Moving to London? A quick guide

13 minute read

I started taking notes for this guide when I moved to London myself in 2010, and I updated with more information when I met other people doing the same. The last review I done was on April 2015.

This guide is for someone that matches two requirements: you have a job in London and you are coming from an European country (or, any other place from where you don’t need a visa). That’s why this is a guide ‘when’ moving and not ‘to’ move. :)

Before landing

Planning is a always a little difficult because everyone has a different way of dealing with it. I have friends that got a plane ticket to London for an holiday and they never went back, others like me planned about one month in advance, and others planned even 6 months in advance.

My planning consisted in booking a good plane ticket, to have some room for luggage, and a hotel to be covered for the first days. However I should probably have checked alternatives, because I discovered later that’s possible to remotely to find a temporary accommodation, like shared rooms (finding a flat to rent was almost impossible to me, even through agencies).

I also landed a few days before starting work, so I had time to find a mobile number, open the bank account and start visiting all the housing agencies I found in the areas where I was interested in.

Transit

If you are going to live in London, the answer is only one: Oyster card. Get it as soon as you land… or even before, ordering it from abroad.
This can be used on almost all the tube and surface lines in London and also on some railways. The difference is huge: paying cash is more than two times as much as using the Oyster.

It’s also important to familiarize with the TFL website, because it gives information on both delays and planned maintenance, and that’s critical on the weekend when they do heavy maintenance works.

Note that:

  • You can use contactless debit / credit cards too.
  • Buses work only with Oyster or contactless.

If you have a smartphone (iPhone or Android) a great choice is to use Citymapper, a simple app that shows all the transportation means within London.

Mobile phone

One of the first things that I’d advise to get is a data plan for your smartphone. It will make your first weeks in a new place way simpler. Think about having maps with you, or checking times and informations on the web while you’re moving. While it’s of course possible to do everything without, if you have a smartphone, just do it.

The problem here is that most of the time if you try to get a Top-up card they will ask you a proof of address within UK. That’s a problem because you have just arrived.

This happened with Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile: all of them required a proof of address. However O2 has the perfect top-up plan and requires only a passport.

It’s a great mobile data plan to start: you top £10 and it gives you the data plan for one month. £10 are added to your credit, so you win two times: it’s cheap, you get a data plan and credit as well. If you aren’t willing to top-up £10 – even if I find it hard to believe since you’re using your phone a bit in the first days – O2 costs just £1 to have data access for a single whole day, when you need it.

Three can be a choice too, and it’s actually currently quite great given their flat rate on roaming in certain countries.

There are also other options like GiffGaff, quite cheap and with a good data plan. It might work for you.

My choice:
02 Pay and Go (Top-up)
I did this on day 1, just after landing

Bank Account

This is going to be a problem: to open a bank account you need a proof of address, and most of the time to rent a house you need a bank account – or, at least, it makes things easier.

Since it might take a few days to create an account and receive all the cards and code to access, I’d advise to start this process as soon as possible. I created my account at Barclays on the second day I was here.

The good part: Barclays has many banks around the UK, and you’ll be talking with a human being to open the account. The internet banking exists and works well, and as of 2011, they added also international money transfer to it.

The bad part: most of the time you have to go there to do anything extra over the internet banking and even if you try to ask them questions via email they’ll tell you to call or go there.

Doing this is tricky. The best thing is to have a employment contract and an address of a friend so you can just provide them until you find a house.

The contract is useful to lower their barrier, even if I saw it’s not necessary at all, most of the time they don’t make a problem, but having it avoids lots of questions.

The address is useful because for them is necessary to open an account and send your debit card and codes to. Pay attention that the address needs to be residential, they will not accept an office one, even if personally I was able to provide my office address (I’m not sure why). The idea is that your friend will receive your card and codes at his address, and you’ll move it when you find a house.

Once open, I’d suggest to transfer some money if you can, because it might take a few days and you’ll need that to rent a flat and these kind of expenses. You can usually pay with a foreign credit card as well, but it’s better to be covered. Personally I transferred around 5.000 € to be safe, and I was more than plenty to cover the first expenses.

My choice:
Barclays basic account
I did this on Day 2, takes a few weeks to receive the cards

A note about postcodes

The UK the postcodes are organized in a very useful way, because they identify a house up to the entrance door… almost. This means that every household and office block in UK has a different postcode, and most of the time you don’t need much more.

Also, in London and only in London, the first three letters are cardinal points: N, S, E, W.

For example: SE1 4PA means “south-east, area 1” and 4PA identifies the block and door.

Note however that:

  1. Sometimes the first number on the address doesn’t identify the block (i.e. like in Italy) but the flat door. It’s important to keep that too. For example “6 Artichoke Hill” might mean “Flat 6, Artichoke Hill”.
  2. Sometimes tools like Google Maps get the postcode wrong, so when you search it’s better to include also the street address, unless you’re sure it works with just the postcode.
  3. Sometimes the block number is replaced by the building name.
  4. Even if a lot of buildings have both a number and a name, and the postcode points directly to the building, in some other situations the street address indicates a set of buildings. It’s tricky, you should always check.

As a simple example, see this address:

Flat 66B
The Tall Building
Pennington Hill
E1W 2CZ, London

The strictly necessary information could be just “Flat 66B” and “E1W 2CZ”, everything else adds more detail. Note also the use of the block name instead of the number. Be careful however because as I said sometimes the entrance is in a bad position as as such you need all the details.

House: sharing option

First of all you should see if you want to live alone or if it’s ok for you to share.

If you want to share, there are a few sites you can consult, like:

This is quite easy, and you should be able to find a bed within a week. Personally, I was able to find one in 2 days from the start of my searches in June 2010.

