An Expats Guide to London

Regardless of where you are coming from or going to, everyone can agree that moving to a new city is difficult, and moving to a new country is even more difficult! For myself and my husband, we thought that it would be easy moving to another English-speaking country, and that there would be very few bumps in the road along the way – we were very wrong.

Some of the biggest difficulties we faced were accommodations, jobs, and banking – but there were a number of other tricky situations we found ourselves in. It seems that one thing was required in order to achieve the other, and it was an endless circle of frustration for a while until we were able to sort ourselves out. It certainly took more time than we anticipated, but had we known then what we know now, it would have been exponentially easier. So without further adieu, here are my top ten tips for those looking to move to London!

 

  1. When arriving, try to book your flights during off season.
    This was the one thing we knew prior to moving, which is partially why we decided to move in early February. Our one-way flights were only $252 (Canadian dollars) each, which definitely made a huge difference for us budget-wise. If it is possible for you to schedule your move during the off-peak season (usually the entire month of November, Mid-January until the beginning of March) your move will be significantly cheaper, as it is less common for people to fly during this time. We booked our flights with WestJet, as they have amazing seat sales and are now flying direct from Toronto to London, which really made our move so much easier.
  2. Pack light – but focus on multi-seasonal items.
    My husband brought one large suitcase and one small suitcase when we moved, and I brought one large, one medium, and one carry-on suitcase with us. We packed as light as we could, but looking back, we definitely could have left some things behind, and wished we could have brought some things that we left behind. Comfort is key: bring items that are comfortable and versatile. You can always purchase other items when you need them at discount stores like Primark (the best budget friendly clothing shop – I found three soft crewneck sweaters for 2 pounds each!) but the items you’ll want to be sure to bring would be coats (my husband forgot his mid-season coat which he instantly regretted as it was too warm for a winter coat, but too cold to wear no coat), comfortable runners (called trainers in the UK), a sturdy umbrella, waterproof shoes or boots (it really does rain a lot in London), and one good interview outfit.
  3. Ensure you have as much of a nest-egg as possible to fall back on.
    It’s not always possible, but for those who can, try to have as much of a nest egg as possible. Depending where you are moving from, the currency exchange rate will likely NOT be your friend. For us, one pound is almost two Canadian dollars, which is just brutal. It’s fine once you are earning money in pounds, but until then, it will not be pretty.
  4. Try to secure accommodations before arriving.
    We were lucky to have some friends who allowed us to stay in their guest room until we were able to secure a flat for ourselves, but if you do not have family friends in London, we highly recommend using flat-sharing sites such as Christian Flatshare which allow short or long-term rentals until you are able to situate yourself into your own flat. We are currently using the site to rent a short-term flat, and we couldn’t be happier with how it has turned out. Finding a place for you to call home, even temporarily, makes a big difference when you are in a new place.
  5. Use an App-Only bank.
    We had the hardest time finding a bank that would approve us for an account. In order to be approved as a non-UK Citizen, you will need more than one “proof of address” document (usually utility bills) which you will not have yet, as you need a bank account in order to set up your utilities in your flat. It’s really a vicious cycle. We tried every bank, but as we did not have any proof of address, and did not have UK Citizenship, we were unable to secure a bank account for almost two months. We did tons of research online, and it seemed as though no bank would accept us. It was only after some late night browsing online when I stumbled across a “suggested” ad on instagram for Monese. It was 2am, and Kellan was sleeping, so I downloaded the app and went downstairs to sign up. I thought it would take upwards of a week at least, but everything was instant! You auto-scan your ID documents (passport, licence, etc.), do a voice video so that the app can recognize your voice and face, and fill in a standard form with your name, current address, etc. and that’s it! You’re instantly approved, and will receive a card in the mail within the week (we got ours in 2 days!). It works the same as any other bank in that you use a card and view your activity, but it is so much easier! I highly recommend it for any expats in need of an account.
  6. Use a temporary employment service to secure a temporary position until you can find permanent work.
