US Expat resources

An American in London

By Todd Cowan | 24 Nov, 2021

What made you want to move to the UK?

In February 2016 I was sitting at my gate in London Heathrow about to board a plane back to New York, my home for the last 10 years. I was exhausted…I had just spent 12 days’ vacation in Barcelona, Paris and London. Three cities in less than 2 weeks. I needed a vacation from my vacation (or as I would come to learn, a holiday from my holiday), and I found myself…not particularly excited to go home.

I always told friends, family, and colleagues that I loved travelling to Europe. But, as I sat there reflecting on the past 12 days scrolling through my iPhone looking at the pictures of places I’d just visited, I realized that, I didn’t really love the airports or relatively long flights, rather I loved exploring new cities, seeing the sites, and eating authentic food. For the past ten years, I travelled to Europe from the States sometimes 2 to 3 trips a year to see and experience places that had captivated my imagination since I was a kid.

And it was in that moment I asked myself “at what cost?”, what was the cost from a monetary perspective, what was the cost from a time perspective and why do I always end up leaving Europe feeling like I didn’t see or experience enough and exhausted from the effort? Is there a better way?

So that moment at London Heathrow was really the beginning of me taking a step back and formulating a strategy for what I really wanted to do. In that moment, I realized I needed to reconcile ‘how do I get my personal interests and passion in concert with my professional interests and experience?’  What was the reality? What motivated me? I had amassed an 18 year career in private banking and wealth management, I had a strong passion for European travel, for seeing and experiencing new things and when I looked at those two very important influences in my life, I started to think: how can I make these two things work for me? I started talking to a couple of colleagues and, in that moment, a plan was born to try and figure out how I could become a private wealth adviser that would bring me closer to the part of the world I enjoyed exploring…knowing I was constrained by language (English only at the time) and coupled with the fact that London had been long established as a European financial hub, it was quite easy to narrow down, where my best relocation opportunity might be.

What was it like to uproot everything and come over?

People ask me all the time, what was it like picking up and moving to a new country. I was less focused on what I was giving up or leaving behind, and more focused on the personal and professional experiences I was about to gain. Because of that, I never really thought about how difficult it was going to be…perhaps some of that is a function of the fact that I had previously experienced some relocation at a young age.

When I was 10 years old, my father took a job managing the United States Gymnastics Federation’s (USGF) men’s program. And, in 1984 when the USGF relocated their headquarters from my hometown of Ft. Worth, Texas to Indianapolis, IN. we picked up and followed suit. Sport had always enabled my father to travel around the world and afforded him the opportunity to experience and see different countries and cultures. It was his travel and professional experiences that gave me the ambition and courage to relocate. On some level, I feel leaving Indianapolis in January 2007 and moving to New York City was almost as big of a personal and professional transition as was leaving New York to move to London.

How have you found your expectations vs the reality?

Moving to the UK has been a major life event. Whilst exciting, it has not been without its challenges:

Cultural and Personal

George Bernard Shaw was quoted as saying, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language” …it is with that in mind, that if I had any expectations regarding the cultural aspect of the transition it would be that I was moving towards unfamiliarity.

Therefore, I arrived in the UK highly optimistic I would be able to overcome any potential issues that may arise.

However, living in the UK is entirely different than visiting the UK. I have found there’s an interesting contradiction in the way the British are stereotyped, or perhaps view themselves to be polite to the point of personal inconvenience or more specifically the avoidance of awkwardness or conflict at all costs. The empathetic lens with which visitors in a new culture are viewed seems to wane with the passage time. That said, any absence of consideration to our status as newly found expats just means we are viewed as ‘locals’.

For the past four years, the experience of living and working in a foreign country has given my wife and I amazing perspective of what it is like for immigrants into an adopted home. And, as much as we feel settled and consider ourselves to be societally accretive residents that pay taxes, help fund the NHS, and consume local goods & services, we are keenly aware and remain conscious that we can still be viewed as outsiders who come from a different ‘world’.


I was a bit surprised to find the concept of financial planning and wealth management (for Americans) across multiple jurisdictions was not as prominent as I would have expected. The concept of international wealth management in a post FATCA legislative era largely remains a ‘frontier market’. Therefore, the client experience seemed to be more narrowly focused, with particular attention given to the investment management proposition alone.

One of the primary reasons I was excited to join London & Capital was a result of the company’s intense focus and dedication with respect to the delivery of international financial planning, structuring and wealth management. So much of the US Family Office team’s motivation is centred around the enhancement of the client experience and ensuring our clients’ wealth management advice takes into consideration all aspects of their wealth; and this is delivered in a manner which is sensitive to multiple jurisdictions especially the US.


