Category Archives: expatdiaries

My Expat Life | 860 Days Later

860 days ago my husband and I kissed my kids goodbye to get on a plane from the US to England. It is hard to believe that next month it will have been two years and a half since we embarked on this Expat journey. I thought I would look back on the time so far with a little recap of some of the bigger moments and hurdles we have had to overcome.

May 2011 | A tearful goodbye at the airport as we say goodbye to our kids, not knowing when we will next be together.  We are leaving them in the US with family until we can find jobs, a place to live, and a school for them to attend. We joke that Ryan and I will end up living on the streets like Dennis and Deandra in a  tongue-in-cheek spin off called  ‘It Is Always Sunny in England’.  We were living one step up in a hostel for our first few weeks in England in a room with up to 10 other occupants. I did not have to fend off meth addicts, but did have my beauty products stolen from two girls who arrived late one night and left early in the morning.

June 2011 | Unfortunately sometimes the best made plans can go wrong. Ryan has to leave to go back to the US to apply for a different visa, which he cannot apply for outside of his home country. Leaving me alone in England. Before he leaves I am able to find a room for rent and can leave the hostel and I have been able to find a temp job available for a couple of weeks.
July 2011 | I land a salon job and try to keep busy with work and enjoying my new life in England while Ryan and my boys are still back in the USA.
August 2011 | With his new marriage visa, my husband returns to England just in time to celebrate our 8th Wedding Anniversary.  I surprise him with a weekend getaway to the historic town of Lewes.  We stay at a bed & breakfast, Ryan visits a castle for the very first time, and we see the Anne of Cleaves house. 
September 2011 | A busy month that begins with a move into our own flat in a town near where I work.  My kids finally join us in England, making our family complete once more.  The kids begin school and start assimilating to their new culture.  Ryan begins his semester at the Uni of Sussex and a part time job on the side. 
October 2011 | Our first Halloween in England and we found two houses and a pub that were participating in trick or treating.  Not that we are very big about Halloween in our family, but it was definitely a little culture shock for the boys. 
November 2011 | A really exciting month for our family. Beginning with the first Bonfire night my husband or boys have ever experienced.  We got to march in the procession with my boys’ school which included being able to carry a flaming torch! Also it is a big birthday month and my husband turned 30 this year in England. 
December 2011 | Our first Christmas in England and it was a very special and memorable one. Great cultural aspects like my boys seeing their first panto and participating in the Christmas plays at school and church.
January – June 2012 | We start of the new  year with my son turning seven and holding our first ever birthday party in England.  We get our first snow fall and life continues being busy between school and work for our entire family.  Even the weekend are quite crazy as Ryan and I work alternating days and the amount of time we are all home at the same time is very small. 
July 2012 | We again kiss our boys goodbye as they visit grandparents in the US for an intended short break as Ryan and I take a trip my home in Italy and our 9th Anniversary in Paris, France.
August 2012 |  I fly to the states afterwards with the intention of a short stateside vacay before the three of us all return home. However after visiting with my husband’s family and my family we realize going back home to England now will have to wait.  Ryan is still searching for a job after completing his masters course. 
September 2012 | I start homeschooling my boys while being in an very uncomfortable situation living at my in-laws. Not worth my breath stating the reasons why again for this post. 
October 2012 | I miss Halloween with my boys this year as I fly back home to England for a job interview. While the interview was hopeful and went really great, they ended up hiring from within.
November 2012 | I celebrate my big 3-0 at home with Ryan, a much quieter version of the party I had planned.  But at this point I just want to find us both jobs so we can get our boys home sooner.
December 2012 | Ryan lands two jobs, one in London and one in Bath.  We end up deciding to move to Bath and now have to find a place to live very quickly.  Within a matter of weeks were are packing up our stuff and moving to Bath.  My boys arrive with my mum just a few days before Christmas.  We move into our house on December 23 and unpack the christmas decorations first.  My sister arrives and we celebrate Christmas with family in our new house.
January 2013 – July 2013 | My boys are both in different schools due to cap size limits on class sizes, and neither school is the closest school to our house.  However we enjoy our location and make the most of it by going on country walks nearly every weekend in the sun, the rain, and the snow.  We are making friends and I start blogging every day on ACR. When we reach our two year mark of our expat life, I hardly can believe it. Time is flying by very fast.
August 2013 | Ryan and I celebrate 10 years of marriage with a vow renewal ceremony in Wales with an intimate gathering of family and friends.  We also visit London with my family and go up to Oxford, the city of my birth to show my husband and kids the first house I ever lived in.
September 2013 | The boys are back in school again and life is resuming back to normal after the summer break.  
October 2013 | Ryan’s two year marriage visa is now expiring and he is applying for his ILR. This begins with taking the Life in the UK test which he has aced.  Since visas are expensive it is just a little added stress in our life, but another hurdle we have to overcome in our expat life. We also find out our landlady is not renewing our lease in December (for unknown reasons) so we will have to be moving days before Christmas again this year.  Please send good wishes that the leasing agent will allow us to stay an extra month as obviously this is the most inconvenient time to move, especially with children already excited about Father Christmas. 
So that is the overview story of our so-called Ex-pat life in England and the 860 days later that followed.  I really love November through January with all the things I can do with my boys for the holidays and birthdays. Especially as an expat there are so many things I have been looking forward to since the beginning of the year.  Just really hoping that the stresses and costs of visas and moving do not overshadow the awesome memories we hope to create.  I am aiming to remain positive.
Things I’m looking forward to in our Ex-Pat life for the rest of 2013:
– Halloween, making costumes, and going trick or treating with our expat friends.
– Bonfire Night and Fireworks on the 5th of November
– November Birthdays as my husband and I celebrate birthdays a week a part.  
– Celebrating Thanksgiving with our expat friends
– Hanukkah 

