Moving to London from any country is a huge move. You might have an overseas job posting that requires you to move here, or perhaps you want to attend university. It might be that your partner’s work means you too have to move, or perhaps you’re going to join family who already live here.
Immigration and visas
Of course, while many of us have dreams about relocating to a different country, the first thing that needs to be determined is if you’re going to qualify to move here. If you come from the European Union then there’s no issue, as you automatically qualify to live and work within any of the member states. However, if you’re hoping to move to London from any other part of the world, then you’ll need to get the necessary visa.
The official website of the Home Office and UK Border Agency can be found here, and provides valuable advice on all types of visa and immigration. You can even apply online, making the process much easier than it used to be. Depending on your reason for moving to London, there are different types of visas available.
London is a big city
London is a sprawling metropolis. And whilst central London and all the main tourist attractions are fairly close to each other, the surrounding areas make for a large and, to those who’re not familiar with the city, somewhat confusing location. After all, would you know whether to search for a house in Kensington or Shadwell Hill? Brixton or Chelsea? Or how about Walthamstow or Leytonstone? Knowing in-depth information about the various different areas is vital before you begin your house hunt.
Luckily, choosing a suitable area in which to live can be done, to a very large extent, before you leave. The first thing to understand about London is how the different areas are described. There are 33 boroughs of London, each with their own infrastructure, local government, council and highly individual feel and identity. The London Town website provides a map of these boroughs, as well as some great descriptions about each individual area.
These boroughs are then further broken down into what are known as ‘postcodes.’ Each postcode begins with one or two letters, followed by a one or two digit number. This code identifies a particular area within a borough, and is then followed by another number-letter-letter combination that identifies a particular area in a street.
Museum of London provides a complete postcode map of the whole London area. Depending on whether the area is North, South, East or West, the postcode will begin with N, S, E or W.
And wherever you choose to live in London, the whole area is well served by the public transport system of buses and the underground train system, known as The Tube or The Underground. See Transport for London for further details, or check out our Travel page.
Finding the perfect home
Once you’ve decided the area of London you wish to move to, then you’ll need to decide the type of housing you’re looking for. There are different kinds of living accommodation, and it can be a little confusing as the terminology used in the UK is probably very different to that used in more familiar surroundings. For instance, a flat is what you might know better as an apartment, des-res means desired residence, and a two up-two down is literally a two rooms downstairs, two rooms upstairs house. See our house hunting page for further details, and a step-by-step guide to finding a suitable property in London.
Who’s coming with you?
You may well be moving to London on your own, or perhaps with a partner or the whole family. What about the family pet/s? Can you bring them as well, and if so, what are the regulations concerning this?
Bringing pets to the UK differs whether you’re coming from an EU (European Union) country or from elsewhere. Animals such as dogs and cats coming in from within the EU can usually travel freely as long as they have what’s known as a Pet Passport. This involves the animal being micro-chipped and being vaccinated against rabies. Full details of the Pet Passport scheme can be found here.
Moving with your pets from outside the EU will usually require the animal being quarantined for up to six months at the point of entry. Once again, the Defra website provides full details on exactly what this will entail.
If you’re moving with your family, then finding suitable school/s for the children will be something high up the list of priorities. The UK has an excellent education system, and there are some very good schools in the London area. The schools in each area are under the command of the Local Education Authority, each reporting to the Department for Education. Information about the different types of schools and how each one performs can be found here.
One thing to be aware of is that schools have what is known as ‘catchment areas.’ This means that children living in the immediate vicinity of the school usually get priority over places. This might mean that where you choose to live may well be determined by the school you wish your child to go to. However, if you choose a private education for your child, as opposed to using one of the state run schools, then this would not apply.
Schools Web Directory allows you to search for schools by postcode, local education authority, or school name.
Opening a bank account
Moving to London, even for a relatively short period of time, virtually necessitates that you have a UK bank account. Without one it can be extremely difficult to carry out day to day actions such as paying utility bills, getting a mobile phone (cell phone), buying items such as a car, paying your rent or mortgage – in fact, practically everything that we take for granted in our own country.
If you bank with one of the larger, worldwide banks, such as HSBC, it’s well-worth asking if they can set you up with a UK account before you move. Even if your bank doesn’t have branches worldwide, they might have an arrangement with one of the British banks whereby they can help you set up an account.
