Moving abroad can be really intimidating, especially your first month. Here’s everything you can expect during your first month moving to London, including transportation, accommodation, jobs and everything in-between.
How to Get Around: London Transport
Transportation in London is incredible (but make sure to stand on the right of the escalators!) Most forms of transport in the city is now cash-less so either you can get an Oyster Card or you can use your contactless card.
What is an Oyster Card?
Moving to London? Oyster Cards are super helpful and pretty much a necessity when you’re going to be living in London.
They are a pay-as-you-go card that you can top up online, check your balance and even apply for refunds. You can use an Oyster card on:
- The London Underground (the Tube)
- The Docklands Light Railway (DLR)
- London Overground
- TfL Rail
- Emirates Air Line
- River Bus
You can also travel on most National Rail services in London and some outside London.
Once you live in London, you can get an Oyster card online (which is the easiest). Otherwise you can usually buy one from Oyster Ticket Stops in many newsagents in London, at all Tube, London Overground and TfL Rail stations, some DLR and National Rail stations and at Visitor Centres. I would recommend topping up your card online – it’s the easiest. Either way, you need to pay a £5 deposit for an Oyster card.
In most cases, you’ll need to tap your card to get onto the type of transport (such as a bus or the London Underground). Then when you get off or leave the station, you’ll need to tap your card again. This calculates your fare depending on how far you’ve gone. Make sure to tap the same card when you leave! Otherwise the system will think you’re still using it and charge you more than it should. Typically there’s a max charge you’ll be paid for the day if you forget to tap-out.
Are you flying into Gatwick Airport? Make sure to read my article: Visiting Gatwick Airport before you arrive!
The best tip: I know people tease the Hop-On and Hop-Off bus tours, but you can genuinely see a lot from those in a short amount of time. They’re a great option when you first get to the city (potentially for the first time!) and want to see as much as you can to get started. Plus it helps give you an idea of where things are in relation to each other, making getting around later a lot easier.
If you’re living in central London, it’s likely that you won’t need a car (as long as you can commute to work). This can be a great way to cut out gas, car insurance and car repairs from your budget. However, public transportation in London isn’t free, either. Make sure to budget properly each month so you can still get around!
How To Get a Place to Live: London Accommodation
Finding accommodation in London can be very competitive. For many people wanting to move to London, the idea of getting a safe and comfortable place to live is a big hurdle.
The best tip: once you find a place you like, tell them you want it right away. The North American instinct to “play hard to get” won’t work in London. If you wait too long, your dream place will be gone.
It’s important to remember that London is one of the most expensive places to live, especially closer to central London. A way to get around this is by renting a room, or renting accommodation with other people. For some of us, this is the only option as paying for a flat to live in London just isn’t possible.
Depending where you are coming from, it may be a shock to see what your money will get you in London (or how little). It’s a good idea to temper your expectations before you move so you won’t be disappointed. Like many big cities, there is a 98% that you will not get a flat that has any sort of driveway, backyard or extra space. Space in London is at an all-time premium so be prepared.
The UK Government reported that the average price of a house in London in May 2018 was around £480,000. Comparatively, the average house price in the North East of England is £130,000. It can be hard to comprehend just how expensive the city is. But if London is what your heart is set on, then you’ll have to find a way to make it work!
Prices of flat rentals vary drastically depending on where they are in London. But to give you an idea, here are some recent prices for flats in the London-area.
- £1,350 pcm (per calendar month) for one bed, one bath in Wimbledon (SW16)
- 1,755 pcm for one bed, one bath in Shadwell (E1)
- £845 pcm for a studio in Lewisham (SE13). A studio is where the kitchen, living space and bedroom are all in one room, with only the bathroom as the second room.
- £975 pcm for a studio in Blackheath (SE3)
You might find that you’ll need to temporarily stay in AirBnB’s or hostels before finding your long-term accommodation. Check out my article: “Are London hostels safe?” before using one!
Side note: Once your settled in to your new flat, nows the time to get a doctor in the UK. It’s best to do this after you’re settled because you don’t want to register for a doctor nearby, only to move again.
What do the post codes mean?
Postcodes in London are incredibly helpful for getting around. In most cities, the postcodes don’t mean much to the average person, but in London they are very descriptive.
