Updated April 2017 * So readers with an EU passport, brexit, let's get this over with straight away. No one seems to know exactly what brexit will mean yet. The discussions in the UK have so far hinted at ending free movement, which means that if you're an EU citizen you might need to apply for a visa in order to move to the UK. The country is planning on leaving the EU in 2019, not much will change before then. If you're moving to London in the coming years you might not automatically be eligible to stay after the UK has left. It's complicated. For the best up to date advice about these issues I would recommend the brilliant Facebook group UK Citizenship European Nationals where you can find tons of advice about staying in the UK as an EU national. * I wrote this guide after a family friend asked me for advice because her daughter was moving the London, that was over four years ago. I try to keep the guide as updated as possible, the last update was April 2017. * I've written plenty of posts about living in and moving to London. They can be found here.
Where to start?
Finding a good place to live in London can be a challenge. Although if you’re open-minded, flexible and able to give it a bit of time it’s not any more difficult than finding a place to live in any other city. I have plenty of friends who’ve moved over and found the perfect flat within weeks. It’s all possible.
My suggestion would be to find a place to stay while you’re flat-hunting. If you can’t stay with friends Airbnb is quite a good way to find affordable and temporary accommodation. When you have a good base you can get started. Spare Room and Gumtree are both good for finding a room in a shared flat. Zoopla or Rightmove are good if you’re looking to rent a flat yourself.
Sharing vs your own space
Sharing is great. Many young people share flats here in London. It can be a really good way of getting to know people, plus if you’re on your own it’s nice to have someone around in a big city like this. It can be a lot cheaper than renting your own flat and it’s probably the best option unless you’re earning good money and can prove to picky London landlords that you’re the right person for their flat.
Some house-shares include the bills in the rent, which can be good if you’re new to the country and don’t want to deal with all of the UK bureaucracy at once.
It’s the eternal question facing new Londoners (and people looking for accommodation anywhere in the world). What do you sacrifice? Will it be price (are you prepared to pay more per month than you initially thought for the right flat)? Will it be space or location? What I’m trying to say is, keep an open mind.
Most people who move to the city will have to make a compromise somewhere down the line. It’s common to share a flat in London, even for professionals in their thirties and sometimes their forties.
A few thoughts on where to live
- The closer you get to the city centre (or zone 1) the more expensive the rents will be. The longer you've lived in London the less interested you will be in the central areas you might have visited as a tourist. London is a series of villages, find a village that you like. - Ex-council (local authority) flats will normally be cheaper to rent, but make sure to walk around the estate first. Ask yourself a couple of questions - will I feel safe walking home at night, what are my neighbours like, am I close to public transport. - Being close to good public transport can push the rent up. If you are prepared to walk, cycle, take the bus, it might open up more centrally located options that aren't near a tube station. - Take your time to walk around the area you're interested in. Can you see yourself living there? Do you like the shops and the people? Can you see yourself hanging out in the area? - Don't be afraid to look at places a bit further out or along the train lines. Rents are cheaper and you might be able to find a nice community and a village-y feel. Every area has its own centre, so it's not necessary to always travel into central London. - If you're coming to London to work or study it will make life easier if you figure out how you want to commute and then look for places to live along that route. For more on transport in and around London, look up TFL transport for London.
Guide to London areas
I’ve written a quick guide to different London areas for more information about where to live in London.
Rents are more expensive in London than in many other cities, but food and alcohol is still fairly affordable compared to many Northern European cities.
Before renting a flat you need a deposit, which can be as much as two months rent. On top of your rent you’ll have to pay council tax (unless you’re a student), gas, water and electricity. It’s best to shop around for the cheapest deals, there are plenty of good price comparison websites that will help you to do this.
It’s also important to remember that all the different companies you deal with from phone companies to commercial landlords will want to take as much of your money as they possibly can. Stay street-smart. Double check if you really need to pay for say cleaning when you move out of or into a flat. Don’t start paying insurance for your phone unless you really need it. It’s all common sense really, but it’s still worth remembering.
Average monthly expenses
This is a quick calculation of the average monthly expenses for a single person in their twenties and early thirties with a modest budget.
Going out £200-£400
Total cost £1,320-£2,280
It’s easy to get around London. The tube can be horrible during rush hour, but is otherwise a pretty convenient way to travel around the city. The buses are great too and sometimes they can be as quick as the tube, other times they take forever and you end up wondering if it would have been quicker to gnaw off your own feet and then drag yourself to wherever you need to be. Anyway. I prefer buses (when they’re not super-slow) because you see more of the city.
