Moving to London? There’s a few things I wish I’d known before setting up life in this marvellous city. This guide will tell you what to expect and help make your move to this city a little more smoother. Read on to find out more.
Is moving to London a good idea?
Well, uprooting your life and heading to any new country or city is a confusing ordeal. London isn’t really any different, in that regard.
When I did it, I wanted to be spoon fed and mollycoddled every step of the way. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation was that I was left to figure everything out on my lonesome, the Internet serving as my only source of advice.
As you move, many issues may arise and it can be difficult knowing how to deal with each one.
Finding a job and housing is obvious – but what about opening a bank account? Where do you go when you’re sick? What mobile phone provider should you go with? How the hell are you going to get around?
Moving to London alone – is it a good, or terrible idea?
So, here is your moving to London checklist, answering all your questions, giving advice and more.
And for more information on visas, check out this post on navigating the UK 5 tier visa system.
Your Moving to London Checklist
Moving to London: Money matters
London is an expensive city and it’s a good idea to plan accordingly, before you make the move there.
1. How much cash should you bring?
I’ll say it again. London is expensive!
Take a look at what you have in your bank account. Now, halve that. That is the reality of what you will be taking with you to London, thanks to the pound.
Moving to London without a job can also be very difficult. Unless you are coming straight into work, then prepare to be without work for around three months.
I would correspondingly, unless you’re living rent free in zone 1 or 2, budget for around $250-300 a week. You can get by on less if you never leave your house, but you might have to sacrifice your sanity.
I would aim to bring over between 12-15 grand (Australian) personally and ensure you always have enough back up money for an emergency ticket home.
2. Set up a bank account
This can be a difficult when you first move to the country.
As things go, you need a bank account to get paid in a job. You need a job to be able to afford housing.
You can get a bank account using a tenant agreement, utility bill payment, employment contract… but then you need a job and housing to obtain those things. The Brits don’t make this easy at all.
My advice is – get on this right away!
Some banks, such as HSBC, allow you to set up an account before you even enter the country.
I managed to defeat British bureaucracy by ringing up my bank back home and requesting that they mail a statement to the address that I was staying at, until I could move somewhere permanent.
This turned out to be my golden ticket to a British bank account.
It is also possible to do this if you’re staying at a hostel in the interim, as your bank will email the statement to you. All you need is a printer and you’re set.
Thankfully, some of the banks aren’t completely insane.
3. Apply for a National Insurance Number
You can start work without a NIN, but it is another one of those things that it is good to get straight onto.
You can’t apply online or outside the country; you need to ring them up directly.
They will ask questions and in some cases, you will be required to go to a nominated Job Centre for an interview.
If you work on a freelance basis, you need to decide as to whether you will be operating as a company or a sole trader.
To become a sole trader you need a UTR, which sounds like a form of contraception to me, but actually stands for Unique Tax Reference, is similar to an ABN in Australia.
Compared to the NIN, applying for one of these is a breeze as you can do it on the blessed internet.
4. Convert your currency to British Pound Sterling
Drawing money from ATMs using your foreign debit card results in a lot of unpleasant foreign transaction fees.
You can move your money to a British account, which will cost you around $20 dollars, depending on who you bank with.
Your British account will probably charge you a currency conversion fee on top of that.
Moving to London: Health matters
Okay, you’ve got your money sorted. Well done. Now it’s time to get your ‘health affairs’ in order (this sounds macabre but it truly isn’t).
1. Registering for the NHS
Britain has one of the best healthcare system in the world, so of course you will want to get all over that.
Registering for the NHS is surprisingly pain free. You just need to sign up to a local GP.
Some require proof of address, but I just found one nearby my place and filled in a form.
A couple of weeks later, my number was sent straight to me.
2. The UK Global Health Insurance Card
This card basically acts as a healthcare card throughout Europe, which will cover you when travelling.
Applying for it is extremely straightforward. You will simply have to send them a copy of your visa and soon enough you’ll have it in your hot little hands.
3. Join a gym
This may be a matter of personal preference, but I always feel at home once I’ve joined a gym and/or signed up to a yoga studio.
If this works for you, I recommend jumping on this as soon as you’ve sorted a place to live.
Moving to London: Telecommunication advice
Here’s a few tips on how to get your phone sorted, asap.
1. Pick a mobile phone provider
I was on a monthly credit plan back home and correspondingly decided to stick with the same sort of deal in Britain, as I’m not a fan of locked-in contracts .
After asking around, I went for Three’s “Pay As You Go” deal.
If you travel a lot, their Go Roam deal is invaluable – it’s saved me a lot of hassle when travelling abroad!
EE are also quite reputable and through them, you can get free Wi-Fi on Tube stations.
2. Customs fees
A friend of mine had a care package, full of Vegemite, Tim Tams and other delicious treats, sent to her from her loving parents.
All up, the contents cost them around $20 AUD.
Then, they went to post it. Postage cost another $50 on top of that. Being incredibly nice people that seemingly love their child, they still went on to send it.
