Thinking about moving to London? Or recently arrived? Check out these helpful tips to get settled in and set up.
Moving to London can be stressful and exhausting. So, if it gets tough, always remember that living in London is awesome. For many people it’s a great opportunity to live away from your home town or country and really find yourself. It’s also a great place to use as a base as you travel through Europe. And, for others it might be a the best place for expanding a career, studying or networking.
Is there a right way and a wrong way to live in London?
Some people are lucky enough to have UK ancestry or a European passport, which (for the moment) means they have a little bit more flexibility in how long they can live and work in the UK.
But for many Aussie and Kiwis, moving to London means getting a Tier 5 “working holiday visa” to live and work in the UK for a couple of years (don’t overstay your visa – it’s not worth it). So after moving to London, many Tier 5 visa holders make the most of their time by living cheaply, working hard, and travelling often.
It means weighing up the pros and cons of your living arrangements, prioritising your travel list and sometimes sacrificing a night out at Infernos for a flight or cheap bus to Amsterdam. (You’ll learn about Infernos).
Hubby and I decided to work fulltime, Monday to Friday, and live in a shared house in zone 2 with several others. It helped us to skimp and save as much as we could to travel the world (read more here).
But there are other options. A friend visited between 30 and 40 countries during her two years in London by travelling cheap and renting out her room in a shared house when she was not using it. A Kiwi couple that we met on a tour in Egypt lived in a zone 4 house in London with 19 other people. Another married couple we know live in a lovely two bedroom flat in north London and rent out their spare room and lounge room on Airbnb when they need to.
So, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy your grown up gap year in London. It’s a choice that’s completely up to you and your budget.
“We made the of our time by living cheaply, working hard and travelling often.”
But first, you have to find a place to live, find somewhere to work and find some friends. Here’s how to get started…
Moving to London: before you arrive
How much money do I need when moving to London?
Firstly, this could depend on your visa application requirement. Some visa applications require you to prove that you have enough savings in your bank account to survive for a few weeks while looking for work. It changes, but it could be something like $4,000 – $6,000 (Aussie dollars) in your account over a three month period. Or, if you’re sponsored by a UK company, you may need to be earning £20,000 per year.
Secondly, it will certainly depend on your own lifestyle and budget. Do you like to spend lots on clothes, travel or going out? I can’t help you with that. But, to give you an idea, here’s a list of basic items you will need to budget for:
- Accommodation: £400-£1,400 per month
- Public transport: £5 for an Oyster card + £133-£180 to add a monthly travel card
- Groceries (food): £50-£300 per month
- Bedding/linen: £50-£100
What do you need to do/prepare?
If you need to apply for a visa to live and work in the UK, you need to do this before you arrive in the UK. From Australia, allow up to six weeks and make sure you complete all of the paper work correctly and submit every mandatory document.
Always keep copies of your visa and passport in a safe place or with a parent/relative, and separate to your original copies.
Arrange temporary accommodation a few weeks before you arrive. You’ll want somewhere to chill and get over your jetlag, so find a friend to stay with or book a hostel/hotel.
More tips on finding accommodation below.
Cash and access to money
Always have some local currency in your wallet (enough to pay for a week’s worth of food and accommodation in case your cards don’t work). And, have a travel card with the local currency already loaded on to it, or use your bank card or credit card (be wary of fees).
Check out these helpful tips on using cash, cards or credit while travelling.
Moving to London: your first few weeks
Find somewhere to live/doss in London
Finding somewhere to live can be tricky at first since you don’t know where you want to be living, or because you might want to travel before committing to paying rent or signing a lease. So, if it’s just you and the backpack/suitcase you rocked up with, take advantage of your lack of belongings and sample a couple of areas to find out where you want to live.
Search accommodation booking sites for hostels.
Search Facebook, CouchSurfers, Spareroom or Gumtree for a short-stay room/couch/bed in someone’s house or flatshare. You can usually find something temporary (a few days, weeks or a month), especially over summer (June – August) or the Christmas period.
“Dossing” (temporary or cheap lodging in a large house) is typical activity for many large sharehouses where residents are regular travellers and housemate turnover is high. There are many of these in London and you could pay as little as £40 a week, including bills, for a couch or bed.
