04/06/2013

Moving to London: Dos and Don'ts



Yesterday I got a comment from a reader, Francesca, who asked if I had any tips for those who wish to do what I did and move to London. I'm happy to give advice to anyone who wants to come here - London is absolutely fantastic. It's everything you imagine and more. Nine months here and I still feel like it's the first day of a new love story.

 So, here's how I moved to London - and why you should, too.


DON'T move here on a whim.

Or, you know, sure, do it. I moved to Milan in 2005 with 200 euro in my pocket and zero plans. But I'd still advice against your first time coming to London being the time you actually move. For me personally, research was EVERYTHING. The London trip I took last April with David? That was research. We stayed in a really crappy hotel to see a crummy area of London and avoid being too "touristy". We had job interviews and discovered areas where we'd like to live. When we came back, our decision was pretty much made. Everything since then was dedicated to planning, job hunting, reading up on London life, talking to Londoners online and reading blog posts like this one. My advice is to really research and plan your move. This isn't the easiest city in the world and if you arrive with no money, no living arrangements and no job prospects, it's a huge load to take on. Not that it couldn't work out, it could. But you'll probably feel a lot less freaked out if you have at least the hint of a road mapped out. Plus, planning's so much fun!



DO expect bad weather...but not as bad as everyone says.

If you're moving from a warmer country, accept that there are upsides and downsides to living in a city like London. One of the downsides is that you're never again leaving your house without an umbrella in your bag. One of the upsides? That it doesn't rain nearly as much as everyone tells you! Right now, for example, the weather is stunning. I spent all afternoon today sitting on my balcony and working (on my projects, yes, but also on my tan!). So don't believe everything people say.



DO figure out where you're going to stay while flat-hunting.

While I was preparing the move, it got clear to me that finding a place to live WHILE we looked for a flat is harder than finding an actual flat. Unless you particularly like sharing your accommodation with up to 20 (!!) strangers of both sexes and paying almost as much as normal hotel guests do, avoid hostels. Really, I stand by this. Don't do it. I've had friends who've been threatened and had things stolen. Instead, go for Airbnb.com where you can rent a cheap room with nice people - that's how we met our very first London friends and stayed in the most amazing flat I've ever seen in my life. Or try couchsurfing - it's a great way to meet new friends and completely free! 



DON'T believe it when people claim this place is too expensive.

I'm a freelance writer and obviously quite poor. I live with a freelance guitarist and guitar technician who's not exactly rich either. And we totally enjoy this city and make the most of it. London has lots to offer on any budget. We spend as much on rent here (a shared flat where we have a big bedroom and the use of a smaller kitchen and two bathrooms) as we did in Milan (a studio flat), only here all bills are included and there's only a two-week deposit, whereas in Italy you have to pay up to six months' rent before moving in (seriously, who has that kind of money?). Food shopping sometimes costs less than Sweden, Italy and the US - those are the countries I've lived in before coming here, so that's what I compare to - and as for having fun, there's really something for everyone, whether you're a big spender or a penny-pincher. Example: a glass of wine in a really nice place has cost me £3,50 on several occasions. But there are exceptions: public transport. It's ridiculously expensive. And concerts and festivals, but they're ridiculously expensive in other countries as well.



DO job hunt like crazy and expect crazy competition.

When I first set out to move here, I knew finding good jobs would be tough. I was ready for that. What I was not prepared for was the insane level of competition, at least in my industry (editorial). I have repeatedly and repeatedly been in situations where I went for up to three interviews for a position that I was perfect for and was told, in the very last stage, that another candidate was "better suited" to the role. On other occasions, I applied for positions that were identical to my profile and never even heard back. Fortunately I've had the chance to work with some amazing clients, create an impressive CV for myself and love my freelance life in a whole new way that would never have happened in other cities I've lived in. Bottom line: you'll be rejected. You'll be discouraged. But it'll all work out and you'll learn a lot from it. Competition brings out the best in us and I actually think it's healthy.


DO choose your living arrangements carefully.

