Everything You Need to Know Before You Move to London
Moving to London has been an absolute dream. But there's so much I wish I knew before setting foot on British soil. My Guide to Moving to London.
It’s my 1 yearaversary in London!!!
I thought I’d celebrate by putting together What An American Should Know Moving to the UK
Why? Because I was completely naïve in thinking moving here would be easy. I was 21 and about to graduate in a field I wasn’t going to make a career of. Despite many efforts, finding a job had been difficult, and even though I didn’t think about it at the time, I was on my way back to my parent’s home in Chicago.
And then out of the blue, two weeks before graduating I went through a rigorous interview process and found myself in London. 8 days after the ceremony. By myself. With no working phone or bank account trying to understand a language whose accent in no way sounded like the actors in movies. And there was no one to help me figure anything out. I had moved here without friends. Sifting through websites was laborious and most of the time fruitless. And it was hard. So much harder than I would ever have imagined. And this is coming from someone who had lived (and thrived) in Germany and France on my own. But this was the beginning of real life. No one can really prepare you for that.
This has been a hard year. A rewarding year. A year of learning. A year of mistakes. A year of triumphs. A year of growth. A year of strength. This next year will be a year of balance. At least that’s what I hope for.
So to make it easier for you, I’ve scraped together everything I’ve learned along the way. I can’t help with the visa situation as I’m an EU citizen, but hopefully this will get you pretty far. If I’m missing anything please let me know!
[THE FLAT HUNT]
Finding a flat in London is a complete and utter nightmare. I only know about renting, but I’ve listed a few websites to help with buying and non-flatshares. Pictures can be very deceiving and scamming is high. Be sure to visit or get a skype (virtual) tour before making any offers.
Finding A Flat
- Good websites for renting/flatsharing: Spareroom* | Gumtree | Moveflat | Speedflatmating
- Estate Agent Listings: PrimeLocation | RightMove | Find a Flat | Zoopla
- The Guardian Recommended
- London Rents Map gives insight into average pricing based on postcode district level
- What’s reasonable? 4-person flat: £650/person average (rent, bills, tax included)
- Council Tax = a tax to fund services provided by the local government. The fee will range depending on your postcode but is typically quite high. Depending on how many people you live with, you can expect at least £50 to go towards CT every month. I’d say the lowest council tax an entire household would pay is £150. If council tax isn’t included in the monthly rent, be sure to budget for this.
- Single = Twin-size bed
- Double = Queen-size bed
- Broadband = WiFi
It’s important to set up a bank account as quickly as possible, but that can be hard if you don’t have a permanent address or job. Hopefully you have one or both. Your company can write a letter to the bank confirming your pay and residency if you don’t yet have a permanent address. Speak with a bank representative to get all of this information.
- Popular Banks: HSBC | Lloyds | Barclays | Santander | NatWest
- Time it takes to set up a bank account: 1.5 hours in person
Paying UK Taxes: this is automatically deducted from your salary each month. You can calculate your income tax. NOTE: If you are self-employed, a sole trader or a limited company, you are responsible for your own taxes.
- Due Date: June 15th (Normal Tax Day is April 15th but expats get an extension)
- Possible Forms to fill out (varies per person & needs)
- US Tax Return (Form 1040)*
- Foreign Earned Income Exclusions (Form 2555)*
- Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets (Form 8938) *dependent
- TDF 90-22: US persons who have a financial interest in foreign (non-US) bank accounts with an aggregate balance of more than $10,000.
As soon as you've got an address, register to vote because who knew, you actually can (on the local level)? But more importantly, your registered electoral address is the first thing credit companies check when they run a credit check on you. You will be rejected by a lot of places simply because they can't prove your address, so be sure to register quickly as it takes about 10 weeks to take effect. A credit card check will need to take place for a phone contract, opening a credit card, etc...
The UK offers socialized health care which you pay into through automatic deductions from your salary. You need to apply for a National Insurance Number and register with your local GP.
- Apply for a National Insurance Number (Go in for an interview with the appropriate documents)
- Register with your GP.
- Apply for a European Health Insurance Card (to ensure you are insured whilst travelling throughout the EEA)
General Health Bits & Bobs
- Doctor’s appointments are only 10 minutes long and you can only bring up 1 issue per appointment.
- If you need a same day appointment, you need to call in the AM when the practice opens to book.
This is NOT covered by the NHS. However, you can find NHS accepting dentists.
This is NOT covered by the NHS. I’d recommend Specsavers. NOTE that in the UK you need to have a separate eye exam for contact lenses than you do glasses. So if you are looking to purchase both, plan accordingly.