Then, my friend got a letter from Customs, stating that they were holding the package ransom until a fee was paid to cover the custom duty and import VAT fees.
They ended up paying over a hundred dollars to send over a couple of jars of Vegemite.
In Australia, you don’t get hit with custom fees until you spend over $1000 abroad, but here it is allegedly £15 pounds.
Ways to avoid this include:
- shopping from UK and European websites when in the UK
- shopping at Amazon, as VAT is already included in the price
- Ensuring that items you are sent from home are in small packages that cost under £15 pounds.
Moving to London: Getting around
Now, time to sort your transport options in London.
1. Familiarise yourself with The Tube
The Underground is a wonderful service, but then you get what you pay for.
The Tube is not cheap and the majority of my money during the first few weeks definitely went towards making my way in and out of the city from Zone 5.
If you’re staying in Zone 1 or 2 and using it on a daily basis, it is worth looking into getting a weekly or monthly pass rather than paying as you go.
I would also recommend having more than one Oyster Card on hand if you, like me, are likely to leave it lying in the pocket of yesterday’s coat. Or just tap and go with the same debit card.
Definitely avoid dropping it somewhere in a Swiss airport, particularly if you still have over ten pounds loaded on it at the time. It happened to a friend, I swear…
2. Acquire a Railcard
If you are under the age of 26, you can apply for a 16-25 Railcard.
It costs 30 quid and saves you 1/3 of your fares.
There’s also a 26-30 Railcard which ANNOYINGLY DID NOT EXIST WHEN I LIVED THERE, which can save you a ton of cash.
Once you have it, you can take it to a ticket salesperson to have it linked to your Oyster card.
London Transport is expensive, so every little bit counts.
Plus, you can apply for it up until the day before your 26th/30th birthday, and use it over the course of the next year.
2. Get to know buses
Buses are cheaper than the Underground (£1.50 for a trip) and are a wonderful option if you are wanting to save money/are still unemployed and have ample time on your hands.
I would not recommend them if it’s peak hour and you’re in a rush. London traffic is horrific.
I am yet to give one of these are go, but having tried the equivalents in both Montreal and Dublin they strike me as a wonderfully handy thing, if you’re travelling around Zone 1 or 2 and don’t really fancy walking.
Walking is a wonderful way to get some exercise and see the city, but be prepared. Don’t leave home without a waterproof jacket or an umbrella.
You have been warned.
Moving to London: Finding a place
First and foremost – be strong. This is going to be a harrowing experience.
Next, you gotta hustle, baby.
Finding a place in London is a cut throat business. Spareroom offers Speedflatmating, which is fun/interesting, but most people there seem to be looking for rooms rather than offering them.
It can serve as a good way to meet people.
If invited around for a viewing, drop everything and go.
If you’re lost for where to even begin to look, some suburbs that I would recommend/have heard good things about include:
- Finsbury Park
- Elephant & Castle
Rent seems to span between 500pm to 750pm, depending on how far out you live.
Often, this can be without bills, which can rack up to an obscene amount month by month. (“Council Tax”, wtf?!)
Most places will ask for anything between a month’s rent to six weeks in advance and if you’re going through a rental agency, you will be required to jump through hoops, flinging your hard earned money at them, just to get your references checked.
Keep in mind that you may feel like you’re saving money by living further out, but it will cost you more to commute in, plus wasting an even more valuable asset – your time. Either way, they’ve got you over a barrel.
Moving to London: Finding work
London isn’t like Australia, where you can actually survive on a bar job.
Bar staff can expect to be paid around £6 or £7 pounds an hour and work the most horrifically long shifts.
As is happening world over, living costs have risen at a phenomenal rate, with wages staying stagnant.
I wouldn’t even dream to come out here until you were well established in your career – this is of course a personal choice and I’m sure you’re an adult who is fully capable of making their own decisions in life.
As I stated earlier, I would expect to be without proper work for up to three months.
In the meantime, you will be constantly reviewing and updating your CV, writing cover letter after cover letter, flirting with the idea of giving up on everything and booking a plane ticket home and spending long intervals crying in a corner in despair.
You will need to hustle again – ring companies up directly to ask who to send expressions of interest to.
Collect contacts from everyone you know – it’s through the strength of weak ties that you see the greatest results.
The hospitality industry can serve as a great source of funds in the interval and there are plenty of agencies online that can help you find work.
However, if you came here to improve on your career, don’t get stuck in a rut and never loose sight of your dream.
I spent a long time feeling like I was simply banging my head against the wall, then I got one lucky break and from there everything came together.
Just persevere and you will eventually see the light.
Have you moved to London? Or are you? If there is anything you’d like to contribute/feel I’ve missed, feel free to add it in the comments below.
See my other moving guides/articles on expat life:
- Moving to Australia? Everything you need to know
- What it’s really like to live in Melbourne
- Things that happen when you move to Doha, Qatar
- How to survive Christmas as an expat
- 13 reasons why you should never become an expat
- What I miss most about living in London