10 Trivial household items from the UK I missed the most when I moved abroad

When you are making all your plans about moving abroad, it is very unlikely that you will have spent hours scouring supermarket shelves to see exactly what things are and are not available in your new country.

Often you don’t even miss things until the one you brought from home is used up and needs replacing. Before I moved from the UK, I was unaware how attached I was to certain British brands that I had used my whole life, and were reliable and trusted. They may seem trivial, but they are dear and helpful in my every day life and I wish I still had easy access to them.

Finding a close equivalent of these cherished items in your adoptive country may be harder than you think. Here are some common household items to add to your packing list when moving abroad

1. Brooms

This is really back to basics, but it’s the one piece of household kit we all need. Funnily enough, trying to get a good quality broom can be quite a challenge in some countries.

In the UK, companies like Addis have been making brooms for ever and they have just the right size of broom head which can be perfectly soft for in the house and larger and stronger for outdoors.  In many countries traditional brooms and hand brushes are made of rushes – that certainly work, but not quite as easily! 

2. Electric gadgets

Best to invest in these before you leave home, but check that the voltage is going to be correct for your new country. Although you may be emotionally attached to your toasted sandwich maker, you may well find that there is no demand for them in your new country. Slow cookers can be a real bonus but are not popular in many other countries and there are varying levels of demand for air fryers too.

When searching for the brands you know and love, you will find that they are not as common in many countries overseas because the stores stock a wealth of German and Italian brands. When leafing through the instruction booklet, you may even have problems finding an English section – which does come as a shock.

3. Electric kettles

You will definitely find a couple of styles on sale in the stores, but they are not that popular in countries where a cup of tea is not the highest priority.

In many countries like France and Italy, coffee machines are the big essentials, but often to make tea, water is boiled in a saucepan or an old-style kettle that is heated on the hob.

4. Leather polish and copper cleaner

If you have a much-loved leather sofa that you are taking abroad, pop some specialist cleaner/polish like Sheraton’s in your packing boxes, because you might not be able to find any. If the climate is warmer, the leather will need to be kept soft.

Likewise, if your greatest treasure is a copper warming pan or kettle, it is well worth taking a can of polish with you – just in case you need to spend time and effort sourcing some.

5. Brillo pads

Among your cleaning essentials, you probably have a tub of Ajax powder and a bottle of Jif, or supermarket brand equivalents. You may appreciate a packet of Brillo pads for when you are doing the job we all love least – cleaning saucepans and the oven!

Although you can find local equivalent of Ajax and Jif, finding Brillo pads can be harder than striking gold! As they are light and compact, it is well worth popping some in your packing boxes.  

6. Pots of paint

There may well be the chance that you are planning to paint a room, wall or a few doors and you will be absolutely shocked by the prices charged in such countries as France for a pot of paint – up to three times more!

Interestingly, I discovered that paint is one of those commodities that gets great customer loyalty and it really is almost impossible to find Dulux or Crown when you are living abroad. We have also been spoilt with B&Q and Homebase among others – for quality, range and price. Gloss, matt and emulsion paints are all pricey.

7. Pillows and bed sheets

Would you believe it! Not all countries have rectangular shaped pillows like in the UK (50 cm x 90 cm)!  In countries like Germany and France there are Euro pillows that are square and measure 63 cm x 63 cm. In the Netherlands, there are some square pillows, but also extra-large rectangles.

In Spain, the pillows are long and thin and measure the width of the bed!  If you are moving to the United States, you will find pillows in three sizes: Standard size 50 cm x 70 cm (20×26 inches), Queen 50 cm x 76cm (20×30 inches), and King 50 cm x 90cm (20× 36 inches).

Matching pillows and pillow cases from two different countries can turn into a frustrating game. If you would like some new pillows, you will find a great range available. The problem is if you have British rectangular pillows and you want to buy some new pillowcases as this could be a challenge.

In France for example, you can find a few rectangular pillowcases in some shops but they tend to be only available in cotton rather than easy-care polyester cotton. 

Another challenge in the linen department is that different countries have different duvet sizes too, which can cause a problem if you are wanting to buy a new duvet set for your bed.

8. Net curtains

If you value your privacy and have beautiful net curtains hanging at your windows, you may well have to decide if you want to buy some for your new windows before you leave the UK!  British people proudly hang gorgeous net curtains at their windows. These are classically full length and 1.5 times the width of the window to give the curtain loose folds.

You may find the curtain rods you need in shops overseas, but finding British style net curtains is definitely tricky. In France, the curtain panel is the same size as the window so it lies flat. It is often in a thick cotton with an intricate farmyard scene or flowers.

Alternatively, this panel is only hung to cover the top two-thirds of the window. New designs have triangular ends finished with tassels. German net curtains are very thick and lacy and definitely darken the room. In other countries like Greece, they are not popular at all. They are also known by different terms in different countries. Across Europe they are known as voiles.

9. Greetings cards and wrapping bows

British greeting card shops are wonderful. Although prices have increased in the last few years, they still have an amazing selection of greetings cards for every occasion – and every wallet.

In other countries the choice is very limited and the prices incredibly high. In countries like Cyprus and Greece there are very few cards on sale because everyone would prefer to give birthday wishes in person.It is important to remember that many countries do not have a great choice of charity Christmas cards either as there is no tradition like in the UK for exchanging cards. If you love to wrap up gifts with pretty paper and bows, again you will be really disappointed to find pretty bows almost impossible to buy. This is something Americans relate to as well.

By the time you have splashed out on a card and paid the postage, it may be a much better idea (and more reliable) to use one of the online card companies: 

Blue Mountain
123 Cards
Jacquie Lawson

10. British television and newspapers

Brits can be justly proud because British television really is excellent. Some of the David Attenborough documentaries and others on human health, latest gadgets and of course all the footie and rugby games really are hard to live without.

Luckily there are a number of companies offering satellite television deals that ensure that you don’t have to miss a single episode of Holby City! Best to not rush into any contracts, but to discuss your options with other expats in your area.

Although you can read all the British newspapers online, there is something very special and tactile about holding a newspaper! If you are living in an area where there is a significant number of expats, you may find that a local shop does stock a few British newspapers – and if you are really lucky the Radio and TV Times at Christmas.

The downside is they will be expensive and sadly, the weekend newspapers are without their supplements because of weight restrictions, but they will give you hours of pleasure! Likewise, there are online subscriptions available for many popular magazines including Good Housekeeping so you can print off all the recipes and knitting patterns.

Shop online for what you love

Although there may be challenges finding all you know and love in local shops, luckily there are alternative ways to shop using online giants such as Amazon. Ebay also has a number online companies selling on their site and many of the artisans featured on Etsy will post their goods abroad. Some well-known British companies like Marks & Spencer have branches in many cities overseas.


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