Last Updated on February 1, 2023
I did a similar version of this on TikTok (before I got angry and decided to stop posting) and it went cray cray. As always these are things that were more expensive in my experience. Things can differ depending where in the US you are and where in the UK you are. Which is more Expensive UK or US? Once upon a time, with amazing exchange rates, the US used to be cheap for a Brit, but now it’s pretty poor, it’s actually on the expensive side.
Cost of Living UK or US
Things That Are More Expensive In The US
I’ve made it no secret that I HATED the healthcare system. It seems to operate very much as a business rather than actually providing people with a service. First up is the health insurance. My insurance was $500 a month and I still had to pay a ‘co-pay’ for appointments, prescriptions etc.
Thank goodness I never had anything majorly wrong with me because when you’re already paying $6000 a year, you certainly don’t want to have to be looking for more money on top. No one wants to get ill, but living in the US it became a fear of mine that what on earth would I do if ever I required more.
In the UK healthcare isn’t ‘free’ as such. We pay an NHS contribution in our taxes but it’s calculated in relation to how much you earn. If you earn over £792 a month (correct at the time of writing) you pay 12% towards national insurance. If you earn UNDER £792, you pay nothing.
With the UK rate, on my US wage, I should have only been paying $1700 a year, NOT $6000. That $1700 would then get me totally ‘free’ healthcare, no additional bills, other than prescriptions that have a £9.15 ($12) flat rate. I once had a prescription that I had to pay $80 for…even with the $6000 insurance.
In the UK, I usually have an annual plan where I can travel as much as I want within 1 year for a set rate. There are a few terms, such as a single trip can’t be more than 90 days or something, but it costs me around £120 for a medium level plan. In the US one 2 week plan cost the SAME as the annual plan.
Mobile Phone Bills
I was kinda restricted to phone providers while in the US. My UK iPhone would only accept sim cards from AT&T and in Iowa the signal was AWFUL. I used to pay $36/£28 a month for an AT&T phone plan which had 1GB of internet data. In the UK I pay $26/£20 for a phone plan with something like 20GB of data.
Up until Brexit, we could use the same plan for no additional costs in the whole of the EU. Outside of the EU there are some surcharges or you can buy additional data roaming packs.
In the US my phone plan wouldn’t even work outside of continental USA. Literally nothing. No signal AT ALL. Some of the $55 a month plans would work overseas but then you’d still pay roaming fees on top. The whole time I was living in the USA, I had a 2nd UK sim card that I used whenever I was outside of the country.
Not really much to say about internet. In the UK our internet plan with a landline is around £50/$65 a month, we pay more for faster internet. In the US we were paying closer to £70/$90.
Of course with my family still in the UK, if birthdays and Christmas’ didn’t line up with a visit, we had to ship presents internationally. From the US they didn’t have many postage options. A flat rate box would cost me around $60/£46. My mum could send the exact same size box in the opposite direction for half the price ($26/£20). Crazy considering they were being handled by the same people.
I only really noticed it on my visits home when I’d be walking around Sainbury’s and kept saying THAT’S SO CHEAP! That’s without shopping in cheaper places like Lidl and Iceland! Deodorant always seemed really expensive in the US too. I was too tight to buy the normal aerosol deodorant (expensive). Instead I used to use the cheap stick stuff which used to ruin my t-shirt with thick cakey glue like mess, that never came out in the wash.
Eating In Restaurants
One of my personal favourites. In the US companies can’t be bothered to pay their wait staff a minimum wage, they make up their wages in tips. Tipping is a big thing, you’re expected to tip 15-25% of the bill. The menu prices are fairly similar to those in the UK with the exchange rate, but with a 20% tip on top, it then makes eating out quite expensive. 10% is a normal tip amount in the UK.
I was absolutely shocked that almost $2000 (£1400+) could only get me an old banger of a car. It was covered in rust, I doubt it would have passed a UK MOT test (annual ‘safety’ test)…I even stuck my finger through the body work once. It had nearly 200,000 miles on the clock and it had a massive dent in the bumper. When I got back to the UK, I bought a car for £1000 more and it has done less than 30,000 miles and looks as good as new. Yes the engines are bigger, but there’s literally no budget option. For $2000 you’re lucky if it runs at all.
