Leaving the Country for a Bit

There is a lot to see in the UK – you can go south to the cliffs of Dover, west to Wales, north to the Lake District, and even further north to Scotland. You can hop a ferry or plane over to Northern Ireland and explore Giants Causeway. It’s gorgeous here.

However, at some point you’ll decide you want to take a trip out of the country. When you do that, remember to take not just your passport but also your biometric residency permit — you’ll need both to get back in.

The other consideration you should take is securing health insurance. The NHS covers you in the UK, and you can also apply for a European Health Insurance Card, which allows you to access the public health care in European Economic Area nations.* I’d recommend applying for the card once you have your NHS number, and keep it with your passport and residency permit.

As it says right on that page, however, this is not the same as travel insurance; it won’t cover evacuating you back to the UK, for example. For that — and for travel anywhere outside the EEA — you’ll need to get travel insurance.

If you’ve been living the UK for at least six months this isn’t an issue. But if you plan to travel to the US within the first six months of living in the UK, your options will be limited. I found myself traveling back to Seattle just about three months after we moved to the UK, and had to do a bit of scrambling to find one that would work.

Bupa is the big private insurance provider here, but they’ll only allow you to purchase travel insurance if you’ve been living in the UK for six months. The Post Office is another option, but has a similar rule — in their case, you can’t have spent more than six months abroad in the year leading up to the purchase of the insurance. They also require that you be registered with a GP here.

Because neither of those options were available to me, I ended up doing a lot of Googling until I found options. Now, I cannot stress enough that I have no idea as to the QUALITY of these providers; I am not endorsing them at all, but instead wanted to share what I found in my research. If you need to travel for more than two weeks, one option is Diplomat American. Because my trip is shorter, this didn’t work for me, so I picked an option I found on Visitors Coverage.

If you think you’ll be doing a lot of traveling, you can purchase annual insurance that will probably work out to be cheaper than purchasing individual policies every time. Additionally, if you have private insurance through your or your partner’s employer, see if it includes travel insurance. If it does, then you’re all set.

Note: As I write this, the UK is negotiating its exit from the EU, so things may look different with respect to travel in Europe in 2019 or 2010, so keep that in mind.

Where Do I Find…

One thing that I found a little frustrating is how specialized so many shops here are. I’m used to being able to get a lot of things in one place; in the UK things can be a little harder to track down. So, to help you out…

Groceries: This is pretty straightforward. ASDA, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, and Co Op are all grocery stores in the London area. Some will have the appendage “Local” to their names; that means they are smaller. Those smaller shops still usually have an impressive selection of produce, which is good. They also will likely be open long hours seven days a week — 6 AM – 10 PM or 7 AM – 11 PM.

These stores often also have a giant counterpoint — a “Metro” or “Superstore” version. This is important because shops in the UK with a large square footage are limited to being open for six hours on Sundays, and must be closed on Easter and Christmas. So, if you arrive on a Sunday, be sure to get your shopping in mid-day if your only option is one of these larger shops.

Toiletries: Many grocery stores (even the small locals) will have a selection of basic toiletries, which can help in a pinch. But for the bigger things — and in some cases for pharmacies — you’ll want Boots or Superdrug. They have cosmetics, dental care items, hair care items, skin care items, and some limited nutrition (vitamin) options.

Health: Boots and Superdrug may have a pharmacy in them, but the NHS also has pharmacies. Look for the green cross sticking out the side of the shop over the door, and that’s where you’ll go to get cold medicine, pain reliever, etc. Like the US, pseudoephedrine is a behind-the-counter medication, but while you don’t have to sign a register, they will ask you a LOT of questions about use. They also don’t have Vicks, but I’ve found that Night Nurse is a good equivalent.

Home Goods: I’m talking about things like sheets, or dishes, or kitchen supplies. Many of the “Super” versions of grocery stores like Sainsbury’s or ASDA have home goods sections. Dunelm is a smaller-scale Bed-Bath-and-Beyond-type store that will have a wider selection of pillows / duvets. Argos is also a kind of fascinating shop that is good for somewhat cheap home goods. We were able to get a large litter box, trash cans (rubbish bins), clothes hangers, etc., from this place. What’s fascinating to me is that this is essentially a catalog shop. You look either online or in a catalog, then place your order and their staff pull it from their shelves. They also deliver, which can be nice.

