HOW to move to London (and not die)
Studies show that moving houses is more stressful than going through a divorce, having a loved one die or being fired – yet so many of us do it so many times during life. Moving houses to AN ENTIRELY NEW COUNTRY? I bet that’d shoot to the very top of that list, no arguments. The good news is that you’ll survive, my dear reader. The bad news? It’s not an easy move, but if you follow the steps below and get yo’ shit organised, the move to London will be the best thing you'll ever do.
Today marks the one year since I made the move from Sydney to London, and what an adventure it's been. To celebrate, what better way than to share what I've learnt with you all!
This guide is written by me (an Australian), but most points are applicable to anyone looking to make the move to London town. I’ve written it in FAQ style, as these are the questions I get asked the most and have promised to answer. If you think of any more, please add them in the comments and I’ll add them into the article (or do a part 2!). Here, my pals, is your guide to moving to London.
How much money should I save?
This depends – are you going to travel beforehand, or just settle down and launch yourself straight into a job? In order to get your visa approved (if you’re going for the Tier 5), you need to have at least £1890 in your bank, which is around $3350 in Australian dollars. You’ll need to be able to prove this amount, so don’t go un-prepared!
On top of that, I’d put aside $1200 for a one way flight, a months cushioning of London rent (roughly $1300) and an extra $700 for food, transport etc.
I personally moved over with around $15,000, but I also travelled for a solid 5 months and saw half of Europe. If you’re planning to just move over and head straight into work, I’d say $5000 (after flights) would be enough to get you going!
How does the visa process work?
If you’re not one of the lucky ones with a British passport (how I wished my parents were Brits at this stage!), you’ll have to apply for a visa to be able to legally work/live in the UK.
There are a few visas to choose from, including ancestry visas, working visas and holidays visas. For the sake of this explanation, I’ll explain how my process went with the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) Visa. You can look up which visa best suits your situation HERE.
First step is to go to the Gov.UK website and fill in the paperwork. You’ll need to have a certain amount of money in your bank account ( around $3350), as well as all your previous travel expeditions written down. They’ll ask you to fill out your last 5-10 years of travel (which is a lot for most Aussies!). This caught me off guard, so make sure you fill it in while you’ve got your passport.
You can apply for a visa up to 6 months before you travel, and to be safe I’d say 100% do it within 3 months of the move. It says it takes up to two weeks to get back, but I’d rather play it safe than miss a flight.
Also, be prepared to fork out $435 for the application, as well as an additional $535 for the healthcare surcharge. This sum of money isn’t included in the savings you have to show, so be prepared for that.
Once you’ve sent all the info through, the next step is an interview in the city. It’s pretty straightforward – you get there, have a chat with the embassy and then hand over all your docs and passport. They’ll take a photo of your for your Biometric Residency Permit (BRP), so learn from my mistake and don’t go looking like you just rolled out of bed!
Within two weeks (15 working days), you should receive back your passport and be given the all-clear (unless something wasn’t right!
What is a BRP card?
Here’s something you won’t really hear about it until you move to London - your BRP card! It’s your absolute lifeline, and regard it just as importantly as you’d keep your passport! You’ll be able to pickup your BRP from your elected post office within 10 days of landing in London, and it’s so incredibly vital that you keep this little card safe.
Just because it’s credit card size does NOT mean you should constantly carry it around. It includes your name, DOB, photo of your face, your fingerprints and your visa status.
You need your BRP to confirm your identity, show your right to work/study in the UK and also to be able to travel in and out of the UK. Believe me when I say this, it’s incredibly difficult and time consuming to replace. It’s a constant topic on Aussies in London forum, and the lesson here is to just never carry it around unless necessary!
Should I apply for jobs now or wait until I’m there?
I personally didn’t apply for jobs while over here – but I did add a tonne of recruiters on LinkedIn, as well as rallying connections from friends in Aus and sending out a few emails just letting people know I was moving.
I’d say it’s quite difficult to get hired while you’re in a different country (unless you’re a nanny or teacher as I’ve seen with friends), and I’d always want to physically meet my new manager and team!
What’s the best way to apply for a job?
Add as many useful connections as you can on LinkedIn before you make the big move, and as soon as you land, put out a status about your new move and how you’re open to new opportunities.
Take the time to spice up your resume, and write a kick ass cover letter. From experience, I learnt that most jobs come from recruiters over here, so getting on their radars is super important.
In my industry (comms/marketing), I found most jobs on LinkedIn but there are plenty of job websites as well. I was lucky enough to be head-hunted for my current role, but I’d definitely say just keep talking to people and putting feelers out in your industry.
What are a few cool parts of London to live in?
If you Google this question, a million different places come up and it’s not really clear. I can only speak from experience, but I’ve absolutely loved living South West. Living on a common (park area) is really lovely, and the transport system is great.
Some of my personal favourite places in the SW are Clapham (North, Common and South), Balham and Tooting Bec. I did a stint in Barbican (which is central London), but didn’t enjoy the polluted air and found that even though my commute to work was minimal, I didn’t enjoy not living near a big patch of grass.
