"London takes time to know and understand, as do Londoners. Do not take our common language for granted - it takes effort to make friends and to settle in, learning English rhythms, ways of seeing the world. Do not mistake friendly responses for friendship; in most cases, it's simply their being polite. Be patient and you will eventually feel as though you're accepted," wrote one American living in London.
"London is definitely a love it or hate it city. After travelling through many countries in all continents, I have to say that London is the city that offers the most. It is almost as if a bit of every part of the world is present here. It is very expensive- wherever you come from, especially rental costs," said another expat.
Best Places to Live in London
"Many of the working American expatriates congregate around the Hampsteads, Swiss Cottage, St. John's Wood, Fulham, the area between Earl's Court and Gloucester, Primrose Hill, Richmond, and South Kensington. South Kensington also has a large concentration of American students living in London. A number of American students live in Muswell Hill, too. And, Camden Town has a concentration of American students off of Hawley Crescent and across from The Stables at The Stay Club. Before the anti-immigration wave, and before the financial crisis in 2008, some of these areas for working expatriates were so over run by Americans that the term 'American ghetto' was used as a joke. Most of the people living in these expatriate concentrations were, and are, far from impoverished people on benefits. But, the same areas continue to draw working expatriates because of the location, the quality of London life, and proximity to ASL in St John's Wood for students aged between 4 and 18 years," wrote another expat in London.
If you're unsure which neighborhoods in London or suburbs to explore, several factors should be taken into consideration: proximity to work, proximity to your children's school, type of neighborhood and housing budget. If you're looking to live in the suburbs, read our article, The 5 Best Suburbs for Expats Living in London.
Estate Agents vs. Relocation Agents
"Estate agents don't organise school visits but can tell you a lot about the neighbourhoods. Relocation agents can help you with different aspects of your move (schools, housing, utilities etc) but will charge for their services," explained one expat.
International Schools in London
If you're moving to London with kids, you'll probably be deciding whether to send your kids to local schools, American curriculum schools, bi-lingual schools or schools that offer IB programs.
Our article, International Schools in London, provides a list of some popular private school choices for expats.
Enrolling in State Schools in London
There a timing issue for those moving to London with children who are planning to send their children to state schools. You need a local address to register. But, many state schools are over subscribed, which means your children may not get in to the school just because it's the closest to where you rent or buy a home. Read this article, Starting Primary School in 2019: what are the catchment areas of London's most sought after state primaries?, for an explanation of London's catchment areas and registration timing.
"We live in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and can tell you that, although many of the State schools are good, the primary schools are over-subscribed. You should start school hunting right now. Using the goodschoolsguide (google it and buy a subscription) to short list, you should then call the schools and talk about their school. You should also ask about how to get in. You'll have to call the local councils and check their websites for how long it takes to get into school. Because you won't be there for the start of the reception year (ages 4-5), you may have already missed the registration deadline of last January and will be coming in mid-year. This will make it challenging as most of the places will already be full. But, if you're saying that your little one will still be 5 by July then you'll want to get registered for the upcoming year by the end of December. This means that you'll need a local address by then. Again, check with the local council on that," explained one expat.
Popular Expat Hangouts in London
"For North American sports, it's the JetLag, the Sports Bar and Grill in Marylebone or Victoria, Riley's Sports Bar and Grill on Haymarket and Carlsberg Casino in Leicester Square. The Hard Rock also does some special things for 'finals' (e.g., Super Bowl, etc.). You can get hockey at the Maple Leaf," listed one expat.
Meeting People in London
An expat living in London recommended meeting people by, "Become a member of something that interests you, whether a service organization, sport, art, or hobby. For instance, I joined the Royal Horticultural Society, which oversees several gardens in the UK, as well as organizing internationally regarded garden shows, as well as a community ceramics studio."
"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," wrote one expat.
Diversity in London
We asked expats in London if locals are accepting of religious, racial, economic and cultural diversity. One wrote, "London is a very integrated and accepting city. People who come here should expect a level playing field as far as race is concerned." Another said, "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, although, like anywhere there are skinheads, and the like."