We were very lucky with our flat: a friend had just moved out and we got to move into her old room in zone 2, which was now vacant. Five days after our plane landed, we had a place to live! But not everyone's this lucky. If your search is longer, my advice is not to settle! Remember to visit the area your new flat is in by day and by night before saying yes: all areas of London are not made equal and it's important to feel safe in your new home. Also, if possible, make sure you get to know the flatmates (if any) before moving in. If you're turning up your nose at the thought of flat sharing, ask yourself if this is the city for you. Most people start out flat sharing in London - it's a great way to get to know people and save on rent. I know lots of thirtysomethings that share a flat here, it's not just a university thing. That said, we do have plans to move into our own flat as soon as we can afford a one-bedroom - David has three guitars and is constantly working on repairs, so we do need our space! Until then, we prefer sharing to living in a studio flat. But flat sharing isn't always easy...a "guide to flatmates" post is coming up, watch this space!


DON'T complain.

Living in the UK is going to be different to living in your home country. It does rain. The food you're used to isn't always available here. People aren't as chatty as in some Southern European countries. People work a lot and drink a lot. And undeniably there are things that cost more than what we're used to. But seriously: we're in the most amazing city on Earth, so go for a walk instead of complaining. See new things. Discover more. Find out more about your new home town. See a gig (they're not as pricey as the concerts!). Go to a free art show. Get to know your flatmates. Have some street food in Brick Lane. Go to Portobello market and get a new bag for £10. Go to a park and just hang out. See how many I came up with there, and it only took me three minutes? Imagine what you could do if you actually tried. This city is full of endless possibilities: don't let them slip away.

Any questions? Feel free to ask me!


Picture by me





43 comments:

  1. Sono d'accordissimo sul flat sharing. Quando mi sono trasferita a Milano sono andata a vivere con due sconosciute e una di loro rimane una mia carissima amica, con cui ci si vede e ci si sente nonostante non si viva più insieme.

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  2. Post interessantissimo! Nonostante io non viva a Londra ne abbia intenzione di trasferirmici ora (c'è solo il desiderio), l'ho trovato davvero utile! Grazie :)
    Lulu

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  3. Ah...your post made me miss living in London! Enjoy one of the most exciting cities in the world!

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  4. Grazieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

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  5. I have to say as a local(although no long living in the capital), this was a fantastic post and absolutely spot on! Could.Not.Agree.More.

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  6. Hi Sascha,
    As a young Irish lad (20) with virtually no money, no sense (except for adventure), and flights booked to London already, I found it really relieving to hear that you survived in Milan on 200 euro.
    I must say that it sounds like a very familiar tale.

    I was just wondering if you could tell me a bit more about how you survived in a foreign city on that small a budget? Any more tips for we of the empty-pocket variety? I literally have about 200 pounds sterling too.

    Very encouraging post, which is really nice to see.

    Yours,
    Mr.More-money-than-sense...and-not-a-lot-of-either.

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  7. Hello! I am moving to England soon. I was planning for London, however I'm very worried that my income won't be enough.
    So I guess I am asking, how much does it cost you to live in London? With rent, transportation, etc.
    I always heard people moving there, but I seem to forget that they usually have a good paying job.
    I do not..
    Thank you!

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    1. I'm so glad you wrote here as I am SO the right person to ask about "doing big things on a small budget". I don't have a good paying job now and I certainly didn't when I moved here! Me and David had virtually NO income when we first moved. Well, not entirely true. I did have a couple of freelance gigs. David had NO job. But what we did have is probably the only good thing about working in Italy: when our contracts in Milan ended, we were given a sum of money (you often are in Italy). Nothing huge - I got about £2500, but it helped us through the first weeks and months here.

      Here's the thing: living here does cost, BUT not as much as everyone tells you to scare you off. Transport costs so much it makes me want to cry a little bit every month. I pay £116 for a month's unlimited travel in zone 1 and 2. Rent, however, depends on where and how you will live. If you're worried about cash, then I guess there's NO way out: you will have to live in a flatshare. I do, and I'm a 30-year-old engaged woman! It's not always fun (well, in our flat it's practically never fun, but we have a big spacious room and everything is included) and can get complicated, but guess what, that's the choice you've got. Then, when you work your way up, you can say bye-bye to sharing and move into your own flat (I'll celebrate for a month when we finally can!!). Keep in mind that the further away you move (zone, 3,4) the more transport will cost. And as most of us are in zone 1 all the time anyway, for work or play, I'd recommend getting a flat in zone 1 or 2 and save on the transport cost and time.

