You’ve moved to London – now what?
Firstly, pat yourself on the back for being brave enough to get here! Secondly, get pumped because you've just made the best decision of your life. Also, you're going to need all that positive energy to get past the first couple of months, no-one said it would be easy and that's because it's not. The first part anyway, once you get past that everything is awesome! I'm going to help you as best as I can to get over that first giant hump so don't panic, just breathe and read on.
- National insurance number, you need this for tax purposes. Do this first! here's the link; https://www.gov.uk/apply-national-insurance-number
- Register with a doctor. The health system in the UK is out of this world, it's all free! and if it's not free it's subsidised. Find your nearest NHS (National Health Service) surgery and sign up. If you go private it obviously won't be free or subsidised.
- License. get it changed to an international one within the first year of being here. If you have your full license, within 12 months of being in the uk you can get it swapped over for a uk/international driving license - for £50. You just post you current license off with your application form and your payment and they'll post your new license back to you. However, if you fail to do so within 12 months of touch down you will be required to start the licensing process all over again right from your learners - nightmare! just pay the £50 and get it done. Of course if you don't think you'll need a license for your time here then don't worry, but I highly recommend doing it regardless. Here's the link; https://www.gov.uk/exchange-foreign-driving-licence
You need a place to live!;
Go make yourself a coffee and strap in - get a notepad and pen too. When I arrived in London I had NO IDEA where to start looking, i just desperately organised viewing after viewing in random spots all over the city. One of them was in a place called Whitechapel, a suburb in east London. I got off the tube, looked around and got right back on - it was horrible! I wasn't about to let myself live there no matter how desperate I was. Eventually after about 2 or 3 weeks of searching I landing the jackpot with a beautiful house right by the river in Hammersmith, a suburb in west London. West is best! West London is by far the best part of the city in terms of it being the 'good' area' so narrow your search to just west. The further east you go the more ghetto it becomes. Of course the downside to west London is the pricing, it costs a small fortune to rent anywhere in London but west takes it to a whole new level. The old saying rings true though, you get what you pay for. If you're on a tight budget you'll still find a place somewhere in west London but it won't be anything to write home about. If you'll settle for no less than a nice, spacious house in a quiet area but are strapped for cash you're likely to end up in east London - which isn't a deal breaker, but not ideal either. There is of course north and south too, south London being the grey area I'd say, I wouldn't call it ghetto but I wouldn't describe it as nice either. And north is pretty far away from everything, once you head out there it's difficult and expensive to commute to the rest of London so for that reason I wouldn't recommend it. You really want to stay in the districts where the tube runs - remember to factor in the zones. The London Underground runs across nine zones, central London is zone one and it expands from there. The further you head out of central London the more expensive your public transport costs will be so try and find somewhere to live that's inside of zones one and two. Your living conditions are one of the biggest contributing factors to how much or how little you will enjoy London so pick your house, the location and your flatmates wisely. You can tell a lot about a person in just a 5 minute chat, you'll know straight away if you're going to get on with them or not. If you feel comfortable, green light. If you feel awkward or like they're putting on a bit of an act, red light. Try to find out if they have similar interests to you and if your cultures might clash. I know first hand that getting along with your flatmates is essential for enjoying your time in London. Here's a few other things to look out for when you're viewing houses; If there's mould and/or a damp smell alarm bells should be ringing, you don't want to be living in a damp, mouldy house - it's not good for your health plus it's also a sign of a neglectful landlord. Take note of how clean and tidy the house is too, if it's dirty and cluttered that's a pretty clear indicator of untidy and unhygienic housemates - nightmare! Also consider the surrounding area, is it close to public transport? are the transport connections good? is it close to a grocery store? etc. Hammersmith is perfect for all of the above! If you're getting picky I suppose you want to make sure you're in a quietish street too, although I live in a house that's right next to a six lane motorway and I get by just fine! sometimes you've got to compromise in one area or another. Yes I live next to a motorway but it's a big, beautiful house, right by the river with a spacious back garden, a brilliant landlord and fantastic flatmates. I can deal with the motorway!
