We’ve just wrapped up summer bank holiday weekend here in London. The sun was shining and I kept thinking to myself what a beautiful city it is when the weather is good. It also got me thinking that I have now lived in this crazy city of almost 9 million people for almost a decade and the advice I would give to anyone that is thinking of moving to London – advice that I wish I had received all those years ago.
It seems crazy to think that I was only meant to be here for 10 months initially, but London has that effect. It sucks you in to the fast and furious pace of life and it can sometimes feel like you’re on a really fast roller coaster that never stops. But that said, over the years I have grown to love this crazy city, and whilst I do not know how many more years I will remain, I know that being here is such a character-building experience.
It may not have the best weather and that can make it a little harder, but I suppose it is a small price to pay for living in what feels like the centre of the world. Here are a few things I wish I had known before I moved. Disclaimer: I should also add that this is not an article for you if you have already made the decision to move to London. It won’t provide actual information about moving abroad or shipping costs; things like bank accounts or national health, or information about company transfers, visas or living abroad in general.
What it will provide is my personal account of things I would tell anyone on considering the move to London, if they are going back and forth in their mind as to whether it is the right city for them. All that said though, one day I will get round to writing a more factual piece with the info above for those who have decided to take the plunge!
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Location, Location, Location
Before I moved, I was absolutely clueless. I moved to the UK to complete my Master’s degree at the University of Westminster – specifically on the Baker Street campus. My (now) husband, also moved to London to complete his own Master’s at Queen Mary in Mile End. Without knowing anything about the public transportation system (I didn’t even know what an oyster card was), I thought it was only logical to rent a place in between two. Oh and for some reason I thought it was a must to live north of the river. That took us bang into the heart of Central London and we ended up in Holborn, just minutes away from Covent Garden.
Now we were both self funding our Master’s through (large) loans at local Maltese banks. Just to make your jaw drop a little, we were 23/24 years old and took out debt of around €60k. That allowed us to pay for the Masters’ and all of our living expenses. I’m ok talking about this now as time has passed, but back then we were paying around £400 a week for our small one bedroom apartment in a prime location… I can now see how foolish all of that was. I thank my lucky stars that we have since paid all that off, but I look back and think we were insane.
So here is my advice on location. Firstly, south of the river is not less safe than north of the river (which is what my incredibly naive mind had thought). This is London and there is, unfortunately, crime pretty much everywhere. Yes, some areas are worse than others, but it all depends on you. You need to be sensible and you will be absolutely fine, just like all other big cities. Learn to be a little street-wise.
When it comes to moving to London and finding your home, I think it’s obvious that the further away from Central London you go, the more value you get for money. We’ve lived in many different areas and now know that we would rather be central than live on the outskirts. Up until recently we had lived in a very large garden flat in Chiswick. The flat was a 15 minute walk from the station and the tube (what we Londoners call the underground train) ride to work was another 30 minutes. I admit we hated the commute and in the end, moved back to central (to a place that is half the size) and we are so much happier.
Since moving back to central, I haven’t taken the tube in weeks and can walk pretty much everywhere I need to be. This is absolutely a personal choice – just remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Larger homes mean living a little further away, they may not be right next to the tube station and that also translates to lower rent. If more space is a necessity for you and you don’t mind walking a little or spending time on tubes or trains, then I would avoid Zone 1.
There are some lovely places like Canada Water (Zone 2) but it’s also quite close to the City and very peaceful. On the other hand, if you are like us and don’t mind living in an average-sized London apartment in return for a very short commute, then go for Zone 1. I caveat all of this by saying that everything I write applies for those that have budget restrictions. You can very much find large apartments or homes in Central London, but be prepared to pay through the nose for them.
Car? Save Yourself the Hassle
Transport links are pretty good if you are living central and you will not need a car. We bought our first car after a year of living in Chiswick. There are plenty of options to get around. The tubes are generally reliable (I used to get frustrated when I saw a 4 minute delay which – let’s be honest – is definitely a first world problem) but generally there are trains every 2-3 minutes. The buses are also reliable and you can get all the data on when they are due to arrive – either at the actual bus stop, via text messages to the number provided at each bus stop or via transport guide apps which you can download to your phone.
