Expats in London have a lot of options when they move to the capital city of the United Kingdom, but there are important choices to be made that require careful consideration. Here are helpful tips and ideas for living in London from both experts and expats living and working in London.
1. London Neighborhoods & Suburbs
Karen White, author of Moon Living Abroad in London, shared an excerpt of her book with Expat Exchange. The excerpt, entitled London Fact-Finding Trip, offers detailed one- and two-week fact-finding tours that cover many popular neighborhoods and suburbs of London.
"Many, many people seem to move outside central London once they have children, especially if they want to have children in state schools. We are in NE Surrey near Kingston and it is a very family-oriented place. For families not used to living in flats, the leafy suburbs are very welcoming. We also looked NW of London near St Albans which seemed similar. We spent a short time in Wimbledon when we first moved and it was also crawling with children. It has great parks and while a bit more suburban has a tube line," explained an expat in London.
"The population of the UK is about 61 million. There are about 126,000 Americans living in all of the UK. That's .002%. Argueably, a large portion of that 126,000 are in London for the same reason that you may be and that is for a job. (Here are some updated figures on Americans living in the United Kingdom).
London is about 659 square miles spread across 32 boroughs plus the City of London. The population of London is around 8.6 million [updated]. St. John's Wood attracts American families who want their kids to continue an American education. It is also a convenient commute to Canary Wharf, one of the financial districts. Again, argueably, a good portion of Americans who are transferred to London are transferred for positions in financial services. For some reason, South Ken and Chelsea both seem to attract Americans as well. Perhaps because they are a bit leafier than other parts of London. In my opinion, neither of these neighborhoods offers a particularly easy commute to either the Canary Wharf or the City which is the other financial district. I would suggest you first decide what is most important to you, like an easy commute, near parks for the dogs, things like that. Obviously, your budget is going to be a huge factor, as well. Get yourself a tube map and a map of London to see what you're dealing with. At 659 square miles, London is huge. For us, we wanted to be in central London, wanted a 1 tube commute (no changes) and wanted to have ammenities (grocery store, drug store, etc.) within an easy walk," shared an expat in London
"Look on the website Transport for London (tfl.gov.uk) and try a few example commutes before you pick an area in order to get a good idea about the length of your daily work commute," advised an expat in London.
2. Renting in London
"I have moved several times since first moving to London. I now live near Marble Arch, which is very central (right next to Hyde Park and to Oxford Street). I've used Loot several times. More recently, I've been using London Property Watch. I live in a flat, which is typical for the vast majority of expats who live in central London. I have also just purchased a house, however it is in Zone 3, maybe 7 miles south of central London, where house prices are still somewhat affordable. The majority of expats however live in central London, and only the hedge fund manager and investment bankers among them can afford to buy property in central London. " advised an expat in London.
Karen White, author of Moon Living Abroad in London, shared an excerpt of her book with Expat Exchange. The excerpt, entitled A Few Things You Should Know About Renting, covers a range of topics from the length of the lease available to how to calculate the monthly rent and how deposits work.
"Phone and internet services takes approximately 2 months to activate... Virgin Media may be the exception because they have their own pool of engineers..apparently, all other companies share the same pool," explained an expat in the UK.
3. Bringing a Pet to London
"I also brought my dog with me and went through the PETS travel scheme. The process takes six months and you have to complete all the steps exactly in order and within the correct time frame or your animal does not get in. If you are even thinking about living or working in London and you have a pet then start the process asap. I also recommend Virgin Atlantic for pet travel. They are really efficient and good at what they do. I had no problems getting my dog over here. Probably the biggest obstacle so far has been the weather and people tend not to be friendly for a very long time," said an expat living in London.
Another expat in London said, "I brought 2 cats with me from Canada to the UK and it went well. Air Canada were most unhelpful so I contacted James Cargo Service (which have a Livestock service) in the UK directly to speak with them. They take the animals off the plane and into the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre (HARC). They were superb and checked my paperwork (faxed over) before I arrived. The staff at Animal Control couldn't have been kinder. Unfortunately my vet in Canada had used the wrong tick treatment for the UK (Revolution is the product there and it needed to be Frontline for the UK), so they were kept in quarantine for a day. James Livestock transported the cats (at my expense to me elsewhere in the UK the following day). So I never ended up using an agent and it worked out fine. Bring some of your pet's usual litter and food to help them adjust to everything else being new - as even drinking water will taste different for them."