      Food shopping doesn't have to cost too much if you know where to go, clothes shopping is beyond amazing even on a budget and fun things to do are everywhere, even for free. So I definitely think you should go for it! If it doesn't work out, you can always move back. But at least you tried!

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    2. WOW thank you so much! I wasn't expecting an answer so quickly and long!

      I usually would ignore all the 'London is so expensive never move there' stories, but recently I was reading one where a guy said he lives in a disgusting flatshare in zone 5,6 and how he can't afford anything more and he is stuck in London forever (since he cannot save money). Also how London is ugly and dirty unless you live in the 'too rich to afford' areas.
      It made me worried because it's not like me (or my husband) will have good paying jobs.
      I remember reading your stories on this blog site and thinking 'a person who moved on a low budget woo!' but then I wasn't sure maybe you and your fiancé make a ton of money in London now!
      Sighhh I'm rambling now.
      Anyway, thank you so much. You made me feel immensely better! I'll try to stick to zone 2 and won't get any fancy ideas for renting our own apartment for a while! Thank you so much for your quick response.
      I really love your blog and as soon as I'm out of the awful situation I am in now, you are really making me think about becoming a vegetarian!(baby steps).
      Congratulations on your new projects, and have a nice day!
      Thanks!



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    3. :D trust me, we do NOT make a lot of money! Quite the contrary, we're both freelancers (I'm a writer and he's a musician...not exactly the most lucrative careers)but the beauty of London and the UK is that it's full of possibilities and chances, and I'm earning much more as a freelancer now than I did with a full-time contract job in Italy! I can very much imagine things like this guy you're talking about: it happens. One of our friends lived in the world's most horrifying flat in Stratford and our flatshare's not exactly heaven. But still - I think this city offers immense possibilities, so it's possible to work your way up!

      It's awesome that you're thinking of going vegetarian! If you need any help, tips or advice on anything at all email me at sascha@coffee-and-heels.com. Have a good day :)

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  8. Thank you so much for this!! I feel the need to start over and London has been on my mind fooorrrrreeeevvvvvveeeerrrr!! I am in the US and I've read a couple of blogs that are REALLY intimidating with all the paperwork and money that was required. I would love to attend school there and making it home. Any additional advice?

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  9. Found this extremely useful! I live in England but I'm currently considering moving to London as I visited lately and fell in love. Read so many posts saying "don't do it" "it's too expensive" etc. So refreshing to read something positive and actually quite useful :)

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  10. Found this extremely useful! I live in England but I'm currently considering moving to London as I visited lately and fell in love. Read so many posts saying "don't do it" "it's too expensive" etc. So refreshing to read something positive and actually quite useful :)

    hcozens.blogspot.co.uk

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  11. Found this extremely useful! I live in England but I'm currently considering moving to London as I visited lately and fell in love. Read so many posts saying "don't do it" "it's too expensive" etc. So refreshing to read something positive and actually quite useful :)

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!! It surely is the most helpful advice I have come across regarding moving to London! I have also thinking of moving there quite some times now but have no idea where to start. So here comes my "technical" questions. If you are a freelancer, how did you even start a life there at the first place without a working visa? What kind of visa do you obtain? And if you don't mind me asking, without a social security number (national insurance number), how does a freelancer receive payment from their clients? I am sorry if my questions are a bit too personal, please don't take this the wrong way. It's difficult to find out all these without a resource! Thank you so much!!

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  13. Thank you soooo much for sharing your experience! This surely is the most useful advice I have found regarding moving to London. I have been thinking of moving there quite some times now but have no idea where to start. If you don't mind me asking, as a freelancer how did you start your life in London in the first place without a working visa? What kind of visa do you obtain? and without a social security number (national insurance number), how does a freelancer receive payment from the clients? I am sorry if my questions are a bit personal. Please don't take this the wrong way. It is very difficult to find out all these without a resource. :D

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  14. I am a writer turned law student graduating in a couple of months. I desperately want to move to London, but I am having an extremely difficult time finding work. I know the legal profession is dying in the U.S., but I thought some London investment firm would consider me valuable--I am taking (and passing) the NY Bar exam in February. I am brave enough to pack my bags and go, but I fear that without a job, I will end up being a street performer near the London Eye. Or, I will return to the U.S., stricken with disappoint, to only receive a warm welcome of "I-told-you-so" and "what-were-you-thinking" comments. In your experience, do you think it is best for me to move to London for six months and look for work there or keep trying to find a company to hire (and sponsor) me from here? Any information or assistance you provide is greatly appreciated.