Goodbye American goodness and aisles filled with lots of different brands and shenanigans. The UK has a limited selection and you typically need to go to many different stores to get everything you’re looking for. The grocery stores are mainly for groceries, the drug stores mainly for drugs and beauty products…you get the idea. If you love a certain medication (NyQuil) or deodorant (Secret) or like things for cheaper (Chia Seeds), bring them over in your suitcase.
- Tesco (£): the bigger the store, the cheaper and more variety (such as clothes and potential pharmacy) they will provide. They offer a Clubcard.
- Sainsbury’s (£): the bigger the store, the cheaper and more variety (such as clothes and potential pharmacy) they will provide. They offer Nectar points.
- The Co-operative Food (££): not as great of a selection as the above two but convenient
- High Quality
- Posh + Specialty
- Online Grocery Ordering
TIP* Local markets/street vendors will offer a bowl of fruit/veggies for £1 or cheaper than stores
- Boots (£££): Pharmacy, Advantage Card, Makeup, Toiletries, Fragrance
- Superdrug (££): Pharmacy, Makeup, Toiletries, Fragrance
- Wilkinsons (£): Makeup, Toiletries, Fragrance
- Local Chemist (depends £): Pharmacy, Makeup, Toiletries
- Pound Shop (£): carry a wide array of different goods just like a dollar store
London has a great transportation system (which now has lines that run 24/7). Download CityMapper to help you find your way around.
- Tube, DLR, Overground (Adult Fares list below. For full set of fares check here.)
- Open: 5am-1am ish? With some 24 hour trains
- Oyster Card (£5) – Register online!!
- Top-Up/Pay as you go: Peak Hours: £2.90; Off-Peak Hours: £2.30
- Annual Travel Card: Zones 1-2: 1,284
- Monthly Travel Card: Zones 1-2: 123.30
- Weekly Travel Card: Zones 1-2: £32.10
- Daily (Off-Peak): Zones 1-2: £6.40
- Contactless Payment – pay with your credit/debit card
- National Rail – for travelling outside of London, book in advance for cheaper fares
- Apps to Download: TubeMap (Free) | Tube Exits (£0.99)
- Pay as you go: £1.50
- Contactless Payment accepted
- NO CASH
Boris Bikes = Santander Cycles
- You can easily rent a bike for getting from A to B in short time intervals. Just pick up a bike from the dock with these instructions and pay the appropriate fares:
- £2 for 24hr access à 30 minute rides
- £90 Annual Pass
The great thing about Europe is that you don’t need a contract to be able to use a phone. I pay on a monthly basis by “topping up” which allows me to try different phone companies and plans. Your phone needs to be UNLOCKED in order to do this. Be sure to contact your U.S. phone company to cancel your contract and unlock your phone prior to you moving.
- Pros: good coverage | different pre-paid packages | Underground Wi-Fi Availability
- Cons: WORST customer service
- Pros: Cheap (£15/month for unlimited data sim)
- Cons: Coverage isn’t great
- Virgin Mobile
[STAYING IN TOUCH WITH HOME]
- Skype [Free] + Mobiles/Landlines [Monthly Subscriptions]: video & audio calling
- FaceTime [iPhone, Mac, iPad – compatible]: audio/video-calling
- WhatsApp: texting and sending videos/voice recordings/photos
- Time Zone Converter – Favorite App: Miranda
[Discovering What to Do]
- Londonist: I love their weekend Things to Do
- TimeOut: Good tips on everything to do in London with up-to-date information & special offers
- Restaurant Discovery & Reviews: Zomato (lists 23,000 restaurants in London with menus), Bookatable (has great offers + table bookings),
- Markets Around London: there are so many so be sure to have a look.
- Afternoon Tea: AfternoonTea.co.uk has great offers and insight into the latest pop-ups
The only occasion you would tip is in a restaurant that doesn’t automatically add 12.5% service charge and perhaps in hotels. Services for hair and beauty (haircuts, massages, manicures, etc…) don’t require tipping. Likewise taxi drivers don’t need tips either, but it’s nice to round up.
- Cheap Gyms: YMCA | Local Council Gym | Fit4less | Fitness4less | The Gym
- Pricey: Gymbox, Nuffield Health, Virgin Active
- Class Pass (£110): unlimited classes around the city
[CINEMA = MOVIE THEATRE]
For an app that gives you movie and show time answers, try Flixster. Your best bet is to use Google, typing in a movie and hoping for all show times to pop up.