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London 101: An Expat Primer

By Joshua Wood

Summary: An overview of key topics for expats in London. Covers visas, schools, housing, cost of living in London and more.

Living in London - An Expat Primer

Here are key topics for expats moving to London:

When most people use the term London, they are generally referring to the Greater London Area. There are 33 London Boroughs, which contain a vast number of informal districts. These districts are not the same as postal districts or wards. Wards are electoral districts that are used to facilitate local elections.


A visa is not required for tourist or business visits to the U.K. of less than six months in duration. If you are looking for more complete information about entry visas for the United Kingdom, please consult the official site for the United Kingdom, UKvisas.

Work Permits

Work permits are generally difficult to obtain. There are a variety of programs available to the individuals seeking to work in London, or the U.K., in general. Here is an introduciton to UK WORK PERMITS.

Credit for Expats in London

Please be aware that if you are moving to the United Kingdom from abroad, you have ZERO credit in the U.K. You will have to build a credit history over time. So, you will not be able to simply sign up for a monthly plan for a cell phone. You will have to get a pay as you go plan. But for other issues, such as housing, things get a bit dicier. Using a relocation company can help you through these issues.

Schools for Expatriate Children in London

International schools will generally use a program based on an international curriculum, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, or, alternatively, will base their curriculum on that of a specific country (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, etc.). We have written an article that provides a little more information about these schools, and better yet, links to the schools themselves. Contact them as early as possible!

Housing for Expats in London

Here is some advice from an expat on our United Kingdom Forum regarding housing:

"House hunting is not the same as in the States, so rental agreements typically take some time. If you don't know the ins and outs of contract legailities in the UK, a second pair of eyes by someone who does is important. A review here and suggested change there takes time. If the property is also pre-occupied, it takes time for the previous occupants to move out and landlord to clean up (we stipulated that in the first contract even though that's not always the norm)."

We constantly read on our United Kingdom Forum that a house hunting trip will make your search a lot easier and help you avoid pitfalls created by various stumbling blocks, such as unscrupulous estate agents. If you can afford the services of a relocation company, their experience in navigating the rental or purchase of property can save you many headaches!

London Expat Packages

If you are being sent abroad by your company or other organization, you will be offered some kind of expatriate package. There are all kinds of expenses that have to be accounted for in London - oh, yes - IT IS EXPENSIVE. Especially if you are coming from the U.S. with its ever declining dollar. As costs are considerable, you don't want to leave any stone unturned as far as your research. We have created an article based upon seasoned expats and relocation professionals providing advice to an expat family that is in the process of negotiating its London expat package. Read this article about London Expat Packages.

Crime in London

As per the U.S. State Department, the United Kingdom benefits from generally low crime rates. However, crime, including violent crime, has increased over the last few years, especially in London. Incidents include pickpocketing; mugging; snatch and grab thefts of mobile phones, watches and jewelry; and theft of unattended bags, especially at airports and from cars parked at restaurants, hotels and resorts.

Again, it's a good idea to search through or peruse our United Kingdom Forum to see if material you need has already been posted there.

For example, here are some thoughts posted by a well-seasoned expat in response to an American expatriate's request for help meeting people in London:

All of our friends from where we originally lived have never come to visit. We've been out of our original location for 8 years now. This means that you have to step out of your comfort zone to evaluate what it means to have and make a friend (mate in English) as an adult. Oh, and to make that more complicated - there are two of you (well, and a half) that are looking for new adult friends as well. You just don't go down the street knocking on the door and say, "Hi, we're Fred and Becky and we just moved in. We're 30-something and want to know if you have any 30-somethings that want to come out and play." It would be nice, but it just isn't on.

Our advice is that you need to:

1. Find a babysitter.

2. Find a local pub that's a "local" and not a tourist version of a pub.

3. Join up with some other American expats doing things you like to do.

You have to go out to meet people. Don't let the baby be an excuse, let the baby be the reason that you do adult things with other adults to remind yourself that you're adults.

Need more information on living in UK?

Login or Register and visit our UK Forum. Talk with other expats who can offer you insight and tips about living in UK.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood joined Expat Exchange in 2000. His areas of responsibility include creative aspects of the community, research, sales and business development. Joshua received his Master's Degree in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University and graduated from Syracuse University with a BA in English Textual Studies.

Cigna International Health Insurance

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First Published: Jan 17, 2008

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