– St. Nicholas’s Eve and St. Nicholas’s Day in December

– Creating an advent calendar of activities for my kids to do in December
– Decorating for Christmas (if we can)
– Making lots of yummy Christmas cookies and holiday treats
– Pantomime rehearsals (for the show in January)
– Christmas
– New Years Eve

Q: What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2013?

My Ex-Pat Life: Is it the Right Choice for You?

Linking up with Rachel & Chelsea 

Making the choice.   It was a joint decision with my husband to move out of the US. The decision followed a sudden death in the family which refocused our plans for the future.  While we experienced several bumps (that were more like mountains) in the three years that followed we eventually made it to our destination in England. It did not happen without concerns and judgements from the peanut gallery of family, friends, and acquaintances.  My husband was leaving behind a job in the military and there were options offered to him closer to his family.

The suggestions thrown my way were about me trying to possess some unhealthy association with my past. It was no secret that I had not been truly happy since moving to the US before my senior year of high school and the decade to follow. If I could not find happiness in the US, certainly I would still be just as unhappy anywhere in the world.  Perhaps if I had been a typical American girl raised on American soil this would be true.  I was raised abroad as a third culture kid caught between the American military culture, the three different cultures within the countries that I lived, and  those places we traveled to that impacted my life during my developmental years.  I was not meant to live a life of Olive Gardens, American football games and Walmarts. I was made to live a life abroad and a life of travel.

It was my first year as an expat and I was at an early morning meeting at the salon where I worked.  I had been one of the first to arrive, sitting with my tea and my notebook that I journaled in while enjoying the solitude before a busy workday. We had been waiting for two coworkers to arrive ten minutes past the starting time. A usual occurrence I was realizing with the individuals I was working with at the time. My boss who was obviously upset with current situation asked us life motivating questions. I cannot quite remember the exact question I was asked when it was my turn to speak. Although I do remember my answer.

I was here because I made the choice to be here. My husband and I could have stayed and lived a unfulfilling life in America but we wanted something different.  So we got rid of all our furniture, packed up our belongings, left our children with family and moved to England with out jobs, a place to live, or contacts.  We basically hit the ground running and started applying for jobs. Which is how I came to be working at the salon.  It was what helped us apply to get a place to live, to find a school for our boys to attend, and begin our life together as family in England.  It was a risk that was not encouraged by all those that knew us but it was something about which my husband and I felt strongly and carried through.

