It’s no secret that London isn’t my favourite city in the world. I even wrote a list of reasons why you shouldn’t move there. I don’t dislike it, but I couldn’t ever fall head over heels in love with it either. However, I do know plenty of people who do love London and are desperate to extend their two years visas. So having moved there and set myself up, I am writing this guide to help you move to London – if that’s where you want to be. I’ve also written a general post on how to move to a new country, which should be useful for first timers.
How to move to London:
It goes without saying that you’ll need to research London, but more importantly you’ll want to school yourself up on the neighbourhoods, which are many and varied. Having a rough idea of where you might want to live, will give you a huge advantage when you arrive.
Get a visa
Unless, like me, you have a British Passport, you will need a visa to work in London. New Zealanders can find out more here.
I tend to advise solo travellers to book their flights thoughtfully. Arriving in a new city in the middle of the night is a daunting prospect and in London, a city I have never felt very safe, it is something I do not recommend. I learnt my lesson after arriving alone in Bangkok in the middle of the night.
Know your postcode
One of my least favourite things about London is that they have multiple places with the exact same address – the only way to know if you’re going to the right place is to include the postcode in your Google Map search. In my first week I ended up being two hours late to a flat viewing simply because I didn’t add the postcode to the address. It was one of my worst days in London (I’m the sort of person who is ten minutes early to everything).
Get a phone plan and a bank account
There are many options for phone plans. I ended up changing to 3 mobile from O2 and regretting it. 3 were frustrating to deal with, but are cheaper than the other plans.
In terms of a bank account, if you don’t have a British Passport you will most likely need an employer before setting up an account. It’s something my expat friends have come across. Shop around and try and find the best deal for you. I went with Lloyds and thought they were good.
Get a National Insurance Number
You will need an NHI for work and fortunately the process is relatively simple. You will, however, need a permanent address before you get started. You can actually start work before your NHI arrives.
You will need to set up an interview – details here.
I like to think I’m pretty good with navigation and train systems, but London is one of those sprawling cities that requires the help of an app to get you to where you want to be … without it taking half your day (it may still take half your day – this is London after all!)
CityMapper will give you the fastest route and includes both buses and trains. It also has warnings to inform you of construction. (Construction will occur every weekend on just about every line you wish to travel on.)
Narrow it down to a neighbourhood
When looking for a place to live in London it’s actually good to be specific. When I first arrived I had about four neighbourhoods in mind. I spent hours trudging across London going to different neighbourhoods to see different places, which were just about all awful, or awfully far to commute. Once I decided I was only going to look at places in Hackney (East London) I found a place within days, because my focus was so concentrated and I was only looking at places that were going to work for me.
Use Recruitment Agents
Having never used recruitment agents before, the idea of someone putting me forward for a role seemed a rather strange concept. I assumed all agents were money hungry and under qualified, but I soon learnt how useful they can be. It is possible to get interviews without the use of recruitment agents in London, but I actually had much more success with them. Not only are they common, but they know what job roles are coming up, they have an idea of what you should get paid, they can be a support person if you need it and they have the same interest you do – you being employed. I sent my CV off to more than ten agencies until I found a handful that seemed to know what they were doing. The agent that ended up finding me my role was a pleasure to work with.
I can recommend the following agencies, which may or may not be relevant to your particular field; Source Agency, Cogs Agency & Gabriel Skeleton.
Live close to work
Unlike more compact cities, commuting in London is a nightmare, no matter how much you might love the Underground. Unless you want to spend hours on a train every day, then try your best to get a place close to your work. It might mean narrowing your job search to areas close to your flat, or vice versa.
Having so many expats in the city can be both a good and a bad thing. On the upside it means that the chances of you knowing people, or at least having friends of friends to meet and network with is much higher. On the down side because there are so many expats, the networks aren’t as closely knitted and useful as other places. In New York, for example, a New Zealander is quite a rarity, Kiwis tend to band together and help each other out, whereas, in London there are tonnes of Kiwis running around. Some desperately want to stick together, some want to completely integrate and forget their Kiwi roots (as one Kiwi said to me; “Oh, in the end, I decided to let a New Zealander live with me, but only if she didn’t put up a Silver Fern or anything”) and the rest tend to get caught up with their lives and aren’t concerned about another Kiwi needing a job, or a place.
Having said that, there are many networks for different countries that are certainly worth looking into, even if just useful for drinks on a Friday night.
Take weekend trips
Once settled in make the most of trips away. When the grey days start to get to you, remind yourself that you are short flights from some of the most picturesque countries in the world.
All those places, and many more, are on your doorstep.