Moving to London Starter Pack

As I get closer to my six month mark, I’ve decided to start collating my tips and advice on moving to London. I’ve been fortunate to receive plenty of guidance from my network over here and I’ve learned a bit from making the odd mistake or two. It’s a move I’m so glad I made, London offers more than I could ever imagine. The sheer scale of everything in Europe feels like a world away from home. But in a way it also feels familiar. Anyway, tips time:

luton-airport

Travel 

Once of my main reasons for settling into London was being located in Europe and the travel opportunities that come with that. The relative low cost of jetting off to another country for the weekend is delightful, and I’m doing my best to make the most of it now. Over (school) term breaks and long weekends you do need to book well in advance. Otherwise there’s usually a number of destinations you can always do on the cheap.

  • Ryanair – so far, my favourite balance of price and service. I’m sure one bad experience could spoil that. I like Ryanair for it’s fantastic sales, I snapped up plenty of weekend flights under £50. I enjoy like their fare finder which is handy when you don’t know where/ when you want to go away for.
  • Secret Flying – for longer haul destinations you’d benefit from the deals that come through from Secret Flying. These are for well in advance bookings but the prices are worth celebrating (generally at least half of the full price). It’s also very frequent, they spam me at least once a week.
  • Jacks’ Flight Club – Jack’s has been around a while and he offers two subscription offers. The free one only has a very occasional email whilst premium you get a lot more (or all). As I tend not to like paying for anything (Secret Flying covers me off enough) I only have the free option myself. I do owe Jack one for a stellar deal I got on Tokyo (it was more than half off normal price).
  • Google Flights – I spend a ridiculous amount of time on this site. Google Flights lets you plug in destinations, dates, airlines and it spits out lots of flight options. Even with the other sites I always go back to Google Flights to make sure I’ve got the best deal. Tip: the site offers a few links for booking, sometimes the prices actually differ.
  • Google Maps – I’m sure everyone knows Google Maps, but not that many people know you can make your own custom maps. I do a map ahead of every city and plot out restaurants/ attractions/ points of interest that I want to check out. Examples for Dublin, Luxembourg. When I land in the city, I pull up the app on my phone and navigate like a local from there. Any recommendations I get from others also get added in.
  • Registered Traveller – you get offered this when you first get your visa. Essentially it lets you masquerade as a Brit/ EU citizen at the airport and use their lanes. It costs £70 for your first year and £50 for each year of renewal. If you travel four-six times a year it can be worth it. For most of the flights I’ve taken the lanes have been comparable in waiting time, the only major one was in returning from Toronto. I would have saved thirty minutes had I had it in time. It also saves time from having to fill out the arrival card, and you can use the eGates. Note: you don’t actually need a card or anything. As a plus it does let you queue with any Brit friends which is a little nice.
  • Eurostar Snap – I adore Eurostar already and their snap deals are the icing on the cake. So long as you don’t mind a mystery departure and return time, you can snap up a ~£50 return ticket for Paris or Brussels for the next week.
  • Other trains: Trainline, Virgin Trains

 

Food

I was worried when I first landed in London how much the cost of eating would be. Naturally I tried to save every penny in my early days. I’ve since realised the cost of groceries is often less than back in Australia or New Zealand. I’m alright with the quality even at the lower tier supermarkets like Aldi or Lidl. If you’re feeling more snobby, head to Tesco or Sainsbury’s (or Boots) for your usual branded stuff.

  • Hot Dinners, Time Out, D&D London – these are a bit of a holy trinity in my books. They each have an offer section in their sites, they partner with various restaurants and offer dining for up to 50% off. It’s a great way to find some new places and get a meal close to what you would pay to make it yourself. They’re not always the best places, mind you. Bookatable also has an equivalent.
  • MealPal, LunchSmarter (formerly Mealfix) – both of these are quirky little lunch services. If you happen to work in either Soho or City of London, you pay a subscription and get a pre-ordered lunch for less than £5 a pop. Trial periods means that the meals come down to even less that that.
  • Zomato – I’m bias, but I’d trust the reviews here over anyting like Tripadvisor or TimeOut. There’s a lot of marketing and PR in action so the best opinions are in the masses.
  • TasteCard – it’s similar to the Entertainment Book back home, in that it offers restaurant discounts. But I find the participating restaurants to be very limited and there are annoying T&Cs on them! Some won’t let you use them for dinner or on Fridays or Saturdays. I signed up for a free trial back in the day so no complaints, I wouldn’t pay for it though.
  • Itsu – if you can hold your appetite, all Itsu stores do a half price sale thirty minutes before closing time. That makes their Japanese-fusion healthy-ish meals about £2-4 a pop which is fab. And perfect for me as it’s on the way back from the gym.
  • Pret a Manger – yes, it’s everywhere and it’s pedestrian and boring but the croissants are cheap and so good, especially when fresh out of the oven. If you do work in a media/ corporate environment, you’ll get used to their sandwiches a lot.
  • Mystery Dining – they have it here! You dine at their listed stores and get reimbursed for the meal, so long as you write some feedback and take some snaps. But it was all too painful for me, there was so many specifics for each job and the reimbursement was minor.

