Expat Guide

Furnishings & Appliances

Though for the most part the appliances and furnishings are the same, there are a few differences that it helps to know about, like what the little cap is for at the bottom of the dishwasher, what is teletext, and how about a scart cable. Even changing a lightbulb can be challenge, when it’s not the screw in sort you're used to.

Ovens, Stoves or Cookers

Many/most ovens are fan ovens (aka convection) and temperatures are indicated in Celsius, to make things easy for myself, in converting from Farenheit to Celsius, I generally halve the F temperature. It’s not exact but it’s worked well for me. Also, with fan ovens you must either reduce the C temperature by 20-25 degrees or reduce the cooking time by 10-15 minutes. Most foods have instructions for both types of ovens on their packaging. Stoves are known in the UK as cookers. The burner is known as a hob, there are gas, and electric cookers of all sizes as well as glass topped. As with cooking on any strange stove/cooker, it takes some time to get used to the heat settings of each particular appliance.


I learned after getting a dishwasher that the ones here take dishwasher salt, for softening the water. There is a filling reservoir in the bottom of the dishwasher, at least on mine. And as usual, there is the filling container for detergent and rinse agent. There is also a dial on the inside of mine that is a setting for the hardness of the water, which you are supposed to test and then set accordingly. (If you get one with your home, it would probably be best to leave the setting as is as it has probably already been calibrated.) Some may also have a waste collector in the bottom as opposed to being ground and dispensed with waste water, so have a good look at the interior bottom of your appliance.

Television (TV) or Telly

While basically the same operations, some annoying differences. Such as, off/on/standby. In order to be able to turn the tv on via the remote, the tv must be turned “off” with the remote, which isn’t really off, it’s in standby mode, indicated by the red light. The video connections (vhs, dvd, arial, video games) are done by SCART connectors, which have big rectangular ends that fit into the slots on the back of the units. If you have many connections, you can get a multi-scart switcher box to manage the connections from most appliance shops that sell tvs. When hooking up your additional components, it is different to the American way of doing it, in that you tune these in to different channels. It is very complicated, and makes little sense to me, so I’d suggest reading your manuals very carefully. Teletext however is a lovely tool. The main 4 free channels, BBC1, BBC2, ITV, and Channel 4, broadcast a teletext signal with their television signal, text pages, which consist of many facets of news and information, with hundreds of text pages worth. For more on teletext, see the Teletext site at left. Subtitles are typically transmitted on page 888 in the UK, to get the subtitles for the program you are viewing.

Washers and Dryers

Using a water softener additive like Calgon with washing improved cleaning performance as the water here is very hard in some areas. (I’ve heard that the water in Wales is very soft.) They are usually front loading, and small. It is now becoming much easier to get American appliances such as Hotpoint and Whirpool.

There are also washer/dryer combo machines which I wouldn’t recommend, though they seem like a convenience, the trouble some have had would make it seem more of a disaster. The dials are a bit confusing at first, and there is dispensing cups for detergents and softener. One common question is what to do with the bleach?

Some people have just thinned the thick bleach per bottle instructions and put in the fabric softener dispenser with good results. Do this carefully and at your own risk. (Going to the laundrette if you don’t have washing facilities will cost you about £3 per load to wash and dry, and there is usually a service where the attendant will do it for slightly more so that you don’t have to stay for a couple hours.)

Refrigerators and Freezers

These are normally very small, dorm size, but often cleverly built into the cupboards and unseen, but again, American full size models are getting popular.


The British central heating is usually a boiler with hot water radiators, sometimes with a thermostat and possibly a timer. The boiler itself is sometimes hidden away in a pantry or cupboard, with a reservoir in the loft/attic. It is probalby wise to have yearly maintainance checks done on them, to prevent carbon monoxide emission and keep it running efficiently. It is fairly simple to bleed the radiators themselves if needed. If the top of the radiator is colder than the bottom, then it has air inside keeping the water from rising to the top, it is done with a bleed key which costs about 50p or less from most DIY stores. Also there are storage heaters, which heat inside at night by electricity while it is cheapest and keep heating continuously. They take a full night to heat up though so if you know it’s going to be cold, turn them on in advance or you’ll be chilled to the bone waiting for the heat. These are common in places converted to flats.