Suburb suggestions in west London; Hammersmith, brook green, Fulham, Putney, Richmond, Barnes, Wandsworth, Chiswick, Ealing... Acton and shepherds bush are worth s mention too, they aren't as nice as other areas but are still west and very central to everything. Then there's the really upmarket parts of west London as you get closer to central (think of the monopoly board here) Kensington, Knightsbridge, Chelsea, Battersea, Mayfair. If you're an average joe like me though those areas are going to be way out of your price range. If west London is too expensive for you then I suggest broadening your search to include Clapham and Wimbledon which are further south but still ok areas and are reasonably close to central. If you can, steer clear of areas like Brixton, Hackney and the surrounding suburbs - not nice areas. I went to Brixton once and I won't be going back! I found my room on Gumtree, but spare room is good too. https://www.gumtree.com ... http://www.spareroom
Second priority, a job!;
Another critical factor in determining how much you will enjoy your time in London. It's a tough city to live in, it's expensive and for most expats the wages aren't great so you're living pay check to pay check. How are you supposed to enjoy summers in Europe and glorious London itself with no money?! if you can, get into Nannying, it pays really well. The hours are long but you have the option of splitting your week into two, eg) working for one family 2 days and then another for 2 days, giving yourself a 3 day weekend. Live in jobs won't pay as much as live out but then you don't have to pay rent or bills so it evens out. I'm a live out nanny, I was lucky enough to land a great job working for a fantastic family earning enough that I can live in my own place away from the kids and still travel and enjoy life here. If you can't get into nannying, bartending is always an option. It doesn't pay well but if you can land a job at a pub where they offer free board then that at least eliminates the enormous cost of rent and bills. If you're a teacher - preschool, primary or highschool get in touch with a company called Vibe http://vibeteaching.co.uk they're a fantastic company, run almost entirely by Australians - if you're lucky enough to get involved with them you'll be forever thanking me. You can sign up with an agency who will help you find work, but I personally found the nanny agency i signed up with to be completely useless and in the end I found a job myself via gumtree. Here's some links to help you get started; https://www.gumtree.com http://www.reed.co.uk/jobs/london http://www.indeed.co.uk/m/jobs?l=London
Managing your money;
Unfortunately you're going to need to fork out a pretty big chunk of savings to get on your feet... the bond when you move into your place is going to make you want to cry, but remember you get it back when you leave! Just make sure you're on the lease so your money is secure. Try not to convert everything you spend into your own currency too, it's disheartening and stops you from having a good time. It took me a long time to stop converting everything to AUD, it got to the point where I wasn't going out or doing anything because I refused to spend any money! yes it's more expensive to live here, but you earn more so it balances out. Plus living abroad in a city like London is a once in a lifetime opportunity - you can always earn more money. You'll need the afore mentioned national insurance number to pay tax, and besides that the only other advice I have is to save as much money as you're capable while you're here (provided it doesn't prevent you from enjoying your time here) Pounds sterling is the strongest currency in the world, and if you're Aussie like me then whatever you manage to save while you're here doubles when you convert it to AUD. The exchange rate is harsh when you arrive, but it's marvellous when you return home.
Registering with a bank - This was the most frustrating part of the whole process for me. I couldn't become a member of a bank without proof of my address which I didn't have because obviously my license had my Australian address on it and my name wasn't on any of the house bills! In the end I had to get one of the bills put into my name as proof of address, and only then - a month later could I sign up with a bank. I went with Lloyds for no other reason than it was the first one I saw. Lloyds have terrible rates though and for that reason I've since moved over to Santander where the rates are much more attractive (3% on up to £20,000 with their 123 account, plus you can get cash back on your bills) you'll need your passport as proof of identity - a license alone isn't enough, and you need proof of your address in the form of a house bill with your name on it or a copy of the lease agreement.
Now you're settled, what should you do and see while you're here?;
No doubt you're going to visit Buckingham palace, the London eye, Big Ben and all the other major (and amazing) tourist attractions. But I urge you to explore a little further than that and visit some of the less popular and less touristy areas of London for some incredibly rich experiences during your time in the UK's spectacular capital. For some seriously unforgettable London experiences check this out; 12 authentic London experiences - off the beaten track
Meeting people and making real mates;
Making friends in London is tough. Although it's not meeting people that's hard, it's maintaining contact. Most people work long hours in London which can make meeting up during the week a little undesirable, but even more than that is the fact that most people you meet in London are on temporary visas so unless you've met at a time when you've both just arrived, alot of the people you meet will be leaving in the next 6 months or so which results in a temporary friend for a few months and then you're back at square one! London is also enormous so although you're living in the same city as someone you could be an hour and a half commute away from them which makes meeting up pretty annoying! There's no way around this other than putting in the extra effort to make and keep friendships. For more on the subject; The plight of making friends in London!
Avoid the Heathrow injection!;
The Heathrow injection is a myth - there, I've said it! I'll admit that I put on maybe a little under 5kgs when I was first in London, but I'd travelled through Europe for three months beforehand living off a diet of 100% carbs... beer and pizza *shudder - so that's my excuse. You really need to embrace the weather in the UK, if you use the cold and the rain as an excuse then yes I suppose the 'Heathrow injection' is true - but in reality it's just an excuse isn't it? get out there and excersice just as much as you did at home, don't let the weather stop you. It doesn't matter whether you're in sunny Aus or cloudy England, if you eat well and excersice regularly the Heathrow injection doesn't exist! Here's a free triathlon/running club in west London that you might be interested in joining; www.riversidetriclub.co.uk joining a club/group like this is a great way of not only keeping fit, but also of making friends that you're guaranteed to see regularly through your training together.
Mastering the public transport;
The London Underground *cue scary music. It's a daunting prospect for those of us who have never even seen, let alone been on an underground train system. The first thing to do is to get an Oyster card; https://oyster.tfl.gov.uk/oyster/entry.do that's your little transport buddy! you use him for the underground, buses, and some overland trains. For more info and insight into the underground; The London Underground, get to grips with it.
Don't be scared to use the buses though! If I'm not in a hurry I always opt to ride the bus over the underground. I love gazing out the window at beautiful London and all its goings on. Traffic can be an issue though and even without traffic, the underground is still much quicker to get around so if you're in a hurry the tube is the way to go. Every bus stop has a map with the bus routes that pass through there so just check the map for your destination and whichever bus stops there jump on the next one! quite often two or more buses will follow a similar route so check all the routes for your stop because there's likely more than just the one bus you can jump on. Again you need to use your Oyster card to tap in as you board the bus, every bus has the same yellow card reader as you find at the underground stations. There's no need to tap out as you get off though! the buses are a fraction of the price of the underground too which is one of its big benefits.