Finding a more permanent address
Finding a place to live can be surprisingly quick and almost easy, depending on what you are looking for. Note: people generally advertise a flat/house or available room about 2-3 weeks before it’s available.
- spareroom.co.uk or Gumtree for a room in a flat share or to buddy up with others looking for a place to live
- Rightmove or Zoopla
- Word of mouth or friends of friends
- Classified ads in papers and magazines, such as TNT Magazine
- Expat message boards, such as Aussies in London or Kiwis in London on Facebook
If you do sign a rental agreement (lease), you may be required to provide proof of income or pay six months rent in advance. In London, it’s quite common to sublet a room or rent via a private landlord and not have to go through the vetting checks. But, be wary about what’s legal and what’s not and don’t commit to anything unless you feel comfortable with the situation.
Things to know or consider when looking for you new home:
- Bedrooms are probably smaller than what you’re used to.
- Houses/flats might not be as well cared for (old paint, plumbing and carpet).
- Furnished or part furnished accommodation is normal. Usually you only need to bring bedding/linen and maybe some kitchenware.
- Mold, damp and mildew can be problematic in London flats, especially in ground floor or basement flats. Always view the room and flat and check for problems.
- You will not get a room with an ensuite within zones 1-3 for under £1,000 per month. Be realistic.
- A studio or one-bedroom flat will cost you around £1,300 per month plus bills.
- Flatsharing is normal, more affordable and a great way to make friends.
Furnishing your new pad
Once you have found a bed/room/flat/house/cupboard (don’t laugh – it’s more common than you think) you might need to purchase furniture, bedding, pillows, curtains, and a duvet. These are the places you will want to check out to buy stuff for your new place:
- Ikea (best for the general Ikea experience in person. But you can also order online and get delivery)
- Argos (best for online shopping and collection in-store or delivery)
- Tesco / Sainsburys / Aldi (supermarkets that also have some home stuff)
- Marks & Spencer (for something a little nicer)
- Robert Dyson (decent kitchenware)
Tip: British duvets (known as a doona or quilt in other parts of the world) are sold in different weights called “tog”. As a general guide 4.5 tog is a light weight duvet for summer, 7.5 tog is usually for spring/autumn while 13.5/15 tog is extra-warm for the winter months.
Learn how to navigate (get around) London
London is easy to navigate once you have an Oyster card and understand the six different modes of public transport in London. But did you know that it is sometimes quicker to walk than to catch the tube? See which tube stations you can walk between on this map.
Tip: Buses might take a little longer than the tube or train, but they are cheaper, a great way of learning the layout of a new city and best for sightseeing.
Find our more about getting around London and some great Apps to get you started.
Shop around for a mobile provider
You want to get off your Aussie mobile number/chip as soon as possible – using it in the UK will be horrendously expensive.
Your Aussie handset may or may not work on a UK sim card, depending if it has been locked by your Aussie provider or not. You can get it unlocked but be warned that it may damage the phone and kill its warranty.
Getting a new handset that does work in the UK doesn’t need to be too expensive – check out the options at the phone shops found on every high street/shopping centre. Another option is to buy a second-hand one off a site like eBay or from someone in your new share house who is leaving the UK.
Being new to the country you won’t have a credit record in Britain and you probably won’t be able to get a monthly mobile phone plan for the first few months. But, there are plenty of pay-as-you-go and top-up pre-paid plans that are perfectly suitable – some companies even offer a cheap deal on a handset when you sign up.
Lebara and GiffGaff are cheap temporary options to get you started, but the larger companies such as O2, Three, Virgin, EE and Vodafone will have better coverage and customer service.
In 2016 I paid £6.90 per month for 250mb internet, free calls to other Vodafone customers and unlimited texts. This is fine for me but only because I have access to Wi-Fi at home or while I am out at the pub. Other offers get you unlimited Internet and some providers will give you a special code for cheap calls to overseas mobiles back home.
Tip: Many places in London, like restaurants and pubs, have free Wi-Fi, including 130+ London Underground (tube) stations which are free from many providers.