So what do you do if you already have a car and want to bring it with you? Of course, there is nothing wrong with having a car but there are some things you should be aware of. If it’s a nice car and you’re overprotective of it, be prepared for it to get damaged. Since having ours, we’ve had two people drive into it whilst parked. The first kind soul didn’t even bother leaving their details. The second was much worse but at least the driver was apologetic and paid all expenses (we are still waiting to get it back from the garage in fact).
Parking is expensive. Car parks, on street parking, residents’ parking… it’s all pricey but very dependant on area. Insurance is also something to be wary of – insurance companies know that there are a large amount of claims in the capital and this is reflected in the premiums. In fact, from last year to this year, our premiums have literally doubled and that’s despite making no claims. Additionally, remember that diesel cars are a problem. More and more costs are being put on diesel cars due to emissions. There is also the congestion charge through certain parts of the centre so between the congestion charge and the parking cost, prepare yourself for daily costs of £30 or (likely) more.
London is Expensive!!!
Irrationally expensive. Lots of exclamation marks. There’s not much you can do about this but just prepare yourself. It’s been years since I lived in Malta so I’m a little out of touch, but I remember being able to buy a pint of beer for €1.50. That’s probably gone up, but you can expect to pay £5 or more here. This often means entertaining yourselves and others at home as it is just more economical that dining or drinking out.
Anything and Everything is Available (at pretty much all times)
It’s not all negative. Living in London is actually pretty awesome. Almost every big brand has a presence here, you can find all kinds of food choices and specific supermarkets. I’ll give you an example, the amount of gluten free and dairy free choices that you can find at supermarkets here are unparalleled.
And everything is accessible at all hours, not just during the day. If you wanted to buy milk at 3am, you can. There is a story that someone had once told me about Ronald Reagan phoning Harrods and asking to buy an elephant, to which Harrods employees replied ‘African or Indian, sir?’. Luckily Pet Kingdom shut in 2004 (because why would you need a pet wild animal in London?!) but you get what I mean.
And when I say anything and everything is available, I’m not just talking about food and clothing. Opportunities in London are rife. It was in London that I was able to build out my career in hedge funds and the opportunity to advance yourself is incredible (I’m not saying at what cost though and you can read all about that and why I decided to become my own boss).
You can find pretty much any career you want, unless it’s something that is just geographically not possible, and you can stand to earn a good amount of money – if that is what you are after. Although that being said, I believe there are opportunities for everyone almost everywhere if they are willing to start their own business. If self-employed life is not for you, there are all kinds of recruiters in London across all industries.
You Will Never (EVER) Get Bored
After all, as the saying goes ‘if you are tired of London, you are tired of life’. Since moving to London all those years ago, I still have not seen everything there is to see. Not half the museums, not all the West End shows.. there is just so much to do you could pack each and every day of the year with an activity if your budget allows it. There is always a new restaurant to try, awesome London rooftop bars to enjoy, new performances to see, new shops opening…
What’s interesting about London is although it is one capital, each and every part has its own character and charm and none of them are the same. Take Knightsbridge and South Kensington, both are right next to each other and minutes away on foot, yet the vibe of each is just completely different. Do your research on the area you are thinking of moving to to make sure that it’s the kind of feel you want to surround yourself with.
Summer Lasts but a Few Weeks
And lastly, most are aware of this, but the weather in London leaves much to be desired. Summer is pretty much non-existent and even when it hits, most homes are just not equipped to deal with those high temperatures given that they don’t last very long. I have yet to come across a property with air conditioning.
Public transport also becomes a hot sweaty mess and it wouldn’t be the first time that I had someone’s smelly armpit in my face on the tube. How anyone can smell first thing in the morning is beyond me, but it happens…. When it’s not stifling, the weather is pretty chilly by my standards (remember I’m an island girl at heart) and if you are anything like me you can expect to feel cold at least eight months of the year.
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