Taking the ex-pat life has shown me how truly some risks are worth taking .  You may not know the outcome or the journey you will have to take to get to a sense of normalcy.  It will be challenging, it will have hard times, and it can end up costing more than you had endeavored. I do however hold no regrets. I do not have to live a life of thinking ‘what if’ or be living my life planning for the right time.  There is never a right time when life is so short.  We got married young, started our family young and we followed suite with following our dreams young.  I may not have a savings account for my kids for college, but I have invested in their future as third culture kids and future world travelers. We have prepared their young lives for a broader world view and a chance to go where ever life calls them.

If I went back in time I would still make the same choice to live the ex-pat life.

Q: Is an ex-pat life a journey you chose? 
Would you become an ex-pat?

Expat Diaries: The Cost of Moving

Expat life.  
Living abroad.  
Being close to amazing new places to where you can travel.  
The world is your oyster.  Sounds pretty glamorous right?
Yes. Yes. YES! Lets go!

How about the things that people do not tell you about living the Expat life? For instance what about all the things you will pack or move with you?  For me, being brought up as a military kid, I thought I knew what to expect.  However even with the best made plans something can go wrong or unexpected.  

What Do You Bring with You as an Expat?

Household goods.  For those of you living in your home country, who have not yet embarked on the life of an expat, take a look around your house.  How many belongings have you collected over the years?  How many boxes would it take to pack it all up? Wedding gifts and heirlooms? Holiday decorations? Will your kitchen appliances, beauty tools, and electronics work on the voltage system in your host country? Depending on the weight can determine how much it will cost to ship your household goods overseas.  Do you you have a lot of heavy items like books?  How about your furniture? Are you shipping over a vehicle? Will you leave things in storage?

“This can all come right?”

What Ever You Can Fit
I N S I D E  Y O U R   S U I T C A S E

This is how we moved to England.  In suitcases and carry ons.  Between Ryan and I that was five suitcases, two carry-ons, and two ‘personal item’ bags that carried our laptops and camera equipment. We got out of the airport and realised there were no lifts in the train stations in England.  Which meant I had to leave suitcases as I took one down/up stairs, to return and get the rest.  That formula was repeated several times just to get from Heathrow in London down to the southern coastal city of Brighton.  We looked like travelers that had never left their country before and had no clue on how to pack.

“Only the first suitcase is free? I can’t pack everything in one bag!”
What You Can Afford
T O   S H I P   O V E R S E A S 
When my husband got out of the military we were stationed on Oahu, Hawaii.  The military would pack up and move our stuff as far as his ‘home’.  His last home of record was Arizona and that was still quite a long ways a way from where we would be moving to in England.  We could either pay the difference or burn all our possessions in a massive fire in Arizona. The later was not really an option. Nor was leaving anything behind in storage.  We got rid of all our furniture and then did a mass scale back of what we owned.  We were actually surprised with what we had when it arrived in England.  Then more surprised as months went on and we realised what we did not have.  Cue Christmas and realizing that our big rubbermaid container of holiday decorations, ornaments, christmas trees, and holiday photos did not make the cut.

“Christmas is cancelled.”

What Your Family Will
A G R E E   T O   M A I L   T O   Y O U

As we made our final stop in the US before moving abroad to England, there were still things that we would need but not as urgently as our first couple of months.  If you are a person who as traveled and moved all her life like me you take the time to pack that stuff up in small ready to mail boxes.  However if you leave your stuff at in laws who dislike you, they will conveniently ‘lose’ these things in their storage but oddly enough keep things for you that you had thought was going to the charity shop.  Keep in mind that boxes and shipping prices can be quite costly.  Also if you have anyone mailing things to you be aware of what charges your host country will tack on.  We have had to pay £25 and up just to pick up packages from family because they put the price of the contents over a certain amount. Which is quite an unexpected surprise when you go to pick up the mail.


