If you’re wondering if moving to London or another city in the UK is for you, I’m going to tell you everything about moving to the UK including things I wish I knew before moving. These tips will help you make the right decision.
Here’s a bit about my expat story… In 2015, I was in my last year of university when I knew I needed a change, so I decided that no matter what, I was going to move abroad.
If you’re a European citizen like me, you know how important it is to be fluent in English and to have work or study experience abroad, these are two of the reasons why I wanted to move abroad, but there is more!
I had always been interested in having an experience in a different country, learning about others’ cultures and improving my language skills (I must admit English is my favourite language after all).
But why did I move to the UK? Why didn’t I move to another English speaking country? You’ll find out this by reading all the pros and cons of living in England.
P.S. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and purchase something, I receive a small commission of the price at no extra cost to you. This helps me to keep the content up to date and make other improvements to the blog.
The Ultimate Guide To Moving To London
3 Ways to move to London
I moved to the UK in 2015, so it was way easier to move then than it is now. As the UK was part of the European Union, I didn’t have to have a visa or provide much information on why I was moving to the UK.
However, things have changed since then and I’ve put together a guide on ways to move to the UK now and the requirements for each way.
Visa exception: If you or your family are from the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein who started living in the UK by 31 December 2020, and you applied for the free EU Settlement Scheme, you don’t need a visa.
The requirements to apply for a student visa in the UK are:
- You’ve been offered a place on a course
- You have enough money to maintain yourself and pay for your course
- You can speak, read, write and understand English. You must prove this by passing a SELT (Secure English language test) although there are some exceptions. For example, if you’re from Canada or you’re currently studying for a university degree in the USA, you won’t have to prove your level of English.
Be aware that you can only apply if you’re over 16 and if you’re 16 or 17, you need to provide consent from your parents as evidence in your visa application.
The visa will allow you to stay in the UK for the length of your course. For example, if you’re planning to study a degree course, you’ll probably allow to stay up to 5 years.
However, if you want to stay longer, you can always extend your visa if you’re eligible or switch to a graduate visa which allows you to stay another 2 years after the competition of your course.
When to apply for a student visa
When to apply for a student visa really depends on whether you’re inside or outside the UK.
If you’re inside the UK, the earliest you can apply for a visa is 3 months before your course starts, and you’ll get a decision within 8 weeks from your application.
If you’re outside the UK, the earliest you can apply for a visa is 6 months before your course starts. You’ll get a decision within 3 weeks.
So, what are the fees? The visa fees in 2022 are:
- £363 to apply for a student visa from outside the UK
- £490 to extend or switch to a Student visa from inside the UK
2) Work Permit
If your aim is to work in the UK, you’ll probably need a work visa.
The UK government has many work visas that go from long-term visas such as skilled work visas and health and care worker visas to short-term visas (charity worker visas, graduate visas, etc.) and investor visas.
One of the most common long-term work visas is the skilled worker visa. This visa allows you to stay in the UK to do a job with an approved employer. The length of the visa is up to 5 years, and you’ll need to apply to extend or update your visa when it expires or if you change jobs.
If you aren’t sure about what type of work visa is best for you, you’ll find the UK government website very useful, especially this section in which you can answer a few simple questions to get advice on recommended visas for you.
If you want to stay in the UK as a refugee, you must apply for asylum, so this means you aren’t able to live safely in any part of your country and you fear persecution.
Persecution can be because of your race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or anything else that puts you at risk because of the social, cultural, political or religious situation in your country.
Once you’ve claimed asylum, you can apply to settle in the UK which gives you indefinite leave to remain in the UK. There is no application fee for a refugee or person with humanitarian protection.
Pros of moving to London
The UK is home to many nationalities and that’s what you want to hear when you’re going to become an expat. You want to be in a place where you’ll be welcomed and accepted.
London is the most ethnically diverse city and you can tell that by the variety of international restaurants and bars, events such as Notting Hill Carnival, and, of course, people. However, some cities like Birmingham and Leeds are quite diverse too.
Living in a multicultural atmosphere is a great way to learn about other cultures, taste international food, learn a new language, make friends, etc.
Personally, I find it easier to make friends with other expats than locals as they have similar experiences as me. For example, adapting to a new country, learning different accents and experiencing homesickness.
The UK has some of the best universities in Europe – from the University of Oxford (ranked the 1st in Europe) to the University of Edinburgh (ranked the 7th in Europe), so if you’re looking where to study, the UK is one of your best options.