Tip: If you haven’t already, get onto messaging apps like What’sApp, FB Messenger and WeChat for keeping in touch with friends back home, rather than sending expensive texts.
Note: Numbers that begin with 07 are mobile numbers. Numbers that begin with 01, 02 and 03 are UK landlines. Calls to 0800 and 0808 numbers are free from landlines only. Calls to 0845 numbers are charged at 12p to 41p per minute.
To contact emergency services dial 999.
Open a bank account
You will need a UK “current” account to transfer your funds from overseas and to deposit any income you earn.
A current account is the account you can use for day-to-day banking transactions, standing orders, direct debits and online banking. In the UK, most current accounts come with a debit card and a cheque book. However, some bank accounts will offer travel insurance, contents insurance, or an overdraft for an extra monthly fee. There are usually no monthly fees on a current account, but they also offer no, or little, interest earnings.
List of banks:
- Lloyds Banking Group
- RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland)
Even if you open a bank account online you will have to prove your identity in store. Sometimes it is easier just to visit each of the major banks on your nearest high street/shopping precinct to find out what they offer and if they can open you a bank account on the same day. Sometimes you will need to book an appointment in advance to see someone.
In 2015, Barclays were happy to open a bank account with an Aussie passport, as long as you have a date stamp to prove you have arrived in the country within the previous six weeks. They will send a letter and new debit cards to the address you nominate, but you might have to take the letter back in to the store to prove your address. Other banks and building societies might also require your working permit or a utility bill with your address on it.
Always ask for the IBAN and SWIFT codes as both are required on all international transfers and payments. The International Bank Account Number (IBAN) is a 15 or 16 digit number that will include your account number. The SWIFT code (SWIFTBIC) is a bank identifier code.
Apply for a NIN (National Insurance Number)
Your NIN is different to your NHS Number. Your NIN is used for tax, benefits and pensions. You must have the right to work or study in the UK to get a National Insurance Number.
To apply for a NIN, simply call the Jobcentre Plus application line on 0845 600 0643 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm).
Jobcentre will write to you and ask you to come in for an interview where you will be asked about your circumstances and why you need a NIN. At the meeting you will need to supply your Passport, residence permit or working visa, your driving licence, bank statements (or something to prove your address) and anything else that will prove your identity and your right to work in the UK. This process can take around four weeks, depending on when you are able to get an appointment to see them and if you have the correct paperwork. After your meeting and the correct paperwork has been completed, you will receive your NIN in the post.
Jobcentre Plus website: https://www.gov.uk/contact-jobcentre-plus
Register for an NHS (free) doctor /GP
After you find a place to reside you should register with a GP surgery.
You have to register with a GP surgery that covers the area in which you live. Sometimes you will have to ring around to several surgeries to find one that covers the area in which you live and is accepting new patients. Use the NHS website to find the best rated surgeries in your area.
Many GP surgeries will ask you to provide proof of identity and ask you to complete a registration form. You might also be asked to make an appointment for a health check. These are usually done by the practice nurse, who will ask you about your medical history, measure your blood pressure and they might ask you to pee in a cup.
Hint: Don’t wait until you’re sick to register for a GP as there could be delays.
If you need to see a GP or nurse and you are not registered, there are plenty of walk-in clinics around London and at some hospitals. Expect a lengthy wait and you might have to pay a fee at private clinics (about £70).
Your NHS Number
A NHS Number is a unique 10-digit number given to everyone registered with the NHS in England and Wales. Your NHS Number will be sent to you when you register at a GP practice. You will receive it on a medical card.
If you move or change your name you can simply take your NHS number with you to your new GP practice. Your NHS Number simply helps the NHS keep your health records correctly, safely and easily.
NHS website: http://www.nhs.uk/
Find a job in London
Be patient. In the beginning you might find it hard to find something suitable but there are many companies that you can work for to earn a little bit of cash to get by. Some have found that companies are more likely to give you a chance if you have already had a job in London.
A great website, with links to plenty of job sites, is Broke in London. Check them out!
