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Moving to London from US and I am clueless!

(37 Posts)
UKNewbie Thu 22-Oct-15 20:42:08

This is my first post and I know it's a novel so please bear with me. My head is spinning! I am American currently living in Washington, DC, and I just learned that we will be relocating to London for my husband's job in early 2016. I have a 5-year-old DS who is in kindergarten here and a 3-year-old DD who is in preschool.

We are considering international or English independent schools for DS. Obviously we are limited because we need a spot mid-year, but we are told we should have some decent options. Fortunately, my son is an adaptable child who would do well in a variety of environments. He is working above grade level here so I think he would fit in with his peers in Year 1 over there. He is a very social kid and I know he's going to miss his friends here, so I'd like to find a school that will enable him to make new friends quickly. To be honest I also hope to meet some friends for myself through his school. My husband will be working a lot and I basically know NOBODY in the UK.

On the one hand, I am so excited about the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the experience of living somewhere else, and the last thing I want to do is spend all of our time with only other expats. At the same time, we've never done anything like this before and I expect we will be pretty homesick, at least at first. I like that the international schools are geared toward integrating new families quickly into the community, and I worry that everyone at the English schools (both kids and parents) will have already have their network of friends and won't be interested in meeting a new family.

In terms of location, my husband's office is in Slough, but we'd like to live as close to central London as we can without making his commute awful and living in a tiny shoebox smile The educational consultant we are working with tells us there are some schools in the Chiswick/Hammersmith/Kew/Fulham areas that might have openings. Does that sounds like a realistic commute with traffic? He will be driving to work most likely.

The housing will definitely be an adjustment from what we are used to, but that's all part of the experience, right? smile Our budget is up to 5,000 pounds per month, preferably closer to 4,500. We need at least 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, and we'd like some small amount of outside space.

So the biggest question now is do we focus on international/American or English schools? But also were should we live? What else are we not thinking of? I don't know but I don't even know what I don't know, if you know what I mean, so I would be grateful for any information you would be kind enough to provide. Thank you so much!

Goodbetterbest Thu 22-Oct-15 20:52:14

Try Ealing too. Very family orientated. Richmond/Kingston.

My approach would be:

A) identify suitable schools
b) identify suitable areas
C) find a tube station close by
D) if no tube, a good overland train to a tube get you into Central London.

Seems to me it takes at least an hour to get anywhere.

Is this a permanent move? Do you need to consider secondary schools too?

Shirleycantbe Thu 22-Oct-15 20:55:11

Kew Green Prep School (in Kew) is a private school and has a fair number of American students (5-6 in my DDs year). You could get a nice house in Kew for your budget. Not 100% sure about the commute but as you'll be going against the flow of traffic it shouldnt be too bad.

House in Kew -

This is walking distance from the school

LIZS Thu 22-Oct-15 21:00:55

Commute by car or train ? You could look at the American schools around Cobham or Hillingdon. Drive would be relatively straightforward, train less so. Although independent schools are less restricted on admissions and class sizes it may still be tricky to find a spot at short notice. Not sure why you set on central London , anywhere in SW London, Berkshire, Surrey or South Bucks is within an hour of central London, leafier and less gridlocked.

TPel Thu 22-Oct-15 21:24:51

I would consider Windsor. There are a number of prep schools locally, it is v close to Slough 3-4 miles and beautiful. The fact your DH could be home in 15 minutes rather than over an hour seems a positive to me.

Getting into London is easy as well.

MMmomKK Thu 22-Oct-15 22:56:09

If you choose to live in Central London - I'd reconsider commuting by car.
You husband's life will be a misery and he will not see much of the kids during the week.

However, if you live not far from Paddington Station (say Notting Hill, Maida Vale, Marlebone - his train ride to Slough will be 20 min. I do not know if it works with your budget. And, you will not be able to get a house with a garden, but you will be close to Hyde park, and will be right in the center of London - close to museums and theatres, and shopping smile

If he is set on driving, you'd need to first decide how long he is willing to spend in the car and find an area first. I'd consider Chiswick, Richmond - still within a quick tube ride to Central London.

PetraDelphiki Thu 22-Oct-15 22:58:16

It's anything from 25 mins to an hour to drive kew-slough around 830 am...