News

I find it convenient that there are a lot of (free) commuter publications and they’re perfect for the tube ride back home. And readily handed out at said location. Otherwise I tend to keep up with the happenings in the city through a few other means:

Communities

Entertainment

  • Top Secret Comedy Club – I’ve attended exactly once, but that hasn’t stopped me advocating this cute underground club. Super cheap on some days (£1 Mondays) and £3 pints make it an economical and hilarious couple of hours.
  • Day Seats – if you don’t mind killing an hour or two for cheap tickets, you can procure the lowest cost possible tickets for productions in the morning. Theatre Monkey seems to have the best advice, albeit badly formatted, on how to get day seats for different shows (as it varies). If you want recommendations, my favourite is Harry Potter, for which I was fortunate enough to win the £20 tickets in the Friday lottery. Other recommendations: Matilda, Lion King, Book of Mormon. I’d suggest looking up reviews for shows, some of them aren’t always worth it.
  • TKTS – it’s a physical store in Leicester Square and your best bet for low fuss tickets for same day without the queues.
  • TodayTix – not such a big fan of this last minute ticket app. Some shows are again offered as a lottery whilst others are first come first served. I haven’t had any luck the dozens of times I’ve entered so I can’t say I’m a fan.
  • Last Minute – another option for buying tickets.
  • Design my Night
  • Songkick – concerts
  • Central Tickets – you can get free tickets for various shows, usually fringe. I haven’t used it myself but it’s been on my list.

Finance

  • Money Savings Expert – for all things financial, such as credit cards, savings, home loans (lol) it’s hard to go pass Martin Lewis’s Money Savings Expert. It’s the biggest Finance advice site around. The articles are well researched and informative. The secondary advice site would be Which? but that’s on a misguided subscription model.
  • Lloyds – I opened with them, as back in my day, you could do so without a proof of address. Well, that changed the week I applied so not sure if there’s that much of an incentive to stick with them. Regardless, the UK is quite big on incentivising switching, so you’ll likely find yourself moving to and fro. You can expect at least £100+ from moving your savings account to another bank. MSE will sort you out there with the latest deals. I’d suggest starting with a no fee type savings account (interest rates are low here anyway) and you can always tailor something more suitable once the money rolls in.
  • Transferwise – I found myself in a few situations where I needed to move some money over from my Australian accounts. This was to pay for the immense cost of moving in (that’s bond, rent upfront) as well as furnishing everything. And general life expenses. I found the best rates for moving money by far was Transferwise. Other ones might have lower fees, but these guys had the closest rates to market.

Jobs

Public Transport

You’ll most likely pick up an Oyster card at some point, and it’s very easy to use. You can use it across all methods of transportation. Either get it on a travel pass for a predetermined amount of time or load it up tap as you go. I don’t use the tube so much these days, so I skip the Oyster and tap my contactless debit card and that does the trick. A few employers offer an annual pass discount, whereby they’ll pay the upfront cost of the card and you pay back in instalments. Otherwise there’s a company called CommuterClub that you can do a similar arrangement with. Weekly (or more) passes do make up their value if you commute at least five days of the week.

Most work commutes seem to be around the thirty to fourty minute mark. I walk to work at the moment and even that is over the thirty minute mark. And funnily enough, it’s longer by bus due to the busy roads. During peak commute hours the tube wins out for speed. It might not make for the most pleasant trip, depending on the crowd and the line. Piccadilly and Victoria lines are general favourites. All of London would suggest downloading Citymapper: that will always give you the best route to anywhere (followed closely by Google Maps or Waze for the drivers). Or get the Tube Map app on your phone as it’s handy. If you can, make sure to restrict data networks, otherwise you’ll have many ads throttled to your eyeballs on the tube app.

