Once you’ve made the long trek boarding flights, boarding connecting flights, landing, waiting for check in luggage, hauling said luggage around, finding airport transfers and you’ve finally made your way to your hotel/ hostel/ couch/ flat/ park bench (that last one is a joke) and you eventually catch your breath, you’ll take a look around and might have a mini freak out about your next step. There are so many little things that need to be done that you won’t think about until you arrive in London. Here is my collated list of things I wish I knew about setting myself up in the UK before I arrived.
Many of the banks in the the UK require proof of address for you to set up an account with them. They often ask for a rates or energy bill in your name with your UK address on it. For me, and for many other expats either staying at hostels, air bnb’s, with relatives or in rental accommodation this just isn’t an option. Luckily, Lloyd’s Bank is our answer. They will sign you up with just your passport details and they have a no-fee account available to us while in the UK. I recommend calling up your local branch and booking an appointment to sign up, as I ‘dropped in’ to several branches on different days and was told there was no one available to speak with me- extremely frustrating.
2. NI Number
If you want to work anywhere in London (or The UK) you will need to have a NI (National Insurance Number). Head here to the government website and call up the NI number application line. They will then send you a pack in the mail and once filled out and sent back to them, in about 3-6 weeks you will FINALLY get your all important number. Most employers are happy for you to work initially without this, so long as you have applied and it’s on its way to you.
The life saving little card that will grant you access to the whole of London (by public transport anyway). Grab one of these from any of the train station’s ticket machines and load it up with half your monthly pay check (unfortunately this is not that far from the truth) and voila, you can train, bus, tube and tram your way around London town.
4. Find A Room
Spare Room seems to be the number one way that people find a place to live in London. Gone are the days when you live with only your best friends and you wouldn’t dare moving in without meeting the 3 + others in your flat (guilty). Spareroom is a website that lets you browse available flats in your chosen area and also put up a profile of yourself so others looking for a flatmate can find you too. The only downside is that unless you pay to upgrade your membership, you can’t contact the latest flatshare ad’s, which in London means that the flat is likely already gone by the time you are able to call up the advertiser. I upgraded three times (£10 for one week) before I found my flat in South London. I would definitely recommend this as I found a cute little flat in an area I love with amazing housemates (definitely extremely lucky on this one!).
(This is an example of me and a fabulous housemate after a few beers).
5. Register With NHS
Admittedly, this one took me awhile to do as I wasn’t sure where I was moving and I frankly couldn’t be bothered as I wasn’t sick. Even though I took just under six months to sign up, it is a relatively easy process (dependant on your catchment area and what the doctors surgeries around you are like). The NHS website has a list of all the NHS doctors in your area (just plonk in your postcode) and each doctors surgery has a rating and reviews. I found one that has a good rating, was in my catchment area, and luckily enough had the entire application process online. Some NHS doctors will require your passport and an in person application. If you need a doctor and haven’t signed up, there are Walk In centre’s that you can go to (just beware you may have to wait upwards of 2 hours to be seen by a doctor or nurse).
6. Facebook Groups
There are heaps of expat groups on Facebook that can help you to meet people, find jobs, accommodation and answer other questions you might have. If you’re from Australia, you’ve probably heard of Aussie’s In London, London New Girl or even Kiwi’s In London (which apparently Aussies are welcome to join too). I would recommend joining a few of these groups, especially when you first get here and are looking for people to discover the city with. However, make sure you don’t block yourself out to only hanging out with the Aussies! After all, you can do that plenty at home.
7. Find Your People
London is the place where every hobby you’ve ever imagined exists. There are Meet Up Groups for rock climbing, novel writing, motorbiking, gardening, pole dancing, every kind of yoga you can think of, country hiking, painting, dancing, sports, dog walking, literally everything you could imagine most likely has a meet up group or a class that you could join to find ‘your people’. London can sometimes feel like a lonely place, especially when all of your friends are half a world away, but joining a group or a class of something that you love is the best way to meet new people and embrace the many many options that this pretty city has for us.