The largest UK banks are HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds TSB and NatWest. However, there are plenty of other options, such as various building societies, Internet only banks and smaller concerns. Banking is a competitive market in the UK, and many banks offer incentives to join them. The website This is Money is a well-respected site that offers lots of information about banking and other financial services.
It’s a sad fact of life that we all have to pay tax, and moving to London doesn’t change this one little bit. The tax system in the UK is fairly simple, but the first thing you’ll need to determine is where you’ll actually be paying your tax. It might be in the UK, or it might still be back home. Various criteria will determine this, and will probably be down to how long you’ll be living and/or working in the UK. Taxes are collected by HM Revenue & Customs.
One slightly confusing aspect for many expats is that the UK tax year runs from 05 April to 04 April, unlike many other countries that run 01 January to 31 December. Depending on your employment, level of English language and desire to get involved with all things tax, you may well choose to use the services of an accountant to sort out your tax issues.
Driving in London
In a nutshell, driving in central London is a complete nightmare. Even if you can cope with the constant traffic jams, narrow streets and virtual non-existent places to park, you then have to pay a daily congestion charge for the privilege. Currently this is £10 per day (or £12 if you fail to pay by midnight on the day of travel). However, if you register for Congestion Charging Auto Pay, (via the TFL website) then this is reduced to £9 per day.
You have to pay the congestion charge if you drive in central London between 07:00 and 18:00, Monday to Friday. See our Travel page for further details about the congestion charge.
The public transport system in London is very efficient (if fairly expensive), and most Londoners don’t bother with a car. Our Getting Around page goes into further detail about making the most of the transport options within the capital.
Planning your move
Your actual move to London is a huge step. Depending on your individual situation, you might have to organise international shippers to move your furniture and personal effects. If this is the case, then it’s crucial to do this at the earliest date possible. Good shippers get booked up early, and there are some companies who offer a less than satisfactory service. When choosing a shipping company, be sure to do your homework and don’t simply go by the cheapest offer.
There are legitimate ways that you can bring the price of shipping down, because sometimes the costs can be eye-wateringly expensive. One option is to do the packing yourself, meaning that you pack up all your fragile items, disassemble any furniture and pack all your clothes, etc. Then the shipping company simply come along, pick it all up, and then drop it at your new home in London. This option can often lead to big discounts, so it’s worth enquiring about.
Integrating with the local community is one area that many people often find the most intimidating. However, the fact that London is such a multi-cultural city means that it’s also easy to become accepted. However much you might feel like an outsider, you’ll be surrounded by others in a similar situation.
One great way to integrate is to find others with similar interests to you. For instance, if you like sport or any type of activity, then joining a club is an excellent way to meet like-minded people. Get Active London has over 10,000 different clubs listed, and you can search by activity, location and keyword.
If you’re English isn’t the best, then join a class. There’s a multitude of these, and if you’d rather not take your chance on a search engine coming up with the best option for you, then pop into the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau who’ll be able to advise you.
Another way to get practice in speaking English is to pal up with a person who might want to practice speaking your language. This happens more often than you might imagine, with many people spending perhaps an hour a week, with half an hour spent talking English, and the other half talking your native tongue. Adverts for people looking for these so-called ‘language swops’ can be found on websites such as Gumtree.
Of course, it goes without saying that you should take the necessary precautions when it comes to physically meeting up with someone that you’ve connected with online. Just because you’re in a new country doesn’t mean that common sense shouldn’t still prevail.
Need more information?
This moving to London page has more than likely only whet your appetite to discover more about this fascinating city. We’ve put together loads more information on London, so take a look further through our site to find out many of the practicalities that are essential to know before taking the first (or final) step towards your big move. In fact, even if you’ve already arrived in London, then much of the information contained within our pages can help you slip seamlessly into London life.
Our cost of living page is a great next step, or perhaps you want to travel down the house-hunting road right now. And be assured that we constantly update our pages, meaning that all the information you read is current and valid as of today. After all, there’s no point in looking at last year’s (or worse, last decade’s) news and information. So read on with confidence that all you discover within this website is committed to providing you with the very best facts and advice to make your move to London as trouble free as possible.