UKNewbie Fri 23-Oct-15 05:15:03

Ack, I wrote a long reply and somehow it got erased! I will try to re-write... Thank you so much for all of the information. This is so helpful. To answer some of the questions...
The length of the assignment is 3 years, although it could very well end up being longer if it all works out. I would anticipate being back in the States within 5 years but it's all so unknown right now and we're not ruling anything out.
My DH is happy to commute by train but he is told that it may not be possible with the location of his office. He will know more after we visit.
As far as why we want to live near central London, basically we want to get the "London experience" as much as possible since we will only be there for a few years. We tend to be kind of lazy so if we have to schlep 40+ minutes to activities we are a lot less likely to do them. But I'm not sure if we're looking at this the right way. Are we really going to be that focused on going into the city? I honestly don't know.
Our preference is also based a lot on our perception of American suburbs, which may not be applicable to English suburbs. Basically, a lot of (not all, of course) American suburbs are kind of generic. There's no character. You could live in a suburb of DC, NY, Indianapolis, or any other city, and you would find the exact same chain clothing/grocery stores, restaurants, etc. The houses all look pretty similar and there's very little cultural/political/economic diversity. Most people just drive everywhere rather than walk around the neighborhood. (These are huge generalizations of course, but I do speak from experience.) Our DC neighborhood is in the upper NW part of the city, so it is kind of quiet and residential but still very much urban and walkable to restaurants, bars, shops, etc. At the same time, it's a very family-friendly, close-knit neighborhood. We're not trying to recreate this in England, but this is why we are gun-shy about the suburbs. If English suburbs are not like this, I would be VERY happy to live somewhere that is closer to my DH's office and allows us at least a small garden. We are super-excited for this move, but our housing situation will definitely be an adjustment (even though we will be paying TWICE as much!)
So, are we making a mistake to not consider the London suburbs more seriously?
And if you were me, would you send your kid to an international school or would you enroll him mid-year in Year 1 of an English pre-prep program? I am generally an outgoing person and I don't usually have trouble making friends, but I've never been this far from everything familiar for this long, and I'm sure I will be homesick as hell at the beginning, especially b/c my DH will be working a lot and it will be the middle of the winter, AND I have no preschool/babysitter lined up for my little one.
Sorry so long again -- sorry if it is incoherent, it's after midnight here and I'm falling asleep... Thanks again for the advice!

UKNewbie Fri 23-Oct-15 05:18:41

Also, if it makes any difference, we're Jewish. We're not too observant, definitely on the reform side of things, and we're fine with our child going to a school with a church background as long as it's not super-religious. Still, it would be nice to not be the only Jews for miles around. And if there was by any chance a good part-time Jewish preschool for my little one, that would be a huge plus for a particular area. Thanks again!!!

icklekid Fri 23-Oct-15 05:28:20

I would definitely rethink the suburbs much more community and family friendly feel than London in my experience. Somewhere like Windsor (as suggested by a pp) would be ideal and much more enjoyable commute for you all. I would avoid Slough itself though. ..

wickedwaterwitch Fri 23-Oct-15 05:46:15

Chiswick is lovely and Slough is easily commutable by car

Ealing is too

And they're both fine for getting to Central London

An example

wickedwaterwitch Fri 23-Oct-15 05:47:59

Here's a london map by religion

But I would think you'll be ok anywhere, London is so diverse

Turquoisetamborine Fri 23-Oct-15 07:31:00

I don't live anywhere near London but the suburbs here aren't like you are used to. Because of the age of a lot of the housing, each area is very different so unless you choose what we call a new town, somewhere built relatively recently like Milton Keynes for example then you'll find it doesn't look samey.

homebythesea Fri 23-Oct-15 07:47:25

I think living in central London and working in Slough is nuts! Slough isn't that close to London really, and driving will be a life shortening experience for your DH. I'd look at the Windsor area, it's easy to get into London for you to "do" the tourist thing when you want but is a nice leafy place, very historic. UK suburbs are nothing like generic US suburbs- they are not so neatly set out for a start, rather they have mostly grown organically from ancient villages etc (except for "new towns" established after WW2 to cope with slum clearance in the major cities) so are charmingly higgledy piggledy on the whole. You will get far more for your budget too. Make the most of your relocation agent!

R0nJ0n Fri 23-Oct-15 07:54:05

I've spent quite a bit of time in the US and I know what you're saying about the suburbs there, on the whole the UK is very different.

For instance I live at the edge of the centre of a small/medium sized town, in what I suppose could be considered suburbs, it's certainly a mainly residential area although the houses are mainly Victorian and terraced. I don't drive, which would be impossible in the US, but here everything I need is in walking distance, DDs school, the shops, dr, dentist, the park, library, swimming pool and so on. I'm not the odd one out for walking everywhere either, most people I know do as it's easier than getting the car out then finding a parking space. We also have a proper town centre which I've found most US towns lack.

I'm not going to say there aren't identikit suburbs in the UK, but the layout of our towns and the ages of our buildings mean that there are by no means the only place for a family to live.

donajimena Fri 23-Oct-15 08:01:49

What others have said. Driving through central London will reduce your husband to a shadow of his former self.
I don't live in London but the suburbs in my city are as described. Full of character with a 'village" at the heart of them.

Artandco Fri 23-Oct-15 08:13:15

Defiantly Windsor. It's a small town along the river, historic and twee. You will get a lovely house with garden for that budget. And can just drive to office in 15 mins. Into central London it's only 30 mins into town by train, and 30 mins drive into west London like Hammersmith if you want to drive in and connect to tube.
With children at school and nursery they will be busy most days generally anyway mon-fri
Being in Windsor more likely to find school and nursery easier, and join local clubs and groups as not so many waiting lists. Lewis's people live all over UK so I don't think you will have a problem finding local others

Itshouldntmatter Fri 23-Oct-15 08:28:08

i don't know the commute distance, but Ealing would be great. Richmond and Chiswick etc are also lovely. If you want the city feel I would avoid Windsor. But then I am a Londoner so I would say that ??

