Life in America with primary age children

(82 Posts)
WhattodoSue Wed 07-Sep-16 10:41:58

We are seriously considering relocating to the US (I have a US passport, but have never lived there). We have just spent an amazing month there, but I'm very aware that a month's holiday is NOT the same as daily life. We love the heat (we were in Texas, although during their rainy period, so it was cooler than normal), and I'm craving a slightly more relaxed lifestyle (we live in London). BUT, I know traffic is terrible in lots of parts of the US (not even considering the quality of the driving, or lack there of). So, I'm trying really hard to get a realistic idea of the pros and cons, and whether it would be a better lifestyle. So, please, tell me what you love about life in America, and what you hate, and whether or not you enjoy your lifestyle. I should perhaps say that we wouldn't have a massive income, I think it might be something like $130000 before tax (which does sound huge, but is obviously not much compared to banking/tech incomes).

We could potentially move anywhere (dependent on me getting an Assistant Professorship in a good University department), and so I'm also really interested to know what life would be like in different parts of the US. The parts I know best are California, which I understand is quite expensive, and Texas, which we actually quite like. I don't know anything in the middle, or the east coast very well at all. I do know that I like the diversity and tolerance of London - but possibly it isn't wise to go to the US to expect that.

Finally (for now), how easy/hard is it to make friends? I realise that is going to be very dependent on the individual, but we wouldn't be part of any church communities etc. and I'm worried that that might be a barrier (particularly if we ended up in Texas).

Any thoughts, experiences, suggestions, advice would be very appreciated!

KingofnightvisionKingofinsight Wed 07-Sep-16 11:09:53

I'm American but I now live in the UK. I generally find it waaaaay easier to make friends in the US than I do here. People are generally warmer and more open. Here everyone is very polite but not overly friendly. Obviously these are huge generalizations but they are based on experience.

A lot will depend on your politics. The US is so much bigger than the UK and there is much more diversity in the population, not just ethnic but lifestyle and outlook as well. Most Brits tend to fall on the liberal side of American politics just because they are comfortable with big government, social welfare programs, no guns, etc. If that's you, I would recommend Texas, with the possible exception of Austin. You would probably be most comfortable on the east coast, north of Virginia, or the west coast, California and north, or Chicago, although university towns do tend to be more liberal. Places like Ann Arbor, Michigan and Madison, Wisconsin are lovely and very livable (although cold in the winter!). I wouldn't live in Texas for anything, but that's just me.

If I were you I would also wait until after the upcoming election. I would hate to live in a country where Donald Trump was in charge. Really, it would be awful.

A salary of $130K will be very comfortable pretty much anywhere except a big northeast city or Northern California. I think people in the US generally expect slightly more out of their housing than here. For example, just about everyone has a washer and tumble dryer, garbage disposal, etc. I find the quality of the food/groceries to be much higher in the US, especially the produce if you live somewhere warm.

On the other hand, the UK has a lot more character, I think. The US is basically ALL strip malls and chain restaurants these days. Very few lovely small villages with independent pubs like you have here.

If you tell me a bit more about who you are and why you want to move, I can try to help you get a better idea of where you might like to live.

KingofnightvisionKingofinsight Wed 07-Sep-16 11:10:32

I meant to say I would NOT recommend Texas! Sorry!

KingofnightvisionKingofinsight Wed 07-Sep-16 11:15:39

Also keep in mind your taxes will be lower in the US, but healthcare is getting more expensive by the minute, and if you plan to send your kids to university there you are looking at a minimum of $100K each, and possibly more than twice that. There are scholarships but you can't count on that, and student loans need to be paid back regardless of future income, which is a huge burden on many graduates. People generally are expected to fund their own retirement, so you need to plan on aggressively saving for that as well. If you move you should meet with a financial planner ASAP, as there are many different investment vehicles to help you maximize your savings and defer taxes (legally), e.g. 401(k) and Roth IRA retirement accounts, 529 education accounts, and lots of others.

WhattodoSue Wed 07-Sep-16 11:31:15

Thanks so much King - that is all really helpful.