Check out basic hospitality, catering and service companies. They tend to have a high turnover and are always looking for friendly, hardworking staff. To get you started, these companies can help:
- Full Access Hospitality
- Urban Crew
- NL Recruitment
- Elements Personnel.
You can also try your hand at administration and office work with several temping agencies such:
- Morgan Spencer
- Office Angels
- Angela Mortimer
- Office Recruit
- Jobcentre Plus
- Better Placed
- Morgan Hunt.
Register with online CV Libraries and job search engines such as:
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes networking and introductions will help you in securing some work.
In my experience, salaries in London can be surprisingly low. But so is the cost of living, compared with Australia. This is a great article about the UK average salary that might give you an idea of what to expect.
Moving to London, or any new city or country, can be daunting and lonely. But London is a huge city with many opportunities to meet new and interesting people.
You can join a Facebook page such as Aussies in London or Kiwis in London who have monthly drinks and wall posts about houseshares, sporting teams and (sometimes) available jobs. Like it or not, you will probably become friends with Aussies… but they are an excellent support group and probably share your same interests!
TNT Magazine also hosts regular parties at various venues around London where you can meet fellow Expats.
You can also join a sports team (which will help you fight the dreaded Heathrow Injection):
- Go Mammoth provides a range of after work and weekend sports leagues and fitness classes.
- South West London Chargers is a rugby league team full of friendly Aussie, Kiwi and British blokes.
- Social Netball is a well run Wednesday night netball league for all ages and fitness levels in Fulham.
- Netbusters and One Netball UK are other social netball clubs.
Alternatively, there are some fantastic online services in London that can connect you up with like-minded people in London at small or large social events. Try:
Moving to London: enjoy your time here!
Don’t become a stereotype or live to regret your time here! Living in London, 11 Myths…
Become a live in tourist and explore this incredible city! Here are a few things to get you started:
- 23 FREE things to do in London
- Where to eat out in London
- How to get around London
- Notting Hill Carnival survival guide
- Explore the Markets
- Afternoon Teas in London
- Royal Encounters: 5 day trips and weekend escapes from London
- Day trip to Bristol
- Countryside and Seaside: more day trips and weekend escapes from London
- Where to get cheap theatre tickets
Want more travel inspiration? Check out some more travel guides here.
Make the most of your time in Europe and travel!
Car, Plane, Train, or Bus… Getting around Europe on a budget
Royal Encounters: 5 day trips and weekend escapes from London
Countryside and Seaside: more day trips and weekend escapes from London
Other travel guides and inspiration…
Your Tier 5 Working Visa
The UK working holiday visa is designed to allow travellers to reside and undertake employment in the UK for up to two years. Restricted to those aged 18 to 31, it is intended for young travellers who have sufficient funds to live on while they seek employment.
The 24 month validity period runs continuously from the date from which the Entry Clearance is valid, regardless of any time spent travelling outside the UK. Unfortunately, it cannot be transferred to another visa or status, it cannot be extended and it cannot be put on hold.
If you misplace your visa, or it is stolen, you will need to apply for a new one through the UK BA. This is a lengthy and costly process. TIP: Keep copies of everything!
If you have any questions about your visa, you can contact the UK Border Agency, or see the UK Visas and Immigration website – https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration
Do you have any tips for London newbies? Please feel free to leave comments below.
While I do try to keep information on my site up to date, certain details and costs are subject to change. Please check with the appropriate sources to ensure information is correct.
Heidi Goodman02/11/2015 at 10:39 am
Amazing article! The information is so helpful. I have never been in London, but it’s in my plans for the next year. Best regards
Jacqui Moroney23/12/2015 at 11:06 am
Glad you enjoyed it, Heidi! Good luck for your trip to London next year, it’s a great city!
Noemi of Pinay Flying High09/08/2016 at 8:15 am
This is such a great guide Jacqui! Thank you very much for this, it gave me so much idea on what to expect when I move to London. 🙂
Jacqui Moore-Moroney09/08/2016 at 8:17 am
Thanks, Noemi! Let me know if you have any other questions or if you’d like to meet up. x 🙂
Amalia31/05/2017 at 11:07 pm
this is such a useful post! I’m moving to London and this is what I need to prepare and know what to expect!