weeks in England and Egypt. So, he gave up 2 weeks of paid vacation to move here.
8. You’re Paid More AND Most Things Are Cheaper
Even though you get less paid vacation in the US, you are paid MORE for similar work. According to this LinkedIn News article, in 2021 the average US salary was $58,260. In the UK it was $38,291.
Part of the reason for the difference in pay is that businesses have to cover that extra vacation time. The UK also covers other social programs that we don’t, this effects the salaries too.
If you’re a Brit working in America, you might also notice that most things are cheaper here too. From houses to cars, to groceries, hotels, and gas; it’s cheaper in America.
Again, this is partially due to taxes and extra costs associated with the extra social programs that are provided in Great Britain.
And, the US is just full of suppliers and companies competing on price. So, that’s good for us!
9. Movie Theaters Have Big, Comfy Seats With Tons Of Legroom
Here’s another benefit of living in a country with tons of space, you can always find a movie theater with BIG reclining seats and tons of leg room.
I mean, it’s pretty crazy how much room you get these days. And, it’s pretty cheap. I just paid $9 for a matinee with huge, reclining seats and foot rests.
The best part is that you don’t even have to lower the footrests when people need to walk down the aisle. There was still 2 feet in front of us for walking by.
And, the seats are SO COMFY. I keep thinking I need to buy a ticket one day so that I can just nap in the seat. Maybe when the kids go back to school. 😉
I’ve heard that some theaters in the UK have reclining seats. But, there are still a lot of theaters with the older style seats. Those are much harder to nap in. 😉
10. Cars Are A Necessity
Big roads, big parking lots, and lots of space between everything also means that a car is an absolute necessity for most Americans. So, that’s an extra expense for most people.
We live in a great suburban area with access to tons of restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, and shopping. But, I really can’t walk to any of them from my house.
But, with a car, I am just 10 minutes away from 6 grocery stores, 3 movie theaters, 3 large home improvement stores, and tons of fast food and different restaurants serving food from around the world.
Honestly, I almost never leave my 10 minute driving bubble, since we have everything we need here. And, I do most of my shopping on Amazon anyway.
In the UK, you could live without a car, even in the suburbs. That’s because of that great public transportation system (#3) and less spacing between houses and businesses.
11. Steep Learning Curve For US Homeowners
When my husband and I bought this house, I had already flipped a few homes and was pretty used to DIY. He was a complete newbie when it came to American homes.
He had to learn how to maintain a pool and pool equipment, sprinkler systems, a riding lawn mower, American heating and air systems, a water well, water softener, and septic tank.
That was a lot to learn while getting used to a new country! And, drywall and 2×4 framing was completely new to him too. Lucky for him, his wife is pretty handy.
12. HOA Pros And Cons
Here’s another surprise for a Brit living in America, many neighborhoods in the US are governed by HOAs. That’s a homeowners association that can enforce rules in your neighborhood.
If you don’t follow those rules, you can be fined or even have a lien put on your house. You also pay annual fees for the HOA and neighborhood upkeep. I don’t know of anything similar in the UK.
So, when we moved to Texas, we had to be sure to not only pick a house we like, but a house with a decent HOA. Some HOA’s can be too strict, other’s are not strict enough.
HOA’s can be a pain, but they’re also a good way to protect your property value and keep neighborhoods looking nice. So, there’s pros and cons with them.
Check out 7 Most Surprising Things I Learned When I Moved To Houston Texas From Ohio to see the things I found surprising about living in Houston.
13. Refrigerators Are Supersized
Our fridge is about 3′ wide and nearly 6′ tall. It’s a pretty standard size in America. But, it’s quite a bit bigger than the average refrigerator in England.
From what I can find, the average refrigerator in the UK is about 2′ wide and almost 6′ high. You can find a larger, French Door style fridge in the UK. But, they aren’t used as often there as they are here.
That fridge size difference means that Americans buy in bulk when we go to grocery stores. So, we get to shop less often.
We sell 12 or 18 eggs in a carton. So, I buy 18 or 24 at a time. In the UK, 6 eggs in a carton is the common size. And, they generally stay out on the counter.
I usually grab 4 loafs of bread at a time. 1 goes in the fridge and 3 are frozen for later. In the UK, I mostly see bread on the counter. You can usually only buy 1 or 2 so they don’t go bad before you can eat it.