It wouldn't be a fast move, and so we will know if Trump is president. I find it hard to imagine that in any sane world he could be elected, but then I find it hard to imagine that in any sane world he could even be nominated.

Your thoughts on location are really helpful. Having done a little research on Universities, I would want to be in a research university (with a PhD programme - so I could supervise). I would also want a tenure-track position, although I know that these are incredibly hard to get. Southern California would be great, and in considering Texas it was really Austin in Texas I was thinking about. Dallas is too conservative for me. Houston I wondered about, but it is fairly corporate in lots of ways (in my view). But we have family there, and so that would be a big positive. I could live with cold in the winter, as long as it isn't six months of winter. I did that in Quebec for a couple of years, and it was too long. Is the East coast much more expensive? Although, if university towns are not massively more expensive, I wonder if that would be a good option, potentially.

I also am worried about the retirement because we are not in a strong position in the UK, let alone the US.

Do you have any thoughts on schools? I've been doing lots of reading, and it seems that schools are very mixed across the US. I have sort of gathered that there is increasing standardisation, but not to the degree found in the UK at the moment. My children are currently Y1 & Y3. My Y3 is doing very well, and although she is in a good school, does sometimes complain that she is bored with the standard of work in Maths in particular, and essentially because the school don't go beyond the year curriculum. Is there good differentiation in the US? I know that their might be an issue that she would only be Y2 in the US, and so will also have done an extra year of school. But my inclination is that she would be better socially with her year group, and so the school would possibly need to provide differentiated work. Is that likely/possible?

Thanks so much. There is so much to find out and think about!

WhattodoSue Wed 07-Sep-16 11:36:05

In terms of who we are, I'm an academic (psychology), with two children. I want less commute, and to enjoy the warm weather. I'd love a bit more space in our house, and easy access to a pool (not necessarily in the garden, but ideally in the neighbourhood). I'd also love a bit more of a local community. I know this is a bit ridiculous, but I just want a bit more breathing space in life. I am concerned that the lack of holidays in the US is possibly a problem, and would make our quality of life worse not better. But at the moment, life feels like 11 months of stress, and 1 month of living. However, there may be no solution to that (other than winning the lottery and being able to reduce down the amount I work). I am worried that the idea of wanting to move is more about an unachievable fantasy. At the same time, I have always wanted to live in the US for a period, and thus far in life have never done it. So I'm a little worried that if I never get round to it, I may regret never having done it.

GatherlyGal Wed 07-Sep-16 11:51:35

I am a Brit who spent 3 years in the Midwest. We have 3 DCs and the older 2 were at Elementary School. We were not in a particularly great place but I found it very hard socially and culturally. My experience was not at all that Americans were more friendly - quite the opposite. People (neighbours, parents at school, people at the gym etc) would be superficially friendly but absolutely not interested in actually doing normal friend things like a trip to the park with little kids, meet for coffee, come over for a bbq etc. Almost any social interaction was such hard work and involved so many texts, calls, chasing etc that we frequently gave up trying to organise anything!

I don't think it's us as we have never struggled at all to make friends before or since. I put it down to people where we were having little or no exposure to foreigners or maybe it was because they knew we would not be there forever. I would assume though that if you live somewhere with a good university that should not be an issue. The diversity point is a big one and again will of course depend on location. Avoid Texas however nice the weather may be grin.

On the plus side I had a strong feeling that my kids were more allowed to be kids there than here and I agree life was slower. A bit too slow tbh - there was a sense that life was going on elsewhere some of the time but again that's because of where we were.

Financially depending on location you may well find your cash goes further so you get a nice big house, cheaper car etc. Watch out for food though. We found that although you could eat extremely cheaply decent healthy non-processed food was sometimes very expensive.

I totally identify with your comment about if you don't try you'll never know and that is how we ended up in Iowa grin.

