With so much to think about when deciding to move to London, it is easy to find you’ve forgotten something important. It is very frustrating to be forced to wait to move into a new flat because you haven’t yet opened a bank account, and even more so when the banks won’t talk to you unless you have proof of address!
However, with a bit of pre-planning and the organisational checklist below, you should find things a little more plain sailing.
With over 2 million people unemployed in London, it is risky to turn up in the hope that you will find a job quickly. While you are looking for work you will have to pay for accommodation, travel and food and will not be entitled to benefits (no, not even if you are an EU citizen – you have to have previously worked in the UK to claim JobSeekers Allowance).
If you can’t stay with friends or family in or near the city you should probably restrict your job-hunting to the online sites like Monster or Reed, perhaps spending a few nights in a cheap hotel if you have some promising leads or interviews. If you do intend to hope for the best, you will probably need at least six months of rent and other living funds – at London prices!
If you are not from the EU, you will need a Certificate of Sponsorship from a UK employer before coming into the country on a work visa. The government website has full details about applying for a work visa.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to you if you are studying and have already secured a place at a university. In this case you can work for 20 hours a week in a related job.
The earlier you can sort your banking out the better, for two reasons: first, opening a British bank account can take a lot longer and require much more paperwork than imagined. Second, you are going to need the details for securing accommodation and possibly for other reasons too (see section on paperwork below).
If you are arriving in the UK as a student, you will probably find advice on opening a bank account in your welcome pack.
The main banks in London include NatWest, Lloyds TSB, Barclays and HSBC.
As with searching for employment, finding accommodation can either be done on location or remotely. The benefit of flat-hunting on location is that you can walk into estate agents, browse properties and organise viewings there and then, although some expats have found the accommodation on offer is less attractive than the advertisements would have you believe. On the downside, you will have to budget for cheap accommodation while you’re there unless you can stay with friends or family.
Remote flat-hunting (via RightMove, SpareRoom or Gumtree, etc.) enables you to find accommodation from the comfort of your existing home, although you will have to visit some properties at some point before signing any contracts.
The key to living in London is balancing your desired location with travel costs. Use the Transport for London website to work out exactly how much you are going to be paying to get to work or university. It would be awful to save £50 a week by taking a cheaper property outside of the centre only to find you are paying an extra £60 a week to get to the office!
Once you’ve found a property you definitely want, don’t waste time as good flats don’t hang around for long in London.
Decide how you are going to travel around the capital. Consider ditching the car if practical and saving all that money on road tax, insurance, fuel and congestion charges. There is also a charge if your car emissions are too high in some areas, so think carefully about whether a car is worth it.
‘Boris bikes’, available from Barclays Cycle Hire, are a popular way of getting around the capital. You can pick up and drop off at several convenient locations around the city.
You will want to get hold of a Pay As You Go Oyster Card which can be used on buses, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and the London Underground. In fact, you can no longer use cash on London buses, so you will need either an Oyster Card or a contactless payment card. If you have one or more cards, keep them stored separately as the automated transport systems have a knack of charging the wrong one.
Familiarise yourself with the London Underground map (you will probably use it a lot) and the main transport links into London (e.g. from Heathrow, Gatwick or EuroStar etc.)
As soon as you’re settled, it is a good idea to register with your local GP surgery which will have discretion about whether to treat you as a resident, and may ask for proof of employment and residence. Many GP surgeries have a policy of registering anyone regardless of their residential status. The same applies with a dentist, although there are reasonably priced private dental plans if you can’t get an NHS place.
To be treated for free in a hospital, you will need to prove you are working or studying in the UK, although certain treatments are always free (e.g. emergency treatment or psychiatric intervention). There are also bilateral health care agreements with some countries that may apply in your case. There is more information on the NHS visitors’ page.
Most expats will benefit from a smartphone in London. Even if you have one already, you will probably need a UK SIM card. There are plenty of SIM-only deals available through the UK’s four mobile networks: EE (including Orange and T-Mobile), O2-UK, Vodafone UK and Three. These will offer a package containing minutes of talk time, texts and a data allowance for accessing the internet. Look out for 4G packages as these will allow you to use superfast broadband on your phone.
7. Important Documents
Whether you’re securing accommodation, searching for work, registering for health care or opening a bank account, you will need to provide the necessary documents. Please see our recommended checklist below:
- Photo ID (cheaply available at most supermarkets, Post Offices)
- Bank statements
- Evidence of employment (which should include your salary and length of contract) or Reference from previous employer if actively searching for work.
- References from previous landlord when searching for accommodation and Proof of (London) address when accommodation has been found.
- Evidence of university placement (if applicable)