A short guide to moving to London

What do you need to do if you’ve recently moved to London, one of the greatest cities in the world?

Quintessentially London, Big Ben, London Eye, Double Decker buses
Quintessentially London: Big Ben, London Eye, Double Decker buses, and cloudy skies.

I recently moved to London from Amman, Jordan. While I had lived in Toronto before (for almost 6 years), I never had to deal with the hard part of setting up a life on my own. Nor had I ever been living in a country on a visa/permit. I moved to London in December, a few days before Christmas (side note: I’m almost positive it’s the worst time of the year to move, so avoid it if you can!)   I’m going to cut to the chase. Here’s a handy list of things you need to do when you move to London:

1) Search for a place to live!

Unless you’re planning on spending your entire salary on rent, don’t dream too much of a nice living space such as the one pictured. Standards = lower them now.

The living room pictured above looks lovely, but don’t expect to live in something similar in London…unless you’re loaded. Because of the high demand and the many people moving to London every single day, space is very limited and will cost you a pretty penny. There are a bunch of sites where you can search for a place to live. Most people share flats in London – especially if you want to live centrally, as rent is quite high – but some sites also list non-sharing options like studios and 1-bed apartments.

Spareroom – this is the site I’ve used most often in the 3 times that I’ve moved in London so far.

I was also recommended a site called EasyRoommate, but that was a horrible experience and I wouldn’t personally recommend it, but that’s up to you to try and then decide.

Also, I strongly recommend that you visit the flat you want to rent before you sign any lease. Without exaggeration, 100% of the photos on all of those sites are not an accurate representation of what you’re getting. I was not personally able to see the flat I first rented before paying a deposit, but I had a friend check it out for me before I got to London. This is crucial, otherwise, you would get stuck with a place that’s most likely not up to par.

Tip: A lot of the time, rent is listed by week. If you want to calculate how much you’ll pay per month, don’t just multiply that number by 4 as you’ll get an inaccurate sum. What you have to do is multiply by 52 (weeks of the year) and then divide by 12 (months of the year). Also, watch out for if bills and other expenses are included or not. 


2) Set up a bank account.

Simpler times.
Simpler times.

A lot of the things that I needed to do were hindered by my lack of a bank account. I couldn’t set up any bills, couldn’t fill out a few applications…etc. You have to set up an appointment with the bank before they can open an account for you; it’s not a walk-in kind of thing. I personally went with Barclays, as they were the fastest, closest branch, and did not charge a monthly fee for an account. HSBC has options for expats as well, and charge around 8 pounds/month for an account. There are documents you need to bring to the appointment; usually a utility bill showing your name and address, and proof of identification. This also depends on your nationality, as some restrictions are waived; because I’m Canadian, I didn’t have to present anything other than my passport, so it’s handy to check what their requirements are for your nationality.


3) Council Tax

Once you’ve found a place to live, you need to apply for Council Tax. There are exemptions dependent on your status (i.e. single, student…etc), and you can find all of it here. Some places list Council Tax as part of the rent, especially if you’re sharing, but if you’re renting a studio or 1-bed flat more often than not it’s not included and you have to pay it separately.


4) Water Bill

Again, mostly included if you’re sharing a space, but if the flat if registered to you then you have to register an account with Thames Water (the only water supplier). It’s really easy to just call them, tell them the date you moved in, and they’ll send you a bill. Some places are metered, and some are rateable and invoiced every quarter. All info here.


5) Register for energy

There are quite a few companies: EDF Energy, Eon, npower, and British Gas. You can ask your landlord which supplier already supplies your flat, if you don’t want to move suppliers, or you can easily move accounts by calling a new supplier and setting up an account. I found this process to be the most tedious of all the things I had to register for, though I’m sure it’s not usually so.


6) Most important of all: INTERNET!

Accurate visual depiction of my relationship with the internet.

The best option (if your area covers it) is fibre optic broadband as you don’t have to pay for a landline phone installation or line rental each month. Sky, BT, Virgin and TalkTalk are all good. These are great comparison sites which lay out the price and speed options uswitch, broadbandgenie, and broadbandchoices. Once you have found a package, call the company directly. Some advice: book an appointment as early as you can, as these companies tend to drag their feet for some reason.


7) One more glorious bill to pay: TV license 

Even if you don’t have a premium cable TV subscription, if you have a TV at home and you’ve turned it on, you need to pay for a TV licence. The TV system in the UK is a little different than the US/Canada. It’s not dependent on ads, and the BBC is publicly funded. How you say? By this TV licence. It’s £150 per year (paid monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, or annually), and is registered to your name, so even if you move flats, it doesn’t matter. Register here.


8) National Insurance

If you plan on working in the UK, you need to apply for a National Insurance number. All details are listed here. The simplified version? You need to call this number 08456000643 and get them to send you a form. Once you receive it, fill it out and send it back. They either send you back your NI number in the post, or you have to attend an appointment with an advisor. I was lucky and just got the number back in the mail.


Above all else: Visa!

Do NOT mess with the visa system in the UK. If you are working here, you need to be on a work visa (Tier 2). I know of someone that was told – by a lawyer, no less – that he could work full time after he completed his studies in the UK and ended up being banned from the UK for two years! You can also work, up to 20 hours, on a student visa (Tier 4) while you’re completing your course. There are some other special visas, all of which you can find here: UK Border Agency. The process of applying for a Tier 2 visa is quite tedious, but obviously worth it, IMHO. Most of all, you need to find a sponsor, and you need to be specialised in a field that the UK Border Agency lists for approval because you need to apply with a SOC code (Standard Occupational Classification) on your application.


And that is my short guide to moving to London. I hope it helps whoever is wanting to or is in the process of moving to London. If I’ve missed anything, please let me know….and happy moving!

2 thoughts on “A short guide to moving to London

  1. Rachel says:

    Great overview of the minutinae of relocating within the UK.

    This former immigrant thanks you for highlighting the need to do things by the book regarding visas. The rules change with alarming frequency (fee increases are the only constant no matter the ruling party) and what the lawyer thought he knew may have even been true at one point. Anyone wanting to immigrate needs to do their homework–many straightforward cases won’t require professional help, but plenty do.

    Enjoy life in London!

    1. Reine Gammoh says:

      Thank you for your comment Rachel 🙂

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