Although university fees are high (approximately up to £9,250 pounds per year for an undergraduate degree), you can check if you are eligible for student finance which will pay university fees for you and you’ll start paying back once you’ve found a job. But even when you’ve found a job, the percentage taken from your salary is quite low.
The student life is quite good as universities offer student support and organise many events where you can meet new people.
I must admit that I loved studying at Leeds Beckett University because I had the chance to meet many international students. I went on day trips to the historic and medieval city of York as well as the Yorkshire Dales. I also did some temporary work through university and this gave me some extra money.
Luckily, like many European countries, healthcare in the UK, also known as the NHS, is free. You don’t need to worry about paying to visit a specialist or have surgery. You still need to pay for prescribed medication, but prices aren’t as high as in other countries.
One of the first things you should do when you arrive in the UK is to register with a GP who is your main doctor. In order to register, you just need to go to the nearest healthcare centre and fill in a form providing your personal information.
Although it’s free and I’ve never had any issues, if you need an important surgery or test, the waiting lists are big.
The UK economy has recently been affected by different factors including Brexit and the pandemic, but generally speaking, their economy is much better than other European countries.
You may be asking yourself: “Is it easy to get a job in the UK?”
I’ve never found it difficult to find a job in the UK. When I moved I started working in the hospitality sector, which is probably the easiest to access when you’re new to the country.
However, if you’re in a skilled profession in your own country and your English level is quite good, you won’t probably have any problems doing the same job in the UK.
For British employers, references are very important (especially references from UK employers), so if you don’t have much working experience in your country and in the UK, you can also consider volunteering or doing an internship.
Wages are also higher, the National Minimum Wage is £8.91 for 23 and over (April 2021 rate), £8.36 for 21-22 years old, £6.56 for 18-20 years old, and £4.62 for under 18. However, the cost of living is higher than in other European countries.
Websites to find job opportunities in the UK
Alternatively, you can also join Facebook Groups to make connections and find opportunities (for example, if you’re Italian you can look for “Italians in London”) These can be very useful, but like everything be careful with spammy posts.
The perfect combination of nature and city life
You can find many industrial cities like Manchester and Birmingham, but you can find beautiful green spaces even in the most industrial cities. The UK has some of the most amazing forests and national parks.
All the cities I’ve visited in the UK have splendid and spacious green parks where you can find friendly squirrels running and jumping in the trees. Parks are a great place to meet friends and enjoy sunny days (you’ll realise how busy parks can get if the weather is good).
However, if you’re up for an adventure, you don’t need to go far, the UK has 15 amazing national parks (10 in England, 3 in Wales and 2 in Scotland).
Best national parks in England you must visit
- Lake District
- Yorkshire Dales
- Peak District
- North York Moors
Some people may think that food isn’t an advantage of living in the UK at all, but let me explain.
In my opinion, the UK doesn’t have as much traditional food as other countries, and if I ask you what traditional British meals you know, you probably reply “Fish and Chips” or the classic “Full English Breakfast”.
However, you can find any international food you want, from Indian curries to Greek chicken souvlaki. This isn’t very common in countries like Spain or Italy where you’ll find more local traditional food than in international restaurants.
Generally, you can find plenty of international ingredients in big supermarkets, however, if you don’t find a specific one, try to find it in the market or in international small stores.
Cons of moving to London
Although living in the UK has its amazing advantages, not everything is perfect!
Cost of living
The UK isn’t the cheapest place to live in Europe and you can see that in the average price per rent or meal.
London is one of the most expensive cities in the UK, so if you’re on a budget, considering other cities (like Sheffield, Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds or Southampton) can help you stick to your budget and reduce your expenses.
Another thing that I’ve always found expensive is to travel by train! When you move to another country is amazing to have the possibility of visiting endless new destinations.
However, I must admit that travelling abroad can be cheaper than travelling in the UK.
Let’s say you move to Leeds and you want to spend a weekend in London, you can pay more than 100 pounds for a return train ticket. Then, you need to add other expenses like accommodation, eating out, visiting attractions, etc.
By the end of your trip, you’ve paid over 400 pounds. For this price, you can get flight tickets and travel to a different country for longer.
The same happens if you want to visit cities like Oxford, Cornwall, Edinburgh, etc.
A cheaper alternative is to travel by coach with companies like National Express, however, these coach journeys take much longer than travelling by train.
I remember when I needed to go to London to attend an important event last year, but the train tickets were insanely expensive, so I decided to take the coach. The coach left Leeds at 12 am and I didn’t arrive in London until 7 am, crazy!
You’ve probably heard that the British weather is terrible, it always rains and you don’t see the sun much.
