Expat Guide

Utilities - Gas, Electricity, Water, Phone, TV, Internet

Be forewarned, the utility companies such as electric, gas, and telephone, do go out of their way to get customers, and seem always to claim to be the cheapest. They’ll call you, stop you on the street, and knock on your door. Be ready to say you’re not interested (claiming to be a tourist is a great one) or you’ll just get into a vicious circle of expensive suppliers. There’s an online price comparison of utilites called U-Switch. The one thing you may be surprised to have to pay for is a TV License.

Electricity, Gas and Water

Electricity, gas, and water services are available through local and national companies, you may want to compare rates for electricity and gas as there are many competitive companies. (Please be aware that these firms make huge efforts to gain your business, transferral from one to the next is very easy, so much so that it can be done without your knowledge.) The main sources of heating here are central hot water heating and storage heaters. Storage heaters charge up in the evenings when the electricity is cheapest and give off heat all day long. In my experience, they are more common in flats and older buildings.

The costs will vary of course, but I was pleased with our latest autumn quarterly bills for a 4 bedroom terraced house with a combi-boiler (combination boiler/hotwater heater), the electric and gas were each approximately £75.00 per month. The water bill is a standard flat rate, not charged by quantity used, ours was £160.00 per year, payable in installments, unless you use timed sprinkler systems, at which point you must install a meter. (The tap water is as safe to drink in the UK as in the US.)

Forum Discussion of electricity metering


Telephone service can be arranged through BT (British Telecom). There are charges for local calls along with national and overseas distance calls. There are other telephone services you may want to check into. Try the Oftel or USwitch website for comparisons. As for calling the US though, I recommend Planet-Talk. They currently are charging 2p per minute to the US 24 hours a day. So you can talk to friends/relatives in the States for the same price as making a local daytime call through BT. Another great alternative is Skype In/Skype Out.

BT charges 4p/min for national calls daytime, 2p/min evening/weekends, local calls are 3p/min daytime, 1p/min evening/weekend. One option to BT is  cable tv and phone service provider available in some areas.

For long distance, you might want to try Skype, read how to get the most out of Skype.


There are many internet providers for both Dialup and Broadband. Most areas of the UK have ADSL access. This can range from £7.50 to £25 per month. Internet speeds will vary. Cable can be near 20mb while ADSL can range from 2mb to 20mb, depending on the area. For comparison shopping, see Sam Knows.

Cell phones

The cell phone is known in the UK as the mobile phone. Compared to US costs, they are cheap here, everyone has one, even the kids. You can get a contract with a free phone, ranging from £15 to £50 per month, with hundreds of texts, calling minutes and internet time. There are also pay as you go packages, but the rates for usage are 12p per text or up to 30p per minute of calling time. Only the caller is charged in the UK, there are no air time fees.

TV & Licence

If you have a television (or watch tv on the internet!), you must pay for a tv “licence”. This is a tax to fund the BBC, around £12/month. If you don’t pay, you may be caught and heavily fined. They have vans that patrol the same way that cable companies do in America. Regardless if you have cable or satellite, or stream iPlayer online, you're still required to pay for the licence.

The basic free channels are: BBC1, BB2, ITV (3), Channel 4, and Channel 5. You can receive these over your arial. Digital television services can be received in three ways: through an existing television aerial, as Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT); through a cable connection, as Digital Cable Television; via a satellite dish, as Digital Satellite Television.

Viewers who choose to receive digital television by any of these methods need either to obtain a special set-top box decoder which will enable digital television pictures to be reassembled on screen, or a television set with this decoder built in. Standard set top digiboxes sell for IRO £25. For services for which a charge is payable, and in some cases on satellite for services that are free, a smart card is also needed to allow reception. These services usually have special connection offers giving either or both free installation and/or box. (The boxes are not rented from the service as in the US. You can get the boxes from electronics shops such as Curry’s and Dixons or direct.) Keep in mind if looking for US cable channels, that a lot of the UK counterparts are entirely separate, ie. Nickelodeon and MTV do not necessarily carry the identical US programming, some, but less not more.

Recently there have been more US based channels added to the cable/satellite lineups, such as Five US, CBS, and ABC. There are also some sports networks that carry more and more US ports including college level.




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