Here we buy 2 or 3 gallons of milk at a time. In the UK, you’d likely have just 1 or 2 containers of milk (sold in 1 pint or 2 pint sizes). There are tons of examples like those.
After 11 years of living in America, I’m still trying to get my British husband used to my bulk buying habits. If he runs to the store for me, he almost always comes back with the smallest amount needed.
Doesn’t he know I’m trying to avoid going back to the store! 🙂
14. 2 or 3-Car Garages Are Standard
These days, the average American home has a 2-car garage. If your home is slightly bigger, you probably have a 3-car garage. People here always need more garage space and storage!
On the other hand, most of the homes in the UK have either a 1 car garage or no garage at all. Again, it’s down to that limited space and smaller yards over there.
You’ll often see that a British home had their garage converted into an extra bedroom or other space.
About 5 or 6 years ago, my mother-in-law had her 1-car garage converted to a bedroom and large bathroom. It nearly doubled the living space on the first floor.
15. Long Road Trips Are No Big Deal
When my husband was young, his family would wake up early for “long” road trips. So did mine. BUT, the big difference here is what we call a “long” road trip.
In England, they talk about a 3 or 4 hour drive like it’s a big road trip. For that short of a drive, they made pit stops along the way.
In America, I’d say most families will do a 12 hour, or longer, round trip at least once a year. Before I had kids, I’d drive 14 hours straight to Orlando twice a year. That was a rough road trip.
Now that we live in Texas, about once a year we’ll do a 2-day, 17 hour drive about once a year. That get’s us to Colorado, Ohio, and Florida from here.
To be fair, gas is much more expensive there. And, a 17-hour drive from my husbands hometown in England could get him to the middle of Spain, middle of Italy, or all the way to Vienna, Austria.
But, I had to teach my husband how to do American “long” road trips right. That means you only stop when absolutely necessary, you eat most of your meals in the car, and you bring lots of snacks! 🙂
16. Store, Gas Station, Restaurant, and Pharmacy Hours
In the US, you can pretty easily find grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and pharmacy’s that are open 24 hours or NEARLY 24 hours a day. Even on holidays and weekends.
Whether you’re in a big city or smaller towns, you’ll likely have some 24 hour options near you. This makes finding gas, food, or children’s Tylenol pretty easy at 2 AM.
In Britain, even in a huge city like London, it can be hard to even find a gas station open late on Sundays or Holidays. And, 24 hour fast food, stores and pharmacy’s aren’t really a thing there.
In fact, I spent a miserable Sunday morning walking around London looking for coffee. I think I walked from 6 to 8 before I finally found coffee sold from a cart in a subway station. I nearly died. 😉
Despite being in a touristy area, I think the restaurants and cafes around me didn’t open until 9 or 10 on Sundays.
17. Drive-Thru Everything!
And, last but not least, the US can turn anything and everything into a drive-thru. As far as my husband knows, he thinks it’s just McDonalds and the occasional coffee shop with a drive-thru in the UK.
But, in America, we have drive-thru bank tellers, ATM’s, tons of fast food restaurants, pharmacies, donuts, coffee, cupcakes, smoothies, ice cream, salads, and boba drive-thru’s.
In Ohio, we also had Pony Kegs, which are basically a drive-thru convenience store. Those are awesome for new moms that want to grab milk or a few other groceries without getting the baby out of the car.
And, in Kentucky, I used to go through a drive-thru liquor store in my college days. I’m not going to lie, that one felt wrong somehow. But, I was 22, so I LOVED it!
My husband had to get used to all of this drive-thru food. When we first started living here, he always wanted to STOP and eat after going through a drive-thru.
What?! We eat while driving here, dude. Or else, what was the point of driving through instead of going in. 🙂
That’s it for the most surprising things about being British living in America and being a Brit working in America. Check Out 50 Pros And Cons of Moving To Houston, Texas to see more.
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Stephanie Abbott has been remodeling homes, updating & building furniture, and working on DIY home maintenance and cleaning tips for over 20 years. Her remodeling has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. And, her DIY YouTube channel has had more than 8 million views.
Most of the DIY tutorials and videos on this site focus on beginner to intermediate level DIY Projects that can be done in an affordable way without high-end, expensive tools. All of the cleaning tips on this website have been tested in her home.