I found the tube getting some used to, but it can take you from anywhere in London and it is a big city at that. Central London itself is walkable though, and it’s often faster to walk if its only one or two stop(s). Citymapper is the best navigator, I double check the maps when in doubt. All lines will have two directions and a few of those branch out to different destinations along the way/ towards the end, so be mindful of that. The Overground and DLR supplement the network and feature nicer, bigger trains. Buses are cheap £1.50 (irrespective of stops) and are double decker. Uber operates around here, otherwise you can hail a classic black cab.

Connectivity

  • GiffGaff – makes for the best start to London as you can get your SIM mailed to you overseas before you even land. Then it’s a process of adding credit and you’re ready to go once you arrive. I did have some issues with reception but the community/ staff are mega helpful. My time with GiffGaff was rather temporary as might yours, as you’ll eventually find it insufficient for your needs
  • Three – I progressed to a 12 month contract with Three, which gives me basically unlimited calls, unlimited texts and a chunky 12GB of data. Best of all is their “Feel at Home” offering, which means I can use my data across 60+ destinations and almost all of Europe. This has been invaluable for my travels. Note that different offers appear from time-to-time, and a lower data cap would have been fine.

Shopping

  • HotUKDeals – the equivalent of Ozbargain back home and basically my homepage. It’s a website that displays community-voted deals across all categories. It’s a little hit and miss with the random offers that get posted but I’ve managed to nab a cheap PS4 off Amazon Germany and it’s prompted me for plenty of sales. It’s also introduced me to some of the places and deals in this post!
  • Topcashback and Quidco – I can’t stress to enough people if you are doing ANYTHING online, make sure you click through via an affiliate. E.g. buying clothes, booking hotels, opening a broadband account, signing up for a phone contract. I’ve missed out a few times myself but different companies will offer you X% back or flat amounts when you book/ buy/ open an account after clicking through either of these sites. I got £100 from signing up with BT and (could have) got £25 from getting an Amex card. I have a slight preference to Topcashback which seems to offer more. And yeah, the cashback does take some time to get into your account.
  • Zeek – a little niche, but Zeek is a site where you can buy and sell gift vouchers. Unwanted presents? Making a big purchase at a specific store? Zeek can help you out there.
  • Pricespy, Pricerunner – for checking you’re getting the best deal

Specific shops

  • Poundland – heaven on earth. Everything is £1 and they carry a surprising range of everything. When I was in Dublin they have the same chain but it’s called Dealz. Everything there is priced at an outrageous €1.50 so not as much of a deal as Poundland.
  • Flying Tiger – the quality is kinda shocking (cue holes in random things, things that randomly fall apart) but the staff are used to refunding, and the range here is so fun. I love browsing the store for it’s quirky designs. Top tip is if you see something you like, snap it up quickly as they sell out and don’t restock. Kitchen stuff, art supplies, travel, sports things, they seem to have it all.
  • Clothes: Primark – sweat shop culture at its worst, but the clothes are eye-watering cheap. £2 t-shirts, yes please. And accessories! Topshop/man, Zara, H&M, Uniqlo are good for nicer stuff. But my gold star has to go to TK Maxx, I love their cheap branded stuff. The stores are a real mess so it’s rather time consuming. A real Londoner does know to head out to the more suburbans TK Maxxs, they are always less of a warzone.
  • Argos – fun, for the experience. You order from tablets or online and pick up your order from their warehouse-like store.
  • Pact Coffee – subscription coffee
  • Cornerstone – subscription razors
  • Amazon or eBay for everything else (note that eBay does offer cashback!)
  • Groupon

Accommodation

  • I started my time in London staying at a friends and an Airbnb for a week. I quite liked the combo and the Airbnb was rather affordable. It was even cheaper than my apartment back in Collingwood. It wasn’t the best though, it was stuffy with cigarette smoke (ugh) and was in Wood Green, Zone 3. On the flipside, it introduced me to another side of the city and one I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I’d highly recommend staying with a friend if you can find a spare couch to start with. It helps with overcoming the initial jetlag and culture shock.
  • Following that I used Spareroom to find suitable flats. I ended up starting a new flat with two other guys myself. I checked out a solid half dozen or so before I ended up with that decision. There’s a lot of variety in terms of location, price, condition, size, flatmates. And then the usual affairs around interviewing, presenting yourself, making an offer, trying to get selected.

Arts & Culture

  • One of the best things about London is the majority of museums being free. It does make for some serious crowds (don’t get me started on school groups). Particular ones of mention: V&A, National History, Science, British Museum.