For the past few weeks and months we’ve been compiling the ideas, steps and struggles we’ve gone through trying to set up a new life across the pond in London. We thought it necessary to share our story in the hopes that it may give piece of mind and interest to others planning on doing the same. London’s a tough but exciting place to live, so let us know if any of the advice below is of any help!
Note: This is just how we went about things and is in no way a declaration of how things must be done, but more an offering of one (tried and tested) path to go about things.
We spent months beforehand orchestrating our move and the sequence in which we were going to do it. So here are our steps for you – organised chronologically from top to bottom:
Stay with a friend or use Airbnb
This is absolutely crucial as a base address is worth it’s weight in gold. If moving to London and staying with friends/family, you can easily use their address when setting up the basics and then change details at a later date when you are settled in your own home. If you are coming over and don’t have anyone to offer hospitality for you, Airbnb could be a great option.
For those unacquainted with the website, check it out. For those who are, if you choose to use the service you may be able to work out with the homeowner to use their address as your current address for setting up things like a bank, a phone/sim and your National Insurance (NI) number. What’s even better, you can simply rent a room in your host’s premises, or the flat/house entirely!
Lots of things will need to be posted to you or will require you to provide a post code. We cannot even fathom or imagine staying in a hotel or hostel and trying to set yourself up over here. It would be far more difficult.
Right off the plane, get an Oyster
The Oyster Card is the golden ticket. It’s cheaper than Pay As You Go rail, tube or bus fares and in a fast-moving city like London it’s standard across the board and ensures a quick, smooth movement through the transport system.
Get a one week or one month prepaid ‘season’ ticket for your desired zones at the Oyster machines in the tube station. You will most likely be flitting between zones, towns and sides of the Thames throughout your first week of moving to London – make sure you select a season ticket which will work for you in the zones you are going to operate in. The zone 1-3 season ticket is pretty much a ‘one size fits all’ in this situation, it’s about £35. This travel option will ensure you’re stress-free about transport and able to move around at a moment’s notice. You can even post a brand new Oyster card to yourself before you move!
In order to get a monthly ticket, and just in general to safeguard your balance and travel cards in the event of theft or loss, it’s a great idea to register your Oyster once settled. We found it quite difficult to do on the TFL site where it explains you can register an account. Confusingly, this is not an option. To register, you must physically present your card and the registration form (available in most stations) to a TFL ticket office and they will do it for you. It literally takes two seconds and it’s done! Our monthly (1-3) season ticket costs around £140 each.
Organise your gameplan
For us, the priority was always going to be: phone – NI number – bank account – house and then finally job. This is very subjective, but for us we feel it is the natural progression and the smoothest movement. We will go into this in detail throughout this post.
Get connected – find a network
You need a phone to do everything and it will be a part of all of the above and below exercises. You can cut this step out by using your international phone, network and sim but you are going to incur far higher charges for that and it’s a pain to rely on areas where there’s free Wi-Fi, so it pays to get a sim (most are around or under £10) and you will be charged the local rates. We went with O2, later switching to EE which we’re currently on, but there’s huge variety in networks.
Bill pay is really hard to get in London as networks and independent retailers will insist on credit checks on you to ensure you are able to pay each month. The annoying thing is that these will come up blank because you won’t have a paper trail and a history in the UK, so even though it’s a clean slate they determine that to be risky. You will almost definitely have to settle for PAYG, which is satisfactory enough for the time being as you get settled. Registering to vote, having bills in your name, keeping on top of loans and remaining as debt-free as possible are all great ways to better your credit. Confusingly and annoyingly, not having a credit card will go against you in a credit check, so it somewhat pays off to have one – as it shows you can keep up with debt, though we are still wary…
You usually need a name and address to get your sim. Ensure your phone is unlocked before you arrive and iPhone users beware, as your phone is generally locked to the network of the first SIM card inserted into it.
Insuring you get your NI number
Call the NI hotline the day you arrive if you can, if not don’t leave it more than a day or two after you land. We called the day we arrived and we were lucky enough to get a confirmed appointment slot just eight days away. We had heard it can take up to four weeks until your assigned slot so be quick and if your assigned slot is too far away, advise them that you’re free and available to take any slots which may be cancelled in the meantime.
