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moving to London from the U.S. with 7 and 9-year-old children -- where to live?

(50 Posts)
juanitacocina Tue 11-Feb-14 14:41:25

Hi, and thanks in advance for any help/advice anyone can give -- there is so much to try and figure out from so far away!

My husband and I are relocating to London this summer from the U.S. with our 7 and 9-year-old children, and are looking for nice, family-oriented neighborhoods with easy access to City of London (Aldgate station) for his work.

The schooling situation is making my head spin as I understand it that we will have to find a school that has spaces, and that most good schools will be full. I also would like them to be in the same school to make the transition easier. With the jump in the cost of living of moving to London, we can only afford to look at state schools at the moment.

We would also like to be in an area where we can meet like-minded people -- fairly liberal, smart, creative types, but also other people with children. And I would like a few good cafes and pubs to go do within walking distance, as well as some green space.

We're willing to squeeze into a 2-bedroom, seeing as it's London, but we're moving from a 2,400-square-foot house in the US, so I don't think we can go down to something like 550 square feet. A 3-bedroom would be more ideal.

We are currently all over the place in terms of what we're looking at: Belsize Park, Harpenden/St. Albans, Blackheath -- and I would love any thoughts anyone has on any of these or other neighborhoods that would be good for our family.

Also, any advice anyone has on how to navigate schools, and how to find out which schools have vacancies, would be much appreciated. My understanding is that you can't officially apply until after you've moved, but it would be nice to know if there is a school with openings near where we're looking, or to look near where there is a school with openings.

Also, does anyone have any experience on renting with a dog? We'd love to bring ours, but can't tell if it's practical.

Thank you!!

Saltedcaramellavacake Tue 11-Feb-14 15:14:55

Exciting! I can only speak about Belsize Park really - having moved from very near there to Singapore 2 years ago. It definitely meets your brief in that it is a lovely community, lots of cafes and pubs, great green space at Hampstead Heath and Primrose Hill and tends to be fairly liberal/creative/a little eccentric. It's not a perfect commute to Aldgate, but it wouldn't be at all bad ( one tube change, I think). There is a very active American Women's group in that area, so there is a ready made expat wives community for you to slot into (although the natives are also very friendly!).
Belsize Park would, however, be a very expensive choice (far more so than Blackheath and/or Herts locations, I think). For example, our sweet but small, first floor, no garden 2 bed flat in Hampstead/Belsize Park rents for over £620 per week - there's no way you would want to squeeze a family of four in it. You definitely need to factor your housing budget into your decision about where to live - a nice community is lovely, but I would think you would get far more for your money in places other than Belsize Park. Have you looked at any of the rental websites (, for example) to give you an idea of what your budget will buy?
As for schools, Belsize Park is in Camden Borough (Council) - you can find details of school places on Camden's website as well as details of the allocation criteria (eg. kids in care get the first available places, then siblings of current pupils, then kids living close by etc etc). Camden schools tend to be very heavily oversubscribed. If you live in the area, the Council has to provide a place for your kids, but it could be anywhere in the borough, not just your nearest, most desirable school. Many of the schools are single form entry (meaning there will only be 25-30 kids in each year level) so the class/year is quickly filled up). Finding out that there is a place in a desirable school now will not mean there is a place when you move - places will be snapped up quickly by those already in the area and on the waiting list.
I don't mean to rain on your Belsize Park parade - I love it there and would move back in an instant - but it is a costly option, even by London standards. Hopefully someone will be along soon who can help with your other desired locations.

HelloBoys Tue 11-Feb-14 15:20:15

Blackheath is a PITA to get to.

if you like leafy places with naice things to do Dulwich Village (trains to London Bridge), Wimbledon (train to Waterloo and waterloo and city to Bank) approx 1 hour commute. Belsize Park etc naice but very expensive.

If you fancy bit more central try Battersea (Northcote Rd) approx half hour commute or even parts of Docklands.

You could rent with a dog but a few landlords don't like to do this now or charge a hefty deposit, then there's quarantine etc.

No idea re schools or rents as I'm buying.

HelloBoys Tue 11-Feb-14 15:21:18

Oh what's an idea is to put your locations here again once you've thought more (maybe a separate area on MN?) and we can yay/nay them give pros /cons etc.

specialsubject Tue 11-Feb-14 20:17:43

make that 'MANY' landlords don't like tenants with dogs. You will greatly reduce your choice of property if you bring an animal. They are also banned from many parks and of course you'll be carrying round the bag of dog poo whenever you walk it.

do look up travel costs; for instance St Albans (not in London) into the city is a LOT of money.

pancakesfortea Tue 11-Feb-14 20:25:57

What's your budget?

HelloBoys Tue 11-Feb-14 22:26:12

special I had no idea they were banned from many parks have noticed some enclosed dog pens tho.