Although I can say that this is a bit true, climate change has impacted the weather in the UK, so there is less snow in the winter and more heatwaves in the summer.
Having said so, you need to be prepared to experience four seasons in a day, especially during the transition between winter and spring. I learnt this the hard way, believe me. It can be warm and sunny in the morning, rainy in the afternoon, sunny in the late afternoon and stormy in the evening.
If you come from a Mediterranean country such as Spain, Portugal or Greece, you need to learn about layers as you’ll be putting on and taking off your coat, woolly jumper, etc. all the time.
Also, winter days are very short as the sunset is at half-past three, so joining the gym or any lesson after university or work helps you enjoy your winter.
Brexit wasn’t an issue when I moved to the UK in September 2015, however, everything changed in June 2016 when 52% voted to leave the EU. Although Brexit has been a long process that hasn’t finished yet, however, most of the changes happened in January 2021.
After Brexit, there is still freedom of movement like there has been before, but you’ll have to go through more paperwork.
Other cities in the UK to move to
Although London is one of the main cities that expats move to, there are also other great English cities you may want to consider moving to, especially if you prefer smaller and cheaper cities.
If you’re still asking yourself “Should I move to London?” after reading the pros and cons of living in London, maybe it’s a sign to consider other options!
Located in The Midlands, just in the centre of England, Birmingham is a city that has changed over the years. What used to be mainly an industrial city, has changed into a modern metropolis.
The city is well-known for being multicultural with a big expat community from all over the world, and at the same time, the population is very young which makes it a good place for students or young professionals.
Birmingham is also a good choice because there are plenty of job opportunities, salaries are good, and housing is cheaper than in London.
An alternative lively city to London is Edinburgh. The city has all the things you can expect from a great city – international restaurants, important events, good nightlife and plenty of cultural and green spaces.
Although it’s busy and lively, it’s not as overwhelming or crowded as London. It’s definitely an easy city to live in.
Living in Edinburgh sounds good, right? Well, the main downside has to be the weather. You know that the UK isn’t the sunniest country in Europe, but living in the north of the country means more rainy days and less sunshine.
And yes, summer isn’t the European summer you find in countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy or Greece.
If you want to study in the UK, Leeds is a great choice for international students. The city offers a lively international student atmosphere and has three main universities – Leeds Beckett University, Leeds Trinity University and the University of Leeds.
In all of these universities, you’ll find a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses as well as PhDs. Not only are the courses good, but the student life is amazing too.
Apart from studies, Leeds is also a very welcoming city for young professionals and families. It’s easy to get around Leeds since public transport is generally good and the city centre is well connected to other neighbourhoods and outskirts.
Leeds is full of leisure and cultural activities – cinemas, city museums, art galleries and lovely green parks – as well as food options and nightlife. No matter what type of food you want to eat (Indian, Chinese, Spanish, etc.) you’ll find a restaurant.
At the same time, there are many lively clubs in Leeds, and if you love a good night out you want to go to Call Lane!
If you’re looking to settle down with your family, the city has many nurseries and schools that welcome international students, and Leeds has plenty of green areas for children to play and have fun.
York is another lovely Northern England city you want to consider when moving to the UK. Smaller than all the cities mentioned above, but it’s one of the most charming! If you’re after immersion in the British culture, York is for you.
The city has impressive buildings and cultural attractions that you won’t get bored of seeing every day – from York Minster to York city walls and museums such as Jorvik to learn about the Roman period in the city.
It’s very easy to feel at home in York since it’s small and you can walk to most places if not, all the areas in the city are well connected with the city centre.
York is also a good base for anyone who wants to travel around Yorkshire or even go to London on a regular basis. The train from York to London is only 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Preparing for your move to London
Gather the necessary documents
Before moving to England, you must prepare all the necessary documents to make your move smooth and simpler.
The first thing you need to check is what type of visa you need to study or work in the UK, for this, go back to the visa section to help you decide what visa is for you and how long in advance you need to apply.
After this, make sure your passport is valid for more than 6 months before moving to England. If not, you’ll have to schedule some time to renew your passport. Otherwise, you’ll have to find your country’s embassy in London and do it from there, but it’ll take more time than doing it in your home country.
If you have a driving license, and you’re planning to drive in the UK, check that it hasn’t expired or is about to expire before moving.
Budgeting for your move
Budgeting is a big thing about moving abroad, and you’ve probably asked yourself questions like “how much money do I need to move to the UK?”
