Hey guys! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’m still very much here! I have just moved back from London and I am currently re-adjusting to life in Toronto. For those of you who don’t know (or who don’t follow my Instagram), I was living and working in London for the past two years on a Tier 5 “Working Holiday” Visa. Of course, it is nice to be back with my family and friends, but I sure am missing my favourite city in the world!
I have recently had several people, who are considering making the big move to London, ask me for a seasoned expat’s tips and tricks on moving to London. So, instead of answering each person’s questions individually, I thought it might be helpful to make a blog post so that this advice can be in one easily accessible place for all to peruse. I’m going to try to answer some of the most frequently asked questions so that you can hopefully be prepared to tackle all that London throws your way.
How did you find a place to live?
Ah, the question that plagues all (including Londoners themselves). I won’t lie to you, finding a place to live in London is no walk in the park. Let me give you a little overview of my living situation. During my time in London, I had 4 different living arrangements:
Situation 1: My first week in London was spent in a hostel dorm with about 7 other girls (who were strangers at first but some of whom are now my friends 🙂 ). This is a good place to base yourself while looking for a more permanent place to live. However, spending too many nights in a hostel might drive some people to madness. Personally, a week was plenty for me.
Situation 2: The next 4 weeks were spent in a “long-term stay” hostel. I shared a room with one other girl. In this hostel, I felt a little bit more settled than in the first place, but it still did not feel like home, and to be honest, I was not super fond of it. Though this living situation was far from what I wanted, the good thing about it was that there was no time limit on the duration of my stay. I could renew my stay on a weekly basis and stay as long as I wanted. So I would still recommend this sort of accommodation if you aren’t having much luck with your flat search and are looking for a short term, temporary stay without the stress of having to move out like at a normal hostel.
Situation 3: Finally, over a month after my arrival in London, I finally moved into my first flat! Woohoo! Yes, it took over a month for me to find a place and move in. This is not that uncommon, especially when you arrive in London at one of the busiest times of year (September/October), which I did. This is not to say that there’s no way in hell you’ll be able to find a room in under a month. You definitely can. It just might not be your ideal living situation. Personally, I was quite picky with my flat choice. I went to maybe 20 viewings before I found a place that I liked and that was offered to me. But maybe if I wasn’t so particular, I would have found a place quicker. Usually, some sort of sacrifice has to be made. For example, I really liked the location of my place, the actual bedroom, and my two flatmates, but it was a little bit over my budget. So don’t be discouraged if you are having a hard time finding a flat. London is a bit like a Black Friday sale at Best Buy – you may get into a fist fight over a flat screen TV… ok not actually. But the flat hunting game is indeed very competitive and fast paced. The good places will go very quickly, so it’s important to be on the ball, but also to not feel too dispirited if you are having a difficult time.
Situation 4: After 8 months in my first flat, I was feeling a lot more settled in London. Because my first flat was getting to be a bit too expensive, I decided to start looking for a new flat. I wanted to find a place that was a little bit cheaper and closer to my work. Because I had the luxury of not having to move out my current flat straight away, the flat hunting process this time around was a lot less stressful. I was able to find a place that I really loved! So just remember, the first flat you move into doesn’t have to be your home for the rest of your London life!
Key Facts and Tips for Flat Hunting:
- Spareroom.co.uk – This website will literally be your lord and saviour during your flat hunting expedition. On this website, tenants and landlords advertise rooms that are available in their flatshares. You can also post an ad of yourself describing what you are looking for, so that roommates looking for a new tenant can consider you. TIP: You can pay extra money for an early bird subscription, which allows you to see ads for flats when they are first released. PAY FOR THE UPGRADE! I found both of my flats thanks to my early bird subscription. Totally worth the fee.
- lhalondon.com – This is where I found the long-term hostel that I was referring to.
- If you can, try to avoid renting a flat that is managed by an lettings agency. They may charge you silly expensive fees that seem completely pointless (ie: £200 to “change the names on the lease”… like how the f*ck do they even get away with that chutzpah?!)