What Your Keep Behind
I N   S T O R A G E   B A C K   H O M E

For us we do not plan to move back stateside.  We also do not have any place in the US where we could call ‘home’.  We also felt that if we could go without things for two years or more than we really did not need to hang on to them only to have it sit in a storage facility.  To me thats nothing short of hoarding. Even my mum has gone through her things in her garage so that she only has what she needs and will use. This is what worked for us. It may not work for everyone.  You may even know that you will return even if you do not have a certain date set in stone.  Why take things that could break or be lost if you could keep them in storage or at a relatives.  Just be smart and keep what you think is best.

“Get rid of it all!”

Moving between cities/towns
O F  Y O U R   H O S T   C O U N T R Y

For the majority of my life and all the moves that has come with it, the US military had always moved my household goods.  I never had to worry about the weight of my belongings or having to sort what I could part with and what was essential. To be honest I think as a teenager the military probably moved a whole lot of ‘junk’ and paperwork that I did not really need to hang onto at that point. We have moved within England four times in the last two years.  The first two moves we only had what we brought with us on the plane so we needed nothing short of a taxi.  However our move from Brighton up to Bath was our first move of everything we have here in England and to a distance that is hours away.

“What? I have to leave stuff behind???”  
What We Learned from Moving within England:
Even moving within the country can be quite costly.  As we do not have a drivers license to drive our own moving truck we had to look to moving companies here in England.  They call them ‘removers’.  After an email inquiry and phone consultation about our estimate they set up our moving date.  This was the first time I have ever experienced a ‘two day job’ and unfortunately it became three days.  Long story short is they packed up everything in boxes for us the first day and then came with a moving van the second day.
“Customer service in England?”
However the van they brought the second day was no where large enough to put in everything they packed up and our furniture.  So they scheduled for a larger van the next day.  To me this van was no bigger, though technically it was somehow larger, and I got the same reaction again.  I should point out that each day in this process it has been a different set of men, never the same guy twice.  We eventually just had to say ‘okay, take this and this, and leave this’.

“Why can’t you just do your job correctly?”
What We Had to Do When the Moving Experience Went Bad:
My husband later drove down with my mum from Bath with the largest rental car they could get to try and bring what they could.  Rental cars are mostly all small here in england and there were no ‘mini van’ options.  So in the end there were many things that did not come with us including furniture.  Literally my husband kept taking photos of the car packed with what they could fit around three adults and what was still in the apartment. It was frustrating to say the least. I think the one item I have been most sad for is my sewing machine.  It ended up costing more than we planned or had to spend and then some for the items we had to replace that included a couch to sit on in our living room.  So we learned that moving here is costly and has made us not want to move in country any time soon.

“Just breath!”

What We Did Not Expect:
I do not think my husband and I fully realised what the statement meant when we would say ‘oh we can just buy this again in England’ or to what extent the more we said it back in the US.  Yes you can go without your dishes and appliances, but have you thought about how much dishes will add up when you need to buy them again?  I had been spoiled by places like Costco, Sam’s Club, Target, and yes even Walmart.  Places where you could find whatever you needed in one place, for a low price, and even in bulk.  It is not the way nor so easy in England.  We did not expect that.  In the end we have tried to slowly repurchase things we needed.  Which began with furniture from IKEA in December seven months after moving to England earlier in May.  Our kitchen still hosts as much appliances, dishes, and tools as a college dorm.  Which ironically matches the Dorm sized fridges in England.  

“I love Target!”
What does the future bring for Expat Life?
The downside to social media websites like Facebook and Pinterest is that you get to see how your friends and family back ‘home’ live life or goals of how they would like to live.  Houses in many places back in the US are much larger than here and can be bought for almost as much as rent on a small flat in England.  Looking at the large houses my friends now own, the furniture they have acquired, the painting, and decorating that they have done makes me feel a little gutted that I have missed out on that experience.  However I would not trade that material ideal for the opportunity we have to live and travel abroad.  To each their own and this is the life we chosen.

“Where’s my three story house with a pool?”

