10 Things You Need To Know Before Moving To London Alone
The time has come. You found a job in London. And a place to stay. You’ve sorted out your insurance and have booked your tickets. And yet you are not sure yet – you have mixed feelings about moving abroad. You are happy, but also stressed. I can almost hear butterflies in your stomach.
Well, no need to worry. If I made it in London, and about 370,000 people every year too, I don’t see why you can’t.
To make your transition smooth, we have prepared specially for you a list of 10 things you need to know about moving to London alone, before you even get there.
1. No money, no funny
I think it is wise to have a few pounds (Britain’s national currency) in your pocket when you arrive at the airport. The exchange fee you will have to pay there can be a bit pricey. So make sure you have at least £100 when you set your foot on British soil – it’s always cheaper to exchange money at home.
You can always use a debit or credit card issued in your home country to get cash from an ATM (cash machine) in London. But then again you will have to pay a foreign transaction fee, at least 1%. Just in case, make sure your bank at home knows what you are up to before you leave. You wouldn’t want to get your account blocked while abroad. #Notfunnyatall.
2. How to open a UK bank account
Speaking about money, don’t forget to open a UK bank account. You might have to face some bureaucracy, but fortunately the process is not that complicated anymore, and in many cases you can even carry out part of the process online.
There are five major banks in the UK: HSBC, Lloyds, Barklays, Standard Chartered and RBS. So all you need to do is compare what each bank has to offer and make a decision. Make sure you have all necessary documents before visiting one of their branches.
3. London’s map is your bible
If you have a smartphone you can also use Google maps or Citymapper, a free journey planner app that recommends real-time routes to get around. In case you need help, don’t hesitate to ask. Most people in London enjoy giving directions, equipped as they are with old-fashioned British politeness and patience.
4. Always look on the right side of life
Brits drive on the left – just one of the peculiarities of this country you will be surprised with but you need to be prepared for. So when crossing the street you need to check on your right. Bright “look right” signs are all over the place and will help you get by. Be careful, getting this wrong can turn out to be as risky as skydiving from 10,000 feet, without the thrill. Watch it out.
5. The world is your Oyster and your Oyster is the world
In London your Oyster Card is almost as important as your ID. Make sure you have it with you at all times. It is basically the cheapest way to travel using the tube, as the London Underground is known, buses, trams, DLR and the London Overground. You can buy an Oyster Card at the airport (any of them, and London has five) upon your arrival or online. Just make up your mind whether you need a season ticket or Pay-As-You-Go.
6. Mind the (time) gap
The tube can be the fastest or the slowest way to get to your destination. Most Londoners check TFL online for live updates on delays and station closures before travelling. You should do the same.
During peak time (around 07:30-09:30 in the morning and 4:30-06:30 in the afternoon) you may find yourself stuck in a train due to a signal failure. I would advise you to leave home as early as possible, specially on your first day at work. Being late is not an option. Brits love punctuality, but their trains don’t.
7. If you are on a tight budget, taxis are a “no-no”
Taxi drivers know London’s streets like the back of their hand. But before you wave you hand to hail a taxi, there are two things you need to know. Black cabs are the safest yet priciest way to get around. Just in case you decide to treat yourself to a ride, make sure you haven’t picked a mini-cab instead of a black cab (taxi). Mini-cabs are not licensed to pick up passengers on the go. I guess you don’t want to be involved in a “Are you talkin’ to me?” sort of situation.
8. Know and respect Lon-don’ts
Sooner or later you will learn London’s do’s and don’ts. But why not save time? My tips, based on personal experience:
1. Don’t stare at people like you know them. It is rude, specially in Britain where social distance is worshipped like God.
2. When you use the tube escalator, don’t stand on the left side, unless you want to pick up your first British ‘bad’ words.
3. Don’t have your bag wide open when waiting and always keep your valuables (wallet, mobile etc) with you or out of sight. London is a crowded city, ideal for pickpockets. Well, if you do as advised there is nothing to worry about.
9. Safety comes first
On that note, I think it is good to know that London is one of the safest cities in the world. Of course, as the Brits say, better safe than sorry. In case of an emergency where you need to call the police, an ambulance or the famous London Fire Brigade, the magic number you need to call is “999”.
If you need to buy medicine, you can always search for the nearest pharmacy on website of the NHS, the national health service. But I do advise you to have with you a basic health kit when travelling to London. Note that the types of medication you need may have a different name in Britain. More than this, many drugs provided without prescription in your country may require one in London. So keep calm and get a health kit.
10. Where to eat? Where to shop?
You have been told that the food is awful in London. Not true. You can find all types of cuisine in London, a metropolis where more than one hundred languages are spoken and fish is cooked in a 1,000 ways. There are loads of quality cheap restaurants in the city. For food and grocery shopping you can always visit one of UK’s large supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. You will never be far away from one of their branches.
No matter how well prepared you are, there is nothing like the real thing. Like living and working in London. And that is part of the magic. There is only one emotion right now. Envy. Pure envy. If only I were you…
Have a safe trip. Everything will be fine & dandy.