Coming from America: Moving to Cardiff, Wales from the US
12th September 2023
A big move to Wales from the US is going to take a lot of planning and research. And no doubt, you’ll be making your way through a checklist of things you’ll need to learn about: like visas, how far your money will go, and finding a place to live.
But what about all the little details, like eating and drinking, idioms, and getting along with people day-to-day? What’s different and what’s the same in both Wales and the US?
We’re here to help you understand the Welsh way a little bit better, and offer some practical advice for anyone making the move from the US to Wales.
And we understand that moving overseas for work, retirement – or just for a fresh start in life – can be a long and often stressful process. When you arrive somewhere new, there’s so much to learn, even if you’ve done the research. Your friends and family won’t be around to help. Home comforts aren’t close to hand. To try to make things a little easier, we’ve put together everything we know about the beautiful country of Wales, to help you get to know our way of life in the valleys – and of course, our capital city: Cardiff.
Let’s start with the big stuff – how do you move to Wales from the US?
How to move to Wales from the US
Before you leave for Wales, you’ll need to do some paperwork and get some essential things sorted out. Making the move long-term will involve shipping over your belongings, which can take some time to arrange – but there are plenty of specialist international moving companies that can help you with this. You might also need to arrange local self storage if you’re staying somewhere temporarily, or are moving into a smaller place than you had in the States.
Passport and visa
US citizens can stay in Wales for six months without a visa, as long as their passport is valid. But you won’t be able to work, and if you plan on staying, you’ll need to make sure your residency is legal and properly documented.
There’s more than one type of visa available, so choose the one that suits your needs best. Visit the UK government website for more (get information on UK visas here). If you’re moving for work, your employer should be helping you with this – but if you’re seeking work in Wales, it’s advised that you get a job offer before you make the move!
Somewhere to live
Before committing to the move from the US to Wales, you should secure housing that you can afford, with a moving-in date that fits around your arrival. If you’re coming to study, you must gain admission to a Welsh or other UK university before moving – you can apply to live in halls of residence, or find private accommodation of your own.
You should also have a UK phone number and UK bank account if you want to be eligible to work in Wales.
What do I need when I move to Wales?
Cardiff is the rainiest city in the UK. It rains, on average, 149 days a year. You’ll need warm, waterproof clothes, good boots, and a nice hat. Wales in general is a rainy place, thanks to the climate generated by all our hills and valleys – but the good news is you won’t need any vaccinations or booster shots, and we don’t have any deadly poisonous animals to contend with (don’t confuse us with New South Wales in Australia though!).
Are there any reasons not to move to Wales?
Besides the rain, our roads can be quite dicey in more remote areas – but if you’re making the move to Cardiff from the US, then you’ll be just fine. Just remember we drive on the left here! Oh – we should mention the sheep, too…
They’re almost everywhere around here. Sheep are to Wales as the beaver is to Canada, or the bald eagle is to America. But the sheep is more than a national animal to Wales – it’s a part of the scenery. You’ll probably not see many in towns and cities, but you certainly will see them in the valleys, or on a long drive out of town.
If you settle in one of our smaller rural towns, sheep will periodically appear in your back yard to nibble your grass. Don’t worry, they’re harmless if you leave them be. And you’ll get used to them in time – just think of them as big, wooly cats.
What’s Wales like to Live in for an American?
Wales is a warm and welcoming place, especially to outsiders. Wales has always welcomed people from faraway lands, and this is evident in our large Welsh Italian community – prominent in places like Glamorgan and Newport.
In a country where it rains so much, you’ve got to find other ways of keeping warm. We Welsh do it by sharing the warmth in our hearts.
What language is spoken in Wales?
You might have noticed while researching Wales that our signs and road markings are all written in English and Welsh (we call our language Cymraeg, and the country Cymru).
“Caerdydd” – the Welsh for “Cardiff”
This can take a little bit of getting used to, especially as Welsh uses very different sounds for the letters it’s written with. If you’re moving to Wales with children, Welsh is a school subject here – so it’s wise to learn the basics, at least.
In primarily Welsh-speaking areas, like Gwynedd in the rural north of the country, schools teach Welsh as a first language.
The long and short of it is this: while our language and heritage is important to us, you’ll never be alienated because you don’t speak Welsh.
And just to add, we write in British English, not American English. Different, but subtly so – we spell color as colour, and harmonize as harmonise – little things like that. It’s not huge, just something to be aware of.
The Welsh Government
Wales has a devolved government (Senedd Cymru). Wales is still part of the UK, and the UK’s central government still has the last say on laws, taxes, and so on. It’s complex to describe, but devolution means that Wales has greater national control over things like farming and fishing, forestry and rural development, culture, and public services.
How you’ll experience this depends on your job, family, and health. For example, in Wales, all prescription medications for permanent residents are free.
Wales uses Pounds Sterling (GBP), like the rest of the UK. Right now, one US dollar will get you £0.79. We call our cents and pennies “pence”, or simply “p”.
