Friday, October 16, 2009

Moving to London?

It seems like 'tis the season for expats moving to London. I've had two seperate conversations with people this week who are moving here and in the course of answering some of their questions have realized that though I talk 'around' some of these things in my blog, I've never directly come out and stated a few things I've figured out since being here.

In the spirit of one of the reasons I started this blog, it's never too late to disclose my top 'hindsight 20/20' thoughts on the topic. So, in no particular order, if you're moving to London, here are my tips/thoughts-for what it's worth...

1. Furniture...Most flats in London come furnished-even down to the toaster & tea kettle & utensils. So, unless you simply have a piece of furniture you *can't live without*, I'd strongly encourage you to sell it/give it away/store it...something. Just don't bring it. Aside from possibly not needing it, it may be too big to even fit! :) An American Queen size bed=a British King size bed, and many flats are multi-level non-elevator. Think about how difficult it was just to get your Queen mattress into your 3rd floor apartment in the US-that accomodates larger things. Now, cut that hallway width in half, add a few turns up the stairs, and imagine trying to cut the corners. It can't be done.
If, for some crazy reaon you end up in a flat that isn't furnished, I have one simple word: Ikea.
2. Appliances...Regardles of what the label says it will accomodate-in terms of voltage-very few US appliances will properly function/charge here in the UK. The only thing I've been able to use without any problems (though I have had to use both a plug & voltage converter) is my Wii and my Blackberry charger (though again, I've had to use a plug converter). Leave everything else at home. Yes, especially the TV-voltage aside, US TVs will simply not receive a picture in the UK. Also...if you're keen on bringing your US DVDs, know that you will need to buy a DVD player here that is either 'multi-region' or can be programmed to play DVDs from just the UK.
3. Prams (Strollers)....People here seem to use prams for one of three reasons (sometimes all at the same time): to transport their children, to transport their shopping, or as a weapon. I somewhat joke about the last one. Only somewhat...
Nonetheless, unlike in the US, where it is expected that past just a few years, kids will toddle around when they're out with their parents, the reality in London is it's not possible. Sidewalks are too crowded/unstable, people are too agressive, and ultimately, children will be too slow. So, people here seem perfectly fine continuing to use a pram even when toting around a child of 4 or even 5 (at least, a few look this old). My point is, if you're moving here with children under the age of 5-and planning to live *in* London, you may seriously want to consider bringing your stroller.
4. One of the best information resources for financial, utility, shopping, coupons, deals...anything: Money Saving Expert. Find the website and save it as a favourite. You will want & need to refer to it often!
5. Shoes...Unless you will have a car here, or won't be walking 3+ miles a day...leave your heels at home. I'm not talking stilettos. I'm talking anything over a one-inch heel-perhaps two for special occasions. You will simply ruin your feet. I brought a pair of wedge shoes with me that were comfortable. Right. Comfortable in the US when I drive and park two blocks from the building I'm going in. Not when I'm in London and have 2 blocks to walk just to get to my nearest tube. Save the space in your closet-and your feet.
6. Mobile phones. Unless you're going to have a phone provided/paid for by your employer, don't bother getting a contract. 18 month contracts are the norm here-you can find some 12 month contracts, but it's rare, and more expensive. And really, as cheap as a pay as you go SIM card is, you'd be hard pressed to save any money by going on a contract. Also, you can't get a contract unless you have a UK debit card/bank account (more on that in a moment..).
5. Coffee. Sadly, it breaks my heart to say this: Starbucks in the UK is no bueno. On a normal day in the US, a drip coffee from Starbucks would do me just fine. But, flavour palates here are different, and as such, SBUX drip here is pretty awful. Save yourself and just pay a few pence more and get an Americano. Also, if you tend to like your coffee a bit strong-skip the Starbucks (oh, the pain...) and go to Nero. Nero is another coffee chain here who makes the best coffee-for a chain...
6. Banking...For the love of god: if you're transferring with your employer, DEMAND that they help you get sorted with your bank account-AND a credit card. If possible, even prior to your arrival here. You will simply not be able to funciton without a UK bank account-there are many things (mobile contract, montly gym membership, etc...) that you can't even get without a UK debit card. And credit cards?....Get one if you can at the time you're getting your banking sorted. It will help build up your credit rating here-should you decide to stay for any lenght of time.
If possible, work to have your bank applications started-and completed before your final deparure to the UK. And, most importantly: your first ATM/Debit card and Credit Card will have to be signed for upon delivery-not that you know when it's going to be delivered. So, unless you work at home every day: have the card either sent to your local bank branch or to your work address. Trust me on this one. I had to learn the hard way.
7. Banks...not to be confused with 'Banking'...I personally bank with NatWest. Wasn't my choice-it was who my employer had the relationship with. But, hindsight and choice allowed?...I would suggest Barclay or HSBC. They're a bit more 'global', and I think provide better features than NatWest. But, beggars can't be choosy.
8. Getting around...if you're not fortunate enough to have a phone that has either built in GPS or you've been able to download some type of GPS application, get yourself an AtoZ" (prounounced A to Zed). It's a tiny book of all London roads-indexed. It was invaluable for my first year here in being able to get around. You should be able to grab them in any book store-or online at (hint, hint.. ;)).

