5 Things That Will Cause Culture Shock for Brits in the US

TransferWise content team
4 minute read

Thinking of moving to America? You’re not alone. In fact, there are over 680,000 people from the UK currently living in the US.

But while the language may stay the same, there are tons of cultural differences between the US and the UK.

TransferWise customers who’ve already made the move shared five valuable lessons that you’ll learn when you move across the pond.



If your American friend says it's 30 degrees out, you might want to think twice before grabbing your favorite pair of sunglasses and trunks.

While almost everyone else abides by the metric system, America’s one of three countries in the world that doesn’t.

They use feet, yards, miles, pounds and Fahrenheit instead of meters, kilometers, kilograms, tonnes and Celsius. This can make for a lot of confusion communicating things like the temperature, the distance between two points or how much something weighs.

Sarah, an emigrant from the UK living in Denver, explains:

“Learning what the temperature means in America is completely different than the UK. I’ve lived here for over a year and still have difficulty telling my friends back home what the temperature is compared to London. To be honest, I mostly rely on my smartphone to do the conversion for me.”

They ditch their "chump change"


Since American currency uses a bill to represent one dollar while most other currencies use a coin, Americans tend to never carry change on them because their coins are worth so little.

This is because in American currency, the highest coin is worth only 25 cents and their lowest coin is worth 1 cent. If you compare this to pound sterling which has smaller coins as well as ones that represent 50 cents, 1 pound and 2 pounds, it’s easy to understand why Americans are always paying for things with their Visa card or a bill.

Natasha, a TransferWise customer from the UK, explained the difference:

“Back home, I would never throw away a pound or 2, so I usually have a bunch of coins on me. But in the US there’s almost no point in carrying around a handful of small change because no matter how many coins you have, it doesn’t really add up to much.”

They can be (o)ver(l)y sentimental


British people often seem more reserved compared to their transatlantic cousins, who are often seen as being quite sentimental.

On the whole, Amerians tend to be quicker to express their opinions in a group of strangers or openly share how they’re feeling. In fact, they aren’t even shy about greeting someone they’ve just met with a hug, as James, a Brit who's decamped to New York for work, observed:

"Even though I came from London, a major international city with a bustling and busy nightlife, it's immediately obvious that Americans are quicker to open up than people from Britain. Starting a conversation with a complete stranger is generally a natural and easy affair - no matter if you're in Virgina, California, New York or Connecticut."

Watch out: They drive slower, stop and start all the time, there are potholes everywhere - and it's all on the wrong side of the road...


It's well known they drive on the other side. But there are many issues besides that.

American roads are not only crumbling in many places, but their road rules are very different. It's common practice to turn right on a red light (except in big cities), they have stop signs at crossroads rather than roundabouts, and they have no sense of lane etiquette (be prepared to be overtaken, undertaken and cut across with no indicators).

So, all in all, learning how to navigate the chaos while driving on the opposite side of the road won't seem to help.

They sell alcohol and tobacco products...at the drug store down the street?


In the UK, you would never stroll into Boots and buy a new toothbrush, pick up your prescription and stock up on cigarettes all in the same trip.

Nor would you be able to find any alcohol other than the rubbing kind. But in America, Walgreens, CVS and other major drug stores are one-stop-shops where you can purchase cigarettes, groceries, cosmetics, household items, as-seen-on-tv products, beer, hard liquor and more.

Tom, a Brit living in Florida told us:

“It makes absolutely no sense to me that you would sell cigarettes alongside Nicorette or alcohol alongside paracetamol. But in the land of plenty, they sell all of these things together at supersized drug stores. The first time that I ever walked into Walgreens, I was simply amazed at their liquor selection and even though it was really convenient, it just didn’t seem right to me!”

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