- What many newcomers don’t realize is that often, it is the current flatmates who choose the new tenant, not the landlord. You might be so interested in a room that you are willing to give up all your life savings on the spot plus your left arm, but the flatmates may decide to give the room to someone else – maybe a friend or colleague of theirs, or maybe just an interested viewer that they ~vibed~ with more than you. Try not to take it personally. Also, don’t be too alarmed if you are already on your way to a viewing and you get a text saying the room has been filled. These undesirable yet common scenarios have happened to me so many times, and you just gotta (you guessed it) keep calm and carry on.
- Many flats do not have a living room. Also, many flats do not have tumble dryers. Half-sized fridges are common as well. But it’s London, so you kind of just gotta accept it.
- London is divided into Zones. This may be fairly obvious, but normally the further out the zone, the cheaper the rent.
How did you find a job? How long did it take you?
Another very commonly asked question.
When I first moved to London, I got a job at an events staffing company about a week after I arrived. This was a really good job to start out with because the hours were very flexible. You can work as much or as little as you want. Because of this, I had time to go to flat viewings in addition to my work shifts. It also allowed me gain behind the scenes access to extremely high profile venues and events that I may not have seen otherwise (The Brit Awards and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show were a couple highlights). Oh and did I mention I got to serve dinner to Prince William & Kate Middleton and Prince Harry?! That was a PRETTY DAMN GOOD PERK. It is very easy to find this type of work in London, as there are numerous event staffing agencies of this sort that are always looking for new staff. So if you are looking to break out into the work force straight away, I would recommend this casual type of work.
After about five months working for the events company, I decided I wanted a change. I had been doing a lot of work on evenings and weekends, and I was ready for a Monday-Friday office job. I ended up registering with a few different office temping agencies. Through one of these agencies, I was placed in a temp role as a receptionist in a law firm. It took about two weeks, maybe even less, for them to find me this role. This ended up turning into a permanent role, and later, a promotion. I worked here for the rest of my time in London, and it was a wonderful experience. Many people like temp work because it enables them to travel in between jobs. Temp agencies are abundant in London, so I would highly recommend registering with a few agencies if you are looking for work. They recruit for temporary work, but also for contract roles and permanent roles. There all all different types of agencies that specialize in different types of work, such as office admin, finance, marketing, and media jobs.
Some people move to London expecting that a Masters Degree, top grades, and 3-5 years of experience will guarantee them their dream job on a shiny silver platter. And while you may be qualified for a top-ranking position, realistically, if you are only willing to settle for your dream job, then you’ll be making the job hunt a lot harder for yourself. Unfortunately, in a city with a population over 8 million people, London employers may be inclined to give your “dream job” to an equally qualified British citizen. Of course, this is not always the case, and you may get super lucky! But it is good to go into the job search stage with lower expectations than “dream job”.
Brace yourself for the notoriously evil morning commute…
What area should I live in?
Before I moved to London, I kept wishing someone would give me a magical answer to this question. London seemed so huge and overwhelming. There were so many different neighbourhoods, and I literally didn’t have a bloody CLUE where to live. I had this image in my head of streets lined with beautiful, tall Victorian terraced homes like the ones you see in movies. I soon realized that you need to be like a friggin Oligarch or Made in Chelsea cast member to live in one of those places. I also realized how thankful I was that no one told me where to live, and that I got to figure it out on my own.
Guards protecting my house (I wish)
Flat hunting in London, though it can be a rather tedious undertaking, allows you to explore the various rich and vibrant neighbourhoods of the city. You really need to actually go to neighbourhoods in order to get a real sense of what they are like. Someone might tell you to live in a certain area, but when you actually physically go to said area, you may find that it’s just not for you. What’s considered a “dodgy area” for some people may be a “hip” area for others. What’s considered a “fun, vibrant nightlife” area for some people may be a bit to loud for others. It’s important to find a flat in a place where you feel comfortable, because you are the one who will be living there. Then it can really feel like your home 🙂
How did you meet people?
