My Experience at a British Costco (as an American Expat)

Costco Manchester

I’ve been living in the UK for 5 months now and I have never been to Costco here – until recently. Despite loving it and shopping there all the time back home in the US we just hadn’t really thought of it much because we were so focused on the wedding blessing and hosting my friends & family for practically a month. It was never because I didn’t want to go, Chris and I had actually planned on going to Costco in Manchester once before – but sadly that day we had so much going on we decided to drop the Costco visit off of our to do list.

I am a member of a group on Facebook made specifically for American expat women in the UK. Many times in a month I read posts about some of these women who have recently gone to a Costco near them, and they rave about being able to find things from there that they would have found back home. Who would have ever guessed how exciting it is for American women to find a box of ziplock bags at Costco in the UK? Oh and how can I forget about the American sized paper towels!?

They rave about these finds as if they’ve struck gold on a treasure hunt. Multiple women will reply to these posts screaming about their excitement for this person and will carry on to share their personal experiences too. Reading these can be quite entertaining – but when you haven’t been to a Costco in several months, you just want to touch the screen and cry “I’ll be there soon!”. Little did I know that I would eventually be going there myself, and it would be amazing.

Planning Our Costco Trip

One weekend we were out in Lancaster with some of our new friends we’ve made through hosting Pokemon GO lure parties. The couple had invited us out for lunch, but sadly when we arrived at the location we found out that the restaurant above the local asian shop was shut down for renovations. We decided to eat elsewhere but first we all wanted to go inside the asian shop to find some goodies.

While cruising around through the aisles looking for some ramen, bbq beef, gyozas, and new candies the topic of discussion turned from “look at what I’ve found” to Costco. Our friends were talking about the frozen shrimp inside of the freezer in front of them, trying to decide if it was something they were planning on buying or not.

Ultimately they said that they didn’t want to buy it from this shop because there is frozen shrimp for sale at a lower cost over at Costco. My ear radars went off and I spurted out “I’ve been dying to go to Costco! I haven’t been there yet since I moved here” This is when our friends claimed that we were all going to carpool together and make our way over to Costco that following weekend. I was beyond excited.

Not many people would say that they’d happily make a 1.5 hour journey by car to go shopping at Costco – but I can. The drive from Lancaster to Manchester was no different to my drive I’ve made from Bellingham to Seattle. I used to drive to Seattle all the time just to go shopping for half of the day with my friends and we’d return back home that same night – we never disapproved of this, it was actually pretty normal for us.

Chris and I spent the morning trying to think of what we would hope to find, unfortunately the website is never a reliable source to use to find what stores have in stock. So we ended up brainstorming what we would definitely buy if we saw it on the shelves – we came up with: spiced apple cider, hidden valley ranch, hot dogs, chai tea, red velvet cake, and cinnamon rolls. We met up with our friends at their house, and got into their car and never looked back.

Arriving at the Store

The Manchester Costco store was close to the freeway exit, so most of our drive was spent on the freeway. Traffic was sparse so the drive was quick, but I had started to develop butterflies in my stomach. I was wondering what to expect, was the store going to live up to my “American” standards? Was I going to walk inside and instantly feel like I’ve been let down? When you shop at Costco you come to have a certain expectation of what the stores will be like, so I was worried that there would be a drastic change between an American store and a British store.

I had already learned that UK equivalents or substitutions of products I knew and loved back home did not always pan out to be as good as what I used to have available to me. I really didn’t want this to be another one of those so-so equivalents, I felt I needed something to help reassure me that living in the UK wasn’t so different after all.

Costco Entrance

Our First Glimpse of Costco

When we pulled up to Costco I was enamoured with the size of the building, it was big just like every store I’d seen back home. Right from the start, stepping out of the car I felt like I was suddenly back in the US, doing my normal thing – going out shopping. At this point I was really excited because I was beginning to believe that I wouldn’t feel let down about this trip.

I looked at Chris and told him the first thing I wanted to do was go eat a hot dog. I think emotionally I was prepared to eat about 10 just in case Costco ever disappeared, kind of like a hamster stuffing it’s cheeks saving the rest for later. The four of us walked inside and headed straight for the food court.

Costco Food Court

The Food Court Options

The moment I stepped inside the warehouse doors, I felt like I had suddenly been transported back home. The layout was exactly like the Costco store in my hometown. I was overwhelmed with my thoughts and confused because my brain was trying to convince me that I was back in the US although I knew deep down inside that I was in the UK. We approached the line at the food court and I was so happy to see that the all beef hot dogs were right in the middle of the menu board.

I turned around to look at the rest of the store behind me, and it was so amazing to see that the departments were just as big as the store I used to shop at. My enthusiasm for being in Costco grew exponentially in that moment. Besides the hot dogs, pizza, chicken bakes, and the soft serve ice cream that you would typically find available on the menu board, there was also jacket potatoes and cottage pie! I know when I’ve been to Costco in Canada that the menu board was slightly different as well, so I was happy to see what the more region exclusive menu items in the UK were. But I still only bought a hot dog, maybe I’ll try something else next time.