The cheapest way to get around is to get an oyster-card or use your contactless bank card (unless you want to walk of course, that’s cheap). If you travel every day it might be worth getting a travel card and paying the same amount for travel every month.
Transport for London is the best place to find out more about routes and prices.
If you don’t want to or can’t use the maps on your phone consider buying an A-Z map of the city, then you’ll never ever get lost.
Finding work in London isn’t as easy as it used to be before the financial crisis, but there is still plenty of work to go around. They seem to be very picky about the way your CV is written in this country so if you’re looking for work in the UK it might be worth having someone from the UK look through your CV.
Knowing the right people is the key to finding employment here, get someone to recommend you, do an internship, go to networking events or just nag your way to a job. Sitting around waiting for your application to get noticed in a country with over a million unemployed young people isn’t going to be an option for most people.
The big sectors in London
Even though there are plenty of people looking for jobs in London, there are also plenty of jobs going around. Some of the big sectors in London are:
The service industry
Professional services (law firms, accountants, management consulting firms…)
How to find work
I’m not able to tell you how you will find a job in the British capital, but I have put together a page with 16 helpful hints on how to find a job in London.
How to meet people and make friends
London is a very friendly city. I came here without really knowing anyone and without having an organised structure to meet people in (such as a job or a university course), but through house-mates and just being active I found this to be the friendliest and most open city I’ve ever lived in. So, how do you make friends here?
The easiest way is to get along with your house-mates. A lot of people in London are in exactly the same situation as you, they’ve just arrived here and are looking to extend their social network, so they’re open to meet new people and they will introduce their new friends to their old friends. It’s easy.
Say yes. Go to parties. Have a look at sites like meetup.com. Find out what’s happening in the city through sites like Londonist, Timeout and Le Cool Magazine. Connect with people on Twitter. Soon you’ll have so many new friends in many different parts of the city that you’ll find it difficult to keep up with them all.
Also keep in mind that London is a very transient place. People will come and go. You will lose touch with someone just because they move west and you live in the east, or because they get a new job or a new flat. It will happen, but new people will come into your life just as quickly as old friends leave.
How to continue loving the city & staying sane
London can also be a hard place. It’s expensive. The travel starts getting to you after a while. Landlords are fickle and it’s common to have to move every other year. Just accept all of this. Accept that you are going to get ripped off, that someone will shout at you in the street, that a bus driver will drive off just as you made it to the bus stop in the rain. Accept that your mail will go missing, that stuff wont work and the water pressure in the showers is horrible and that the winters are damp.
Just take a deep breath and realise that you live in one of Europe’s largest cities, that you live in one of those rare places in the world that is truly international, that London is a world of its own and that it has its own rules.
Take time off. Go to the parks. Take a warm bath. Go for a massage. Go someplace else, travel and see the country. Or stay in doors, remember that you don’t have to do everything and see everything at once. Don’t drink as much alcohol as the British do. Try to sleep enough even though the city can be wild and noisy.
Allow yourself to love London even when it’s driving you mad.
Bonus: How I did it
*Written in 2013*
I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing when I moved here. But I had a lot of determination and faith that everything would turn out OK, and it did!
I decided that I wanted to move to London and work as a freelance journalist at the end of 2008. In January 2009 I moved into a room in a shared house I found on Gumtree. I hadn’t seen the flat beforehand and booked it over the internet, but I was only staying for a month to try things out so I decided it was worth the risk. I was lucky because the house was great and my house-mates were lovely.
After a month of freelancing I didn’t really have a choice about whether to stay or not anymore. I just knew I had to stay, I couldn’t go back to Helsinki after realising a life in London wasn’t just possible, but that it was sort of necessary. I was lucky because one of the girls in the house where I was living was moving out and I was able to take over her room. After a month of packing up, selling and giving away my stuff in Finland I was back.
I arrived with only a suitcase and a head full of dreams. My room was very cheap and the ceiling had a small hole in it. My house-mates were as great as I remembered them to be and through them I made a lot of friends. Through them I met Gerry and because of him it was even easier to stay in the city. The freelancing work took some time to build up, but after a few months I managed to make a living doing it. Before then I was living off money I had saved while working full-time as a reporter in Finland.
I’ve been here for four years now and I haven’t looked back once. During the first two years I even walked around with a sort of anxiety, pinching myself every now and then, thinking; this isn’t real, they’re going to send me back. I loved the city, I loved everything, I even loved the tube. That honeymoon phase has now passed and I sometimes find myself dreaming about living in other places. But in a way that makes me happy, it means that this is finally my home.
Image by Rob Bye.