Yes there are still thing we want and things that we need, but go with out.  I highly dislike that feeling of ‘want’.  I would rather be able to travel than look at our check list of things that would greatly improve life.  I know being here in England has really shifted my focus on shopping from the view it had when I was living the American life.  I said goodbye to the land of large, oversized, and available 24/7 and embraced the much smaller, more compact, and where-stores-close-at-5pm-on-a-Sunday ex-pat life.
“Its 6pm and we just ran out of milk.”
Q: Have you ever experienced moving abroad or to another country?
What were your expectations and how did they change after your move?

Finding Happiness when Restlessness Strikes

Pleased to share with you that A Compass Rose now has over 300 followers.  Thank you for all the love and support.  Since there are quite a number of new readers I wanted to share this article that was originally a guest post at We Took The Road Less Traveled.  It contains my top list of how you can go about ‘Finding Happiness when Restlessness Strikes‘.  

Before I do let me give you a brief introduction about A Compass Rose.  I chose my blog name to reflect myself and my nomadic journey.  I was born in England to American parents and grew up moving around military bases in Europe until I was seventeen years old.  I am now thirty years old and I have yet to ever live in one place for more than three years at a time.  For the last two years I have been living the expat life with my family in England.  I am a Third Culture Kid (TCK), a military brat (and former military wife), an expat, and a global nomad.  
“But still the clever north wind was not satisfied.  It spoke…of towns yet to be visited,  friends in need yet to be discovered, battles yet to be fought” – Chocolat
I chose the quote above, a line from Chocolat, because it has always a chord with me.  I am always moving to a place, moving away from a place, or off on a trip exploring new lands.  I have been asked frequently if I can ever find peace in one place without having to move again.  To be honest I do not know the truth to that question.  I have said recently on my blog that I am the most content now in my life in England than I have been since we moved to the US in 2000.  However I have moved four times since relocating to England in 2011 and have only been in our current city since this past Christmas.  The metaphor of a north wind calling me to new places is quite the reality in my personal story. 

Finding Happiness when Restlessness Strikes

Whether you are a fellow nomad like myself or find yourself in a new land (currently or in your future) the urge to go somewhere else may arise.  For some this could be due to culture shock and wanting to return ‘home’.  Perhaps you have never moved outside your city but from reading travel blogs are aching to go abroad.  Whatever your reason may be for feeling restless I have compiled a list of ways to find contentment in your current location when the practicality of moving is not your best option.

With my husband, our sons, my sister Zoë, and my mum aka ‘Nonna’ at Christmas when we moved to Bath, England.

1. Go back to school. Enroll yourself into school or sign up for a workshop.  Sometimes all we need is a sense of direction.  Perhaps this means embarking on a new career path or finishing a degree.  Perhaps it is as simple as taking a night class for a new hobby you have always wanted to try.  Even just trying something completely new to step out of your comfort zone can be the difference of wanting to runaway and finding your new path.  My husband found his new path after the military by enrolling for a masters programme abroad in England. For me, now that we are here, I have wanted to take an adult ballet course or get back into horseback riding (a childhood passion I once enjoyed). The point is to expand your mind for learning and let the new opportunities and relationships that will occur from it take place. 

I work as a photographer but for a hobby I started taking weekly self portraits. 

2. Read a Book. I love to read because it is within a book that you can transport yourself to a new world or reality.  Tolkien has always been a favourite of mine since my dad used to read the Hobbit to me as a small girl.  Now I like to escape to the top of Solsbury Hill (ref to the Peter Gabriel song) outside my back garden and read when I need an escape.  Join GoodRead online to see what books your friends are reading or find a local book club that you can join.  The later could be a great way to meet new people as well.

Sharing my love of Harry Potter by reading it to my boys.  Their reward for each finished book is to see the film for the first time.

3. Learn a New Language. My only regret is not being fluent in another language.  I moved to often and too frequently between countries of other languages to become fluent in the country.  I have yet to stick with a language program to keep it up.  I am always trying to go back to learning Italian and have high hopes for learning another three languages. For me the struggle is not having anyone with whom I can practice a new language. Join a class, club, or group where you can practice your language.  Maybe find an online penpal through the blogging sphere that you can do language practice with through a Google Hangout.  It might just inspire you on a new vacation where you can really put that language study into practice. 

 By learning a new language you break down a barrier to be opened up to many more relationships.

