I get many emails asking me for tips on how to move to London. I tend to be very encouraging, partly because of this and partly because I genuinely believe that moving to London is very doable for most people. But, and this is an important but, this city is far from easy (or welcoming!) and I'm not here to let people believe that moving here is all kittens, roses and Starbucks frappuccinos.
To get an accurate view of how London life can be, see this. Making it here is difficult and the day-to-day battles can be soul-destroying, no matter what your definition of 'making it' is. London life is incredibly rewarding, but getting to the rewards can take time, sweat and evenings spent crying on your couch in the cold because you can't afford the heating bill. And on that note, I'm here to answer a question that has been asked in several emails and comments: can I move to London with no money?
A while ago I gave some tips to a young man on moving to London by recalling my first months in Milan, which were far from a piece of cake. I stand by my word - I think it's better to jump than to stay on the edge and be sorry. And history is full of examples of people that started with nothing and reached their dreams, or at least came very close. So if there's nothing keeping you in your home town and you have a clear vision of the future you'd like to create for yourself here, I say go for it.
Keep in mind that the person I had advised this to was Irish. Moving to England is a much smaller and less scary step for an Irish citizen than someone from, say, the US. This guy was fluent in English, obviously, and appeared to have a clear idea of what London was going to be like.
But then there is a whole different category of people. A few months ago I came in contact with a friend of a friend who wanted to move here from his tiny Mediterranean home town. He spoke no English, had never been to the UK before and was quite desperate for money (he wanted to sell his home to move to a country he'd never even set foot in!). I advised him to take an English class, come to London on holiday first and then, if his heart was still in it, save some money and come over. He did not take this very well - apparently I had crushed his dream, while all I was trying to do was to encourage him to do things the sensible way, not to stay at home!
Moving to London with no money is a risky gamble. When I say this, what I mean is not 'forget about it' - just be aware that it is a risky gamble. When I moved to Milan with no money I found myself living in sketchy apartments, relying on people I barely knew to take me out to dinner and when that wasn't happening, eating half a sandwich in a whole day. I came in contact with dangerous people and people that wanted to take advantage of me. Yes, I did end up choosing between job offers, but the road there was anything but easy and least of all safe. If you are a young girl on your own with no money, please be conscious of the risks.
I also get the question 'what are the chances of finding a job' a lot. To be completely honest, I never have enough information to answer this. I don't know your background, I have no idea about job opportunities in your industry and I don't know what kind of job you are looking for. No blogger can tell you this, unless you are asking someone who works in your industry. My advice would be to find someone who has the kind of job you can see yourself having and ask them for any guidance (I cold-called someone at GLAMOUR a month after moving here to ask for tips). I would gladly answer questions about jobs in fashion, editorial jobs and freelancing, but that's about as far as my expertise goes.
My game plan for those who want to live the London life but lack the funds (for now):
Visit London. David and I spent a long weekend here a couple of months before moving. We went on job interviews, got a hotel in zone 3 just to see what 'real London' was like and tried to get a good idea of what it would be like to live here.
Research your chosen industry. Whether you're planning to become a City broker or a Costa barista, do your homework. This means finding forums and message boards for expats and talking to people from your country that have moved here. This means talking to people that work in your industry (yes, email a Costa barista and ask them some questions!). This means looking at job ads for your dream job and checking how you match up.
Learn English. Everything that you read on this blog can best be described as my personal views and experiences, but there is one objective truth that I have to share with you: coming over here with no English skills is career suicide. You will not get any job worth the name if you can't express yourself in English - sad, but true. You don't have to talk like an Oxford professor, but you do need to be able to sustain a job interview. Even a telephone one.
Save some money. Not a lot. I'm talking a month or two months' worth of rent and bills, just to avoid taking dodgy jobs and living in seriously creepy places. If you're working a dead-end job in your home town, view it as an investment in your new London life: work your butt off, get that cash and jump on a plane.
Obviously there are exceptions to this. I was offered a job in a fancy five-star hotel in Milan after moving with €200 in my pocket, I know of people that have moved to Oslo and thrive there without speaking a word of Norwegian and one of our first London friends came here looking for a job as a lawyer and ended up creating a whole new career for himself as a teacher. Even so, don't pin all your hopes on being the exception. Planning ahead will give you confidence and security, which increases your chances of not being the person who ends up moving back home after a month because they've ran out of cash (you don't want to be that person). What's more, it can keep you out of trouble, out of working miserable jobs and out of seriously dodgy living situations. My spontaneous side is kicking me in the butt for typing this right now, but it's the cold hard truth: being prepared pays off.