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A Guide For Americans Moving To London: What You Need To Know Before You Take The Plunge

Before we continue, I’d just like to encourage you to give up.  Abandon ship.  This was my hardest move yet AND I’M STILL struggling to adjust to my new home for more reasons than one.  I wanted to focus on the realities that come with a major move to London and remove the romanticism that comes with this “international dream.”  Let’s just say the British took it personally when the colonies gave the Queen and King the big “EFF YOU” and dumped all the tea into the Boston Harbor.

Hey remember that time we helped you guys during the war?

Here are the official and unofficial guidelines to moving to London! I’ve successfully moved myself from California to Boston, Boston to China, China to London, and we’ll see where I end up next!  These were the most important issues that I was forced to tackle so far after I moved to London in November 2014.  It’s the hardest move I’ve made yet, bar none, and I moved to China with no Chinese and no experience.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

1) Work Visas for Americans

To “say thank you” for America’s WELCOMING immigration policies, the rest of the world has taken upon themselves to give us a taste of our own medicine.  To work in England, you’re going to need a Tier 2 (General) Visa or a Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) visa.  Any other visa option is for geniuses and business moguls. You’re best bet is to find an international company in America, put in a few good years, and then have them transfer you to the UK.  In order to get a Tier 2 Visa, a company will need to sponsor you (financially and on paper) and then, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll be welcomed into the United Kingdom.  Here are some general guidelines:

  • You must have a certificate of sponsorship BEFORE you can apply to come to the UK to work
  • It will cost anywhere from 564-1,051 GBP to apply
  • You also have to pay the healthcare surcharge

This is HELLA expensive for small companies to sponsor and deal with so quit while you’re ahead +1000 GBP and move to Asia instead. You also have to “prove” that you’re more capable than prospective hires in the UK, which would justify your hiring.  I have a Student Tier 4 General Visa which is 1000 times easier to apply for AND 1000 times cheaper to pursue than in the United States.  But before being accepted to school, I also sent our over 60 resumes, tapped into every resource I had, AND I’ve got a pretty decent resume for my age/demographic.  I ended up with 4 followup interviews, but no official job offers and ALL of the recruiters I spoke with told me upfront, “our partners don’t offer visa sponsorship.”  Oh good.

PS: You also can’t open a bank account without an official Visa sponsorship that has already been approved, so you’re going to suffer through the exchange rate charge AND constant bank fees while you’re setting yourself up.

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2) Accommodation

It took me 3 months to find a decent apartment in London because flats disappear within a moments notice AND everything is insanely expensive.  You should expect to pay anywhere from 500-1000 GBP per month (without utilities) for a small, cold flat 30-60 minutes outside of the London city-center; and you’re going to be sharing with 3-4 people.  The generally accepted method for finding housing is to go through housing agents, but these people are the WORST human beings in London as they frequently bait-and-switch nice looking apartments online.  I saw 10-12 apartments before we finally found our current one. People will refer you to RightMove and Zoopla, but MOST (if not all) of their apartments were already sold/let when I called them but of course, they “had something else I might be interested in”…. good luck to you.

3) Cost of Living

If the average salaries in London are 20-30k, budgeting is CRITICAL.  Here’s the general tax bracket breakdown:

  • The first 10,000 GBP is tax-free
  • 10-32k GBP is taxed at 20%
  • 32-150k GBP is taxed at 40% (some exceptions apply)
  • 150k+ is taxed at 45%

So if you’re paying 500-1000 GBP for rent, that leaves you a FRACTION of your salary available for unnecessary personal expenses, like food.  Transportation will run you anywhere from 200-400 GBP per month.  Here’s a general breakdown of transportation fees.  Your best bet for cheap transport is via bus; but that’ll still cost you 1.50 GBP per ride.  The Tube will cost you anywhere between 2-5 GBP depending on what zone you’re traveling to… one way.  The overground Railway train (god help you) will cost you anywhere from 3-12.50 GBP ONE WAY so your best bet is to live closer to the city since you’re going to be paying whatever you saved on rent in transportation costs.

Let’s not forget that meals out will cost you anywhere from 9-25 GBP, alcohol 9-15 GBP, and general fun 5-30 GBP.  Credit card debit is second nature to most people and nearly EVERYONE lives at home until their late 20’s because they simply can’t afford to move out on a decent, middle-management salary.

4) Making Friends and Developing Communities

While London is probably THE most international city in the world (even more than New York in my opinion), English people are pretty hard to befriend.  Some may say that it’s because of their “British humor,” not to be confused with general meanness, but in reality, it’s because they don’t need to make new friends.  They have family friends, university friends, and childhood friends to choose from.  Your best bet is to find companionship within your own kind (i.e. culture, race, CrossFit box, etc) and build your community there.  All foreigners bond over their commonalities, delicious food, and general disdain for UKIP’s hostile position against immigration.  Also, British people are also not too keen on sharing feelings or intimate moments with fellow Brits and foreigners alike, so try not to take it personally.

