Moving anywhere abroad can be a daunting prospect and the scale and shenanigans of London certainly make it more so. As someone who packed up and moved to the United Kingdom at the age of twenty-three, knowing noone and never having lived outside my hometown, I can tell you it’s all figure-outable. Yes, it can be nerve-racking, but don’t let that stop you. Many others have taken this rite of passage too. Just be smart, do life and do you. With that said, here is a practical plan for your first few weeks in London.
Before You Arrive…
Book Your Accommodation Centrally
It can be tempting to avoid the highly priced central London hostels, but any savings you might make at a cheaper hostel a bit out of the centre are often overrun by the cost of public transport. By booking accommodation centrally you can spend your time doing what you want rather than on the tube. Plus many attractions are within walking distance in town which allows you to get your bearings and have some fun before you get down to the business of finding a job.
Hostels for Winners!
- Hostel Meininger at Hyde Park is on the Picadilly Underground line direct from Heathrow Airport, especially great if you’re arriving late at night. Though there is no guest kitchen, it’s clean and airy with a good location.
- Clink 261 at Kings Cross boasts helpful staff, a central location, full kitchen, and is opposite a Lloyds Bank, but does feel like a cave.
- The Dictionary Hostel at Shoreditch has a fresh vibe, brilliant staff, free breakfast, a full kitchen and is located near great coffee shops and popular nightlife. It’s also local to Spitalfields Market, a great lunch spot, and the Columbia Rd Flower Market (Sunday’s only).
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.
Register with some Recruitment Agents
There are recruitment agencies for every industry in London. You just need to find the right one to suit you. If you’re like I was and want to find a job asap, it’s a good idea to start the process even before you arrive. Although you may be used to applying for jobs directly with an employer, finding permanent quickly can be easier through an agent and once you’ve got into an organisation as a temporary worker there may be the chance to become permanent.
The Guardian and Reed are two of the biggest work search engines where both direct employers and recruitment agencies post jobs. If you upload your CV to these sites you may even find yourself being head-hunted by recruiters.
In Your First Week…
Get an Oyster Card
Public transport in London is great, but very expensive without an Oyster card. Underground journeys on the tube are calculated by fare zones and during one journey you 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 and the London Eye, and costs about £2.90 per ride. Riding the bus is much cheaper at £1.50 per ride.
In my opinion it’s much more enjoyable to ride the bus because it’s basically a cheap version the London 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. Often taking the bus doesn’t take that much longer than the tube either.
Get a Mobile SIM Card
Mobile providers are abundant but 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.
Open a Bank Account
The process for opening a bank account in the United Kingdom is not simple and can be difficult without a postal address. To save you at least some hassle, most foreigners we met ended up opening an account with Lloyds as they seem to be the most customer-friendly for anyone fresh off the boat.
Request your National Insurance Number (NIN)
Your last major errand will be getting your National Insurance Number. You can find details about how to do this on the GOV.UK website. In my case I had to phone, ask for an application form to be sent out, fill out the application form, attach photocopies of my passport and visa, send it back, then await their reply. All this took about 2 – 3 weeks.
Once you have all this sorted you should be ready to begin your new London life! For help with finding a flat and your new community, check out Moving to London: Setting Yourself Up.