Friday, July 22, 2016

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.

Dreaded Jetlag
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!

A photo posted by My Traveling Joys (@mytravelingjoys) on

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's Victorian row houses look cute from the outside, but often offer narrow spaces.
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!
Even with all this frustration, I’m sure a few months from now I will settle into our new lives in London and be happy. (Normally, I'm not so negative.) I’ll even forget how difficult it is to move to another country – even an English-speaking one – until the time comes for us to move again.

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.

My Traveling Joys

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BacktoBodrum said...

Geçmis olsun from a Brit who prefers to live in Turkey regardless of what's going on because I know I can't hack it in London. Hope to visit you for a flat white when I fly into the UK.

jaz@octoberfarm said...'s hard to keep up with you! this will be an adventure. i haven't lived there but i've spent lots of time in london and sad to say it is not one of my favorite cities. i do like it around xmas though. hope you two have a great adventure there!

Elaine Masters said...

I hope that things have calmed down a bit. It's a huge transition and with all the complications even harder. Keep a stiff upper lip (Isn't that what Brits say?)

Sherry m said...

Crikey. You have moved! There I was thinking you were in Melbourne Have lots of fun in London. I remember many years ago trying to set up a bank account in London. It was sooooo hard.

Arnie J said...

That seems quite and ordeal! Hope you have it all sorted soon.

Erin said...

Hi Joy! I'm so glad I found you and this post through Weekend Wanderlust - I'm moving from US to London for postgrad in the autumn! Right now I'm in the middle of all the visa paperwork, so I haven't even begun to plan all my tasks once I arrive. I'll definitely be making a note re: Lloyd's for a bank. Can't wait to follow along and read more about your London expat life!


Katy said...

Hope things have settled down a bit for you. We had a similar first week in London. Actually on our first day I decided it would be a great idea to go for a walk down Borough High Street with our 10 month old twins... not one of my better ideas. Having lived here for nearly two years I can confidently point you in the direction of an excellent flat white. Take care (Melburnian living in London!)

Joy said...

@Annie, teşekkürler! I would love to treat you to a good coffee. Just let me know. Things are getting better now...yavaş yavaş! ;)

Joy said...

@Joyce, well we have to go where the job is if we want to stay abroad. I think things will be good here, just takes time. :) And we can travel elsewhere in Europe. Yay!

Joy said...

@Elaine, thank you...yes things are finally settling down. The movers arrive on Monday so fingers crossed that goes well! :)

Joy said...

Ha ha @Sherry, I like your comment! Yes, we just left Melbourne on June 30th after 14 months. Even Oz makes opening a bank act so easy!

Joy said...

Thanks Arnie! We are slowly figuring things out. :)

Joy said...

Hi Erin, if you need any advice, please let me know. Happy to help! Luckily, hubby's company handled our UK visas and residence permits, so that wasn't too bad. It's really the little things that are a PIA - bank accounts, internet, setting up electric and gas, etc. You even need to buy a TV license if you want cable. Such an ordeal!

Hopefully I can pass along any tips I learn to you. :)

Joy said...

Hi Katy, thanks for stopping by! Kinda nice to hear that I'm not alone in our dealings in London. I can't imagine having two little ones to cope with during your move too. Wow!

I've found a few good flat white options in the Clapham area, but am always open to finding new spots! Thx! :)

Unknown said...

I was in London. Very beautiful and historical city. True weather was not very good. Here, this is normal.