Your NI number is fundamental for jobs and it’s really not worth your time getting a paid job before you have one. It’s possible to do, but you’ll be on emergency tax and it’s just hassle you don’t want to endure. After our interview, our letters with our assigned numbers arrived just under a week later.
Internet is integral
If you have definite access to the net everything is going to be a lot easier for you. As soon as you set up and register your phone on your network online, we would advise changing your tariff or buying bolt-ons to save money. You will likely be on a standard, high charge plan when you just buy a sim. Calls, texts and data are pretty pricy so it’s worth your while researching a plan to suit you, even just while you’re organising everything (you can always change it in a couple of weeks when your needs change).
We ordered an internet package with EE which took over two weeks to get turned on and all sorted out. In the meantime, London has thousands of Wi-Fi spots and if you’re lucky enough to be based beside a big shopping centre like we were, you won’t be without for too long. God knows we have used more than our fair share of the generous WI-Fi in Westfield Stratford. Tube and rail stations, McDonalds, Eat and Starbucks will all see you through.
There a lot of different high street banking establishments across London and it depends on what services and features you want from your chosen bank. We went to Barclays as it was close and we heard good things about how easy it is to set up accounts. It was. We turned up the day after we arrived and were given an interview slot in about four days’ time, all we needed to show was a passport.
During our interview everything got explained to us and all our details were taken. We didn’t need that much documentation, but it’s worth bringing as much as you have to hand just in case. The process takes about 20-30 minutes per person. Every feature of both our bank accounts was up and running within two weeks. There is a lot of post to receive so, as explained above, a postcode and stable address is important.
You will probably come over to London with a few hundred in your back pocket which eases the urgency in which to set up a bank account so two weeks of a process isn’t a huge hindrance. Don’t use your Irish (or other international) cards over here for withdrawals or payments as huge charges incur. When you’re all set up banking-wise, it’s also worth noting that if you decide to transfer money from your international account to your new UK one that it’s best to do one transfer and only one, as you will be sandwiched by hefty charges on both sides for each transaction. There’s lots of different currency sending companies out there as well.
Home is where the headache is
Finding your home is a very personal exercise and we cannot vouch for house hunting’s easiness or its hardship. It’s simply different for everyone. We were very clued in and got a deposit placed on a flat within about four days of arriving, on only our second proper viewing (we had a few others that had been planned but then cancelled, there’s more on that below).
10 top tips for house hunting in London
1. Do your research before but always keep in mind that it’s just research. Get on the property websites for a good two weeks, if not sooner, before you come over. Zoopla and RightMove are the best, hands down. Do various searches until you become accustomed to their operations and until you get a feel for the cost by area, as well as the choice within your chosen area and your price range. The functions of drawing your own map to select your area are excellent and you can narrow down searches so well on both sites.
2. Use email and phone. We found cold calling can sometimes be a waste as the property may be gone and then the agent will likely try to market you a letting above your price range and in a place you don’t want – all in all, a waste of time. If you are completely clueless as to the area you want and the price range that goes with it, a cold call to your chosen agents in specific boroughs/areas will stand to you as they know their area best. We had an idea of our price, locations and what to expect so we played around a bit with a lot of agencies.
3. An unlikely trick. We found that we got quite good at noticing which houses we seen online beforehand and which we hadn’t, so we knew for the most part which properties were put up that morning or the day before. We found by emailing the agency they would nine times out of ten then ring you to get more details. This saved costs massively and it also showed if the agency didn’t ring you the place was probably gone. If you did receive a call, the place should be still available and the agent is probably desperate to get it off their hands. Doesn’t work all the time, but it’s a handy and cheap trick.
4. Always insist upon the earliest possible viewing. That day if possible and no later than a day or so in the future. We had organised a booking on a Wednesday afternoon for a Thursday afternoon, only to wake up early on the Thursday to a call telling us the place had been snapped up that morning. It’s a fast business over here so keep focused and try stay ahead of the crowd.
5. Always enquire how many other viewings there are, or what the interest in the specific property has been. It’s a good indication of what you’re up against and what types of people you are competing with.