Costco Hotdog

My Hot Dog from the Food Court

After I spread out some mayo from tiny packets I had found in my purse we wolfed down our food and left the food court to begin shopping. We around through the main entrance to collect a cart and picked up a couple of coupon books to see the hot deals.

The guys were instantly drawn to the electronics department, drooling over 4K TV’s and digital cameras. I wanted to make sure that we were going to weave through all of the aisles so I could grasp what was available there in that store for future reference.

Costco Aisle

An Aisle in the Warehouse

American vs British Costco

Once we had trekked through the office, automotive, cookware aisles we finally made it over to produce and the bakery. The bakery is one of my favourite sections in the store because I love Costco bagels, cookies, cinnamon rolls, and cakes – who doesn’t? Chris and I looked all around for cinnamon rolls and unfortunately we could not find any in stock at that time, however while looking for those we came across the red velvet cake! This was the first item we decided to buy that day, and while I know that is a lot of cake for two people to consume, I was prepared and ready to try the UK recipe and see how it compared to the American one.

Costco Bakery

The Costco Bakery

Going through the remaining few favourite aisles of mine, household cleaning, frozen foods, grocery, beauty supplies confectionery and apparel, we managed to add peanut butter filled pretzel bites, Red Vines licorice, Kirkland laundry detergent pods, and a hard shell hooded jacket to our shopping cart. We did take note of items that caught our interest while we were there. I was so happy to see Krusteaz pancake mix, surprisingly it was the size of Chris’ head – but it was at a reasonable cost compared to American pancake mix I’d see sold at grocery stores in town.

Costco Ranch

Ranch – But It’s Not Hidden Valley

My heart stopped when I found ranch bottles, but I didn’t act on impulse to buy any because it was not Hidden Valley brand. Also I do already have so much Hidden Valley ranch stock piled at home from our friends who delivered us care packages – if I bought any more ranch dressing I might have regretted it later.

Chris and I found Skippy peanut butter, I will admit I am a brand snob and I do much prefer Jif – but in circumstances like this where peanut butter is not as popular in the UK as it is in the US, I would buy Skippy brand over what I can buy here at regular stores.

Costco Peanut Butter

A Lot of Peanut Butter

Believe or not, Chris and I actually passed up the hot dogs in the refrigerated grocery section! In my time here so far, we have come across a hot dog brand sold by Gilbert’s that we really do like, and we already had some at home at the time of this visit, but what really put us off was the cost. I get that they’re much bigger in size than traditional hot dogs but the Gilbert’s brand is kosher beef as well – so I felt continuing to buy hot dogs from Sainsbury’s was a better option.

There definitely some other items we opted not to buy from Costco because we decided that we didn’t need these items in such a large quantity at this time. Money is a bit tight at the moment so we didn’t want to go overboard with our spending. I tried to find Hi-Chew candy in the confectionery aisles, but they did not exist here. However I did find my Red Vines liquorice here, so I decided to buy that instead and Chris picked out the peanut butter filled pretzel bites.

Chris and I came away from our Costco trip feeling satisfied. While some of the things I was hoping to find did not exist in this store, I still found plenty of other things that made me happy to see. We do plan on returning to Costco again soon, and we were so grateful to enjoy this shopping experience with our friends. I am so happy to have a little slice of home here in the UK. In moments of homesickness you may find me sitting on a life size teddy bear at Costco.

-Chelsea

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Chelsea Martin

Chelsea Martin is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and a Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor (CBATI). She has been training dogs professionally since 2007, and is the Head Coach for Dogs Trust Dog School Nottinghamshire. She met Chris on a trip to England in 2013, Married him on New Year's Eve - celebrating 2016 as husband and wife!

  • Kanyua Kirimi

    Hello,
    Is it just me or some of your posts regarding visas disappeared? I hoped to use them as reference when we started the application.

    • Hi Kanyua,

      Unfortunately you are correct. The OISC has threatened to prosecute us for providing immigration advice as we are not solicitors (despite our legal disclaimers & that we try to only speak from personal experience). As such we have had to remove all visa guidance, articles and videos from our site & YouTube page. We are also unable to answer any questions about the visa process or else risk criminal prosecution.

      You can read our full statement here: http://bit.ly/2bml3qI.

      Apologies again.
      Chris

      • Kanyua Kirimi

        Oh no, I am truly sorry for all of this. I had gotten immense help from your posts. I am heartbroken now :(

        • I sent you an email, please let me know if you have received it.
          – Chelsea

      • Gary Wheeler

        Dear Chris and Chelsea I just returned from Vietnam. Would it be possible for you to contact me on my email address? wheelergs@yahoo.com

        Kind Regards

        Gary