North London is also really cool, and I’ve got a few friends that live around Camden and Chalk farm. Other cool places include Shoreditch (very hipster), Bethnal Green (awesome location), Brixton (upcoming) and also Battersea/Wandsworth.
I’d suggest doing a few day trips to these places and seeing where you personally also get good vibes from. It also depends on your budget and how long you are happy for your commute to be. Mine is around 40 minutes door to door, and involves two tubes and a 5 minute walk.
How can I find a place to live?
Once you’ve decided on a budget and area, the next step is to look for potential roomies or join an existing share-house. You’ll find loads of share-houses on Spareroom, but there are also weekly threads on Aussies in London that you can scan for potential places to live!
I found my first place on Spareroom, but I found the entire process really stressful. Places basically do viewings, and then they’ll interview potential roommates. The whole process was super formal and nerve-wracking.
If I could do it again, I’d do it how I did it the second time round. I found a couple of people to live with, and then looked for empty places that the three of us could move into. That way, we were able to start in a new, clean building and also make it feel like our home!
How do I get around in London?
You’ll hear horror stories of the tube, and whilst 99% are true (it’s a sweat fest in summer), I bloody love the public transport in London. It’s efficient, nearly always on time and very consistent.
When you first arrive, you’ll probably just Uber everywhere because it seems cheap and affordable (it ain’t! Always remember that pounds to dollars ratio!). Once you’ve drained your funds and realised you’ve spent the equivalent of $300 in a week on overpriced car rides for one, you’ll start looking at public transport options.
The tube is fast, but it’s also loud, very underground and can be a little claustrophobic at times. If you can, avoid it at peak hour as it becomes the very definition of living hell. The cheaper, slower option is the bus.
I’m a bloody bus advocate! They’re double decker (that top level excitement hasn’t worn off yet!) and half the price of the tube. You don’t lose your mobile connect, the seats are comfortable and they stop frequently. Download the CityMapper app to see all the timetables for all transport, and you’ll never catch an Uber again! P.S transport is almost 24 hours here, so there’ll always be a way home.
What is an NI number, do I need one and how do I get one?
An NI number is a National Insurance number, and it is similar to a TFN at home. It’s to make sure your National Insurance contributions and tax are recorded against your name only.
You’ll need to apply for this upon arrival in the UK, and they don’t really let you know clearly about this. Learn from my mistake, and apply for it the day you land – otherwise your pay will be docked substantially until you give your workplace the correct NI number. You can apply for it HERE.
How do I set up a bank account?
For some obscure reason, it’s bloody hard to get a bank account in the UK. You’ll have to take your passport, proof of residence, blood of your first born and $200000000 to open your first account.
Well, that’s how I found the process.
You will actually need your passport, proof of permanent residence (utility bills) and proof that you’re employed full time. I had real difficulty setting mine up, and I ended up getting two temp/online app banks in the meantime. Monzo is a great system that most Aussies use, and also Monese is another. You only need to show your passport to access these apps, and they’re a lifesaver! My first few pay cheques were deposited into these.
Also, if you need money ASAP and don’t know an easy way of transferring, I’d highly suggest using TransferWise. It’s an awesome service that transfers your money with the LIVE rate, and converts it into those sweet, sweet pounds (that are actually quite sad as you watch your dollars halved). If you use the code ellenp33 at checkout or click HERE, you’ll get completely free fees for your first transaction (plus, I get £50 and that’s pretty sweet!).
Should I travel before or after moving there?
I will never change my opinion on this topic, and that is that you should 100% travel beforehand if you can. If you can afford not to settle down straight away, then go see the world!
I managed to burn through $10,000 in 5 months of travel, and do not regret it at all. I visited over 14 countries, all on my own schedule. I even did a trip and saw the Balkans, which consists of countries that I’d never dreamt of visiting! You can read that about here.
Seriously though, as soon as you lock yourself down into a full-time job, you instantly fall back into old habits. 4-5 weeks of annual leave? Try and get as much travelling done as you can physically afford before jumping into full time employment.
Believe me, I’ve seen quite a few friends come over and launch themselves into their careers. It’s great to see their progression, but if you’ve moved over to see more of the world (like me), then go see it!
How do I see the doctor?
Ahh, this one question alluded me for a long time. How the heck do you see a doctor in this country?
Basically, you’ve got to first settle down and choose somewhere to live. After this, it’s actually not a difficult process at all. Go to the closest doctors (read some reviews online, I found a fabulous doctor thanks to peoples’ reviews!), and register with them. It’s here they’ll need proof of residency (utility bill), and then they’ll process your application and give you your NHS number.
Get this done ASAP, as when you fall ill in a foreign country it’s easy to get confused about seeing doctors and fees etc. Doctors are covered under the NHS, as long as you register with them. Another word of warning – they book out, fast. If you need an appointment, either opt for same day (they always release a few at 8am in the morning), or book ahead a be organised.
I hope this guide has answered a few of your questions, but if there's more please do feel free to leave them as comments on this article. There's already a part 2 in the works! Thanks so much for reading, Elle x