4. Try a New Recipe. Whether you are a gourmet chef at heart or just try to not burn water when making pasta, you can find inspiration through cooking.  I find the best part of cooking is being able to share it with others so maybe plan a special dinner or host a small party.  Find a country or a theme to prepare foods around.  Maybe you once traveled to South East Asia and want to reminisce your trip.  If you find yourself homesick, take a positive turn and learn to cook something new from your home’s local cuisine. 

Last Autumn my BFF, though miles away, sent me her crust recipe and I made my first pie.

5. See your current location through new eyes. More specifically younger eyes.  Whether you have your own kids or are friends with those younger and shorter beings it can be a refreshing advantage point.  I honestly would miss out on so much if I didnt talk to my kids about what they experience in life.  I like to give my kids cameras and we will go out on a walk and take photographs.  Being able to see our surroundings through their eyes (and their much shorter heights) always opens my mind and heart to more than what I would normally perceive.   

Normally I would walk past a pile of leaves, but when out with my kids in London it became a playground filled with laughter. 

6. Play the Tourist.  It is really easy to take things for granted when you live somewhere.  The easiest way to see your current surroundings through a new light is to pretend like you are only just visiting for the first time.  Grab a tour guide book or go on a bus tour of your city.   Experience the places you have seen before and explore the places you have yet to have seen.  Perhaps there is a new restaurant that you have yet to try out. Or that museum you have been meaning to check out but have yet to go inside.  Grab your camera and document your day out.

My kids picked up local maps and guides from the rail station and we went off exploring. 

7.  Meet Somebody New. This is easier done when you are younger or enrolled in school. If you find yourself always at home or always around the same people, find a reason to meet new people.  Perhaps you signed up for a lecture or a weekend wine tasting.  Maybe you decided to volunteer in your local area.  Maybe now is the time to finally meet your neighbours.  However you go about it make new friends with people and see how it opens your world view. 

I (third from the left) attended a Live Blogging Show at Bristol Fashion Week and met new bloggers and friends. 

8. Fall in Love.  I have heard it said that if it was easy to fall in love, we would all be in love.  However falling in love can make a place you felt lost in become a place refreshed with purpose and give you a reason to stay.  Maybe you are already married and so you feel this option does not apply to you. There are many types of love and perhaps it is the right time to fall in love with a sweet animal from the shelter who needs a new home.  Or maybe you find a way to fall in love with your current city.  Life is filled with so much purposed when you surround yourself with love.  It could be as easy as just ridding your life of toxicity to find the love that already exists. 

I found my happiness by falling in love with my husband all over again as we experience the new life as Expats. 

9. Plan Ahead.  Just because you do not need to move or travel far away at this moment does not mean you cannot plan.  I get most excited about planning out my new adventures.  Sometimes its just comforting to pull out my travel book from the shelf and read through different countries I would love to explore next.  You could start a Pinterest board of places you would like to visit. Make lists of the things you would like to do or see in a certain area.  Talk to other bloggers who live in places where you would love to visit.  Visit my MAP of Expat and Travel bloggers to find those who live in certain countries and start following their journeys.

10. Go on a Mini Break.  While the definitions of a mini break can vary from person to person given your means and time allowances just getting a way for a little bit can help bring you focus.  Perhaps you are a busy mum who can only just get one day off to be pampered at the spa.  Or perhaps you are a couple who can escape to the mountains for the weekend. Whatever fits your lifestyle find a way to get a way from the normal day to day life to recharge your batteries. 

While living in Brighton we took a mini break to Lewes, where Anne of Cleaves had a house, and stayed at a luxurious B&B for our anniversary.

I hope you have enjoyed my top ten ways you can help ward off restlessness and that it helps you fall in love all over again with your current location, with life, and with those special to you.  

