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UK: Expat Destinations & Neighborhoods
- Unsurprisingly, London attracts many expats from all over the world every year. If you’re thinking about living there, research the different areas and boroughs thoroughly to find the right one for you.
- Manchester and Leeds have both changed drastically over the years — both were failing industry towns and now boast a booming economy and service sector respectively.
- The Scottish capital is also a major expat hub and, in contrast to London, finding housing in the center of Edinburgh is neither overly expensive, nor particularly challenging.
You Can’t Beat the Capital
A favorite destination among expats is obviously London. Despite ongoing attempts at political devolution and economic decentralization, London remains the undisputed center of the United Kingdom. In this context, London mostly refers to the Greater London Area — an administrative region that was created in 1965 and which subsumed an entire county (Middlesex). However, the urban conglomeration of London stretches beyond the GLA boundaries, into the so-called Home Counties surrounding the capital: Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, and Sussex.
The administrative unit of the Greater London Area houses 8.6 million residents and consists of the City of London (i.e. the financial district), as well as 32 boroughs. The 12 Inner Boroughs around the city center include:
- Hammersmith & Fulham
- Kensington & Chelsea
- Tower Hamlets
The 20 remaining boroughs form Outer London. These are as follows:
- Barking & Dagenham
- Waltham Forest
When you go looking for property in London, be aware that the boroughs above are not identical with postcode districts, nor do they correspond to actual neighborhoods. Notting Hill, for example, covers Kensington & Chelsea, Shepherd’s Bush represents Hammersmith & Fulham, and the Docklands stretch across Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Lewisham, Newham, and Greenwich.
Housing in London: A Burden to Your Budget
If you aren’t familiar with London’s residential areas yet, you can go about the property search as follows:
- Have a look at a map of the Greater London boroughs to check which geographical location might suit you best. The websites of the borough councils give you a first impression of what’s going on in the wider area.
- Cross-referencing these areas with a London postcode map may also help you, as estate agents often refer to their properties by postcode, as well as borough or residential neighborhood. See, for example, this property search engine hosted by the real estate agency Foxtons.
- Big London estate agents also have area guides. These provide a description of the neighborhood, nurseries and schools in the vicinity, transport connections to the underground or rail network, current house prices or rents, etc. As far as the latter are concerned, please note that the prices only refer to the properties listed by the agency in question. Actual purchase prices and rents can vary widely. The Halifax House Price Index gives more information on all London boroughs.
- If you are very, very worried about safety and crime in the UK, you can check crime statistics on this interactive map provided by the London Metropolitan Police. The “Met” also lists links to all websites for the police force in individual boroughs. Checking up on news sections, press releases, official appeals, etc. allows you to get a glimpse of potential concerns or safety risks.
- If English isn’t your mother tongue, you might want to check out this 2011 Census map of languages in the UK. Looking for areas with an above-average concentration of people who share your own native language aids you in identifying popular expat neighborhoods. For obvious reasons, this doesn’t work with English native speakers from overseas, e.g. the many “Aussies” and “Kiwis” who have made London their home. Southwest London seems to attract plenty of Australians, though, whereas Wandsworth is popular among the New Zealand expat community.
- Last but not least, visit a few neighborhoods once you have narrowed down your options. No amount of online research tells you about factors like traffic noise, large construction sites, or other inconveniences.
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