    Both myself and my husband Kellan used a temp service to find jobs for ourselves in London. It’s a great way to start because they do the work for you, and hand-pick positions that you are suitable for. You can find a temporary position that can be anywhere from one day to one year, and they can also find you a temp to perm position, or refer you for permanent employment right away. Short term temp jobs are a perfect way to start out, as the enable you to earn some money to keep you going while you are searching for the perfect job for you! They also usually pay weekly, which is very beneficial when you are new to London, as most employers in the UK pay monthly at the end of the working month, which could leave you down and out if you run out of your nest egg money too quickly. We loved using Gordon Yates, as they were so quick to find us jobs, were incredibly friendly, professional, and had a wide range of opportunities for us in fantastic locations. We highly recommend them for newcomers to London!
  7. Avoid spending money in tourist areas.
    While it may be comforting to be in busier tourist-filled areas as the areas are familiar and you’re much more likely to bump into more than one person with the same country of origin as yourself, it is more expensive in this area, as it is highly trafficked. The shops will be more expensive, the food significantly more expensive (not to mention that the “best British fish n’chips” is certainly NOT at the Americanized restaurants you’ll see), and traveling to and from these areas can get expensive. It’s best to find a less touristy area of the city and explore. You’ll find great grocery stores like Lidl that are much more budget friendly, and the same clothes you saw in a tourist shop for much cheaper in a local charity shop. There are also pickpockets that operate in touristy areas, so once you have secured a flat for yourself that is safe, definitely do not bring your passport with you.
  8. Walk, cycle, take the tube, or ride the bus – do not use a cab unless necessary.
    While it may seem easier to take a cab or an Uber when you first arrive to a new city, you really won’t be able to experience it entirely until you travel like a local. Londoner’s are known to walk everywhere, as everything is so accessible, and if it is across town, then either rent a Santander Cycle, or hop on a bus. For the first few months in London, if you are not in a rush to get anywhere, I highly recommend walking or cycling everywhere, and when it is too far, take a bus. The busses are all exactly as you’d imagine them; double decker red buses. It’s great fun to hop on the top floor of the bus right up at the front and get a real bird’s eye view of the city. When we aren’t in a rush, Kellan and I love to take the bus for hours to just see all the sights and take in the beautiful architecture around the city. It really is worth exploring, and not to mention the bus is cheaper than the tube if you are traveling a long distance.
  9. Bring adapters, but purchase UK products when possible.
    Kellan and I brought a number of power adapters with us when we came over, but we found that some items work better than others with adapters. My beloved pink hairdryer for example, fried itself and the adapter we were using the moment I tried to use it. My straightener did the same thing. Some things, however, did work just fine; Kellan’s laptop was perfectly fine, as was his PlayStation (yes, he brought his PS3 with him to London), but for some reason hair appliances did not work out so well – though my curling iron was fine! I ended up purchasing a cheap hair dryer and straightener made for UK plugs, but had I known that would be the case, I likely would have left them behind and made use of the extra space.
  10. Find yourself a piece of home, and make it either visible or usable everyday.
    For me, I was very homesick for a while when we first arrived in the UK. I had never really been homesick much on any of my other travels, so it was a big change for me. Of course I missed the people from home, but I missed Canada in and of itself as well. I was surprised, as the UK is significantly less of a culture shock type of place for Canadians, as we are under the Commonwealth in Canada, and are quite similar to the UK in a lot of respects, however I was homesick nonetheless. There were two surprising things that made me feel like I was back home; the first was a Canadian Starbucks mug that was given to me as a gift back in Canada before I left by some lovely coworkers. I have the mug displayed in our bedroom (sometimes on the bookshelf, other times in our reading nook) and looking at it each day reminds me of home and the people that I love. It really makes all the difference in the world. The other thing that helped me, was a Nespresso machine. I had one back home, and had a very firm morning routine of making myself some espresso before starting my day. I was blessed by my parents who sent me money for my birthday in March which enabled me to purchase a mini Nespresso machine for myself, which, as silly as it sounds, really made a difference for me. The structure of a familiar morning routine really helped me to bounce back from the homesickness and get myself settled into my new home. Whatever it may be, from a keychain to a coffeemaker, find something that will remind you of home, and make sure that you can either see it every day or use it every day. That little piece of home will make such a difference, and help you to feel grounded to your roots while spreading your wings at the same time.

 

Hopefully this can help out others like Kellan and I, and the transition will be as smooth as possible! Good luck all you future Londoners! You’ve got this!