*Photography belongs to Bonnie Rose Photography © 2013 All Rights Reserved |

Expat: Schools UK vs USA

In the early nineties I attended a local primary school in England in lieu of attending the American school on base. For two years I got to experience the British school system before going back to the American DODDS schools.  There are particular differences that I remember now between both education systems.  Having moved back to England in 2011 and putting my sons in the education system here I have realized there are way more differences than my expectations had led me to believe.  Especially as my sons get older and into the higher levels of schooling it gets a little more complicated.  To be fair I have had the school system in Britain explained to me many times and I still have questions about it.
The break down by years (UK/USA)
The school systems are not exact to be compared year by year.  For example children attend nursery and Reception before starting Year 1 which is the equivalent of Kindergarden in regards to age. The US high school years differ in the way the education is set up in the UK.  While students in the USA start Grade 11, students in the UK no longer have compulsory education.  They have the option at sixteen to continue their education into college for what would be Grade 11 and 12.  After those two years they would go on to attend university.  
Preschool = Nursery School
Primary School = Elementary School
Secondary School = Jr. High and High School
6th Form College = High School 
Broken down in Key Stages for the UK education system
Key Stage 1 =  5-7 yrs in Year 1-2 (1st-2nd form infants)
Key Stage 2 = 7-11 yrs in Year 3-6 (1st-4th form juniors)
Key Stage 3 = 11-14 yrs in Year 7-9 (1st-3rd form secondary)
Key Stage 4 = 14-16 yrs in Year 10-11 (4th-5th form secondary)
Key Stage 5 = 16-18 yrs in Year 12-13 (6th form secondary, also known as College)
Comparing UK vs USA Education by Year
3-4 yrs = Nursery / Preschool 
4-5 yrs = Reception / Preshool
5-6 yrs = Year 1 / Kindergarten
6-7 yrs = Year 2 (end of Key Stage 1) / 1st Grade
7-8 yrs = Year 3 (start of Key Stage 2) / 2nd Grade
8-9 yrs = Year 4 / 3rd Grade
9-10 yrs = Year 5 / 4th Grade
10-11 yrs = Year 6 (end of Key Stage 2 and final year of primary school) / 5th Grade
11-12 yrs = Year 7 (first year of secondary school, start of Key Stage 3)  / 6th Grade
12-13 yrs = Year 8 / 7th Grade
13-14 yrs = Year 9 / 8th Grade
14-15 yrs = Year 10 / 9th Grade Freshman Year
15-16 yrs = Year 11 (last year of compulsory schooling in UK) / 10th Grade Sophomore Year
16-17 yrs = Year 12 (first year of 6th Form College) / 11th Grade Junior Year
17-18 yrs = Year 13 (end of Key Stage 5 and final year of College) / 12th Grade Senior Year
School Testing
Students in the UK start studying in Year 10 for their GSCE exams which they take in various subjects at the end of Year 11.  GCSEs stand for General Certificate of Secondary Education.  After a successful completion of GCSE courses, students go on to take their A-Levels, which stand for Advanced Level, at college.  A-Levels are generally a two-year course, with AS levels begin obtained within the first year. Basically students can choose whether they continue their education after turning sixteen years of age by taking their A levels at 6th Form College, also known as a technical college. 
  • Final Exams for Key Stage 4 are GCSEs
  • Final Exams for Key Stage 5 are A-Levels, AS-Levels, NVQs, and National Diplomas

