Are you planning to move to London or newly moved recently? Especially if you're from outside of the UK, you're probably as lost as I was a couple of months ago. There's a lot of information I wish someone had told me before making the move. Let me save you from some heartache and stress.
Which phone company is similar to the one I had back at home? How do you rent an apartment? How do you set up a bank account? Credit cards? Internet? Quality of water? Etc. How difficult can any of this be to set up?
Coming from America and having rented many different places over the last 10 years in multiple states, it's been so easy to open bank accounts, open phone lines, obtain cable/internet, go to Ikea to buy furniture, and so forth. But it's much more difficult doing this when you're new to London and you also need to figure out the similar companies and stores of America. Here are the things I wish someone told me before I moved to London.
1. Bank Account
First things first. You need a bank account to do many basic things including getting a mobile phone line. Ideally, you want to open up an international bank account - one that is both in your home country and in London. Then, you can transfer money over to the new account you open in London and you can maintain your premium status from home. To open a bank account in London, you'll require a proof of employment, proof of residency (VISA, etc), and proof of work compensation.
If you don't want to go this route, another trending option is internet banking. I don't mean online banking in the traditional way. There are new banks solely online, as opposed to a physical building, that only require a one-time transfer of X amount of money to open your account. They will send you a debit card that you can use without being charged with VAT issues each time you spend money. They're very safe by monitoring any fraud issues around the clock and millions are currently using them. There are a few out there that I've seen such as TransferWise and Monzo.
2. Mobile Phone
To set up your mobile phone line is unfortunately complicated. In America, you can go to pretty much any major retailer and purchase a phone line. If, for some reason, you don't get approved you can go to a small retailer and purchase a pay-as-you-go option, which is basically a phone card. It's not the case in London at all.
First, you need a UK bank account to open an account with a mobile retailer. If you don't have credit, since you won't as a new member of the UK, you will be denied a multi-family phone line until you provide proof of pay checks. After about 2-3 months of salary documentation, the mobile company may approve you for a second line. The second line will be under the name of the person who opened the initial account. If the second family member wants a phone line in their own name, you'll have to repeat this entire process of providing proof of employment and bank accounts in that specific person's name.
3. Pay Day
This leads to the next point. How often are you getting paid in America? Usually it's once a week or once every two weeks. In London, you'll be paid once a month! So, that pay check you need as proof of some form of credit will be coming to you in a month. Often times, one pay check is not enough for credit approval, so you may be waiting for that third pay check before you can get another mobile phone line.
4. Credit Cards
Which brings us to our next point. Debit cards are available upon opening a bank account. Credit cards outside of your bank cards, such as rewards credit cards, usually require a minimum of three pay checks (3 months) of proof to obtain approval. Even with making more than enough money, my husband and I were approved for a £1,000 maximum limit.
You will be more than surprised to know that for an first world city, there are towns in London that do NOT have fiber optics. Yes. I learned this the hardest way possible - by experiencing it in our own homes. We have copper wires. What are those? I didn't know until now that copper wires are one step up from AOL dial-up internet, install 100 years ago. Do you remember AOL that from the 1990s? Yes, copper wires will provide you with very slow speed. Another friend we know who lives on the other side of London from us has DSL, which if you remember from decades ago, uses your phone line for internet.
I ended up going for the next speed up which was mobile hot spots. The average speed you will get is 2-20 mbps. It's very slow. Basically, you can only stream shows OR use your laptop on the internet. Trying to connect multiple devices to the mobile hotspot at one time will lead to a major crippling lag. But this was better than the copper wire internet. Make sure you find an area to live in that has fiber optics. You can ask your realtor about this when looking for a place.
5. Furnished Flats
Most of the apartments, called "flats" in London, will come furnished for renters. You can always request for it to be unfurnished of course or partly furnished based on what you're willing to keep or replace. This is completely up to the renter's own preference.
My personal opinion, is to keep the place furnished by the property management company if you're staying in a flat for 12 months or less. If you plan on staying in London indefinitely, you may want to purchase your own furniture. Remember that the furniture you rent has been used by many others before you and were probably not cleaned. I took the covers off of my couch cushions to wash when we first moved in and they came out of the washer one shade whiter! I'm a bit of a germaphobe so, seeing this made me wish we had never asked for a furnished flat.