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  15. I feel like adding to the conversation... I have lived in London for almost two years, and I had to go back to Italy recently (and a bit sadly).
    Finding a house and a job can be a little hard, but you need to be ready before you actually land in the country of fish and chips ;)
    Some suggestion on how I went through all of it:
    1. rent a room on Air BnB for the first 15 or 20 days. Then start looking for a room as soon as you get there (gum tree and such, but I've found that notes stuck on off licenses doors can be helpful too)
    2. Careful when you choose your area. London can be very dodgy. Always check before making a deal! I have lived in many areas, and I've found Muswell Hill/Colney Hatch Lane/Bound Green to be really ok and safe!
    3. If you don't have a 9-5 job do not buy a travel card. Use only buses. From the third travel on the ticket is free! (with your oyster card) and WALK! My last job in London was 20 minutes away and I always used to walk there. Kept me in super shape! XD
    4. Save money for concerts. Every band will come to London eventually, even your favorite! You don't want to be broke when it happens.

    Well these were little pieces of advice, I don't have tips for extra european people :( ANONYMOUS: we could get married, so I could move to America and you could move to Europe hahaha!

    SASCHA: porca miseria, dovevo scoprire questo blog quando ero a Londra! Ti avrei stalkerato fino ad ottenere un appuntamento hahah! Mi ritrovo in tutto quello che dici su questo blog e ti ammiro tantissimo per le tue scelte di vita! Ti ho trovato tramite the chic vegan perché sto approfondendo sulla questione vestiario sostenibile, ti ho anche commentato li! Bene, ora continuo a leggere tutto quello che trovo qui ;D

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  16. That sounds so amazing! I've debated moving to London for so long now! I would LOVE to do it...just so many things holding me back! Super frustrating...I should just DO IT! :)

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  17. What about the hassle that comes with securing a visa when you are moving from "across the pond?"

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  18. What about the hassle to secure a visa when your are moving from "across the pond?"

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  19. Hello Sascha!

    So, I'm currently 17 years old and in my Senior Year of High School in the States. I currently have traveled farther than a state away (approximately 300 miles away). It's currently December and I haven't applied to a single college yet due to some problems with taking my ACT and unfortunately my parents as well as my counselors don't really help me that much in figuring out the process to college at all. Currently, I feel like I just need a breather and life and experience it a little. That's why I was thinking about taking a gap year and traveling to London, England. It's such a stretch, and I feel like I won't have any help whatsoever from my friends, family, or teachers and I'm basically just lost at what to do and how I am to do it. I have all these ideas:

    1. Visit London on a visitor visa for approximately 6 months from September to about New Years.
    This requires a passport, applying for a visitors visa, and having enough cash to pass through the UK Border Agency. I need to get a job soon to get anywhere close to the amount of money required for anything in my future life.

    2. Applying for International Foundation Programme which allows me to take a a one-year course developed by Royal Holloway University of London to prepare international students for admission to our undergraduate degrees.
    I have no idea how much that cost. :S

    2. Attending Royal Holloway University of London straight away so I could stay longer and also get a great education near to the jobs I would like be involved in for my future (recording engineer).
    The rub of this is limiting my working hours to 20 hours a week since I'm a student, and the tuition fees seem to be between 10k to 15k pounds a year. Which Google tells me that's the equivalent to around $16k to $25k a year. That's more than both my parents make in a year in total. So, I require a student visa, a passport, and a whole lot of mula.

    3. Apply for New College of Florida where they might have a program to study abroad to London for a year.
    I don't think I have a high enough GPA or ACT score to even be admitted to that College. I'm trying to improve right now.

    4. Stay here in my small town and do nothing with my life

    I've diminished to less description and more rambling. I just wish I had a guide through life. Sorry, teen-becoming-an-adult-and-having-absolutely-no-clue-what-she's-going-to-do-with-her-life-and-how-she's-going-to-do-it crisis.

    Thanks for letting me vent. Aha.

