Flying from Barcelona to London was one of those contrasting experiences, like comparing apples to oranges. I left a city with sunshine and warm weather, full of smiling faces, free spirits and affectionate relationships, to a grey, cold city with a culture that plays it safe in a rather reserved, stand offish and polite English manner. The grey skies didn’t give it away, I could have been landing anywhere on a dreary rainy day. The earliest indication that reminded me I was in England was the cheery immigration officer who welcomed us kindly. That and the automated voice on the train line stating next stop ‘Clapham Junction.’ I was thinking to myself, even the train lady’s generic message sounds ‘proper’ in that accent.
While this wasn’t my first time in London, it was the first time that I landed here with the intention of staying. It was an interesting feeling arriving in a city, with nothing but intuition on how it would unfold. Jack and I didn’t know where were going to live or work. We just knew that we were committed to trying out London life, with hope that it would work out well. Fortunately for us, I had a star of a friend (Zoe) willing to take us in for a few days until we found our feet.
Admittedly, it took more than a few days to find out feet. It took more like 2 months. With a bit of bad luck and a few administrative complications, we were put on the back foot from the start. Then came job hunting and the world of recruiters, followed by the house hunt and the complicated, rather painful process of getting a bank account.
But after some blood, sweat and tears (yes I said tears) we found our way and managed to settle into the London life in a relatively graceful manner. Phone number, check! Job, check! House, check! Bank Account, check, check!
After some patience and resilience, I can finally start exploring this city and surrounding areas from a local tourist perspective. But first, I would like to share some information about the process of moving to the UK – an expat survival guide so to speak.
Visa Application Process
Applying for the visa is the easiest part of the process. There are two readily available Visas for those living in specified countries, including Canada and Australia, such as the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa (2 years) and the Ancestry Visa (5 years). While certain credentials apply, if you’re under 30, it is quite easy to get it. Apply at least 6 months before you intend to be in the UK. You can find the steps here https://www.gov.uk/tier-5-youth-mobility or https://www.gov.uk/ancestry-visa. Once you arrive the country, you will have a designated address to pick up your BRP card, which is proof that you are eligible to work in the UK and is required to set up a bank account / job.
Phone & SIM
You phone is the first thing to set up after arriving. There are several phone companies to choose from with good plans and packages. One of the cheapest and most common companies for expats is called Three. This company caters to those looking for short-term contacts, pay as you go options and data plans for overseas travel.
This is one of the most challenging and tedious tasks to be done, setting up a bank account. Many of the banks require a utility bill or bank statement with your address on it, which is a bit backwards because you have to get a job to be able to get a house, but to get a job you need a bank account. Confused yet? So was I. Fortunately, there are Bank applications available that can be used temporarily (Monese and Revolut) until you find a legitimate bank. I went with HSBC, but a lot of people go with Lloyds.
We got really lucky in this department. Firstly, I had a friend to stay with for the first few days when we arrived, and afterwards had a volunteer placement lined up with workaway, which is basically a program where you stay with someone for free in exchange for some help around the house. This allowed us to get our administrative tasks done and conveniently provided an address to send documents to. However, if you need a short-term rental or long-term rental, the best place to look is spareroom.co.uk.
The Job Search
Forget applying online or contacting companies directly, London is all about the recruitment agencies. There is certainly no shortage of jobs, and no shortage of Recruiters looking to make some commission off finding you a job. I suggest researching various recruitment companies that find placements in your specific industry. Some agencies include, We Are Aspire, C & C Search, and Michael Page. Don’t be afraid to follow up with your recruiters. It’s easy to get lost in the pipeline.
London is an exciting, busy, bustling city, and that can take some getting used to. Everything from the cars, to the crowds, to the queues to the sometimes deafening sounds on the Tube. I spent nearly two years exploring beaches, mountains and jungle landscapes, so coming to London was slightly overwhelming. Not to mention the grey skies and short days. The sun seemingly hides behind the clouds most of time and that can be really challenging. Allow and accept a period of adapting to your environment. Most of us need it! I have noticed that taking a moment to sit with myself in nature (like a park or open space) acknowledging my surroundings helps ground me. We can always find a way back to ourselves, if we take space to do it.
Overall, I feel excited and privileged to be living in the UK, and London specifically. I value moving to new places and experiencing different cultures, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. For anyone moving or living in London already, I hope you find these tips useful. Resilience pays off! Remember that.
Thanks for reading!