KingofnightvisionKingofinsight Wed 07-Sep-16 11:57:44

Schools are a mixed bag, but I wouldn't worry about the extra year, except to assure your DC she's not being "demoted". (I know that's going to be an issue for my DS when we move back and he goes from year 4 to 3rd grade!). There is definitely a bigger focus on academics at an early age in the UK, but I don't necessarily think that means the kids are more advanced. In my experience as a teacher, a lot of it is developmental. Differentiation will hugely depend on where you live. Unlike here, if you move into the catchment area for a good school you are generally guaranteed a spot, which can lead to massive school overcrowding but at least you know what you're getting. It may not be that way everywhere though -- another thing about the US is that a LOT of the laws/policies are made on the state level so can differ enormously in different areas and even different districts in the same area. We lived in what is considered a top school district and it had self-contained "gifted and talented" centers from 3rd grade on, although neighboring districts that are also highly regarded did not have as much differentiation. In general, if your child is quite clever you will probably feel like primary school isn't challenging enough, but there are ways to supplement that. A lot will depend on the peer group in the community, of course.

The lack of holidays is a HUGE disadvantage, but if you are an academic you will be in much better shape than most. When I worked in the corporate world I had 15 days paid time off per year, which included ALL types of time off (holiday AND sick time), plus about 5 additional federal holidays. It's not much, especially if you have kids. I also hate the short school breaks and absurdly long summer -- my kids had 2 days off at Thanksgiving, 7-14 days at Christmas (depending on when it falls), a week at Easter, and maybe 5 other assorted bank holidays. Then they were off from early June until early September. It was ENDLESS. Universities will have longer Christmas breaks though.

As far as local community, that's hugely variable. Like here, a lot of families have 2 working parents and not much downtime. I would carefully research where you live before you move and ideally rent for a while before you make a permanent decision.

I do think you would prefer the east or west coasts, but there are definitely nice pockets in between, like Austin and the university towns I mentioned. Houston I wouldn't do, although I wouldn't underestimate how nice it is to have family nearby. I miss that more than anything. Cost of living is high in and near big cities, especially NYC, DC, and LA, but there is plenty of room in between where you can have a very nice life on $130K, even with sensible retirement saving.

Weather there is much better. Even though it gets cold it is lovely to have 4 true seasons. Autumn is my favorite.

Feel free to PM me if you have more questions. Good luck!

GatherlyGal Wed 07-Sep-16 11:58:16

I meant to add about schools that academically we found the US state system to be seriously behind the UK. My kids were Y3 and Y1 when we got back and the Y3 had a tough few months catching up after being top of the class in the US.

The school facilities were fab and the kids had a lot of fun and ate a lot of sweets and did loads of dressing up and stuff but they had a serious shock to the system when back in a fairly average UK primary school.

weechops Wed 07-Sep-16 12:12:56

Can I ask why people wouldn't recommend Texas? Sorry to barge in on your thread op, but my dh may be offered a 6 year contract in either Houston or Corpus Christi, taking us with him. I'm already scared of the thought of leaving everything familiar, and just wondered why Texas was so awful? smile

WhattodoSue Wed 07-Sep-16 12:50:47

weechops no worries at all! Someone described Texas as the buckle of the bible belt in another thread on the British Expat boards. My family there are all quite religious, and some are democrat, but the younger ones are all republican. Their lives have been bible camp, and quite conservative Universities in Texas. I love the food in Texas, I love the heat (even the humidity in Houston), I love Galverston (it got lost in the past somewhere), but it is a quite conservative state. My cousins were discussing Trump, and although they aren't keen on him, they don't think he is the utter idiot that we do here (partly because the media there ignores some of his scary statements in a way that the UK media doesn't). So essentially, it is a conservative state, religious. But, I also love the politeness and the friendliness. I also find it very welcoming, and I clearly love my family there. So I have a lot of VERY positive associations with Texas.

weechops Wed 07-Sep-16 12:58:21

Ok phew! We don't follow any religion so hopefully that wouldn't be too much of a problem integrating into a community. Polite and friendly sounds good to me smile
Good luck with your potential move op

yeOldeTrout Wed 07-Sep-16 13:54:12

you know about the open-carry laws at Texas State universities, right?
I suspect it's an exaggerated risk, but still one that puts me off. good luck with your decisions.