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5)  Weather

London is gray pretty much all year round.  It’s wet, cold, and unforgiving… and I’m not just talking about the morning Tube commuters.  While you can take the girl out of California, you can’t take the California out of the girl.  I am noticeably impacted by the constant grayness of my new home and counting down the days until I’m lying poolside in Los Angeles. With that being said, there are a few TRULY gorgeous days in London and those are something NOT to be missed.  You’re going to need to set aside a “Escape Fund” to leave London every few weeks/months to maintain your sanity and understanding that coffee doesn’t normally cost 10 USD.

6) Safety

I live in the South of London, which is historically known as the more dodgy part of town, but I love it!  It’s constantly popping with clubs, bars, awesome restaurants, and people are on the streets from 6am to 5am, even on weekdays.  With that being said, I have had a few confrontations with overly aggressive men.  Since there are so many people out and about, I’ve been able to make enough noise to escape or I was being escorted by my 6’5″ (2 meters) boyfriend so it has never turned out poorly for me.  However, I am absolutely not as safe as I once was when I was living in Asia and it’s frustrating that I have to be so aware of my surroundings 24/7 simply because I’m a woman.

7) Currency Exchange

For the first time ever, this is the least of my problems.  I found Revolut at a Tech startup conference in London earlier this year and they told me about their money cloud program.  Basically, you save money while traveling because Revolut holds/exchanges the Great British Pound, the U.S. Dollar, and the Euro… all in one place. Backed by Master Card, the Revolut card can be used in any country (using any currency) as a normal domestic debit card AND you can send people money via apps like Facebook and Whatsapp. In my line of work, I get paid in USD but I need to pay my bills in GBP and I’m constantly in Europe throwing Euros like Kanye (not really). Revolut has the vision of making sending and spending abroad as easy as it at home, which is made of three parts:

a) Sending

Revolut allows users to send money through SMS/WhatsApp/Email and via URL. The recipient can retrieve money by downloading the Revolut app or by entering their bank account details after following the link. Revolut currently allow deposits and withdrawals in GBP, USD and EUR as well as sending in 20 other currencies (AUS, CAD, CZK, DKK, HKD, HUF, ILS, JPY, MXN, NZD, NOK, PLN, RON, SGD, ZAR, SEK, CHF, THB, TRY, AED).

b) Exchanging

Revolut provides the best possible exchange rate, the interbank rate. No hidden fees or spread! Revolut currently offers currency exchange between GBP, USD and EUR however this will soon expand this list.

c) Spending

With the multi-currency card you can spend abroad without the horrendous fees. Revolut’s multi-currency card currently supports GBP, USD and EUR and can be used online as well as offline immediately after there topping up on the Revolut app. Even if you spend abroad Revolut will automatically do the exchange so you get the most out of your money!

You can download the app by clicking here and you’ll even receive 500 GBP worth of exchanges for FREE (for a limited time) for being a Wander Onwards reader! 😀 Or you can use my “WANDERONWARDS” code in the app store. You can also invite friends to earn money and more free exchanges. You can also read more about them in my post: Save Money While Traveling With Revolut: The Money Cloud For GBP, USD, & EURO. 

So there it is.  I don’t want to romanticize the process because it’s actually the worst and you don’t want to kid yourself when you move overseas.  If you still think you’re cut out for the task, by all means, GO FOR IT.  It won’t be easy…

But since when is anything worth doing easy?

Check out more photos like these on Instagram! It’s my fav.

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About Vanessa Elizabeth

Vanessa Elizabeth is a cultural chameleon currently based in London. She enjoys sports (such as CrossFit and dating), cooking, and demolishing her savings account. When she's not busy blogging about her feelings, she works full-time and practices Chinese with her English/German friends.

  • Joel .Jackson

    Look at your ass sticking out in that top photo….. If that is how you dress and carry yourself, then it is no wonder why you are being harrassed….. You look like a call girl

  • Courtney Rhodes

    I am currently studying abroad here in London (I’m american) and I’m trying to find a way to stay. What would you say are the easiest jobs to get a sponsorship? Did you ever get one?

    Instagram: @heartmagik
    Facebook: Courtney D Rhodes

  • Wow. This is spot on! I just lived in the UK for a year (I’m American too) and this post sums it up perfectly. I especially loved “Some may say that it’s because of their “British humor,” not to be confused with general meanness” LOL!