"The DEFRA site should answer all your questions about bringing your dog... Do be aware that you may run into some difficulty in finding a flat that will allow pets. Be prepared to have to put down a bigger deposit and/or pay a little bit extra in rent," advised an expat in London.
There are international pet shippers that specialize in moving pets in and out of the U.K.
4. Expat Life in London
Julie Falconer, a blogger and travel writer based in London, advised in an interview about her life in London that "London is a huge city, and there is always somewhere new to explore here. World-class art, music, and culture come through London, and the city has great diversity and rich history. As a travel writer, I also appreciate that it is easy to get almost anywhere in the world from here."
Falconer also added that "One of the common mistakes that American expats make when they move to London is in thinking that British culture is the same as American culture (the same goes for language). Be prepared to discover that they are very different in many ways."
Expats in London know there are many opinions on the best restaurants in London, and finding the best pubs and bars in London is just as contentious an endeavor.
"London gives New York a run for its money in terms of diversity. More nationalities are represented than probably any other city in the world. In general, Londoners are very accepting or diversity," described an American in London.
"If you plan to live in the UK, there are a lot of things that are different so come with the intention of embracing the culture. I definitely miss some American things, but I LOVE this city because I have an open mind about life here. I know a few 'crabby Americans' who complain constantly about the culture here and all the things they miss about the U.S. Of course it's different here, but it is also better and more exciting in some ways if you have the right attitude. The right approach will make all the difference in your family's experience," an American who moved to London.
London's official website has a list of 20 Facts About London Culture that provides some great ideas about what to do in London in terms of permanent cultural attractions and also special events throughout the year.
5. Health Insurance and the NHS
Another article, NHS and UK Health Insurance, discusses whether you are eligible for coverage under UK's National Health Service (NHS) and whether you also need expat health insurance.
"Many companies offer supplemental health care [in the UK] as a benefit, but some are cutting this out of their benefits plans. You are automatically covered under NHS, but for the first year of residency, you are limited to walk-ins and hospital emergency rooms. Once you live here for a year, you can register with a proper heath care facility and get a primary care physician, but until then, you have very limited choice of doctors and specialty care. This may be important for your children particularly. Consider keeping a health insurance policy in the US for major illnesses. The health care system here is not as bad as people make it out to be, but the US is still better for high end care. It is good to have the option of returning to the US for extremely complicated issues. Get caught up on all heath visits, tests, eye exams, dentist visits, etc. before you leave. The rules for tests are different here, so for instance, women get mammograms every 3 years, not every year. nhs does not really have the concept of an annual physical. Basically, you go to the doctor when you have something wrong. You are covered for annual physicals however, when you have the extra health insurance coverage. You can of course get a physical any time you wish, but you pay extra for it if you are not covered," advised an expat living in London on the UK forum. (member Jordanlind in the thread).
6. Meeting People in London
Expat living in London recommended, "Because of the sheer diversity of London's people, simply going down to a local pub will offer you many opportunities to socialise and make new friends."
The U.S. Embassy in London maintains a modest list of American Alumni associations in the U.K. Other colleges and universities not on the list also have a presence for alumni in the area - don't just assume yours doesn't if it's not on the U.S. embassy's list.
"Alumni clubs! Where'd you go to University? Where would you have LIKED to have gone to University? Find a club and go to their outings. They don't mind. The more the merrier. The TexasExes are the largest partying group and can be found on http://www.for nogoodreason.com and will take in anyone. Come out and meet and greet. Junior League or American Womens Club - awesome groups and a quick set of people to get to know with loads of activities. Join up. They're a friendly bunch, but you can decide yourselves. If there's something you like to do, there's probably a club dedicated to it in London. Join one. Do you golf, play tennis, squash, football (soccer), run? Are you a gym rat, a poetry reading freak, a theatre buff, a couple crazy for others in the buff? There's a club for you here! It's a big place and people love to create a club to do things together," advised an expat in London.