OK. That's the brain dump. I'm sure that's not it. Likely a few more things will come to mind, and once I've save up, I'll post again.


  1. You forgot to mention tube etiquette.

  2. This was beyond helpful! Thanks for your post on my blog - nice to 'meet' you. I've been bugging my friends in London about so many things. I don't know how I'm going to manage without my Kitchen Aid appliances. So many changes I just can't even think about it! Mind if I bug you as time draws closer to our move? I appreciate the ugly truth! - Erin

  3. I just stumbled across your blog and have to say I am going to really enjoy checking in on you are living my dream! Both my husband and I would give anything to sell everything and move there! We are thinking about it seriously but have quite a few years before it would be truly possible, just hope were not too old by then! hehehe! We live in Orlando, FL now and just thought I'd say I am really looking forward to reading your posts!

  4. My wife, 2 kids (5yr old boy, 2 yr old girl) and myself are moving to london january 2010. We'll be there for 18 months - 2yrs. I plan on bringing my 2 flat screen LCDs, do you know if they will work in London?

    Also, as far as cell phone and internet connectivity, what is the best way to go?

  5. Hi Teddy,
    Sorry to say, but you'll need to leave your TVs in the US. UK Reception is for PAL TVs and US TVs are all (to my knowledge, though you may want to double check your TVs) NTSC. You won't get picture/sound on your US TVs here.
    Cell phones...depends on your needs-ie just phone, or web-access. iPhone or not...I'd encourage you to check out for a ton of tools you can use to compare/contrast the differnet Cell phone providers & Plans. I personally use T-Mobile (I have a Blackberry..), and haven't had many problems-at least, no more than usual.
    Internet...I had standard wireless at my first flat, and it was OK. I'm using Mobile Broadband now. Personally, I prefer the Mobile Broadband, but the wireless access was part of a total communications package in which I got landline access-and 'free' calls to the US included. Depends on your needs. I do like the Mobile Broadband-and it's not expensive. Again, Money Saving Expert can provide a ton of info to help you compare/contrast the different options.

    Good luck with your move!

  6. Hi! Also moving to London in January, but I lived there a year before teaching. I am single, and wondered what dating site you used? A goal of mine is to hit the dating sites hard once I get settled there again (easier than the first time because I have friends there still and have lived in London before). Advice for me to meet nice men in London?

  7. Why haven't you blogged of late? WTF? Oh and for the above poster. I'm a nice man. Very nice. With nice hands and everything.

  8. @Ann,
    Congrats on your impending move to London!
    It goes without saying that I'm a fan of Guardian Soulmates. The Guardian is one of the more liberal newspapers in London, and cheesy name of their dating websites aside, seemed to have the largest selection of men I'd be interested in. :) here, from what I understand is an bigger meat market than in the US. Of course, if that's what you're looking for, problem solved! You may even have the pleasure of finding Kay on the website... ;)

  9. hi Kristina,

    Thanks for sharing your advices for the ones who are considering moving to London from LA.

    My husband is a UK Citizen living in US for the past 20 years. We just feel it will be a good idea for the kids to grow up in a different cultural environment and moving to UK seems like a good idea. My kids are 6 and 2. I was just wondering how did you decide on a neighborhood to live in and how do you know which school district is a good option.

    I am getting many conflicting infos so it will be great if you can also shed some light :) thanks!