One thing that I found during my time in London, and that many of my expat friends agree, is that expats are mostly friends with other expats. I would say for my entire first year in London, all of my friends were either Canadians or Aussies. Part of this was because I was part of a social group called “Britbound,” geared at expats who have recently moved to London. And part of this was due to the fact that my events job was full of other expat employees. But I also believe the somehow, we expats just seem to find each other. Maybe it is because we automatically have one thing in common – we are expats living in London! Or maybe it’s because we have some inexplicable telepathic connection. Either way, it was pretty rare that I met any actual BRITISH people for the first little while, despite living in BRITAIN! This is probably largely because Londoners already have their own friends who they grew up with. And to be fair, I guess in Toronto, I haven’t really gone out of my way to make friends with people who have just moved to Canada! After a while, though, I did start to meet more Brits, and I eventually seemed to develop an “Expat” friend group and a “British” friend group.
Britbound was a great way to meet people when I first moved to London and didn’t know anybody! There were loads of people who were all in the same boat, and eager to make new friends.
Work is also a good place to meet people, as you will inevitably be spending lots of time with your colleagues.
Meetup.com is a website were you can attend various social events based on your interests. They have everything from Badminton games to yoga classes to picnics in the park and much much more! I attended a couple Meetup events and met some very nice people.
Another great way to meet people is to join some sort of extra curricular activity. I joined a choir in London, which ended up being one of the best decisions I made during my two years in London! Not only was it incredibly fun, but I made some really awesome choir friends.
There are so many people in London that it is virtually impossible NOT to meet people! Just be sure to put yourself out there!
How are things going to change with Brexit?
Your guess is as good as mine…LOL.
The general consensus on the current state of Brexit
Other Useful Information
Opening a Bank Account
In order to be paid, you will need to open a UK bank account. To do this, you will need to visit a bank branch. Some people run into a bit of difficulty when trying to open a bank account, because banks often require a proof of address, such as a lease or utility bill. If you have not moved into a permanent accommodation yet, this might cause a bit of an issue. Some banks are more strict than others about this rule. Barclays, Lloyd’s and HSBC and Natwest are probably the four main banks in the UK, however there are lots of other banks as well. So if you have a problem opening a bank account at one bank, there are lots of other banks for you to choose from.
Getting your National Insurance Number
You will also need to apply for a National Insurance (NI) number (similar to a Canadian SIN number). You are able to start working and get paid without an NI number, however, you should inform your employer as soon as your receive it because it helps ensure that you are paying the right amount of income tax. You can apply for an NI number by phoning the National Insurance number application line.
Cell Phone Plans
You will be pleased to learn that phone plans in the UK are remarkably cheaper than in Canada. The most common phone providers in the UK are O2, Vodafone, Three, and EE. You can either purchase a monthly phone contract, or opt for a pay as you go plan.
The two apps that I could not survive without in London would probably be:
- Citymapper – Gives you precise directions on how to get from point A to point B in London.
- Uber – Don’t think I need to explain 😉
Some other useful apps are:
- Deliveroo – Food from really yummy, top quality restaurants delivered straight to your door!
- Your own bank’s mobile banking app – Makes it super easy to pay your rent and transfer people money.
- London Coffee Network (if you are a big coffee drinker) – You can use this app to find coffee shops near you, and collect free coffee points.
- Dojo – Gives you recommendations for events, restaurants, bars, etc in your area.
- Timeout – You can often find deals & discounts here for restaurants, bars, events, theatre tickets, and more.
- Skyscanner – Good for looking up cheap flights when planning trips around Europe.
To pay for London’s public transport, you must purchase an Oyster card. You can either load money on to it, or purchase a weekly/monthly/yearly travelcard. Another option for payment is that you can use a contactless debit/credit card. I have even seen people pay using Apple Pay on their phones! The tube is really easy to navigate. The bus system is very efficient as well. London is divided into Zones 1-6. The tube fares increase as you travel further out of London. The bus fare stays the same no matter what zone you are in.
TIP: You can register your Oyster card on the Transport For London (TFL) website so that if you lose it, you can get it replaced without losing the money that was on it.
The London public transport system is fantastic. It honestly makes the TTC look like its creators were just having a laugh.
And with that, I think you are pretty much set to begin your adventure in London! Exciting times are ahead of you, so embrace everything that comes your way – both the challenges and the victories. It’s the experience of a lifetime!