6. Unfiltered Air
Hopefully, you've noticed your HVAC system in your American home. It has return-air vents in your home that are pulling air back into the central air system. It also filters the air in your home, including dust which is 99% dead skin cells. They are the filters you're supposed to replace regularly. I took the hard work they do for granted until I moved to a country where the HVAC system doesn't exist in your home. There is no air conditioning in London homes. So, don't bother asking your realtor about that. And the heating system is usually via a radiator or heated floors.
What's the end result? Literal tumbleweeds of dust bunnies all around your home. Where are these dust bunnies coming from? Everywhere! From outside when you open the doors, from under your front door, and yes, from your dead skin cells.
The two key elements you NEED when you move into your new British home is an air purifier for each room and a mop. I check my air purifier filters regularly and they need to be cleaned at least every 3-4 weeks of the copious amounts of dust it traps. I also suggest you purchase the Swiffer or it's equivalent in America and bring it over with you to London because American brands are sold at a premium of nearly 3X what you would spend in the States.
7. Air Quality in the Tube
Moving on to our next related topic of air quality is the air quality in the subway, known as the "tube". Understand that the tube system, especially the Northern line, is nearly 200 feet (60 meters) underground. It's much farther down than that of the New York subway system. It takes two escalators to reach it. Knowing this and that the tube stations are ancient, you can expect the air quality to be extremely poor in the tubes.
I never thought about this until I came home each day. What did I blow out of my nostrils into the tissue? Black soot. The only other time I experienced this was in downtown Hong Kong and Lima, Peru. It may be ideal to walk or take the bus more instead of taking the tube, since London is a very walkable city. Or you can wear a mask, but I doubt that will help much.
8. Proper Shoes.
Since we're on the subject of walking, I just want you to know that London is a very walkable city. It's a small city and there are plenty of areas to walk without hitting a highway like you would in the States. For that reason, people tend to walk more. It's also more economical and healthy. But for this reason, there's no point in packing uncomfortable shoes - I'm talking to men and women alike. Along with the wet weather and the extra walking, you want to find a good pair of work boots (men and women) that are stylish, work chic, and weatherproof.
9. Rain gear.
As you've probably heard, London is synonymous with rainy weather. But when Americans think of rainy seasons, we think of downpours all day everyday because that's usually how it is in the Northeast. That's not the case with London at all. When it rains, it will mildly rain at most once or twice a day for a short period. When that rainfall passes, sometimes its so sunny outside that it looks like it never happened.
Since the rainfall occurs irregularly, you always want to have a foldable raincoat or an umbrella with you at all times. It's so easy to get caught in unexpected rain in London. This is another reason why proper weatherproof shoes are important to invest in.
10. Safe water.
Lastly, we have arrived at one of the most important points. This is always a concern when you move from state to state or from country to country about water quality. You want to trust that what comes out of your faucet is safe for you to drink and bathe with. Is London's tap water safe to drink? Technically, it is because it passes the minimum requirements put forth by the European water quality standards. But that's not the most reassuring information.
London is known to have hard water. The water pipes are ancient and the water has a high pH with high levels of calcium and magnesium that can lead to limescale. If you let the tap water sit on black plastic, like my Brita filter lid, when it dries you see the white residue it leaves. Yes, the water is leaving residue. Imagine that on everything from your dishes, glasses, skin and hair. Due to the high levels of calcium, it makes cleaning very difficult.
Washing your hair and skin will be nothing short of traumatic. Your hair loss due to the residue left behind by the tap water causes a large amount of hair loss due to it sitting on your hair follicles. It also leads to dry skin and clogged pores. You can imagine this water also leads to residue in your laundry.
When you are looking for a place to live, you want to check if the building uses water softeners in the water system. If they don't, check that the shower heads are able to adapt filters that you can buy and attach yourself. Worst case scenario, you'll have to filter water, fill empty water bottles with it, and bring it with you for each shower which is what I have resorted to after discussing this issue with many new and old expats in London.
There is much more information that I learned and wished someone told me about before my big move to London with my husband. But I want to share with you the really big make-or-break tips that can help you prepare for your big move. If you need more information, feel free to reach out to me or leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you. Until then, enjoy your new experience and new chapter of your life as an expat!
The Palette Cleanser
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