I was 23 and had never lived anywhere but where I was born and raised. Picking up my whole life and moving it always seemed like a rite of passage. Yeah it was scary, but just be smart. Do life and do you.
With that said, here’s my suggestions for how to do London.
Before You Arrive…
1. Book your Accomodation close to town
In London, location comes first and price second because any savings you might make at a cheaper hostel a bit further from the centre are likely to be overrun by the cost of public transportation. By booking a hostel near the centre you can spend your time doing what you want, rather than on the tube, and when you’re near the centre a lot of attractions are within walking distance. Staying in the centre also allows you to get your bearings and have some fun before you really get down to business.
Hostels for winners:
- Meininger – Hyde Park
On a direct train line from Heathrow Airport, great if you’re arriving late at night. Though no guest kitchen, breakfast is available for a fee (though very pricey), and of course it’s clean and airy with a good location.
Closest tube station: Gloucester Road – Circle, District and Piccadilly lines.
- Clink 261 – King’s Cross
Helpful staff, central location, full kitchen, opposite a Lloyds Bank but a little bit like a cave.
Closest tube station: King’s Cross St Pancras – Circle, Metropolitan, Picadilly, Hammersmith & City, Northern and Victoria lines.
- The Dictionary Hostel – Shoreditch
Clean, airy, fresh, helpful staff, free breakfast, full kitchen, all in a really neat part of London with great coffee shops and more than one different bar for each night of the week. It’s also local to Spitalfields Market (so called from when it was a hospital area and the cockney accent dropped the first two letters), a great lunch spot, and the Columbia Rd Flower Market (Sunday’s only).
Closest tube station: Old Street – Northern line.
Airbnb is another good option for couples, as rooms are cheaper to rent with someone else and you can save money on food by preparing it at home. However, I’d suggest doing this once you’ve got your bearings with London a bit.
2. Sign up with a few Recruitment Agencies
If you’re like I was and want to find a job ASAP after touching down, it’s a good idea to start the process even before you arrive.
There are Recruitment Agencies for every industry in London. You just need to find the right one to suit you. Although you may be used to applying for jobs directly with an employer, finding permanent employment on a short term visa can be difficult. But once you’ve got into an organisation as a temporary worker there may be the chance to become permanent.
Two of the main Job Search Engines you can check out are The Guardian and Reed. Both employers and recruitment agencies post jobs here. Plus if you upload your CV you may even find yourself being head-hunted (as I like to call it) by recruitment agencies who have found your CV through the website and would like to shortlist you for a role they are recruiting for.
In Your First Week…
3. Grab an Oyster Card
Public transport in London is great, but very expensive without an Oyster card. This is (roughly) how it works (as at Mar 2016)…
Underground trains (the ‘tube’) have fare zones. During one trip you can generally change trains within the stations as many times as you like and you’ll just pay the fare for the zones you travel through.
Zone 1 includes a lot of your major tourist attractions like Hyde Park, Oxford Street, Buckingham Pallace, the London Eye, etc. and costs about £2.90 per ride (approx $6.50 NZD). Riding the bus is much cheaper, at £1.50 per ride (approx $3.50 NZD).
In my opinion it’s much more enjoyable to ride the bus because it’s basically a cheap version of one of those London city tour buses. You can watch out the window from the top deck and during peak hour it’s often a lot less crowded, smelly and stuffy than the tube too. The downside of course is it takes a little longer, but sometimes not by much at all.
4. Pick up a SIM Card
Mobile providers are abundant here, but for me the best value for money seemed to be GiffGaff. You can’t buy a GiffGaff sim card in store, you’ll need to order it online and have it sent to a postal address (just check with your hostel if they’ll receive your mail). This means it takes a couple of days to arrive, but the sim card is free and their ‘goodybags’ are good value. Plus you can use GiffGaff sim cards in your existing mobile.
However, if you need a new phone anyway, you might find a good phone + sim deal at any of the below;
- Carphone Warehouse
5. Open your Bank Account
This process can take a little time, but to save you at least some hassle, most foreigners we met ended up opening an account with Lloyds. They seem to be the most customer-friendly for anyone fresh off the boat.
To open an account you will most likely be required to book an appointment with a Bank Consultant – book early because these can fill up fast. You’ll also likely need to provide a mailing address. To get around this we were able to use the address of our hostel – just check with the staff at your hostel first.
6. Set up your National Insurance Number (NIN)
Your last major errand will be getting a National Insurance Number. You can find details about how to do this on the gov.uk site. In our case we had to phone, ask for an application form to be sent out, fill out the application form, attach photocopies of our passport and visa, send it back, then await their reply with our personal NIN’s. All this took about 2 – 3 weeks.
And if you manage all of that in your first week, you’re already doing amazing! Seriously, this took me at least three…
Part 2 of your Guide to London is now available – see it here.