If you come from a Mediterranean country, you’ll realise that the UK isn’t a cheap country, however, it isn’t as expensive as The Nordic countries either.
Moving to London is also more expensive than moving to other UK cities, and that is why you may consider other cities that will help you save money and afford guilty pleasures like eating out, going to the cinema, going on day trips, etc.
Here is a breakdown of the average cost of living in the United Kingdom:
1 bedroom apartment in the city centre – 749.78 £
1 bedroom apartment outside the city centre – 614.61 £
Bus monthly pass – 65.00 £
Petrol (1 litre) – 1.26 £
1-month gym pass – 25.00 £
Cinema – 10.00 £
Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – 12.00 £
If you want to save money on food, create a weekly meal plan. This will help you avoid food waste and do the shopping in an easy and smarter way.
Book your flight
As soon as you make the decision of moving to the UK, start looking at the flight prices to have an idea of how much you’ll spend on flights.
I love using Google Flights to know whether the flight prices are low, average or high at the time I am looking for them.
If they’re high you can always check in a couple of days or get a notification from Google Flights to let you know about any price changes.
Don’t stress yourself about the flight and book it as soon as possible, so you can concentrate on other things you must do before moving abroad.
Searching for accommodation wasn’t as easy as I expected, and it’ll be the same for you if you don’t like shared accommodation or you’re pickier about the location and the size of the bedroom.
The best websites to look for an apartment, flat or house are Rightmove and Zoopla. However, if you’re a student and you want to experience student life at the best, you can check university campus accommodation.
My biggest advice is to arrange a viewing as soon as possible, especially if you’re looking for a place starting in September, as this is the time when many people move to another city or abroad, as well as university students.
Securing accommodation from your country isn’t easy, as many landlords will want to meet you in person to sign a contract. This is easier when you sort out your accommodation through your university.
Open a bank account
Opening a bank account is essential in the UK, especially if you come to work in the country.
I won’t advise closing your current account in your country but keep it in case you move back or you go back for a holiday, however, you must open an account in the UK to make things easier and avoid losing money in the currency exchange.
Barclays is the bank I’ve been using since I came and it’s the one I can recommend. In order to open a bank account in the UK, you’ll need proof of identity (passport or identity card) and proof of address such as a water or electricity bill.
Moving your belongings
Moving your belongings to the UK can be overwhelming and expensive. On the positive side, there are many types of transport options available.
Most of these options are expensive and they charge per weight, so If I was you, I would avoid taking big and heavy stuff such as furniture.
Relocation options to the UK
It’s the quickest and most expensive way to send your things to the UK. This is for you if you’re going to send a small number of items or you need these things in a hurry.
Airports across the UK accept a good amount of volumes on a weekly basis. Although Heathrow Airport receives the most, East Midlands and Manchester are popular too.
This alternative way to send your items to the UK is less expensive than air freight, however, the main downside to shipping freight is how long it takes – two weeks or longer.
I didn’t use any of these options and opted for leaving most things at my parents’ house. I mainly packed clothes in two big suitcases, and then I bought essential kitchen accessories, bedding and decoration from affordable shops like Wilko’s and Primark.
Job search tips
One of the best things about moving to the UK is the variety of jobs and opportunities you can find across the country.
Searching for jobs has changed a lot in the last couple of years, and you don’t need to be in the UK to start looking for these jobs. There are many websites such as Indeed and Reed where you can find opportunities.
Most interviews will be face to face, so you want to make sure you’ll be in the country by then, however, there are more and more companies that are arranging interviews online via Skype or Zoom due to the pandemic.
If you aren’t an English native speaker, and you haven’t been practising your English for a while, you may want to start attending language exchanges to practice with natives, getting a free language app such as Duolingo and watching subtitled films and series.
This way you’ll feel more confident to speak English in an interview and once you start living in the UK.
📌 Related blog post: 10 Best Expat Jobs in Europe
Something that is often forgotten is the cultural changes which sometimes lead to cultural shocks. These cultural shocks can be good or bad, and they’re part of the moving abroad experience.
Here are a couple of things you need to know about British culture:
- A tea “will solve all your problems”.
- British talk about the weather, and you’ll end up just like them. You’ll appreciate the sunny and longer days during the summer.
- British people aren’t as straightforward as other nationalities, so they rarely say what they mean.
- National Parks in the UK are outstanding.
- Not respecting the queue is a big no-no.
- International food is a big part of the British cuisine culture. Although you’ll always find the traditional fish and chips and Sunday roast, the British love eating out and having food from around the world.
