Moving to London
What to know if you're moving to London
Expats moving to London are often attracted by its cultural as well as professional diversity. You will be pleased to discover that it is also an exciting and accessible place to settle in. But before you get ready for moving to London, read our guide on accommodation, visas, education, and more.
All about the UK
Relocating to London
Tens of thousands of people move to London from all over the world every year. With an urban economy bigger than that of some European countries, the city attracts vast numbers of entrepreneurs and job seekers moving to the UK. For expats moving to London, the incentives are manifold and diverse, ranging from cultural to professional reasons.
Indeed, the capital looks back on a 2000-year history of growth and prosperity. Anglo-Saxons started moving to London and its surroundings as early as the 5th century, reviving the town after the Romans had left the British settlement.
Over the centuries, the city would move from being an early center of manufacturing to spearheading the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. No longer governing an empire, London is now one of the world’s leading locations for business and finance.
Residential Areas in London
London is governed by a vast administrative body including the Greater London Authority and 33 boroughs. These reach from Hillingdon in the West to Havering in the East, from Barnet in the North to Bromley in the South.
However, these names probably mean nothing to foreigners moving to London. It is impossible to recommend a certain borough as a particularly popular destination for newcomers to the city. Almost every borough is home to a wide range of people from different cultural and financial backgrounds. When you move to London, you should therefore base your choice of neighborhood on practical considerations: the proximity to your work place, to child care facilities or schools, to the city center or the countryside.
Choosing the Right Neighborhood
If you are worried about safety and crime in your prospective neighborhood, you ought to check the Metropolitan Police website for the latest local crime statistics before moving to London. Generally speaking, it is possible to find nice residential areas in all boroughs. However, the high rental values in the central boroughs might tempt some expats to move to London’s suburbs.
Despite the relatively even spread of foreigners all across the city, certain areas tend to be preferred by expats of certain nationalities moving to London. There is a relatively high concentration of Australian, New Zealand and South African expats in London’s western / southwestern boroughs, especially Hammersmith & Fulham. Richmond and Ealing, also in the west, have a large German and Polish community, respectively.
London’s East Enders
Increasing numbers of people are now moving to the East End. Historically home to London´s textile industry, dock workers, and Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, the East End has become the capital´s creative and artistic hub.
When the British Empire disintegrated, people from former Asian colonies started moving to London´s East End. While Halal butchers and curry houses still dominate the area, the first artists, musicians and designers started moving to London’s East End in the 1970s, followed by students and, more recently, high-earning bankers working in the nearby City. This influx of people moving to London’s east has resulted in higher property prices and numerous new building projects.
The East End Today
East London is now an interesting mix of old Victorian townhouses, brand-new high-rise buildings with expensive designer apartments, and the red-brick warehouses and factories so characteristic of the area. Now defunct, they are often converted into art galleries and studios, party locations, market halls for cutting-edge designer fashion or very unusual flats.
The London Docklands, for example, formerly home to shipping wharves, are now a desirable business location for financial service providers surrounded by expensive waterside flats.
The 2012 London Olympics unquestionably transformed some parts of the East End, but the extent of that transformation doesn’t seem to have been enough. Therefore, the verdict is still out regarding the exact legacy that the London Olympics will have on the East End.
The city invested in developing new public transport links and green spaces to make the area, home to the Olympic stadium, more pleasing to the eye and feet. Beyond parks and transit, the city of London pinned other expectations onto the Olympics. The Olympics did bring jobs to neighborhoods with relatively high unemployment; however, the number of jobs didn’t match the 20,000 that were promised.
Beyond the trendy streets with art galleries and cozy cafes, a lot of residents in East London struggle with unemployment and poverty. In Bethnal Green and Bow a shocking 51% of children are living in poverty. Although the Olympics brought 9,700 jobs to locals, long-term unemployment continues to be rampant in parts of the East End. Long-term unemployment in Bethnal Green and Bow rose by 26% in 2012. For the same period long-term youth employment went up by 55%.
Accommodation and Visas for London
The Property Market
While the British prefer to buy rather than rent their accommodation, the high numbers of students, expats, and migrants in London ensure that there is always plenty of rental property available. Whether you are looking to buy or to rent probably depends on the length of your stay, but in both cases your local estate agents will be able to help you.
London´s property market is very fast moving, so unless you are planning to buy or are looking for the perfect family home, there is no need to sort out your accommodation a long time in advance before your moving date.
It is certainly advisable, however, to take your time and make sure you have familiarized yourself with both the property andtheneighborhood before signing a contract. Most rental contracts initially run for a period of 12 months and can be prolonged, but there are also contracts for 6 months and even 3 month contracts available.
The easiest way of finding property is walking into an estate agent’s office in the area where you would like to live and telling them what you are looking for. This is, however, not always the cheapest way, as estate agents in the UK don´t need a license and may charge various administration fees and commissions. Those for whom money is less of an issue than time might want to try Foxtons, a well-established estate agent catering to the higher end of the market with local branches all across London.