6. Without a job you are most definitely going to have to pay rent up front in a huge downpayment. So expect to have to pay a deposit (usually a month to two month’s rent) instantly to get the property offline and then expect to pay a few months’ rent up front before you even see the keys. Agents differ, but most will want between two and six months’ rent up front for a lease between six months and a year. If they get six months off you they will be laughing so always try to go as low as possible and do not offer six months up front unless that is agency policy. Just like haggling, get the agent to name their price first and always go in low and then work up. It’s tricky so play it by ear.
7. Get Zone 1 and Zone 2 out of your head instantly. It probably won’t happen – unless you’re lucky. Even within the immediate border of Zone 3 the rent prices are extortionate. Take into account not only your travelling time but also the cost of that travel. Think of a troika like: travel time – average rent price – space. You will probably only ever satisfy two of the three above, so choose what your sacrifice will be. For example, a spacious and averagely priced flat will be far out. A central and spacious flat will be high rent. A low rent and central flat will have minimal space. A monthly travelcard for public transport generally increases by about £30 for each zone away from 1 you go, so bear that in mind when looking for work in Central London and homes in the suburbs.
8. Agency fees are monumental and always quite hidden until signing the lease comes around and a balance of cash hangs over your head. They are a necessary evil unfortunately. Some can be quite cheap but usually they are a couple of hundred pounds. Most agencies should give you an idea of what to expect to pay on your initial call so do push them to be honest and open. If they don’t want to tell you until the 11th hour the chances are it’s going to be huge and they want to hide it.
9. Once your deposit is paid hound your agent for a quick move-in. Once they get their money they can often get lazy and take their eyes off your account. Make sure you press them for a quick and smooth move and getting the keys and lease quickly. If you are delayed in that, make sure you only sign a lease that is dated from the move in date (and not the date you paid a deposit for). Your agent will most likely need something like two or more forms of valid ID, six months (or more) of bank statements, previous employer and landlord references for each person, payslips (we used our P60 which was handy), previous bills with your name on them (we provided a bill each) and your bank details.
10. Area shopping. With regards general areas, we felt that the south and east (within Zone 3 of each) were the best bets with regard the choice on offer for the budget we had. Other areas and more central zones may have properties to suit you, but it will be rare and they will get snapped up in an instant. We lived in Streatham (SW) and now live in Stratford (E) and the areas around both are great places to live.
(*) It’s worth noting at this point that the idea of sharing with flatmates was never an option for us. After living away from home a number of times and doing the sharing thing throughout college and beyond, we have now ruled out the option of ever flat sharing again. We spent a hellish year in Dublin living with two former friends who completely ruined and spoiled the experience. We won’t go in to detail but that gives some indication as to why we point blank refused sharing. If you’re open to renting a room in a landlord’s house or in an already occupied flat/house, you will have a much easier time, plus direct interaction between tenants and landlords effectively cutting out the need for an agency and their ridiculous fees.
Setting up shop
First thing’s first. London has three IKEA stores, you will be happy to know, located in Croydon in the south, Wembley in the west and Tottenham Hale in the north. (Edit: there’s also one in Essex beside the Lakeside shopping centre which you can get to on the C2C trains from Fenchurch Street.) Big supermarkets like Sainsburys, Morrisons and Tesco Extra will all have own brand, cheap household items to help get you settled quickly and the likes of Argos, Tiger and TK Maxx are as good for a bargain here as they are at home. Visiting a mixture of all the above will ensure you have more than the bare essentials to get you set up quickly in your new home.
The tube is king, DLR and Overground are noble, train lines are reliable and buses, though painfully slow, are undervalued and often a lifesaver. That’s all there is to say on transport. You will work out your own opinions quite quickly as you settle, so you will have to decide for yourself which you use most often.
The TFL website is great, as is their various Twitter handles which provide instant updates on any closures, delays or incidents. London is such a well-connected city if you are not as precious as to be above changing a few times, making lots of stops or interchanging between the modes of transport. The various Tube Map apps are great too and handy as they can be viewed offline, the best app is CityMapper which is free and enables users to conduct a thorough examination of how to get from A to B with a number of options.
Tell us about your experience of moving to London. Leave your replies in the comments below.
*All images are ours, with the exception of images copyrighted to TFL, Vodafone, EE, Three and O2*