Moving to London should be easy, right?
Well, no. Moving to another country is never easy. By all accounts across the ages, it is a stressful time filled with uncertainties and no amount of planning can circumvent the inevitable unpredictable challenges. But I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to try. I have planning down to an art. My spreadsheets have spreadsheets. My research is second to none and my logistical knowledge is perhaps my biggest strength. During times of uncertainty I take solace in notetaking. My lists give me comfort.
In anticipation for arriving in London, I had researched just about everything. Not only had I asked everyone I knew about recommendations on areas to live - I had broken down my anticipated living expenses (down to monthly groceries) and worked out the credit card with the best points systems.
For those out there who cringe at the thought of Excel and prefer to spend their cash rather than budget it, I have great news for you: no amount of planning matters when you move to London. No preparations can save you from the hardship that is settling into the UK.
And so, here’s a list of my hard-learned lessons.
Tips for Moving to London (Good Luck, Love)
- You'll probably want to set up a good mobile plan with a decent amount of data but you should really just get any old prepaid mobile SIM card. No one will give you a monthly plan without a UK debit card. Just accept that this is the case with ALL mobile providers and save yourself time and frustration. It will be easier for everyone that way.
Setting up a bank account right away might seem like a good idea, but you really shouldn't bother. You’ll need proof of address and nothing you could ever supply will ever be good enough - unless you cleverly changed the address of your current bank account over a month before you arrived in UK. In which case, you’ll need a statement showing your name and a UK address. If, like most of us, you weren't that prepared, you’ll have to wait until you have a tenancy agreement. Many banks say they accept this but your mileage may vary.
You'll need to find a place to live, naturally. Decide which areas you’re interested in (anywhere in zone one will suit you well) and set your budget. Search on RightMove to get a gauge for the market. Contact agencies to organise viewings. My experience may or may not be standard but I contacted an agent who proceeded to take me to several different properties until we settled on one we loved. From there, the real fun begins...
Congratulations! You've found a property you love and you're going to go for it! Give the agency £500 so they know that you're very serious and wait while they check that your potential landlord is as interested in you as you are with their property.
Yay! You've secured a property. Now be prepared to give the real estate agent all of your money. They’ll need to take six week’s rent for your bond, a month’s rent in advance, agency fees (which range anywhere from £400 - they did work so hard during the two hours they showed you around, while asking for your first £500).
Oh, I hope you didn’t start celebrating just yet, did you? You’ll need your references checked first. You’ll have no home until you fill out a form identifying where you've lived for the past three years, along with your previous employers. Maybe just chuck in your mother’s maiden name, your first boyfriend's name and your favourite colour, for good measure.
Now, I know you might want to relax in the knowledge that you have found your forever home (and stop bleeding money at an Airbnb), but you'll need to wait. And wait. Maybe even up to a week. The agency already has £500 now, so they're in no rush.
Congratulations (for real this time)! You’ve received confirmation that you are a trustworthy person and can rent a home - you can relax now. A little. Do you have a job right now? Unfortunately, while you have proven yourself to be an employable human being with a good track record for paying your rent on time, you'll need to handover six months' worth of rent right here and now - without proof of income. That's cool, right?
Be sure to pay all of that cash in GBP three days before they hand the keys over - the cash will need to clear! Best of luck with those many international transfers (and the transfer fees) with cruelly low conversion rates. But hey, it's not like you had much money left anyway, it's probably best to accept that reality sooner rather than later.
The money has cleared! Well, mostly. There were some international bank fees charged on the other end so your £24 short still. Well, what's an extra £24 at this stage? Just pay the extra cash when you pick up the keys.
Yay! You can come pick up the keys! Wait, no you can't. There are cleaners coming to tidy up the house and there’s an inventory check to be done. Then you can pick up the keys.
The keys are yours. Enjoy!
You can’t move in yet, though.The cleaners didn't turn up and the previous tenants were foul. That's really, really annoying, I know. Not only is the house filthy but you couldn’t even clean it if you wanted to since you didn’t pack any cleaning equipment, did you? That's ok, the agency will sort it out. In two business days. And if you think this sounds like shady real estate agency business, shame on you! These are good, kind-hearted people, they’re not trying to save cash on cleaners or anything.
Now that you have a home, you can go and buy your things. You'll need things. Here are some helpful hints you might appreciate:
a) You don't have a car. You have two hands and duvets are bulky.
b) Not all IKEAs are actually IKEAs. Some IKEAs are showrooms with iPads for placing orders. Do not get the two confused. You cannot take anything home from the iPad IKEA, in case you're wondering. If you've turned up at one of these mystery IKEA stores, don't turn away disheartened. If you place an order in store you may be able to receive next day delivery - online orders usually deliver within 7-10 working days.
c) This process of buying things will take more than one day, the sooner you accept that the better.
d) There is no such bed size as a Queen. There's a Double, a UK Double, a King and an Extra King. Work out what size your bed is.
e) Cotton linen is expensive.
f) Egyptian cotton is more expensive.
g) The more threads, the more expensive.
h) Linen is expensive. Save yourself the trip through four different department stores trying to prove otherwise. It's not going to happen.
Prioritise. You need a mattress protector (to protect you from the mattress that came with your flat), fitted sheets, flat sheets, a duvet cover, two pillow covers, a duvet and two pillows. Organise these first so at least you can sleep even if you can't cook. M&S have a wide selection of pre-cooked dinners anyway. And sandwiches.
Argos: The store that looks like a tech shop but isn’t really. This store will cover all of your kitchen appliance, cleaning equipment and crockery needs. Go inside and use the tablets to note down what you need. You can’t use these to actually order items. As you go through the online catalogue, write down the product numbers of each of the items and then take this list to the cashier who will place the order for you. Don't waste time wondering why you need a pen and paper in a store filled with tablets and nothing else. You can have everything delivered for £3.50. If you place your order by 5pm, you can get same day delivery. As a nice bonus, you can have a copy of the receipt emailed to you. Tip: check the email address is correct.
If you have planned well you'll be setting up your bedroom while your household bits and pieces are being delivered.
Right about now you’ll probably be wishing you had organised the internet earlier, since your prepaid mobile SIM has a data plan best suited to the early noughties. Most internet providers take at least five business days (and anywhere up to 15) to set you up. Some are faster than others.
If you’re not coming from the EU (and even if you are, depending on the time of reading) you’ll need to pick up your Biometric Residence Permit from the allocated post office. You’ll need to do this within 10 days of arriving in the UK or you could be fined up to £1000. And you don’t exactly have the cash for that.
Now you'll need to register for a National Insurance number if you want to get a job. Get onto this as soon as possible. Call the National Insurance number application line, have the forms sent out, fill them out, make many photocopies, post them and wait for your official documentation to be posted back to you. The process is a little different if you’re from the EU (for now). Call the application line, organise an appointment time and get the forms mailed out to you. Fill out the forms, make many photocopies and take everything with you (including the letter with the appointment time) to your appointment. On the day of your appointment, don’t make plans.
The last item on the list: signing up to the NHS. Sure, you could wait until you are actually in need of a doctor but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. First, you’ll need to find a GP office within your catchment - you can’t sign up to just any GP. You will need to take proof of address and your ID with you. Be prepared to stand on a scale and check your blood pressure.