Other Tips for Moving to London and the rest of the UK
- Get a good waterproof jacket. Waterproof jackets are a saver! You never know when it can start raining and get all your clothes wet.
- Be patient with yourself. Who said moving abroad was going to be easy? Give yourself time to adapt to the new culture, know your surroundings and get used to the accents – especially if you move to places like Yorkshire, Liverpool and Newcastle.
- Join language exchanges to meet new people. Moving abroad alone can be lonely, but this will challenge you to go out there and meet new people. One of the easiest ways to make connections is by attending language exchanges. They helped me a lot as everyone was in the same boat as me and they wanted to socialise.
- Start looking at accommodations before you move. You can visit websites like Rightmove and look for potential places to stay. Being organised and having a list of places in advance will help you feel less overwhelmed and find a place faster.
- Pack the essentials. One of the biggest mistakes is to pack too much. I found alone myself with three big suitcases at the airport and, believe me, there wasn’t a need for that. While it’s good to pack a few things that remind you of home or some food from your country, avoid packing unnecessary things you can buy once you’re here.
- Keep in touch with friends and family. It’s so important to do video calls with family and friends to keep you updated on what’s happening there, express your feelings when you aren’t having a good day or even disconnect a bit and speak your language.
- Explore the country. Living in a new country is a great opportunity to explore new places. You can easily do day trips with new friends or by yourself and discover more about British culture.
Living in the UK has been a unique experience from which I’ve learned and grown so much. I wouldn’t change all the experiences I’ve had here so far, and although the weather isn’t my favourite part of living in England, it has helped me appreciate sunny days and summer.
My biggest advice for you and any future expats is to be open-minded, and willing to adapt and learn new things.
If you have any questions or want any advice on moving to the UK, reach me on my email at cristina[at]mylittleworldoftravelling.com or on Instagram. I’m always happy to help.
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Additional tips for moving to London with ease
Is moving to London a good idea?
London is definitely a good idea if you love the cosmopolitan atmosphere, the buzz of the city and the best entertainment activities in the UK. Living in London is definitely a unique experience that you want to experience once in your life.
There are only two ways – you either love it or hate it.
How much money do you need to move to London?
You can easily spend over 2,000 pounds per month in London, especially when you first move and need to buy new things for your new home. Ideally, you want to have three months’ worth of savings.
Can I move to London without a job?
Moving to London without a job isn’t easy or may not be the best option after Brexit. This is why it’s very recommendable you apply and get a job before moving to London or anywhere else in the UK.
What do I need to do before I move to London?
Before moving your London you need a visa, a valid passport, a sim card and a one-way flight. You may also want to start checking accommodation and job opportunities to make things easier.
Moving to London from the US
The first thing you need to know is that you can’t move to London or anywhere else in the UK without a valid visa. Be aware that you can’t work or look for a job with a tourist visa as it’s considered illegal.
Although the immigration rules and procedures aren’t easy, it’s still possible to move to London if you’re happy to put effort into it.
An advantage of living in the UK as an American is that your healthcare will be “almost free” with the exception of dental procedures and prescriptions. However, you also need to pay the immigration health surcharge.
Something you’ll find very confusing and sometimes funny is the difference between American English and British English. For example, in the UK, crisps aren’t the American chips, but those you’ll find in a bag.
Moving to London from Ireland
Brexit hasn’t changed the common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland which means citizens of the UK and Ireland can live, travel, work and study in both countries without a visa.
Therefore, if you’re Irish and want an experience abroad, London is a great place for you. You won’t have to worry about obtaining a visa or learning the language.
Moving to London from Australia
Moving to London from Australia is possible. The first thing you need to figure out is whether you can get a UK passport or what visa is more suitable for you.
Most Australians move to the UK with the Youth Mobility Scheme visa (T5) which allows you to live and work in the UK for up to 2 years. However, you must be 18 to 30 years old, have £2,530 in savings and have certain types of British Nationality.
But don’t worry if you don’t meet those criteria you can still move to the UK and apply for a spousal visa, student visa, investor visa or exceptional talent visa.
Alternatively, if you have ancestors from the UK or your parents were born in the UK, your chances of getting a permanent resident are very high.
Moving to London alone
Moving to London alone will be challenging at the beginning, but the same applies if you were going to move to any country.
Many people move to London for work on their own and it isn’t easy to adapt straight away.
However, as you settle down and meet new people, you’ll find the benefits of moving abroad such as building confidence and independence.
To overcome loneliness in London, you can do things to meet new people from the beginning. Things such as joining expat Facebook groups, attending language exchanges or joining a club.