ATM Cash Withdrawal Fees
In the UK most of the time, regardless of your bank, you get free cash withdrawals at cash points/ATMS (although someone recently said this might be changing?). It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, it’s free. Whereas in the US, you only get free cash withdrawals if you use your bank’s machines. In the middle of nowhere, my bank was a ‘local’ one, it didn’t have a branch in my town and if I was travelling anywhere else in the US, I didn’t stand much of a chance of finding a branch for free withdrawals. (Chip and pin wasn’t really a thing, you still had to sign for credit cards, contactless payment was pretty unheard of, so it was a little like travelling back in time!).
Related Reading: Expat Life: Why I’ve Decided To Return To The UK
Are there any of these things that surprise you?
17 thoughts on “Cost of Living UK vs US | 9 Things That Are More Expensive In The US”
I agree with you on a few of those points like healthcare and travel insurance. I am rather surprised by the groceries and cell phone ones though because it was a different situation when I left England. Btw, thanks for the TEFL link! I just got my certificate!
Some groceries are expensive depending where you shop but places like Lidl and Iceland are VERY cheap even compared to some of the others (like Sainsbury’s etc!). Someone replied on Facebook saying that phone plans are cheaper in other parts of the US, I guess Iowa is just expensive!!
And yay! Congratulations!
That makes sense. My cell phone plan was cheaper in the US but it was prepaid
Mine was prepaid too but it was still $30+taxes 🙁
And thanks! 😊
Great list! and living in Canada with our dollar so bad compared to the U.S. travelling to England and Europe is actually cheaper once you get there. Love Sainsbury’s! (maybe partly because that’s my maiden name….hahaha but not related…though we’ve tried to find a link!
Haha! How cool! The exchange rate is pretty bad at the moment, I get paid in USD still and it drops every week! 🙈
Blech! hopefully when things improve in the New Year that will change!
We thought pretty much everything in the US was much more expensive than the UK and seem to always get a negative reaction whenever we mention it. It has a bit of a reputation of being a cheap place to live and especially eat out. Not true at all. And tipping! Ridiculously annoying.
I do exactly the same thing every time I do a food shop when I’m at home in the UK: I walk around going “This is so cheap!” Pretty much everything here in the US feels more expensive (I remember being SO shocked at the cost of phone contracts when I first moved), and even books are way more expensive than they are in the UK. And don’t even get me started on the cost of flights haha…!
I couldn’t believe that the flights down to the Caribbean were the same price as one from the UK that’s like 11hrs long! How do you find house prices in NY compared to those back home? Me being in the middle of nowhere you could find cheapish houses. Mine was valued at $110k (2 bed with a potential 3rd downstairs) which you couldn’t even get a 1 bed flat in the south of England for that!
Thanks for posting this. I feel the ATM fees are getting out of hand.
My bank said if you used the ATM like 20 times in a month then you get refunded for the fees 🙈who goes to an ATM that much?!?! Especially when the bank was a 10 minute drive away in the next town!
My mom gets her windows cleaned for $13 per month in the UK. I was quoted $325 here. I find services in general to be a lot more in the US, anything involving labor just seems to be sky high pricing. And yes, groceries are way more and the fact that budget groceries in the US are horrific quality it means we have to shop at whole foods to match the quality of regular tesco’s own brand. I’m not all that fussed about organic but conventionally grown food in the UK is already heavily regulated which is not so much the case in the US so you end up having to buy organic to be on the safe side.
My goodness that’s crazy prices for window cleaning! Yeah, we used to shop at Aldi because it seemed to be a bit nicer and a little cheaper. It was quite nice having reverse culture shock coming back to the UK and being like that’s cheap, that’s cheap, that’s cheap…!
For perspective here in US I was paying $2 a green pepper, for less I could have 3 peppers in UK. What I was paying for one tomato in US I could have 10 in UK.
If that isn’t astonishing enough all the goods and services, fines, fees are way more expensive in US but minimum wage for the poorest has not budged.
Now imagine being British making £5.90 an hour and having no JSA, no cheap to free higher education, no early childcare, no maternity and paternity leave, no sick pay, no NHS, no holiday, and less than 1/4 the amount of public housing while 5 times the population. Americans are at an extreme disadvantage and no where near the same cash benefits.
We often hear about people with cushy salaries, but we never hear about the vast majority of the underprivileged in US. Which btw is much higher than that 40 million number, they just made the poverty line way lower in US to make the problem look small.
Yep! And that is why I left the US and came back to the UK because I just could not afford the life I wanted to live (and knew I COULD have living in the UK).