National Vocational Qualifications are work based awards in the UK that are achieved through assessment and training. I have become more familiar with these having trained and licensed as a Cosmetologist in Hawaii and wanting to transfer that to be able to work in England.  In the USA your training and license is determined by the state where you work and each has its own regulations.  In England there is not an equivalent governing and licensing board for cosmetology.  You train and take exams for different NVQ levels depending on the field of study. My cosmology license in Hawaii is roughly a NVQ level III in Hairdressing and a NVQ level III in Beauty Therapy with one exception.  Beauty Therapists in this NVQ level would also be trained in body massage which in the USA would require going to massage school and getting a separate license.  So although I have most of the skills required of a NVQ level III I can only get a job who will except a Beauty Therapist with a NVQ level II until I obtain the massage training.  I have explained all that to further explain the difference in education from country to country.  
The School Calendar
The school year calendar varies between country in the UK but contain around 39 weeks of education with 13 weeks of break. The breaks include two weeks at Christmas, two weeks at Easter, six weeks in the Summer, and then 3 one week half-term holidays. The school year in England is broken into three terms.  September to New Years holidays, January to Easter holidays, and Easter holidays to July. 
University Requirements
Every school may have its own requirements but there are general requirements that are looked at for admission into Universities in the UK. For the Universities I have looked into they expect applicants to have completed three A-Level exams in one sitting. If applicants re-sit or retake A Levels they may still be considered unless they are in the Medicine or Veterinary Medicine field.  Since many degree programs expect you to have studied specific subjects at GSCEs and A-Levels, students need to know early on which field they want to study.  In highly competitive subject areas this means the number of As achieved in GCSEs will be taken into account.  That means a 16 year old in the UK will need to already be focused to what job they will want to have as an adult, especially if they want to be in the field of medicine.  While in the US there are students in their twenties taking general education courses without a chosen major.  
What Expat parents should know about schools in England
These are the top three things we have experienced with having children in schools in the UK that I feel other expats would benefit from knowing before they move to the UK. 
1. Which School? 
The school your child/ren will attend is based off of many factors and can vary due to circumstances.  You can put them in the state schools (free), prep and public schools (cost fees and require entrance exams), or you can home educate.  To clarify public schools in England are what private schools are in the US. If you choose the free education, which school your child will go to is determined by the catchment area.  The closer you live to a school the better chances of getting into that school.  There are many different types of schools in this category which can be church schools, single sex or mixed schools.  However, the schools will have cap sizes on how many students they let in for certain years.  We live right next to the school in our town, but due to class sizes they were both accepted into different schools.  I have one son in a school in the next town over and my other son in a school much further away.  There are no school buses like there are in the USA.  As we do not have a car the school system was able to set up taxi services to get both my boys to their appointed schools and put them on waiting lists for the closer schools in the area.  You should also know that you have the right to appeal the school selection process.
2. Uniforms.
As far as I am aware, all schools have some sort of uniform required.  Depending on if you choose the state school or the prep school will determine how extensive their uniform needs will be per school. Typically for both schools there will be a Autumn/Winter uniform for the colder months and a Spring/Summer uniform for the warmer months.  For boys this may mean the difference of trousers and shorts and sleeve lengths in shirts.  For girls many schools require a summer dress that is usually in a gingham fabric.  The prep school my sons attended required specific hats for both seasons that were required to be worn to and from school along with their school blazer.  Extra items like these that may have only been worn for mere minutes before and after school ended up bringing the cost up when looking at the total items needed to stay in uniform regulations. They also required a sports kit for physical activities and sports, a book bag with the school crest, and specific items to which ‘house’ they belonged too.  If you are familiar with the Harry Potter series, this is equivalent to being sorted into a house and the same colours of red, blue, yellow, and green are normally used.  I will say that despite the cost I love uniforms.  It makes getting my kids ready for school in the morning that much easier and that it takes off the importance of what clothes a child wears to school in regard to their peers. 
3. Classwork and Homework.
I have experienced three different schools in the US with my boys and two different schools in the UK.  While my sons are still in primary school, I can say that so far the differences have really varied between schools and not so much between the USA and the UK.  My sons did extensive daily homework that included accelerated maths with their charter school in the US, nightly homework at their prep school in the UK, and weekly homework at their state school in the UK.  As far as I can tell so far there are minor differences like math in the US is called maths in the UK.  While you learn cursive in the USA, you learn joined up writing in the UK.  While it is similar, the two forms of writing are not exactly the same.  Of course while in the US your students will learn the pledge of allegiance an US History, in the UK they will learn the words to ‘God Save the Queen’ and the history of the United Kingdom.  I think the quality of the education can be found varying by school and by how involved the parents are with their children. The schools seem more competitive in regard to class system in the UK especially as students get into the secondary stage of their education. 
I know that I have a lot more to research and understand when it comes to the education of my sons.  If anything I am now more stressed out by my research than I was when I was ignorant to the complicated nature of education in England.  I hope this look into the education system in England is helpful and can help other parents when planing a move with their family to the UK.
This is a link up with Rachel & Chelsea