Pooka Tue 11-Feb-14 22:35:47

When was your youngest child 7? If they were born between 1st September 2005 and 31st August 2006 they would be in year 3 which would be an advantage with school placement as the infant class size rules (legal limit to class size in years reception to yr2) wouldn't apply.

If you get one child in to a preferred school, then (if both in juniors or key stage 2 - years 3-6) the other is much more likely to be offered a space quickly as they would go to the top of the waiting list as a sibling.

Personally, I love blackheath (don't live there though - live in Bromley which is further out and not artsy or creative but has good schools). My father lives in west hampstead and it also ticks a few of your boxes. But I don't know how far your money would go in these areas not knowing your budget. Would also echo previous poster's Dulwich suggestion. My incredibly arty and liberal hipster cousins live in Camberwell but I don't know how far that would suit the transport requirements.

Pooka Tue 11-Feb-14 22:39:07

I meant to say, schools have more wriggle room with year 3-6 in terms of class sizes.

If your youngest would be going into year 2 that might be more difficult as often in London schools are full (the popular ones at least) though they then offer more spaces at year 3. If your older dc got a place and started, then your younger child would be top of waiting list as sibling whether in year 2 or year 3, but if year 2 it would mean waiting for someone to leave if the class was at capacity of 30.

Shakshuka Wed 12-Feb-14 03:00:50

Just thinking that Harrow on the Hill could be good for you with the metropolitan line straight into Aldgate. It's a little pricey for zone 5 but ccertainly cheaper than belsize park!

We've only done the move plus dog the other way from London to NYC. We had to pay twice the deposit but the letting agent pleaded our case with the landlord who eventually agreed (older dog, trained, not destructive) so guess it'd work the same in London?

TheBookofRuth Wed 12-Feb-14 03:28:37

I lived round the corner from Belsize Park in Primrose Hill for years, and either there or Hampstead are lovely and fit your brief. As previous posters have said, however, housing there is ludicrously expensive - to get a three bed house or flat, you will need to be earning millions.

I now live in St. Albans, and while still an expensive area (as is Harpenden), housing is more affordable and you'd have to work quite hard to find a bad school. The commute to the city is easy enough - lots of fast, direct trains - but pricey. DH's annual season ticket costs over £3k. Lovely place to live and raise a family though.

Good luck!

Onepactupac Wed 12-Feb-14 04:01:37

Would be good to know what you're used to here in the US. I grew up in harrow on the hill, excellent location in terms of quality of life for kids vs commute time to aldgate. BUT it is a bit pricey, and you may end up having a walk to the station depending on your budget. You also want to be in the right part of harrow - the hill, not north or south. Also, you will need a car.

I have lived not far from Belsize Park too. Lovely, if you like that kind of thing (I did) but you will struggle with square footage and/or a yard. Also, do not underestimate the rubbishness of the northern line!

InvaderZim Wed 12-Feb-14 12:03:50

It's a 6+ month process to bring your dog over! and a rather expensive one. I moved my cat because it was a permanent move but if it wasn't permanent I would've rehomed her.

HelloBoys Wed 12-Feb-14 15:35:29

Oh I forgot - Wimbledon is on District line which IIRC goes to Aldgate East (bit long though).

here are some wikipedias on areas mentioned:-,_London,_London

sj73 Wed 12-Feb-14 18:51:05

Belsize Park is lovely but a bit of a black hole for state schools, although there is a new free school there I've heard.

What about the areas south of highgate like Whitehall park? Very family oriented, near lots of green spaces such as Highgate Wood and Hampstead Heath. Loads of good stuff for kids plus it's On the northern line, fairly central so easy access into The City.

Pinkandwhite Wed 12-Feb-14 20:01:58

How about Palmers Green? Train to Moorgate and then 1 stop on the tube. It takes 30-40 minutes in total. It's full of families but housing isn't too expensive. It's very easy to get into the City and the West End from there. It has a lovely big park.

Alternatively, how about Balham or Streatham? They are very family friendly areas with lots of green spaces/parks. If you were living near Streatham Common station, the commute would take about an hour. Balham would be about a 40 minute commute.

Paintyfingers Wed 12-Feb-14 20:13:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

CockBollocks Wed 12-Feb-14 20:26:13

Would your husband commute? We live an hour out of London and dh commutes each day - meant a larger house and more rural/pretty location.

Most of our friends also commute every day

GingerMaman Wed 12-Feb-14 20:46:20

What's your budget per month on rent?

Belsize Park is very very lovely indeed but very pricey.

If you want something more affordable, you could look into the Olympic Park in Stratford. It is very well connected, has a good school and lovely park.

juanitacocina Wed 12-Feb-14 21:44:21

Amazing -- thank you all so much for the advice!! So much to learn!

