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Europe,  London,  United Kingdom

How to Stay on Your Feet as an Expat in London?

Welcome to London – You Are an Expat – What Now?

Congratulations, you have made the decision to move to one of the world’s largest cities to pursue a career. You are a London expat.

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You have packed your things and flew or drove to the United Kingdom. Moving here already was a big step, but where to take it from here? How do you find housing? How do you open a bank account? Do you need to apply for any insurances?

There are many aspects to think about when moving to London that can make even the toughest cookie nervous. But with a lot of planning and by gathering information from the Internet, it is not as hard as it initially seems.

Please note that this piece is written from the perspective of an EU citizen. It might be that regulations are different when you are from a different area in the world. Always check reliable local sources first.
st katherine docks tower bridge

Where to find housing?

First things first. When you move to London,  you will need to find a place to live. There are several ways of approaching this, but the most convenient order of activity is to do some research to areas in the city and to set your priorities. What is your budget? Are you looking to live close to work? Or do you prefer to live near a specific tube line or train station?

There are several websites available which describe the different areas, or boroughs, in London. One of these websites is London Town, which helps you by providing borough descriptions, including what type of venues you can find in each area and what the nearest public transport options are.

When you have found a preferred area to live, it is time to look around for properties. Depending on your budget, this can be via realtor’s websites or via flat share websites like Gumtree and Spareroom. The benefits of looking on the latter is that you can set different filters, such as location, budget, and other details. Depending on the area, rent and utility bills in London vary between £700 – £1200 per month, per person, for a shared property.

If you want to take some time to figure out where to live, it might be useful to check into a hotel, hostel or an Airbnb for a little while. This way, you have enough time to view properties and to find the best one for you.

Make some appointments to view any flats that sound interesting to you. Always be careful when doing this, and read the room descriptions carefully. In the case you opt for rental, it is important to read the rental agreement thoroughly and to make sure that you agree with all the points mentioned.

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Apply for Your National Insurance Number

You have found a place to live and that is great, but there are still more details to be arranged. If you are from outside of the United Kingdom, you are required to apply for a National Insurance number. The National Insurance Number is used in the national insurance system and for tax purposes. You can legally start working without a National Insurance Number. However, you should tell your employer that you are acquiring one as soon as possible.

The easiest way of doing this is by callling the National Insurance number application line on 0345 600 0643. You will then be invited via a letter for an interview at your nearest job centre. The letter will also tell you what documents to bring to this interview, e.g. a passport or identity card, a letter from your employer, or proof of address. It can take a few weeks or even a few months to obtain your National Insurance number, so make sure to apply for one as soon as possible.

Open a bank account

In order to collect your salary each month from your employer, you will need to open an UK bank account. This can be a bit of a shady business, as it does not only depend on the bank, but also on the bank’s branch whether they easily open an account for you. I have heard mixed stories of fellow expats regarding which bank and which branch would open an account for them and which not.

Why all the branches are different? Who knows. I can simply share my own experience with you and tell you that it was extremely easy for me to open a bank account at the Lloyd’s branch in Putney. They simply required a proof of identity and a proof of address, and that was that. I received my bank card in the mail a week later, and my pin code followed a few days after. Normally, a proof of address would be an utility bill, but since I did not have one yet, a letter written by my flat mate was enough proof.

Unfortunately, not all branches react in the same easy-going way. If you encounter any issues as an expat applying for a bank account, I would suggest you to try a different bank or branch.

london view expat

Apply for Your NHS Number

Healthcare is accessible and free for everyone in the United Kingdom. However, for healthcare providers to correctly identify you and match your details with your health records, it is important to obtain your NHS number as soon as possible. This is as easy as making a quick visit to a GP centre of your choice and register yourself there. This requires filling out a few forms and providing any proof of address. When you have completed the forms, you will receive a letter in the mail in the next couple of days with your unique NHS number. You can also choose to take a private health insurance, and in some cases employers will offer a private health insurance scheme.

Get Your Travel Practicalities in order

We all know how expats are right? They love travelling! But before you head out on an adventure outside of the United Kingdom, it is important that you sort out two things.

A travel insurance of course is the first thing you have to arrange. Even if you’re visiting friends and family in your home country, you’ll need travel insurance. Depending on your individual needs, it is important that you find a travel insurance that suits you. There are several travel insurance comparison websites out there, such as Compare the Market, Go Compare and Money Supermarket, where you can look for the travel insurance that fits the bill. Never go abroad without one!

The second thing to sort out before you travel abroad in Europe is an EHIC card, or European Health Insurance Card. This card is issued free of charge to everyone who is insured or covered by a social security scheme of the EEA countries and Switzerland. Basically, this card ensures that you will receive medical treatment in another member state at a reduced cost, if that treatment becomes necessary.

Of course travel is supposed to be the best thing in life, but you better want to be safe than sorry!

The Little Practicalities

Well done, you have made it through the most important steps of moving to London and you can officially start to call yourself an expat! Now, there are a few minor practicalities you will have to think about:

  • Is it more feasible for you to buy a monthly or yearly travel card or travel pay-as-you-go? (compare fares and payments)
  • Are you looking for a mobile contract or for a prepaid option? (compare deals from different mobile providers)
  • Start a budget management sheet (yes, life in London is expensive)
London Eye
London Eye

Build up a Social Network

Life in London can get quite lonely and anonymous. If you are looking to build up a social network, the following pages and websites can help:

  • Facebook groups – simply use the search bar to search for expat groups
  • Meetup – Join events organised by different groups in town
  • Citysocializer – Join social events organised by Citysocializer
  • Join your local socializers club – e.g. I am a member of Putney Socialisers
  • Join a sports or hobbies club

Essential apps

Nowadays, we cannot function without our beloved smartphones. And we would not survive the London expat life without the following apps:

  • Citymapper – to plan your journey door to door
  • Mapway – your very own digital copy of the tube map (because who needs a piece of paper anyway?)
  • Uber – because the Night Tube is not all that we are expecting it to be
  • Yplan – for all the best events and things to do near you
  • Trainline – for the cheapest train tickets
  • Meetup – to make new friends
  • JustEat – if you want to order takeaway
  • Treatwell – to book your necessary pamper treatments

To sum it all up, moving to London and being a London expat requires quite a bit of planning and research. However, I can tell you from my own experience that once you have been through everything it is absolutely worth it!

Are you an expat in London? Share your tips in the comments below and help someone else!

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