7. Schools in London
In our article, London Schools for Expat Kids, we cover a number of the most popular school options including ACS International Schools to TASIS England and The American School in London. Another article, A good school in London for the learning disabled focuses on The Centre Academy Schools which provides tremendous support for children with learning disabilities.
8. UK Work Permits
In the article, UK Work Permits, Skill Clear writes, "It is vital that the correct visa is obtained before travelling to the UK as you will usually not be able to correct any mistakes after you have arrived. The UK operates a Points Based System of visas, with individuals being awarded points for their age, level of education, past earnings and experience." They go on to explain the various options for working in the UK.
An expat in London discussed work visas in the hospitality industry, "You must have a visa to live and work in the UK. As the hospitality industry is one that rarely finds itself with a shortage of staff, your chances of finding a visa sponsor aren't good. The UK has a pool of about 500 million workers to choose from in the UK and EU, none of whom need to be sponsored for a work visa. The 1st hurdle is that the position has to meet the resident market test which means that the job has been posted and the employer has not been able to find anyone in the UK or EU who can fill the job. There are just 20,700 work visas available each year. Those are going to go to the the best and brightest with unique skills in their field. With no shortage of hospitality workers across all job categories thanks to the huge pool to choose from and the current economic situation, your chances of finding a registered sponsor are pretty slim. Here is more information from the UKBA website:
Tier 2 Work Visa General Information
Here is a complete List of Work Visas on United Kingdom's Official Web site
9. Cost of Living in London
"You have to pay council tax each month or annually. Price is [determined] according to areas. So keep that in mind when you're arranging your budget for a place to rent. You may pay something like 150 pounds (monthly)," advised an expat in the UK.
Julie Falconer, the blogger and travel writer based in London, advised that "the cost of living in London is generally higher than in most places. Rent is more expensive, and things like eating out are more costly, too. Make sure you take that into account when you move so that you don't find yourself broke shortly after you arrive! Additionally, stay flexible and be patient if it takes a long time to set things up when you first move here."
Expat Exchange member gah26 advises, "You should generally expect a cost of living increase. However, housing expense isn't a given especially if you receive a COL adjustment. Your taxes will become way more complicated so you should ask for tax equalization and tax preparation assistance. On a Tier 2 visa you will be entitled to use the services of the NHS but you may want to ask for private health insurance. It's reasonable to ask for a minimum of 1 trip home each year as a couple. If your husband needs a car for work, that's certainly reasonable and car insurance should be included as I believe it would be quite high for a driver with no UK experience. Other things to consider: Relocation and repatriation expenses: whether it's to move all your worldly belongings to the UK or a portion. Temporary housing for a period of time while you look a permanent place to live."
- Landline and internet: £45/mo
- Mobile phones for 2: £75/mo
- Electric: £50/mo
- Cable TV: £45/mo
- Council Tax - will vary considerably depending on where you live £100-£300/mo
- Gas - can't help as ours is included in a service charge
- Car Insurance - can't help
- Renter's/content's insurance - variable"
This online tool on Numbeo will help expats estimate the cost of living in London.
10. Driving in London
An expat in London said, "Living in London, we don't need a car. I would suggest Googling car leasing. You can drive on your US license for 1 year after which time you will have to [exchange your foreign license for a British license] which requires both a theory and a driving test. After 6 months in the UK you can apply for a learner's/temporary license and during this time you should get yourself ready to take the test. Most people take lessons. You don't have to give up your US driver's license. Aside from insurance which will probably be quite expensive, there is something called an MOT which I think makes sure your car is street ready."
"Ask for a car allowance even if you do not plan to get a car. A lot of UK companies expect to give car allowances as an option so you may as well ask. If you do not use the allowance, the amount is simply an add-on to your income tax of course!). I agree that you really do not need a car in London and it is often more difficult to drive in most sections of London. I would recommend registering for City Car (car club) when you get here and you can pick up a car in your own neighborhood when you need it. It is typically a lot cheaper in the long run for those few times that you really need a car," suggested an expat in London.