Electric Showers

Electric showers are common and I think preferable unless you like to shower under something akin to standing in a light rain. They are fed by the cold water so that you don’t have to rely on the hot water heating system for a hot shower, and also pressurize the water. You may want to periodically descale the shower head for good performance. The better systems will have a small water softener attached.

Furniture and Other

Most other things are pretty much the same, such as blenders, mixers, microwaves, toasters, irons, hairdryers, etc. There are electric kettles that heat water quickly for coffee or tea (and good for hot water for mixing baby formula) and these are great.

Electric griddles are not easy to find (unless you want a small one, and what’s the point of that?), at least none I’ve found in three years, so you might find it prudent to bring your own and by a transformer for it. (I paid £25 for a US to UK transformer in a local shop as I wanted it quickly, so best have a good look around to compare prices, they can be had from Kmart/Target for $10.)

Furniture is pretty much the same, though some pieces have different names, such as a china cabinet may be called a dresser, and dressers you’d have in your bedroom are here called chests of drawers. Handmade pine furniture is quite popular, and inexpensive, though one must keep in mind that pine is a soft wood, and scratches/marrs very easily. Though becoming more popular these days, recliners are not as popular as in the States, nor are waterbeds.

Make sure that when buying anything that it will fit through your doors and around corners or stairways.

Rob commented, "The standard TV connection is a co-axial cable direct from the antenna on the roof of the building.  You then tune in the signals from this antenna to each channel.  If you subscribe to cable or satellite TV, have DVD players etc, they will come with SCART connections.  This european connection is normally auto-switching.  That is to say you turn the box on and the TV switches to it automatically (unless you switch this feature off or have a very cheap or very old TV).It is probably also worth pointing out the obvious here and say that UK Electrical systems are different to the US.  Its all 240v, 50Hz AC here.  So its probably not worth bringing much (if any) of your own electrical gear - unless you have the appropriate transformers for it.  Computers and some modern TVs have voltage switchers on them, but esp in the case of TV's, the UK broadcasts in a different format (PAL) to the US and you will more than likely not receive a picture anyway.That said, if you are bringing DVD's with you, make sure you can get your hands on either a multiregion DVD player in the UK or bring one of your own, or you wont be able to play US discs.As for the appliances over here, everything is relative.  Housing is generally smaller, so the appliances fit the housing.  You can get many american sized machines now, but whats the point if they take up the whole house?Re: Central Heating.  Storage heaters tend to be more expensive to run than central heating (although this is changing as the price of gas increases).  They all heat up during the evening (when electricity is cheaper in the UK) and discharge their heat over the rest of the day.  With older models this generally means that by 4pm they are stone cold.  So if you want this option, look at a dual heat system such as storage heating and convection heater in one."

James commented, "Following on from your heating section, here are some good tips for saving energy on your heating: 

  • Turning your thermostat down by 1ºC could cut your heating bills by up to 10 per cent and save you around £30 per year.
  • Is your water too hot? Your cylinder thermostat shouldn't be set higher than 60ºC/140ºF.
  • Close your curtains at dusk to stop heat escaping through the windows.
  • Always turn off the lights when you leave a room.
  • Don't leave appliances on standby or charge unnecessarily.
  • If you're not filling up the washing machine, tumble dryer or dishwasher, use the half-load or economy programme.
  • Only boil as much water as you need (but remember to cover the elements if you're using an electric kettle).
  • A dripping hot water tap wastes energy and in one week loses enough hot water to fill half a bath, so fix leaking taps and make sure they're fully turned off.
  • Replace your light bulbs with energy saving ones. Just one can reduce your lighting costs by up to £78 over the lifetime of the bulb - and they last up to 12 times longer than ordinary bulbs.

Original source http://www.northerngasheating.com/products/energy-efficiency.html"

Hugh D. commented, "'One common question is what to do with the bleach?' Tee-hee. You leave the bleach in the bottle. There's no need to put bleach in a modern washing machine with a decent low-foam detergent."

Beds and Bedding

US and UK bed sizes differ slightly, except for Double/Full, enough so that if you bring US sheets to put on UK beds or buy UK sheets for a US mattress, the fit may be off just enough to be annoying.

Here is a US v UK bed size chart from information on Wikipedia Bed Size:

Visit our affiliate partner

UK Yankee is a resource and community for expatriate Americans living in or planning to move to the UK, established in 1999. Please join the discussions in our friendly expat community.