DixieWishbone Wed 07-Sep-16 15:25:59

We live in the deep South.

I found it hard to make friends. People don't just drop in for a chat at each other's houses. Parents are typically heavily tied up with taking their children to after school activities. I've found the best way to make friends is through activity based groups. I recently found the local chapter of the American Association of University Women and they do a lot of things that I am interested in so I will probably join that.

There is no public transport where we live and the city is sprawling and very ugly. It means driving several miles to get anywhere. It is too hot and humid in the Summer to walk, then there is tornado season, then it is freezing cold. On the upside there are few traffic jams.

There is none of the casual history that you get in the UK. We do have the largest collection of antebellum homes in the country - mainly because the residents of our city would surrender as soon as an army turned up. That is in one part though, not spread throughout the town. The town planning is bizarre, a school sandwiched between a car wash and a cemetery for instance.

Although our state has about the worst education system in the country, our local school district has done a lot to mitigate that. I would suggest looking at school district websites and seeing what they offer in terms of magnet school programs and gifted and talented programs. Our district offers math at two years ahead of grade level in middle school for example. Gifted and talented programs start at third grade level and there is a gifted and talented middle school magnet in our area. They have also recently opened a magnet where high school students will take university classes (given by lecturers from the local university) and high school classes, graduating high school with half the credits needed for an undergraduate degree.

The standard of living is excellent. The city is home to a large satellite of the state university, the state A and M university and several private colleges. The satellite has a solid reputation for engineering and one of the largest research parks in the country is based here. The main industries are aerospace and defense. A recent article stated that our city has the best standard of living for anyone working in STEM. Salaries are high but house prices are half those in Southern California as are utility costs, and taxes are lower.

It is like a big city in miniature and if you want something, quite often you have to volunteer and get it done yourself. There is a botanical garden mostly run by volunteers, an art gallery which is small but does interesting, quirky exhibits, a small arts and entertainment district, the library was started by volunteers 50 years ago.

We primarily moved here because of our DC. The lifestyle is much more conservative than in Southern California. There isn't the pressure to grow up quickly and get into sex, drugs, and drinking. The schools here are better than the ones we had available where we used to live.

OlennasWimple Wed 07-Sep-16 18:57:04

I agree with ll of King's points.

We are on the East Coast. The big benefit for us is that it is truly cosmopolitan (our DC are in no way "the foreign kids") and the schools and wider systems are completely used to a transitional and international population. We have found that we have made friends with our neighbours and through after school activities. I think if we had been religious, or a mason, or members of a similar organization we would have made more adult friends more quickly. There is a sizable ex pat community that we tap into from time to time, but we were clear we didn't want to move here just to socialise with people like us!

In terms of standards, we have found the school system fine, but we are in a top performing district. Some areas of the curriculum are more advanced than back home, some are behind. We are trying not to think about what will happen when we return home...

The big downside is that it is expensive: even compared to London, we find most things cost more than perhaps we expected. Cars and clothes are cheap, quality food is expensive, housing is extortionate (both renting and buying - $$$s a year property tax if you own, for example).

The lifestyle is great if you have the time and money to make the most of it. As pp said, 15 days a year vacation doesn't go very far, however... You would presumably be able to work remotely, which would help, and you might have more generous leave entitlements. Summer camp will suck up a lot of your salary, though.

WhattodoSue Wed 07-Sep-16 19:39:47

Thanks so much everyone, all these points are really helpful and are providing me with a lot of food for thought. Ultimately, I think where we live will be determined largely by where I can get a job, but at the same time, I may as well look for a job in the places I want to live! But I must admit, Iowa has been scratched of my mental list (not sure it was on it, but I was wondering about the midwest). New York I knew would be off (I don't want to move from London to New York), and DC and LA sound like they will also be too expensive. I know Boston is (I LOVE Boston), but I believe that is also seriously expensive. I do some work with Museums, so it would actually be good for me to be somewhere that is big enough for some fairly large/major museums. I will look into the university towns, because there is a lot that appeals about them, but ideally somewhere that isn't too far from museums would work. So my next question is which cities? Ideally I would prefer not too far north, because I couldn't face 5 months of winter and snow boots and snow coats.