  10. @Sonia, I decided where to live largely based on ease of getting to work-and balancing that with what I could afford & where I'd simply want to live! :) I think I may have also mentioned this in another blog post about moving to London, but hindsight 20/20, proximity to tube lines-preferrably more than one for weekend travel would be a consideration now.

    WRT kids?...I haven't a clue. No kids, or intention to have means I don't know the first thing about what to do with them! :) You may want to check out a blog from an expat buddy called 'Cross The Pond-listed in my blogroll. She's 2 children, one of which will be school-age in a few years; perhaps she can shed some light on the topic.

    Good luck!

  11. Hi are you still blogging? My husband, dog and I are moving to London from southern California in September 2012 and need all the help we can get from where we can find places to live that will accept our 75lbs dog to what websites Londoners use that's the equivalent of Craigslist where I may be able to connect with a temp agency for work. We'll only be there for 1 year and I'd like to do something similar if not the same to what I currently do which is Commercial Property Management. Thanks!

    1. Hi there!

      I'll be honest...I don't know much about pets in London. I've not had one-and I don't know anyone that does. The one friend I had who moved here decided to leave her two cats at home as it was virtually impossible to find a place in zones 1-2 that would allow them. A quick search on Google nets a fair few results, and this one may be helpful:

      In all honesty, for the pain of finding a place to live & the quarantine process, if you truly only plan to stay for one year, I might suggest leaving your dog at home.

      Wish I could be more help.


  12. Hello!

    I am a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania and will be moving to London in September 2012 for a semester abroad. Do you have any estate agents you would recommend. I know about gumtree and foxtons, but those don't seem like the best sites for finding a good place to live. I would like to stay in zone 1 though.

    Any recommendations would be helpful!

    Thanks and great blog!


    1. Hi Jackie, is a good 'clearinghouse' site (much like expedia is for travel). as for specific estate agent suggestions...chestertons, foxtons, savills, and winkworth are some of the more reputable.
      Good luck!

  13. Hi Kristina,

    I am moving to London in September from Minnesota for my husband's work. Can you recommend neighborhoods? I am struggling to find resources with helpful information. Thank you for your tips thus far, they are very helpful!



    1. Hi Ashley,
      It's an incredibly difficult question to answer without knowing where you/your husband will work, and what you're willing to pay. So, please do take this with a HUGE grain of salt. Some of the better places to live (ease of commute/general getting-around-ness), and cost would be:
      Maida Vale
      Holland Park
      London Bridge

      In no particular order.

      Take look on a London tube map, and you'll be able to find all of these places as a general starting point.

      Best of luck with your move!

  14. Hello.

    My aunt lives in the London Harrow area and I am needing a break/change from routines. As a art major I have wanted to go abroad to be able to experience the history and culture of Europe. My aunt is the only family member, and the last of 3 sisters who is still alive. My mom and the older have passed. She is dear to me and I feel I will regret if I don't spend time with her, as she is now in her early 70's. She wants to be there to help me which is a major reason I am making my decision. I also have two cousins, one who is in a similar field as me and another who's husband teaches driving lessons! So as you see, it's all set up to make it simpler:) I was also wondering how difficult it is to land a job while I am there and searching? I am mid-career level and have extensive experience in Sales and Internet Marketing Support jobs. Should I apply to American or International companies? I was also born in the Middle East so I have already experienced one major move, although that was over 30 years ago and why we were all separated. I thank you in advance for your reply!

    1. Hi Anon,
      With the infrastructure you've got at your disposal, taking a leap and trying to find a job in London wouldn't be the craziest thing in the world (I generally advise against it).
      As someone who was also in the Internet Marketing field-and a partial reason for my response to perhaps give it a go-London is an *excellent* location to pursue those types of roles. Tons of opportunities.
      As to US v International companies...I can't think of a differentiating reason to prefer one over the other.
      Find yourself a few good digital marketing agencies that are recruiting (there are tons in London), and go make it happen. :)

      Best of luck,

  15. Beautiful and peaceful sceneries. I like this series a lot.

    Moving Toronto

  16. Hey that’s really an amazing guide you got there. I doubt there’s something more thorough than this out there. Meeting friends is probably the hardest thing for any newcomer to do in my opinion. Another thing that I’ve noticed, as a Londoner for a few years now, is that people are struggling with is the choosing where to live. If anything, the experience I have has taught me that one should start with where their workplace is, how much are they earning and how much are they willing to commute. Answering these three questions makes the whole choosing thing easier