In Wales, there is no sport – only rugby.
And rugby is not American football, even if the balls are the same shape.
Rugby is far and away the nation’s favorite sport. And after going to a few matches yourself, we think you’ll soon see why. It’s a sport that embodies the Welsh spirit: rough, ready and lots of fun.
Wales is a land as rich in food as any other, and even the most traditional recipes are exciting and delicious (if a little unexpected).
On the whole, Welsh food is a melting pot of global cuisines, much like in the US. Traditionally, the home nations of the UK tend to be famed for savory foods with opinion-dividing ingredients – like Scotland’s haggis, or Ireland’s black pudding.
But Wales goes the other way – with cake. Welsh cakes, to be precise. These sweet little treats are cooked on a bakestone, which results in a flattened cake that you won’t be able to get enough of.
If you’re missing your home comforts, don’t worry – many American staples can be ordered through Amazon, and there are lots of places to get your candy and snack fix in and around Cardiff.
Getting American favorites in Wales
One thing we’ve found hard to replace is American cheese – don’t get us wrong, Wales has amazing cheeses – but for a burger or stovetop mac and cheese, it’s got to be American.
Tesco has these mature cheese singles that are pretty close to what you’ll get in US stores, but they don’t have quite the same “fluorescent flavor”. Close enough, and the texture’s just right.
Most supermarkets have an “American section”, but these can be limited. Thankfully, there are specialist stores dotted around in Cardiff that supply American snacks and drinks – like Americandy. Get your Peeps, Froot Loops, and Hershey’s Kisses here, whenever you’re missing a little taste of home.
Eating and drinking: restaurants, pubs and bars
Tipping is an American export that has mixed adoption in the UK. Generally, we don’t tip in Wales – definitely not in pubs and bars, but we do in independent restaurants, and we sometimes might at chain restaurants who don’t include a service charge.
It’s complicated and nuanced, but you’ll soon learn how it goes.
In terms of drinking, beers come in pints, and spirits come in measures of 25ml. Wines come by the bottle, or in standardized serving sizes (125ml, 175ml, and 250ml). Alcoholic drinks are varied, and the UK follows pretty closely with American trends for things like cocktails and craft beers – so you’re bound to find your usual drink on a night out in Cardiff.
One thing to note: drinking with friends is commonly done in “rounds”. You take it in turns to buy for the whole group. It can be considered rude to leave without getting a round, or offering to get one.
The Welsh landscape
Wales is achingly beautiful.
The rich history of Wales is only trumped by the natural beauty it holds. The land is rarely flat, and the geology is challenging – and so, comparatively little of Wales is developed, compared to other parts of the UK.
Snowdonia National Park, the Brecon Beacons and countless well-preserved castles and buildings make Wales utterly stunning to behold. We have world-class mountain biking parks, and our hiking routes are epic. Come and enjoy all we have.
Practical Things to Consider when Moving to Wales from America
By now, you’ve probably noticed that most of the differences between the US and Wales are minor, with some bigger cultural differences, and some infrastructure differences: we drive on the left, and our power outlets are 220 volts with three pins, the same as English ones.
A few things are objectively better – like free medical prescriptions for citizens. And not only is our tap water safe to drink, but Wales has some of the best quality tap water anywhere in the world.
Hopefully, you’ll find integrating into Welsh society easy – but there are some practical things to consider when moving to Wales from the US.
Getting places is generally easy in metropolitan areas, but life in the valleys goes at a different pace. Roads are narrow and winding in rural areas, especially if you’re used to driving on the right, and animals are often seen walking on them at all hours.
The near-perpetual rain can make getting around harder, and some stores and services can close early or unexpectedly as a result of localized flooding or poor conditions. The low house prices and the stunning scenery in rural parts are a big draw for many people moving to Wales from the US, but don’t expect an “always on” culture outside of Cardiff, Newport, or major cities. Keep your pantry and freezer stocked.
The geography of Wales makes high speed Internet difficult to come by. Internet connections are generally poor outside of large cities, but Cardiff has dedicated cable providers who can offer up to 1Gbps.
Compared to the US, Wales (like the whole of the UK) is tiny. Use this map to see the relative size of the UK compared to America. For a rough idea, Wales is approximately 8,022 square miles – a little smaller than the state of New Jersey.
Who is the Prince of Wales?
The current Prince of Wales is William, son of King Charles III. He doesn’t live here, though.
How many people live in Wales?
The Welsh population is estimated to be 3.21 million as of 2023.
What is Wales known for?
Tom Jones, rugby, choirs, castles, mountains… And cheese on toast. But our favorite Welsh export has to be Welsh Italian session musician Pino Palladino, whose incredible talents have supported the likes of Ed Sheeran, Elton John, The Who, John Mayer, D’Angelo – and countless others.
Why is Wales not on the Union Jack?
The Union Flag was originally created in 1606. At the time, Wales was united with England and was not a separate principality. Shame… that dragon would have really spiced things up.