"I find the English to be very funny, polite, organised and tolerant, but never embarrassing. I find that different nationalitys and races live in harmony here but they often don't mix. I feel people in London could be more open and friendly. I must say though, that as a gay man in my late 20's I could not ask for more entertainment alternatives and many are offered to the gay market, London is great like that. One last coment, my boyfriend is from New Zealand and our group of friends is formed only by expats, what a shame," said one expat.
Life in London Revolves Around Work
"Life in London revolves around work. From my personal experience work is almost the only way to meet and become friends with people," explained one expat. Another wrote, "Work, sport, and the pub are the main priorities of Londoners."
Jobs in London
If you're moving to London without a job in place, our article 5 Tips for Tech Jobs in London is a good resource for tech professionals. That article says, "Expats in London's tech industry know East London Tech City and the surrounding areas is one of the most important tech centers in Europe. London has been put at the top of the list of the most digital entrepreneur-friendly cities in Europe. The UK Visas & Immigration website has updated information about how to move there as a tech employee. For example, there is the Tier 1 Work Visa for Exceptional Talent. In order to apply for this visa, you must be acknowledged in the fields of digital technology, science, engineering, arts or humanities. There is also a Tier 1 Work Visa for Entrepreneurs, which requires minimums in terms of capital available to you for investment in your venture."
Obtaining a Work Visa Can Be a Frustrating Process
"Expect frustration and learn to live by your own wits. Don't expect anyone to help you out -- but if they do, treasure them! You may have to fight pitched battles with bureaucrats -- stay calm and remember the consequences of any one decision on, for example, your visa status, are usually not that important in the long term. If you think it's worth it, do whatever you need to to stay on in your new country. If you start thinking it's not worth it, buy a plane ticket home and chalk it up to life experience," advised one expat.
Will I Be Eligible for Free Healthcare under the NHS?
According to Gov.uk, you may start using the National Health Service (NHS) when:
- Your visa or immigration application is granted
- Your immigration health surcharge (IHS) is paid (if one is required).
You can use this IHS calculator
to estimate your immigration health surcharge.
You will need to bring your biometric residence permit with you when are accessing NHS services. Additionally, some services are not covered by NHS, such as dental care, prescriptions, eye tests and assisted conception.
Do Expats in London Need Private Health Insurance?
Many expats in London and locals choose to purchase private health insurance to have access to private hospitals and doctors. One expat explained why she sometimes goes to private doctors, "One really important thing to note is EVERYTHING has to go through your GP. Everything is referral based, so you go to your GP, and they'll send out a referral to whatever doctor. As a note, this adds a lot of admin time and in general, I found it to be a long (very long) waiting period between my GP appt and actually getting in to the referred doctor. For example, I hurt my back badly over the summer, I ended up in the A&E (emergency room) half a dozen times over the last 7 months, and had been going probably every 2 weeks to my GP, getting referrals to various therapy sessions, MRI, specialists, etc., and just recently have gotten most of it settled. Also, almost all of it was covered by NHS, the exception being that I went to a few private doctors, which aren't covered by NHS but the wait time was 2-3 weeks instead of 2-3 months. I found it extremely challenging because it's very different than the US heath care system that I am used to, and to be honest I have very little support and it felt like I always got runaround when I'd have questions. Since NHS is free and open to everyone, people tend to be more open to going in for smaller issues (vs. in the US, with copays and such, in my experience you try to avoid paying so much extra.)."
Expat Health Insurance in UK
Expats interested in expat health insurance should take a minute to get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.
Did You Know that You Need a TV License if You Plan to Watch Television in London?
"You need a TV licence in the UK. One licence will cover as many TV sets as you want in the house, not just one. It's valid for a year and the cost of it covers the BBC1 and BBC2 channels, which are a national corporation company, i.e. no advertising is shown on these two channels. If you want a cable and satellite channels in the UK, the system is about the same as in the USA," explained one expat.
According to gov.uk, "A TV Licence costs £150.50 (£50.50 for black and white TV sets) for both homes and businesses." You can apply for a tv license for the UK here.
"It's about $10 per month, but the fines can be about $1,500. The license people propagate stories about shadowy men who drive around with special detectors that can tell if you're watching unlicensed television, which is about as close as Britain gets to a black helicopter-type conspiracy theory. Best to keep legal, though," cautioned one expat.
Moving to London?