Trills Fri 23-Oct-15 08:48:04

Most of the "suburbs" around London were not built to be suburbs, as is the case in many American cities.

They are villages or small towns that got engulfed by the growth of London.

So they are like mini-towns with their own high streets and own characters.

Racundra Fri 23-Oct-15 08:56:35

I have spent forty minutes trying to get from Slough to Windsor at rush hour... And they're right next to one another. I think zone 1 or 2 to Slough daily is madness!
When was he 5? He may be reception rather than Y1.
Try to avoid legoland/Ascot side of Slough/Windsor if you want to be able to drive anywhere in summer!

Mintyy Fri 23-Oct-15 09:04:09

I would ask your husband's firm to pay for a relocation agent or property search agent within the UK. They do a great job and will know all your options, rather than us Mumsnetters who can only venture an opinion based on our own personal limited knowledge.

The daily drive from London to Slough will be a miserable one! Basically you have to go down the M4 motorway, en route you pass Heathrow airport and as you would expect, that involves a LOT of traffic in rush hour. I used to drive from Slough to Notting Hill several times a week about 20 years ago and even then it was a 60 minute journey.

So I can understand why people are suggesting Windsor (historic although touristy town very close to Slough) but it really is not London! Unfortunately, the suburbs to the West of London like Hanwell, Brentford, Greenford, Isleworth are actually not all that appealing and probably Kew, Twickenham or Richmond are the areas which will most appeal to you. They are expensive, and will still involve a long car commute to Slough. Slough looks close to London on the map, and it is in terms of distance, but traffic moves at something ridiculous like 11 miles per hour in London so it takes a long time to get out before you even hit the motorway!

Relocation agent is definitely your best bet.

Cedar03 Fri 23-Oct-15 09:22:29

If you have the chance to visit before relocating then definitely look at the commute first. As others have said, that part of London can be awful for traffic and delays.

Having gone the other way and lived in the States you may find that you do want to be near some other expats if only so you can compare notes on the various weird things about UK life and so that you can share national holidays like 4th July and Thanksgiving.

You'll also find that in many areas there is a wide range of things going on for families with young children which can be a good way to make friends with other mums. There are a lot of play groups which are often run through the churches where children can play and parents can have a tea/coffee and a chat. Although they're church based they're not strongly promoting religion in my experience.

averythinline Fri 23-Oct-15 09:41:22

I would suggest Ealing as well - not as pretty as central Chiswick/Kew but much more accessible -- depending where in slough the office is your dh could use m40 as well as m4 and also have a train option (which if is possible would highly recommend as traffic is awful in w london) whereas kew/chiswick are completely stuck on m4 and no train to slough..

there at least 2 synagogues one of which - I think has a playgroup/nursery
although as mentioned above London is so mixed noone would bat an eyelid..but could be useful..

Within Ealing itself - Pitshanger is very villagey and has a small parade of local shops/cafes and a nice park and is near the M40 and a only a few minutes bus to ealing broadway.where you can get trains/tubes to central london easily

Or centrally round Ealing Broadway itself

Schools maybe trickier especially in-year- I would try St Benedicts - its catholic but you dont have to be and has a reputation of being very friendly
Durston house is a boys school that has reputation of pushy academic and maynot be interested if you're not for the long term

Clifton Lodge is mixed but smaller - maybe more likely to have places (the kew/chiswick preps possibly nicer but not likely to have places) but would call to check.

good state schools are all likely to be full - but montpelier is lovely very multi national - but phone admissions as they have a high turnover as lots of international families

Windsor is not London at all - nice but no where near a London experience- Richmond lovely but transport/traffic to Slough area a nightmare
hth best of luck

Artandco Fri 23-Oct-15 10:15:15

No, Windsor isn't central London ( I live in zone 1). But it's madness even thinking of going from zone 1 out to Slough daily for work. It's far better imo to live closer to work as that's 5 days travel for a certain time, then just travel the 2 days at the weekend when you aren't restricted to rush hour into London. The other way around means 2+ hour commute 5 days a week for the Dh. Hence the Windsor suggestions.

With a budget of £5000 a month also, you can get a much large house and garden in Windsor, and would still have enough to pay to rent a permanent parking space in central London for easy access at the weekend

F0xglove Fri 23-Oct-15 10:27:39

Windsor would be a lovely place to live. There is a coach from Heathrow to Windsor. And there is a train from windsor to central london. It's near slough but a millions times nicer. So LIfe would be relaxed and pleasant, and London still a train ride away.

Richmond and Kingston are both lovely. I don't think they are all that 'suburban' as most of the people there are able to afford extremely expensive houses, adn they've chosen to live near parks, rivers, restaurants. There might be places in zone 2/3 that are cheaper.

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