There are a lot of things to think about before you board that flight or train bound for London. Take a moment to read through the information below and make sure you’ve thought of everything before the big day.
While it is possible (if you’re from an EU country) to turn up in the city with a couple of days supplies, it is not a recommended strategy. Most expats benefit from planning their move in advance, especially given the propensity of money to trickle through the fingers in London. If you are from a non-EU country you will need to get a work visa which entails actually having a job to move to, making job-hunting your first priority. While you can make contacts and talk to prospective employers while on a tourist visa, serious job-hunting can be conducted from overseas (Reed and Monster are two of the biggest and most useful job-hunting sites).
So where do you start with your planning? You are going to need a lot of documentation when you arrive in the capital, so it makes sense to get the wheels in motion by obtaining and organising all you can in advance.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to deciding which paperwork to bring with you is: if in doubt, bring it!
Essential paperwork and documentation include:
Even if you are from one of the 28 EU countries you will still need a valid passport to exercise your right to Free Movement. Passport requirements vary by country so you should check that your passport is in date. Your passport will be fine even if it is due to expire the day you arrive in the UK but it may be wise to renew it early if you have time.
National ID card
If you are an EU citizen and your passport expires while in the UK you will need your ID card to return home. Again, make sure your card is valid and renew if necessary.
If you are not a member of the EU you will need to apply for a work visa and bring the relevant documentation with you when you travel.
These are usually needed when opening a UK bank account or even when renting accommodation.
Employer’s Letter/Contract of Employment
Your bank will want to know you are going to be receiving a salary while your landlord or agent will need evidence you will meet your rent payments. Official documentation from your employer which clearly shows your salary and contract length should be sufficient.
These are very important for securing accommodation in London, so make it a priority to contact previous property owners or agents for a reference. If you have never rented a property before (or you can’t obtain a reference) you will probably need a guarantor.
If you are from an EU country, you can use your usual driving licence in the UK. If you are from a non-EU country you are permitted to drive a motorcycle or small car on your existing licence for a maximum of 12 months from your most recent arrival date. If you intend to drive in the UK, make sure you pack your licence.
Collect a list of useful telephone numbers (a physical list – just in case you lose your phone) and add to them as you need to. To start off with you might want to record your airline’s customer service number, the number for your country’s embassy in the UK and your employer’s details.
You probably won’t need this, but it may be useful as another form of ID.
Your Flight/Train Tickets
You won’t get far without those.
3. Securing Employment
As mentioned above, unless you have already found employment (a pre-requisite for expats from outside of the EU) this will need to be an urgent first step after arriving in London. Any money you have brought with you will rapidly start to dwindle, especially if you are living out of a suitcase in hostels. Use a mixture of recruitment agencies and direct approaches to find work.
4. Open a Bank Account
Banks can be awkward institutions and the rules and requirements change depending on the bank in question which is why opening a bank account should be high on your list of priorities. The main banks in the UK include Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS (including NatWest) and Santander. If you can open a UK account before arriving in London then take the opportunity, but you will almost certainly need to visit a branch in person.
This will expose you to one of the expats’ biggest conundrums. Banks invariably require a home address (not an office address) to send out your documents, cards and chequebooks to, while a landlord or agent will ask for your UK bank account details before renting to you. If you are from the Republic of Ireland you can simply open a Northern Ireland bank account before coming to London. Other expats use a London friend or colleague’s address as a temporary measure. Whatever you decide to do, it is worth approaching this issue as early as possible.
All things being equal, opt for a bank as close as possible to your accommodation. Most banks offer similar services so you may as well choose convenience.
5. Finding Accommodation
There is little rhyme or reason governing how quickly you will find suitable accommodation, although the more flexible you are the easier it should be. Some expats take a day or two to find accommodation, while others take months. If possible, arrive early to London, stay with friends or family and visit estate agents in person to arrange viewings. Pick up a copy of Loot, one of London’s most established classified newspapers, and browse the property section. The London property market moves very quickly, so don’t waste much time before acting and put down a holding deposit to take a property off the market.
If you don’t have the luxury of searching from within the capital (and living out of hostels is only ideal as a short-term solution) then you will have to use the online property search engines such as RightMove, Zoopla or the Gumtree property section.
You will need to realistically consider your budget (including utility bills, Council Tax, Internet provision and TV Licence) and weigh up living closer to the city centre and paying more for your accommodation or moving further afield where you can save on rent but will be paying more on travel.
6. Orientation & Travel
London takes up over 1,500 km² so the sooner you start getting to grips with its 33 boroughs and transport system the better. There is nothing like using your own two feet and exploring for yourself. The Transport for London website is a mine of information on London’s buses, trains, cycles and underground system. While you’re browsing it makes sense to order your Oyster card which will save you significant sums of money.
7. Other Essentials
There are a few other essential tasks that you will need to tick off before you get settled:
If you have school-age children you should approach the school that services your ‘catchment area’. A list of London schools can be found on the Schools Web Directory.
A Smartphone on a contract with a generous data allowance can be a great asset for expats in London. The Citymapper app is particularly useful.
Even if you enjoy your own company, building a strong social network will help you fit into London life more quickly and to stay safe. MeetUp is a handy way to track down fellow expats, but remember to look after your personal safety by not meeting strangers alone in isolated areas and avoiding giving out identifiable information to people online.
Learn the lingo
Spend time researching the language and etiquette of London. Avoid faux pas like referring to Scottish people as English or jumping queues.
Invest in an A-Z
If you lose your phone, or forget to charge it, a traditional A-Z is an invaluable back-up.
Check your travel insurance documents and be clear as to what you are and are not covered for.
If you are planning to take a lot of belongings with you, use a reputable removals service that deals with international relocations.
Register with a GP
A General Practitioner will be your first port of call for all non-emergency health issues. Sign up at the surgery nearest your home.
Finally, take the common sense precautions that will ensure you stay out of danger in London. Use only licensed minicabs, make a note of the last tube home (they may be earlier than you think), avoid isolated and badly lit streets and call 999 (the UK emergency services number) if you need the police, fire brigade or an ambulance.