Pooka, my daughter will be 7 in June, my son 9 in August, but since we will be moving in summer I was referencing what their ages will be then. I had no idea class size opened up starting in Year 3 (which I think is what she will be in September), so that is great news! I contacted the Camden Education dept, for instance, and there was only one school in the entire borough that has spaces for both at the moment, so that's a bit worrying, but it sounds like that may change if they are allowed to let more students into Year 3.

I'm glad to hear and see that not everything is as expensive as Belsize Park. I've got a cousin who lives there and we've visited (and liked) the area, so that was one reason we were looking nearby. But he is living with his girlfriend and no kids, so much easier for them to afford, and I have no idea what the area is like for children.

We have visited and loved Harpenden, especially since everyone has great things to say about the schools, but yes -- transportation is more expensive, and I'm not sure if I would ever get into London proper with the kids.

I've never lived in a real city before, so it seems like it might be the time to do it; then again, I've never lived in a real city before, so not sure if now's the time -- you know? I've lived in big cities like Miami, but not somewhere like London where everything is right outside your door.

We are trying to keep housing costs under 2,000 pounds, but would probably be happier somewhere closer to 1,500 -- just not sure if that's reasonable.

Will definitely look into all the areas mentioned here, and keep them coming!!

Another one that has come up is Richmond -- anyone have any thoughts on that?

Shakshuka, how did your older dog do on the trip over and do you have any advice on transport if we do decide to bring ours?

Thanks so much everyone!!!

Pinkandwhite Wed 12-Feb-14 22:07:32

Richmond is gorgeous! It's a lovely, family friendly place. It's not cheap though and the commute could be relatively lengthy for your husband. Balham/Streatham have a similar vibe but are cheaper.

If you are going to look at Richmond and don't mind the house/renting prices then Putney is also well worth looking at. Like Richmond it is on the river Thames and is full of families/things to do with children. It's just a little further in than Richmond so a shorter commute.

If I was you, I would definitely live in London rather than outside of it. There is so much to do there with children and you'll find it pretty easy to make friends. Also, commuting by public transport isn't much fun so the shorter the commute the better in my opinion.

verybadhairdoo Wed 12-Feb-14 22:18:05

forest hil, ell to whitechapel or Shoreditch in 25 mins, lovely, leafy and close to Dulwich without the price tag

FlipFantasia Wed 12-Feb-14 22:40:21

Finsbury Park & Crouch End are also lovely and v family friendly. Finsbury Park is less pretty (but parts are lovely, eg stroud green and it is a great park) but great transport links (overground trains into the city plus tubes). Crouch End is walkable to some overland train stations into the city and is gorgeous, with a real family friendly, village-y vibe.

Muswell Hill is similar (perhaps less 'cool'), v close to Highgate & Crouch End.

Belsize park is lovely but isn't that family friendly IMO. It's where you live pre-kids or with a baby/toddler before moving to get more space for your money!

FlipFantasia Wed 12-Feb-14 22:45:04

Ps we did the reverse move (London, Stroud Green to be precise, to just outside NYC with two younger kids). We live about 15 miles outside NYC and I almost never go in with the kids, maybe every few months or a run of visits, eg several day trips over Christmas. If you want to live in London then avoid the commuter towns or outer suburbs (zone 4/5 or further out). You won't really experience London otherwise.

Pps pets are not common in rental properties in London. I'd say your dog would make things harder!

Shakshuka Wed 12-Feb-14 22:54:01

Have you looked at You can look at what you can get for your money in different areas (and you can set it to within a certain radius of a tube or train station).

Don't forget that in the UK, the tenant pays the council tax (which is like property tax but much cheaper!) so you need to add that to the rent.

You should also look at religious schools, depending on your religion. In the UK, they're state schools and mostly free (apart from the extra religious education). You may have some evidence of religious worship requirements so you can see if you can meet them. Where we used to live in London, the best schools were the religious ones and we reluctantly went along with it. The school was very good but I was never 100% happy with the religious bit! I found it a relief to be in the US where it wasn't an issue in my children's school.

Our dog was 7 when we flew him over. He's a big dog and we had to also use a specialised pet company to fly him (poor thing wasn't allowed to fly first time we tried, he was turned away at Heathrow for being part-Boxer, DH was alone with the kids who had a meltdown at seeing the dog being sent away and not travelling on the plane with them!!) It ended up costing us over $2000 but a smaller dog should be cheaper. It's also much easier flying a pet from the UK to the US than vice versa. You should contact DEFRA to check the regulations and how you can avoid quarantine.

The dog managed just fine in the end. He was very thirsty when we got him and a bit unsettled for the first night in the new house with all the new smells but he he didn't seem too traumatised (they don't sedate them because then they can have trouble breathing) and was back to his old happy self by the next day. I don't regret bringing him for a second (although we had an offer of a good home for him) because it would have felt like leaving a family member behind!

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