Also, how do you find out about the good school districts? Is there anything as simple as a national list? I'm guessing not, but it would be interesting if there was smile.

And please, any more comments on the positives and negatives. It is all so helpful to feed into whether or not the it would work as a life choice.

OlennasWimple Wed 07-Sep-16 19:58:12

Try this site for starting information on school options: www.greatschools.org/

OlennasWimple Wed 07-Sep-16 19:59:26

If you don't want cold and snowy winters, you've just ruled out the East Coast smile

WhattodoSue Wed 07-Sep-16 20:16:59

I don't mind cold and snowy - I just would prefer shorter cold and snowy than Quebec - if it is over in 3 months I'd be very fine with that. I was hoping a bit further south (than Quebec) might have shorter periods deep in snow? (I now have on my hopeful face)...

EllyMayClampett Wed 07-Sep-16 20:23:07

Texas is a low cost of living state, so $130k should be enough. Houston would be the most expensive city. Dallas/FortWorth would've cheaper. Texans are friendly. You would find the culture pretty far to the right, though.

BelfastBloke Wed 07-Sep-16 21:11:07

How do you feel about students open-carrying guns in your Texas lecture hall, OP?

Guns loom very large in all our thinking about moving to the USA. It's a key reason we are still in the UK.

WhattodoSue Wed 07-Sep-16 21:28:40

I have never seen someone holding or carrying a gun in Texas, so it is honestly something I can't get my head around. Essentially, I utterly hate the idea that guns are an acceptable part of daily life. Despite that, and perhaps because they are not part of my Aunt and Uncle's life there, I find it hard to imagine how they would impact on mine. But perhaps that is wildly naive?

OlennasWimple Wed 07-Sep-16 21:36:05

I don't live in an open carry state, so it's a bit different. But even so, every police officer has a gun, most security guards have a gun (and they are at banks as well as shopping malls), shooting is a popular pastime, and I'm always conscious when I'm out and about the chances of there being a gun in the vicinity being carried by a regular member of the public is reasonably high.

It's one of the big things that I don't think I would ever get used to here, even if we stayed here for ever. But it would be an exaggeration to say that it had a significant impact on our lives

KingofnightvisionKingofinsight Wed 07-Sep-16 23:24:51

Weechops, it's not just about religion -- far from it. Conservative Christians in the US are a different breed than anyone I have ever met in the UK. They are against gay marriage (or being gay in general), believe abortion should be illegal even for rape and incest victims, support the death penalty and widespread gun ownership, hate immigration, and disapprove of "big government," i.e. basically any social welfare spending. I'm not a hugely political person but some things are bigger than politics. I simply couldn't be friends with someone who considers my gay brother to be an abomination, doesn't believe poor people have a right to healthcare, or is comfortable with widespread civilian gun ownership in light of all of the heartbreaking violence guns have caused. Texas is FULL of these people. No not everyone but enough that you won't be able to avoid it and you may well feel in the minority if you don't agree.

If you never watched the show Friday Night Lights, you should, as it gives a pretty unvarnished picture of what a lot of Texas can be like (plus it's a great show.). Of course in wealthier/more academic areas like Houston or Corpus Christi you will find a bit more "worldliness," but only a bit. If nothing else, I suggest you learn how to follow American football before you go. It is HUGE in Texas.

But seriously, if you generally feel comfortable in the UK, support the NHS, and believe the government has at least a very basic responsibility to its less fortunate constituents, j would reconsider Texas if you can. Austin is the one exception.

OlennasWimple Wed 07-Sep-16 23:35:20

weechops - having no religion is relatively uncommon here...

I'd also add in racism as something to factor if you are considering living in the south. Frankly, if I wasn't white I don't think I would enjoy living here, even in a liberal, Bernie Sanders supporting East Coast state

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