Visiting London as a tourist is heaps of fun. However, moving to London has been a frustrating, tearful, pull-your-hair-out experience. And this is coming from a serial expat!
Moving to the U.K. marks our fourth country in just six years – followed behind Australia, Poland and Turkey. It’s been a learning experience every time. Unfortunately, the Brits seem to like rules, lots of rules, and paperwork. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.
|Welcome to London - a city that's beautiful, busy, expensive, rainy, but sometimes fun!|
Banking NOT Made Easy
On our second day in London, after waking up at 5 a.m. because of jetlag, we figured we would try to do some basic expat things like open a bank account and set up mobile phones. We walked into a HSBC in Clapham, because it touts itself as an “expat friendly bank.” After waiting a bit, we finally talked to someone and was told we must make an appointment, but the next one wasn’t available until next Saturday (nine days from then). We also needed proof of address documentation, but HSBC would not accept a letter from our current landlord (Airbnb host).
Finally, several days later, we set up our basic joint bank accounts in person at a different branch after spending TWO HOURS filling out paperwork and providing a signed letter from hubby’s office confirming our London address PLUS our U.S. passports, U.K. residence permits and original copies of hubby’s contract with salary information! I’m surprised HSBC didn’t ask us for a blood donation!
Still, after all this, we must establish a credit history in the U.K. for at least six months before we get anything beyond basic services. Heck, I think our credit card in Poland came with a 25,000zl credit line because my husband could prove his local salary. I’ve since learned that Lloyd’s Bank is supposed to be easier for expats and only requires proof of identification like a passport.
Hello? Finding a Mobile Phone Service
In order to set up a mobile phone contract, you need to have a UK bank account, which obviously we didn’t have yet. We also quickly found that phone service can be pricey. Vodaphone wanted £60 per month (currently about $78USD) for a decent data and calling plan. We ended up choosing a pay-as-you-go plan with Three because the cost is only £25 per month and includes 12 GB of data and lots of minutes.
As soon as we have that bank account, we can set up a phone contract which offers some better services.
After an approximately 30-hour flight with layovers and transfers from Melbourne, we ended up with some serious jetlag. No matter if we went to bed at 11 p.m. or nearly midnight, we woke up wide awake at 5 a.m. for several days. By mid-afternoon, I needed a nap, so I slept for an hour or two and continued to live with a messed up internal clock. It took exactly a week for my body to adjust to normal UK hours.
|Flying on a A380 like this one for long distance flights is much nicer than the 777, in my opinion. :)|
Laundry That Never Dries
During the first two weeks in London, it rained every day, even if only a little bit. After washing a load of laundry in a shoebox-sized washer, I hang it up in our room on an old wooden clothing rack in front of an open window, which I have to open and shut several times a day because of the rain. Once I left out two pairs of jeans on the balcony to dry and left for the afternoon only to return home to very wet pants. Why don’t people have dryers? I can’t wait for my gigantic Turkish dryer to arrive in our shipment!
Crowded, Busy London
After living in laid-back Aussie land for 13 months, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in a crowded, urban city like London. We even visited here back in October and I don’t recall being so overwhelmed as I have these past two weeks. Trying to exit out of the Bank underground station is like Alice in Wonderland selecting the right door. And picking which platform at Clapham Junction or Waterloo is a guessing game. Eeny, meeny, miny, mo!
One of these days, I’m sure all the public transport will make sense…until a line is closed for repairs or there’s a strike, which has already happened to us.
Flat Hunting with the Devil
Well, not all real estate agents are the devil, but my hunt made it feel like it. One agent, after sending me multiple emails after one viewing, rudely told me that: “Honestly, you aren’t going to find what you want in your budget.” I replied that we would keep looking then and hung up.
London is a massive, sprawling city, so yes, I think it’s quite possible to find a flat within your budget. However, we found we must give up the living space that we’ve been used to in order to live in the neighborhoods we wanted. We both like living in the city, so a scouting trip out to Chiswick felt like suburbia family-land to me and would have meant at least an hour commute for hubby. I said no way.
Before our move, I spent several weeks reading everything I could about London real estate and selecting the right neighborhood. I also contacted any former London friends or colleagues to ask for their advice. I looked through hundreds of flats online using main property websites such as Rightmove, On The Market and Zoopla so I could have a general idea of what and where we could afford to live. Then, I walked thousands of steps scouring the neighborhoods for “to let” signs and to see what areas I liked.
Flats move quickly in London, so you’ll want to start your search generally no more than 4-6 weeks before you want to move. For example, one flat I liked online was gone two days after it was listed. Fortunately, I found our flat only nine days after we arrived with a good agent, but then the stressful part was putting in an offer (like you do to buy a house), waiting for a response, negotiating terms, waiting for a response and finally waiting for a lease agreement that my husband-the-finance-guy had to sort out. I may have been forced to drink several bottles of Australian wine during this time to calm my nerves!
Savoring Flat Whites
In the midst of all this moving madness, I found several local cafés that make a truly-almost Aussie-like flat white so that I was transported back to the café culture that I fell in love with in Melbourne. A flat white is similar to a latte, containing milk and espresso, but there is less milk and foam on top. A perfect flat white has a creamy, smooth mouthfeel and is decorated with some coffee art on top to make you smile. Sometimes it’s the little things that count.
|Sampling all the flat whites in southwest London!|
Have you moved often as well? What’s been your worst experience?
|Sometimes it's sunny in London and that's when you find a pub along the Thames.|