I made the decision to move to London in late 2013. Ireland was slumped in an economic recession since 2008 and showed only vague signs of improving in the future. In my sector, the construction industry, work was almost non-existent, and with low pay. My parents had just immigrated to Canada almost one year before my decision to hit the ‘Concrete Jungle’: London.
I packed my car with all my possessions, drove to Dublin Port, got the ferry into Wales, and then drove a further five hours to London. I had a job arranged online before I left, but other than that, I was completely in the dark. Where was I going once I got to London? Where do I live? How does the tube work? Some scary questions when you are trying to operate a sat nav in a city you have never been to before.
After driving around in circles, experiencing ‘real’ road rage for the first time, I called it a day. Mental fatigue crushing what optimism I had left. I booked myself into a hotel, and set out where I was going to live and commute to work. From living here almost 4 years now, please pay vital attention to these tips if you are thinking of making the move:
Do not bring a car:
Please do not make the same mistake I did. No one can prepare you for driving in London. Between congestion charges, multiple laned roads, bus lanes, crazy drivers, even crazier cyclists and speed cameras in every corner of your vision; you will panic and make driving errors. Leave the car. Take public transport. When you get comfortable living here, you may reconsider. But not just yet.
Sort out your National Insurance Number:
This should be the first thing you do when you touch down in London. Without this, you will be paying an emergency tax rate while you are working. You will get this back at the end of the tax year in April, but it is around 30% of your income. Getting your National Insurance Number can prove to be tedious. Having to prove employment and a housing address to speed up your process, it can still take around 3 months to come through.
Getting a Bank Account:
Another tedious task. You should shop around and see what the best bank package is for you. If you are just looking for a savings account, I recommend Barclays. I got my bank account organised in 20 minutes, with some other bank branches looking to book you into an interview stage that sometimes can take up to 3 weeks to be seen. Most companies in London will not pay you up front until you have a bank account. However, I have heard different experiences from people, so maybe I was just lucky.
Find a Home:
OK so finding a house is more probable than finding a home. London is split into 6 zones, with zone 1 being the most central. You will see the closer you live to zone 1, the more cash you will have to part with on a monthly basis. This part will break your spirit, you will view countless places before you find something suitable. Living in London will prove to be a multicultural experience. I have already lived with French, Spanish, Chilean, Mexican, American, British, Italian, Australian and New Zealand nationals. Yet we have only lived with 8 different British people in almost 4 years! This is great for making friends and sharing cultures. You must have a well-established salary if you are living alone in central London. For example, I used on the border of zone 1 and 2. I shared a room at the time that cost £900/month. There were 9 bedrooms in the house, so give or take 10 people in the house at any given time depending if there are single or couples living here. See how much our Landlord is raking in? So trying to find the right combination between your rent expenses and your commute can be tricky. Spare Room and Zoopla are the better of the property search engines.
DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING YET!:
So you have found your ideal house, you are ready to part with a month’s rent up front, one month’s rent as a deposit, and possibly administration fees…and you trust handing all that money to a complete stranger? Here are two things to remember that could save you from going into financial ruins: most Landlords are gangsters, and what ever you do, DO NOT use Western Union as property payments. Under any circumstance. You might as well donate your money to me, I would put your cash to more use. Trust no one with money unless you have proof of a Government protection scheme. Like the DPS. Thank me later. I know too many people who have handed cash over to Landlords thinking they are getting a bargain because they are not an agency, but then the Landlord vanishes into thin air with your untraceable money. Please do not fall a victim to these swindles, no matter how tempting the deal.
Get an Oyster Card from your local news agents (£5), or online, and use this as your travel card for the ‘tube’. Depending on what zones you will need will vary the prices of your weekly/monthly/annual travel pass. It is cheaper than paying as you go. Don’t let people scare you about the London Underground, it is far cleaner and safer than most of the metro systems in Europe (although the most expensive too).
London has 5 airports (Gatwick, Stansted, Heathrow, City and Southend), so there is always cheap European flights knocking around so keep an eye out for these deals (unfortunately the trains are insanely overpriced). With Ryanair and EasyJet probably your best options for the cheapest flights. Just remember some of these airports are far away and not really London at all (Southend), so maybe spending a bit more to fly out of Heathrow is a better deal.
Live your Life:
It is easy to get caught up with work, traffic and the general ignorance in London, distracting you from your life. Take everything with a pinch of salt and take advantage of all the fun, and free, things London has to offer. Think of London as a cluster of small towns, rather than one big city. Remember, London is home to around 9 million people so it is definitely not your typical city