Pet Supplies: Pets at Home is a good shop option. They have supplies for dogs and cats, as well as smaller animals. We were able to find a couple of things we used in the US there, but be prepared that some of the higher-end brands aren’t available in the UK. I’m sure there are equivalents, so you’ll need to play around with brands and see what your little buddies like.

Office Supplies: Maplin has small electronics like printers and such supplies, as does Currys / PC World.

Jet Lag

Everyone has their own suggestions, tips, and tricks to combat jet lag. I’ve not found one that works super well for me. I used to try to stay up all day the day I arrive, but I just end up tired and still waking up way too early the next day. So I do suggest taking just an hour nap so you can get through the day.

I know, that’s controversial. But I can’t function without sleep, and I don’t sleep well on planes, so I chose to take a nap, and it allowed me to at least sort of function the first few days.

But it will be rough, so take care that you and your partner aren’t snipping at each other — or are more understanding if you are. Moving is rough; throwing sleep deprivation on top is rougher.

That said, here are some tips on how you might be able to beat jet leg better than I did:

NHS tips

15 Ideas

Sleep Foundation



The company that you’ve been working with as recommended by the airline will handle all the paperwork when your animals arrive. If you’re flying into Heathrow, the animal customs center is about a 15 minute drive from the airport. Basically, you don’t need to do anything more once you’ve dropped them off at cargo in your home city.

However, it will take animal customs four to eight hours to process you animals.

That’s right. Four to eight hours. In our case, we got our luggage and a ride to our temporary housing, showered up, and then got a call from the import company that our animals were going to be cleared for pick-up around 11:30 AM. We got a ride back out to Heathrow and picked them up.


We donated our kennels to the animal customs office (they can always use them) and transferred our buddies to the carrier they are used to. They were okay – they hadn’t really used the litter box, but we traveled with one in our suitcase (you can buy portable ones online) and set it up in our temporary flat until we could get a permanent litter box.

One of the larger pet supply shops you’ll probably want to visit until you find a local one is Pets at Home. They have a wide range of food, litter, toys, carriers, etc. Basically, think US Petco. Because the cat food our little buddies like isn’t really available in the UK I’ve had a lot of conversations with the Pets at Home staff, and they’ve always been helpful and friendly.

Remember to give your furry family members a lot of love, pets, treats, and attention. They will have gone through what is likely the most stressful experience of their little lives, and will be in a brand new place, with new scents and sounds. If you can avoid needing to take them to the vet for a couple of months, I’d suggest that. Sadly our cat Jameson got a cold, so we took him to the vet less than a week after arriving. They gave him two medications and he was fine right away, but I really wish we hadn’t had to put him in a carrier and on a bus so soon after such a traumatic event.

Immigration and Customs

Arriving in the UK

We took a red-eye flight and landed at Heathrow at 7:15 AM on a weekday, along with what seemed like 2,000 of our closest friends. That might sound like an exaggeration, but it took nearly an hour to get to the counter. It sucked. We were tired, cranky, nervous, and surrounded by people. Also, I hadn’t used the bathroom before getting in line, which is not an error I’ll be making again.

You’ll need to have your passport with you (duh) but also the letter that is included when your visa is returned. It explains in more detail your visa. The immigration agent who checked us in explained the system and process very kindly.

By the time we got through, our luggage had been offloaded and removed from the carousel. We weren’t stopped at customs for inspection, so we got out the door at arrivals and were met by our ride to our temporary housing.

The Final Step

Within ten days of arriving in the UK, you’ll need to pick up your biometric residency permit. It’ll be at a post office close to the address you provided in your visa application as your temporary residency, and it’ll only take a few minutes to get. Bring your passports and your immigration letters, and you’ll be given these little credit-card sized permits with a (if you’re me, very unflattering) photo of you and some details about your visa, including:

  • Dates that the visa is valid for
  • National Insurance number
  • Limitations on work (I, for example, am not allowed to work in sports broadcasting, I think)
  • The fact that you are not eligible for benefits

You are not required to carry this with you as you move about the UK, but you will need to show it whenever you return to the UK from traveling abroad. I recommend sticking it in your passport so you always have it with you when you go away.