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  20. Hey! I have a question for you...I just read in your "about" section that you're a fearless yogini - that's awesome. My question is this: I live in West London (Fulham) and my husband and I are also on a very tight budget as I'm not working for the moment. I love yoga but have actually had to get myself into debt to practice! You see, we live in a small room in a shared flat and there is literally ZERO space to practice, plus I still need a teacher at this point. I've gone to Alchemy (now Sadhaka) in Camden, Evolve in South Kensington and the dreadful Life Centre in Notting Hill but they're all SO expensive. Just wondering...can you suggest anywhere else that's not too far away from me? Thanks!

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  21. I love it! I'm studying abroad in London and I'm kind of nervous. I love this blog entry. Thank you (:

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  22. Thank you! I feel better about studying abroad now. (:

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  23. I love it! I'm studying abroad in London and I'm kind of nervous. I love this blog entry. Thank you (:

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  24. Great post.. realistic but encouraging for people trying to move over

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  25. Oh wow, this is great! My fiance just linked me to your blog and I will be reading it very very often as we are headed there next month! Nerves are beginning to show themselves but we're pretty excited as well! =)

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  27. This is awesome; thank you so much for your tips! I plan to move to London in about two years (saving up and earning my Master's degree in the meantime). My biggest concern, though, is how to obtain a visa. I've heard it can be difficult to do so when just going moving to work there. What was your experience like, and what tips would you have to offer?

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  28. dont forget if your not a pretty girl like the poster IGNORE EVERYTHING she just said ! http://www.coffee-and-heels.com/logout?d=http://www.blogger.com/logout-redirect.g?blogID%3D5328129850417125498%26postID%3D8484923994324978249

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    1. Ok, um, hello. I don't know if you're someone that sent me an email and I didn't reply (I'm sorry, my gmail broke down) or you just dislike me in general, but it would be great if you'd come off Anonymous and elaborate on this?

      Oh and thanks for calling me pretty.

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  29. Hey!

    I was just wondering if you needed a visa to go? Because I really want to move to London, but I fear getting a visa, especially when I don't have a job skills they're particularly looking for.

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  30. Hi!

    I was wondering if you needed a visa for your move. I've been seriously thinking about moving to London for the last few years, but I don't really have the job skills or education they're looking for for permanent residences. So, what was your experience in acquiring a visa, if you did get one.

    Thanks!

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    1. Hi Brittany! No, as a EU citizen I didn't need a visa and unfortunately I can't help people from outside the EU with visa information since I know too little about it. When I lived in the US, I had a student visa and the application process was long, tortuous and annoying. But hey, in the end, I had my visa! I think you should check with the UK embassy in your country and ask them what the visa policies are.

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  31. hello, one quick question if you don't have any degrees are you going to make it??

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    1. One quick answer: it depends!

      Depends on what it is that you want to do and what the competition looks like in your field! Overall, I tend to say that if you're talented and determined, you're going to make it. But it really depends on your chosen field.

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  32. Thank you so much for posting this!! I visited Europe last summer for a month and absolutely fell in love with London! Actually England in general, I stayed in Dunstable for awhile, Liverpool, and attended Glastonbury before staying in London. But what I am wondering is, did you have any problem moving there? I'm from the states, and we always give people such a hard time that try to move here. Did you have to secure a job first? Or did you have any problems with customs? I'm DEFINITELY planning on moving there as soon as possible, I just wanted to know if I had to obtain a work visa or their equivalent of some sort of green card before doing so. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!! xx

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  33. Thank you so much for posting this!! I visited Europe last summer for a month and absolutely fell in love with London! Actually England in general, I stayed in Dunstable for awhile, Liverpool, and attended Glastonbury before staying in London. But what I am wondering is, did you have any problem moving there? I'm from the states, and we always give people such a hard time that try to move here. Did you have to secure a job first? Or did you have any problems with customs? I'm DEFINITELY planning on moving there as soon as possible, I just wanted to know if I had to obtain a work visa or their equivalent of some sort of green card before doing so. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!! xx

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  34. Now I experience it's about here we are at me to describe myself. I am a Danish resident. I have been residing five decades in Dublin. During now I have had three different salesperson jobs.

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  35. I am planning to move to London in the summer, once I have finished studying! I'm really excited and slightly nervous. I have a few friends who live in London so it should make it less scary (hopefully!). This is a great little post just to start to think about the move. Thank you

    Taylor // www.noelbeauty411.com

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  36. Hey, this blog is fantastic and such a great find!

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    Apply online via www.ays.co.uk/apply

    Be interviewed, trained and employed within a week!

    ReplyDelete

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