Moving to Berkeley from UK

Hi all

Pleasure to join the community and seeking some advice either from current residents or UK ex-pats who have ventured over to CA. Due to an impending job opportunity, we are considering relocating to Berkeley and trying to find out what are the best neighbourhoods to live in for either private or public schools. We have a 5-year old daughter and a 3-year old son.

In addition, what areas are good for family living and ones to avoid? 

Ex-Pat Questions

For any UK residents who have previously moved it'd be good to connect to ask more specific questions that could help us out. 

Thanks in advance and looking forward to being part of your community soon, Greg & Elizabeth

Parent Replies

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RE: Moving to Berkeley from UK ()

Any place in the Hills is highly desirable as is Northbrae, Westbrae, Thousand Oaks, Central Berkeley, Northside, Southside, and Elmwood. There is crime in South and West Berkeley but these areas are upcoming and go block by block. The public schools are excellent but there are many good private ones as well. Prices are going up fast, be ready for sticker shock. That said, it's a great place to live.

RE: Moving to Berkeley from UK ()

I can’t help you with Berkeley but we moved to Alameda from the UK five years ago and we love it! It’s cheaper than Berkeley, is safe everywhere, has good public schools and is full of families. We have lots of British and Aussie friends and we are like family to each other as none of us has family nearby. 

It’s also nice living on an island as the kids can go to the beach, swim and do things like sailing summer camps etc, taking advantage of the much better weather here! 

Good luck! 

RE: Moving to Berkeley from UK ()

Contact Ruth Whippman! You can google her. She’s written a lot on the subject and lives in Berkeley with her family.

RE: Moving to Berkeley from UK ()

I wish I knew. We are pregnant with our first. Here is what I will say, Berkley is incredible. We love our neighbors, the community programs, the people, etc. There are many good neighborhoods in Berkeley. We looked on for public school rating information and landed on elmwood. With that said- there are a lot of great elementary schools - oakland has some good ones too! 

RE: Moving to Berkeley from UK ()

Welcome to Berkeley! It is true that neighborhoods in the Berkeley Hills tend to be considered more "desirable" and are also more expensive to buy or rent in, as well as being less racially and economically diverse than other parts of Berkeley. Of course, the high cost of housing throughout the Bay Area is leading to rapid gentrification and whitewashing in other parts of Berkeley--as well as a notable increase in homelessness. But living in the hills will not guarantee you a spot in the local public school closest to your home. Berkeley public school assignments are run on a zone system which divides the city into three geographic zones, each encompassing a part of the hills, central Berkeley, and the flatlands, and which the city uses to try to ensure diverse school populations and equitable resources in all its schools, once it was forbidden by the courts from explicitly using race/ethnicity in school assignments. The result (in my opinion) is that all of Berkeley's public elementary schools are roughly equivalent, and all are very good. Each can have a different focus, a different community feel, and of course individual teacher assignments can make a big difference in how you/your child feel about the school. Because of the wide variety of educational backgrounds of the families the students come from, I don't find that school ratings websites are very helpful, especially ones that rely heavily on standardized testing as a way to assess quality--at the very least, take that information with a large dose of salt. If you're looking at a specific neighborhood/home, go to the BUSD website to see what zone that specific location is in, and then look at the schools in that zone. Look up anecdotal reviews of those schools on this site, or one of the school ratings sites, whatever you prefer (with a grain of salt!). You could be lucky and placed in your neighborhood school (if that is where you want to be)--or you could be assigned to a school practically on the other side of town. If you're assigned a school more than, I think, a mile from your home, I believe you would qualify for free busing--which can mean getting your child to the bus stop 45 minutes or so before school starts--note that the school start times are staggered between 8 and 9 am. It can be hard to transfer schools once you've been assigned a specific public school, so I know some who were unhappy with their assigned schools and switched to a private school; people who can't afford to do that just make do. I don't know much about the private schools--we never even considered a private school--but there are many private schools of all different types and sizes in Berkeley and in nearby communities, and if the public schools don't work for you, you are very likely to find a private one that will. If you go the public route, assuming one is already a Berkeley resident, you would tour the elementary schools in your zone in January, and then submit a ranked list of your choices. School assignments are sent out in May, I think. But if you are coming in in the middle of the school year, you would most likely get assigned wherever there is room. I think the schools keep a few spaces open for transfers and new residents, but I don't know how likely it is to get the school of your choice mid-year. Of course, once assigned, it's hard to switch schools. Do some research, ask us more questions--and good luck!