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!
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