I was expecting some changes in terminology, most of them you can pick up quite quickly through usage or context, but the professional terms and acronyms are the ones that google proved to be helpful.

For Americans receiving financial advice in the UK, the following are a few examples of the subtle differences in lingo and industry abbreviations you might see or hear:

GIA – general investment account (aka in the US – brokerage account: individual or joint owner)

SIPP – Self Invested Personal Pension (akin to an IRA or Individual Retirement Account)

ISA – Individual Savings Account (similar tax advantages to a Roth IRA but doesn’t require holding to retirement age to capitalize on the tax benefit)

Scheme – an arrangement or large plan often used to describe a UK pension scheme (in the US, ‘scheme’ is usually synonymous with deviance, deception, or crime…i.e. – Ponzi or pyramid scheme)

Don’t even get me started with how Brits pronounce ‘vitamins’, or spell/say ‘aluminum’ (even as I type this, my UK English spellcheck is autocorrecting to aluminium!

That said, my wife and I agree; there are several British phrases and words we will continue to utilize in the future.

Tips for someone coming to the UK

    1. Professional Advice – Take professional advice where appropriate, and at a minimum research and have a plan as to when to take professional advice to reduce the challenges that arise from being in a different country than your native one.
      Whether it be: immigration, tax, legal, wealth management, health care (when to use the NHS vs when and how to acquire private medical insurance), mortgage and homeownership; these are just a few of the areas in which taking advice before you take a decision can be extremely beneficial. And ultimately save you time and money from having to remediate a hasty or unresearched decision.
    2. Where to settle – Another tip I would share is take time to research where you might want to settle. My wife and I took several trips to London prior to relocating. So, we were able to determine the part of town we wanted to be in. And while there are several traditionally synonymous US neighbourhoods in London like Chelsea, Fulham, or Notting Hill; we ultimately settled on our neighbourhood after visiting in May 2017. We had been visiting the Tower of London, and my wife expressed interest in seeing Borough Market, as we had never been and wanted to explore the open-air market. Mapping our journey, we decided to walk across Tower Bridge to get there. As we crossed the Thames and reached the south side of the river we looked to the East and saw an incredible, charming cobble street, with Victorian warehouses and gantries crossing the road. As card carrying Americans, it looked like what Walt Disney would use a blueprint for a London set. And, in that moment it was settled…if we ever move to London, this is where we were living.
    3. Visa Planning – Will you require a visa to live in the UK? If yes, I would give some thought as to the type of visa you’re going to be seeking. Will you be on an employment sponsored visa, an entrepreneurial visa or perhaps a tier one investor visa. There is no shortage of immigration professionals that can help you identify the appropriate visa for your circumstances and to help you settle in the country.
    4. Currency and exchange rates – Another important consideration to be thinking of when migrating to the UK is the requirement for funds pre and post arrival. Some questions to consider in advance of making a currency exchange: do you have assets that are in your home country that you want to bring into the UK? Will you need those assets to live off; if so, what is the most efficient manner to move them to the UK in respect of timing and FXprovider? Is it better to FX from your native currency to sterling before or after you settle in the UK? What’s the rate that you think is reasonable versus holding on to dollar in advance of some potential currency fluctuation or the opportunity to buy some pounds cheaper.

Tell us something interesting about you:

I was an accomplished youth gymnast in Texas and Indiana, before I started to enjoy other sports like soccer, basketball, and American football…. ultimately, I excelled at soccer (and I am conscious to say ‘football’ when I’m in the UK and Europe) to the extent that I played at Indiana University which was the top ranked college soccer program in the US before, during and after my time there. I also played in the second division in the United states (the US A-league 1998-2000), and what a lot of people don’t know is I was a week away from being on 6-month trial with Randers FC in the Danish Superliga, but unfortunately it fell apart at the last minute.

I have seen FC Barcelona play (in person) close to 30 times since 2008, and in addition to being a club socio I recently became a season ticket holder which I am really excited about.

In 2004, my sister was working in Hollywood, and was able to secure me a walk-on role in a tv show; that experience allowed me to gain admission to the Screen Actors Guild.

I believe in pursuing a life of exceptionality, and not letting others define your potential for personal greatness. I am deeply passionate in promoting the mindset of not allowing ‘where you’re from’ to dictate or limit where you’re going!