GumTree is probably the one with the lowest chance of getting an answer since it’s not specifically made for that, but stil lworth a

Be aware that you might need your own pillow, sheets and some other stuff, depends on the kind of share you find.

Flat: independent option

If you want a flat all for you, these are the sites:

For a flat I’d advise you to choose an area checking the web or waking around to see where you’d like to live. It’s a good thing trying to use the websites to know which agencies operate in the area you want, and then go through an agency. While of course it’s nice if you can avoid the cost of an agency and rent directly from a landlord, in my experience I found more time-effective using an agency.

A problem you’ll see if you try to do that online is that most of the time there are “fake” ads by agencies and also some scammers that ask you to “prove” that you have money. If you are able to dig through these, you’ll find also some good landlord. :)

Be aware also that most of the flats you’ll find will disappear in a day, sometimes even in hours.

I built a quick checklist for things that I verified in every house I saw:

  1. Internet: check, better before viewing the flat, if the postcode has a good internet connection
  2. Floor: check the condition of the floor, its insulation and of course: if it’s wood, it’s better
  3. Carpet: as few as possible (this is probably personal taste, but it’s also easier to keep and clean).
  4. Windows frames: well closed, better if with double glazing
  5. Heaters: check and ask how the heathers work
  6. Water heating: check if there’s gas and if not the size of the tank
  7. Power shower: a power shower is basically a pump attached to the shower, which compensates for lack of pressure in the pipes. It is extremely loud, better to avoid when possible. At least make sure you try and turn it on while you’re viewing the flat to have an idea of the noise level
  8. Kitchen: check the stove
  9. Washing machine: check if it’s in good condition and if it has the dryer
  10. Furniture: check its condition. Also, mind that the amount of furnishing can vary, and might or might not include things like dishes, pans and bed linen: you might have to buy them yourself.
  11. TCO – total cost of ownership (monthly rent + bills + council tax, see below)
  12. Contract: check the length and renewal policy. It’s important for example to understand if the break clause is at 6 months (so you have to notify that you leave 2 months before, at 4 months in) or at 8 months (so you have to notify that you leave at 6 months exactly).

From what I understood so far, that the best periods to look for a flat are February and June, because many people move at that time (i.e. resident students and such).

Remember also that while there are lots of flats that are immediately available, there are others that will be available within one month, and in my experience these were the best ones, except in some lucky occasions.

Council Tax

In the UK there’s a tax that is associated with the house and varies between different locations. It’s called “Council Tax” and it’s paid directly to the council where your house is located, each month.

In London I’ve personally seen this varying between £100 and £180, but I think its variation might be more than this.

This isn’t included in the rent, so be aware that on top of each month’s rent, you have to pay this. However, if you’re living alone, you’re entitled to a 25% discount on Council tax, and if you share it’s usually split.

The good part is that in the UK you get to vote for your council if you’re resident.

Internet

The simple answer here is:

  • if there’s a fiber connection, use Virgin. Just make sure it’s fiber.
  • if there’s only ADSL, pretty much everyone else.

Of course, even with these two very good choices it’s possible that you’ll land in a bad area. There’s nothing that helps that, you just have to place your bets.

Be aware that you might need to sign up for a British Telecom (BT) landline before being able to connect an internet provider, even if the internet provider will be able next to provide the landline as well.

A good alternative can be Relish: they provide broadband using the 4G network. If you’re covered by then, you can get a router in about 1 day.

The whole process might take even a month between the two activations. I had a O2 Broadband key in the meantime to cover it, but sometimes finding a bar or pub near you with wireless connection might work as well.

National Insurance Number

When you start working it’s important that you apply for a NIN number, that’s required to track correctly your income and everything related to UK services, including pension.

You have to book an appointment through Job Centre Plus – phone only – and take a few hours to fill all the paperwork there. You’ll need al the documents you can provide, they ask a lot of things, but I noticed that a few friends made it through with way less data than I provided, so I don’t know exactly what’s the bare minimum.

More informations on the excellent Gov.uk site:

I did this after a couple of months being here, meanwhile they told me a temporary NIN was used for tax purposes on my salary payments. I’m not sure about the details of a temporary NIN: on the details I received the field was empty, while in other occasions I read that you could “generate” a temporary one yourself. I’m not sure about this, but it worked for me.

Medical support: the GP

When coming from the European Union there’s a standard coverage that’s accepted everywhere. However, it’s a good choice to find a clinic in nearest place to your house in case you need anything. This means that you have to register to a General Pratictioner, or GP.

To do this, the most important thing to have is a proof of address, because GPs are local and accept only people that are resident in the area.

Apart from that, the registration is as simple as filling out a form and providing a copy of the proof of address. As far as I know, they will ask also a sample of urine and do a check the first time you register.

The registration will be then completed in a few days, and they will send you a letter with all the informations you might need to contact them, emergency and book an appointment.

For italians: AIRE registration

It’s advisable to move your residential address in London for the Italian bureaucracy and government matters. Note however that it’s an entirely Italian government detail that doesn’t matter at all from the perspective of the UK government.

Advantages? Well, you can use the consular services from London, so you can have documents replaced here directly and also you’ll receive elections materials directly here without the need to go back to Italy. You can read the website for more information.

The process is quite straightforward, you have to fill out a form and send it over to the Italian consulate, that will add your detail to the expat registry and remove you from your Italian registry. You’ll receive an update by mail.

Bear in mind that this process – in a truly Italian fashion – can take an inordinate amount of time (last time I checked it was 4-6 months).

Also, while the details aren’t at all clear, moving your residence to the UK should be required to stop having to fill tax forms in Italy.

~

If you’d like to add something else to this guide, feel free to contact me. Thanks for all the updates I received so far. :)