Since I receive emails almost every day asking me advice and tips on moving to London, I thought I'd put together a little Q&A on how to move here, what to keep in mind and what to expect from your first months in London. My first piece of advice if you're planning to move is DO IT. London is a fantastic city and, even if it's quite a difficult city to start out in, it's still worth a try if your heart is set on making it. Here are the answers to some of the questions I'm regularly asked:
1. How do I get a visa?
I have no idea, sorry! I'm from a EU country and don't require a visa, so I can't help you with that. My best bet would be to visit the UK embassy in your country and ask about visas.
2. How do I find a flat?
By looking on Gumtree.co.uk, Primelocation.co.uk or Rightmove.co.uk. If you're into flat sharing (and I believe during the first months in London you will be, as there aren't many other affordable ways to live), then I'd also check out Spareroom.co.uk.and Easyroommate.co.uk.
Finding a flat is usually quick and easy - finding a good flat can take longer. Don't give any money to anyone without having seen the flat first. Ever. Make sure you meet the people you're going to be sharing with - but keep in mind that, lovely as they are, they might move out a month later and all new people could move in (it happened to us and the new people are...well, let's just say things have changed around here, from a "clean the bathroom and take out your damn trash" point of view). My personal advice is also to stay away from agencies: all they do is take your money. You should never pay for viewing a flat. Deposits are about a month to six weeks, bills are included if you're very lucky!
Get to know the area well. Nice areas could be very close to not so nice ones. Make sure you visit by day AND by night before moving (a great piece of advice given to me by a friend who used to live here).
3. How do I find a job?
Find out what the job-search sites for your field are and check them every day for ads. As a fashion writer, I look at gorkanajobs.com/journalist, fashionmonitor.co.uk and fashionjobs.co.uk. Try and stand out in your cover letter - there are literally thousands of other people wanting to do exactly what you want to do and most of them are from the UK, with local experience (which IS an advantage, even if everyone will try to tell you otherwise). Send out LOTS of applications, all of them amazing. Make sure your CV lists your achievements in your previous positions, not just what you were doing all day. On interviews, be very professional - be friendly but not overly so. And always follow up with thank you notes!
If you're just coming over to learn English and want a job that's easier to find, try all the Starbucks/Costa Coffees/Caffe Neros everywhere by sending your application on their websites (going around and asking with your CV in hand will only work in pubs and shops, and not even all the shops - H&M, Zara and Primark are only a few that want you to send your application in online).
Important: your friends that already live in London can't "find you a job" or even a flat. They can help you, but you need to look for these things yourself. Sad but true.
4.What if I don't know any English?
Then it should be your primary concern to learn, as quickly and thoroughly as you can. Thinking that you can move here with a very basic knowledge of English and bag a great job is like planning to move here and marry Prince Harry - it could happen, but it's highly unlikely and pinning all your hopes on it is a bit too risky. London is the second most competitive city in the world - that's on the entire planet, people - so you need at least the basic skill that the rest of the population has to work here. Even at Starbucks. How to learn? Read on...
5. How do I learn English?
There are tons of free courses! David is studying something called EFA (English for Action) and he really likes it. You do need English to live here - you get turned down for lots of jobs if your English isn't good enough (yes, I know there are lots of people who work the till in banks who have heavy accents and everyone at Primark speaks with an Indian accent, but I assure you that they know English and understand you when you talk. If you don't understand them, it's your problem, not theirs). Accents aren't easy to learn - even the English don't always understand each other! - and the best way, aside from a class, is just to tak a lot. To actual English people, not just your Brasilian roommate or Spanish colleague. The British aren't an easy people to get to know, but after a year and three months, we do have some British friends here. We've met most of them through other friends, so socialise as much as you can - it will help your English too!
6. What is the National Insurance Number?
It's something you need to get as soon as you arrive - if you're from the US, it's like having a Social Security number, in Italy it's like the Codice Fiscale and in Sweden we call it Personnummer (I don't know other countries, sorry!). Call a Job Centre and ask where to go and get yours, it depends on where you live. We went to Camden Town to get ours.
7. What about transport?
When I just came here, I didn't understand why everyone hated Transport for London so much. Now, I completely do. It's a great transport system - there are always ways of getting to where you want to go - even at 3 in the morning. But it's so darn expensive, people. Get an Oyster Card as soon as you step off the plane - it will reduce costs, but you'll still cry when topping up because it just eats away at your salary. Important: if you find a flat in zone 4 with a cheap rent, I hope your job is in zone 3 or 4 - otherwise, if you work in zone 1, you'll be paying much more for transport. Basically, the further you get from zone 1, the pricier it gets.
8. I have a dog/cat. How can I take him/her with me?
A girl I know brought her dog from Milan - by train and boat. As far as I know, you can't fly to the UK with animals. You have to get your puppy or kitty a passport, a rabies shot and a few other shots and check-ups. Ask your vet. There are flats that allow pets, even if they aren't many. Check with your landlord.
9. Why am I not finding a job?
You're not trying hard enough. Your English is bad. You commit rookie mistakes such as putting your photo on your CV. You don't follow up. Your cover letter is bland.
If you're not doing any of these, then I'll tell you what I've been told: you're awesome, it's just really freaking competitive over here. Keep at it and keep at it and keep at it some more. We'll all get there (hey, I've been offered three permanent jobs that I've turned down because they didn't pay enough, but I believe that a good offer will come along. Until then, I'll just keep freelancing).
10. What's the worst thing I can do?
In my honest and humble opinion: get here, stay for a few months, then decide to go back because "things aren't the way I expected them to be". If you hate it, fine. But if you think you won't find the right job or flat or boyfriend - give it one more try. You'll be glad you did! Then again, I already mentioned that this is a highly competitive city and if you hate that, then maybe you'll be happier somewhere else. At the very least, go to an entirely new place instead of returning. Don't look back: move ahead.
If you have any questions or just want to chat, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!