London postcodes are broken into N (North) W (West) S (South) E (East) plus a number to determine how far away from central London. So SW16 means South-West of London, SE would be South-East, etc. Of course, as more and more places are added and London is continuously being built-up, the postcodes can get a bit jumbled and confusing. However, for the most part, they can give you a good mental image of where the place is in reference to central London.
How to Get a Job: London Employment
London is massive and there are tons of opportunities for jobs, it just depends on what you’re looking for.
If you’re only going to be in the city short-term, maybe while on the temporary tier 5 visa, then you may want to get a job wherever. If it doesn’t really matter, then you can easily find jobs in shops, bars, pubs and restaurants.
No matter what, there’s lots of job boards and websites that you can apply to jobs through.
The best tip: Check job websites every day and change the filter to “posted within the last 24 hours.” This way, you’ll see the most recent jobs and can apply to them right away. Because you’ll be checking every day, it will only take you a few minutes every day to check the new postings.
Some of the most common job boards for London include:
If you’re moving to London on a General working visa, this means that you already have a job lined up. To get this visa, your new employer will have to already offer you a job and pay to sponsor you to come over. If this is the case, you won’t need to search for a job. You’ll already have one when you arrive!
There are a few visa options that don’t require you to have a job lined up before moving to the UK. Check out my article: “How to Move to England Without a Job” for more details!
What is a National Insurance Number?
A National Insurance Number (NIN or NI Number) is required if you’re going to work in the UK. Every UK resident has their own unique number and it’s needed when you get a job for pension contributions, payroll and tax details.
For everything you need to know about NI numbers and how to apply, make sure to check out: How to Get a National Insurance Number.
Once you’re settled, make sure to begin the application process for a NI number as soon as possible. Technically you can begin work before you receive it, but it’s best for you to get your NI number quickly.
How to get a UK visa: Moving to London
Working visas are the most difficult and confusing part of the whole process. Unfortunately with Brexit, it’s unclear how UK working visas will change or be impacted.
Currently, the most common UK visas are:
UK Tourist Visa – You cannot work on this visa but you can visit the UK
Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme visa – A temporary visa that you can only do once
Tier 2 General Work Visa – You’ll need to be sponsored and hired by a company before coming to the UK on this visa
Ancestry Visa – May be eligible if certain family members are UK citizens and allows you to live in the UK long term
Tier 4 Student Visa – You can study in the UK on a student visa if you’re accepted to school in the UK
Before planning your move to London, it’s extremely important that you have a proper working visa before you even start. Many people find that they are not eligible for any UK working visa, so it’s better to check before getting your hopes up.
While citizens of European countries can still enter and work in the UK without a visa (at the time of writing this article) we know that this can (and most likely) will change in the future. How will this process look in a few years? No one knows. But it’s vital that you understand your visa options before planning your move to London.
If you’re interested in moving to the UK but not sure about what visa you can apply for, it might be beneficial to speak with an immigration lawyer for advice. Visa applications can be tricky and confusing, especially if you’re not sure what one you’re eligible for.
There are also companies like Swap Working Holidays that specifically help you complete the Tier 5 Working Holiday visa.
Side note: If you’re bringing your dog to the UK, make sure you have the necessary paperwork filled out before you move! Dogs can be brought to London when you move, but they must have certain documents to allow them into the country.
Stuff to know about London: Culture, Tips & Tricks
London is a beast of a city, and it comes with its own unique charm and eccentricities. Here are some things to keep in mind about London:
- London, and Londoners, can be very impatient. Can you imagine dealing with millions of tourists constantly? It’s best to keep this in mind and be extra polite. Make sure not to get in anyone’s way!
- Some of the best free museums in the world are in London – Take advantage of them! The Imperial War Museum and the British Museum are two of my favourites.
- When you first arrive and want to sitesee, don’t overpack your day. Pick the most important things to see and only do that. Otherwise you’ll tire yourself out way too early! London is massive and it’s easy to over-subscribe your day.
- London is overwhelming with history and architecture. Take a guided walking tour when you first get to London to understand your surroundings even more.
- The cost of living in London is extreme. Make sure you can handle the fact that everything costs more in London before you move here.
Moving to London: It is worth moving to London?
Moving abroad is a big endeavour. It can be overwhelming, nerve-wracking and downright scary. But is moving to London worth it? It’s completely up to you.
Even country, and city, has its own flaws and characteristics. Even in the UK, there are pros and cons to living in England. If you know that you can legally live and work in the UK, it’s just a matter of whether you can look past all the cons and negatives.