For people willing to put a little more effort into their property search, other valuable sources include Loot, a classified ads paper which appears both in print and online, or websites such as Gumtree and Moveflat.
The latter in particular is recommended for single expats willing to live in shared accommodation. Due to the high rental prices, sharing a flat or a house is by no means uncommon among young professional Londoners. It enables them to live in much nicer accommodation than they would be able to afford on their own.
Types of Accommodation
Types of accommodation available in London include detached, semi-detached or terraced townhouses as well as townhouse conversions combining several flats. Studio apartments in modern buildings and some luxury flats in either gated communities or high-rise buildings with their own receptionist are also common.
Whole or converted old townhouses are the most common form of residential property, but not all of them offer all the modern comforts you might be used to from your own country.
Foreign nationals are advised to sort out their visa and work permit before moving to London. Please be aware that you need to be in possession of a valid passport in order to enter the UK.
There are no further restrictions for nationals of most EU/EEA member states (including Switzerland) planning to live and work in London. However, citizens of Romania and Bulgaria generally require the permission of the UK Border Agency before being allowed to work in the UK (with the exception of being self-employed). If you are from either country, you may have to apply for an accession worker card. Contact the UK Border Agency to confirm.
Almost all other nationalities will require a visa and/or work permit depending on the length and purpose of their stay. However, a distinction is usually made between visa and non-visa nationals. A detailed list can be found in the Immigration Rules on the UK Border Agency´s website.
Non-visa nationals can enter the UK and remain there as business or special visitors for up to 6 months without any further permits required. Non-visa countries outside the EEA include Australia, Canada, the USA, and New Zealand.
Visa nationals should apply for a visa in their own country before coming to the UK. The same applies to any family members or dependents who will accompany you on your expat assignment.
The visa services section of the UK Border Agency offers a guide to visa processing times and help with finding your nearest visa application center. Alternatively, you can use the online application service on their website.
Both visa and non-visa nationals (except for EEA citizens) need to pass a points-based assessment if they wish to stay and work in the UK for more than 6 months. Proficiency in English is one of the assessment criteria. Others include proof of your ability to support yourself and any dependents for a certain period of time, as well as proof of academic qualifications, age, and previous earnings. Highly skilled workers, entrepreneurs, investors and recent graduates from a UK university do not need a job offer to apply for a work permit.
Expats on work assignments which last a fixed period of time usually already have an employer acting as their sponsor and assisting them with their visa application.
Expat Info London: Schools and Shopping
Schooling for Expat Children
Despite its size, London is a fairly family-friendly city offering many educational opportunities and leisure activities. As an expatriate with children, you will inevitably face one very important decision, namely which school to choose.
Every child residing in the UK can attend a state school free of charge. All state schools are comprehensive schools and follow a nationwide curriculum. Standards, however, vary greatly depending on funding and the schools catchment area. Thus, it is advisable to attend an open day or arrange for a private visit before enrolling your child.
Some British parents who can afford to do so send their children to independent schools – often referred to as “public schools”. The quality of teaching tends to be higher and your child is more likely to meet other international students.
Admission criteria vary, and although these schools are technically open to everyone who can afford to pay the fees, places are, of course, restricted. The School Search website can help you to find a suitable independent school in your area.
One category of independent schools catering specifically to the needs of expat children are International Schools. There are several of them in London, both in the center and on the outskirts of town.
They usually combine nursery, primary and secondary school under one roof, thus teaching children from the ages of 3 to 18. They often offer the International Baccalaureate as an alternative to traditional British A Levels.
The International School of London also runs a “mother tongue program” in several languages, particularly useful for younger children who still need to develop certain skills in their native language.
On the downside, competition for places is high, so make sure to apply in good time. Tuition fees can be as high as £ 10,000 per term, plus extra costs for school meals, school uniforms, music lessons, etc.
Availability of Goods
There is probably nothing you cannot buy in London. When it comes to purchasing groceries, big supermarket chains offer everything from meat, fresh fruit and vegetables to household appliances. Bigger branches also have special imported food sections for their foreign customers.
If you can´t find what you are looking for or have a craving for German sausages, Polish bread or French pâtés, try one of the many national delis or visit Borough Market in South East London. Most neighborhoods feature weekly farmer markets offering local produce. People on special dietary regimes (Halal, kosher, vegan, etc.) should be able to find what they need in one of the big supermarket chains, in whole foods shops or at a specialist butcher’s.
Supermarket shopping hours vary, but key opening times are from 9 am to 9 pm, on Sundays until 5 pm. Outside of normal shopping hours, there is always your local corner shop or off-license (allowed to sell alcohol), able to satisfy all your basic needs.
London´s biggest shopping streets are Oxford Street and Regent Street in the West End, boasting branches of all major (and minor) British and international retailers.
You´ll soon find, however, that what people say about London is true, namely that the capital is one big fusion of many little towns and villages. Every area has its very own High Street with food and fashion retailers, bookshops, pharmacies, hairdressers or restaurants.