How to survive London cover

Moving to London is part of the Kiwi experience, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one hell of a big step. So here are just a few of my tips for settling into the big smoke.

If you have any to add (or think I am way off the mark!) just tweet, Facebook or comment below.

Welcome to London y’all.

*Last updated in November 2015*

First few days

Before you arrive book a hostel or arrange to sleep on a friends floor for the first few days – you just need somewhere to get over the jetlag. After that I highly recommend a short term let (where someone has gone on holiday etc and you stay in their room), it means you have some stability but are not locked in before you know where you are working. I found mine on Move Flat, but also look on Spare Room or Facebook.

In your first week you will need to:

  • get an Oyster card – just go to your nearest station and pay £5
  • get a phone or SIM card for your phone – look at Orange, Three, Vodafone, Talk Talk, Giff Gaff, EE and T-Mobile to see who currently has the best deal
  • organize your national insurance number – just call the number on this page, they will send you a form to fill out and send back
  • get a bank account – see below

Bank accounts

The main banks in the UK are: Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds, RBS, Nat West and Santander. Currently the easiest bank for new arrivals Lloyds because they just need to see your passport (not proof of address).

But to choose any bank you want, get your NZ bank to redirect your statements to a UK address (even if it is a friends), the Banks are happy to use this as proof of address.

NB: most banks DON’T accept the national insurance letter as proof of address.

You should be able to get a basic bank account with no monthly fees – if they say you have to pay because you just arrived you should go to another bank. I choose to pay a monthly fee because my account also gets me travel insurance and mobile phone insurance and the monthly fee is cheaper than getting them separately. It totally depends on what you are looking for and is worth shopping around for the best offer.

Apps

Having a smart phone will basically save your life in London. The main apps to download as soon as you get here (you may need to switch to the UK version of the App Store first) are:

  • City Mapper – This will save your life time and time again, essentially a one stop shop for how to get from A to B. It takes into account Tube closures, and also combines bus/tube routes to give you the quickest options. Also it always shows a ‘rain safe’ option which should be taken very seriously indeed.
  • London Tube Map – this is a no-brainer, essentially just a tube map on your phone.
  • Tinder/Happn – Less of a way to meet people, more like free entertainment.
  • BBC iPlayer/Channel 4 OnDemand/UKTV Play – all ways to watch TV legally over the internet if you haven’t sorted a TV.
  • SkyScanner – compares all airlines so you can book the cheapest or most convenient.
  • Skype – your parents would kill me if I didn’t include this one.
  • Flatmates in London – New app on the scene to find flatmates in London

Transport

I didn’t know if I should include this or not,it all seems so obvious when you have been here for more than a week. Then I remembered my panic the first time I caught  a bus and well.. here it is.

Bus:

You swipe your Oyster when you board but not when you leave (you just push the bell and get off). YOU CAN’T USE CASH you either have to have an Oyster card or a contactless debit/credit card. At the moment (August 2015) a bus trip is a flat rate of £1.50 per ride no matter what the distance. But make sure to check here for the latest prices: TFL Prices.

Tube:

Less scary and confusing then you think, after all if you get on the wrong train you just get off at the next stop and start again. Pricing is per zone (i.e. more expensive if you cross over zones) and if you are under 26 you can get discounts by using a Young Persons Rail Card. Before you get the tube, just check google maps because there are some parts of Zone 1 where it is far quicker to walk. Top tip: don’t be a dick, give up your seat for anyone who needs it (even when you have to play the pregnant or fat game in your head). Again you can use your contactless debit card (if you got your bank account sorted) instead of an Oyster, just make sure you tap in and out with the same card.

Bike:

You can hire a Boris Bike all over London, you then just return it to another convenient docking station. Just be careful, because traffic in London is scary and you will most likely be riding without a helmet (which apparently is totally fine here).

Taxi:

In London the only cabs that can pick you up on the street without a prior booking is a Black Cab. Not kidding on this one, no other taxis are allowed to pick people up off the street. There are even massive advertising  campaigns about how dangerous it is to get into an unlicenced cab (the gist of which is all the unlicenced cab journeys seem to end in rape, theft or murder). The only way around this is by pre-booking with a mini-cab company (pre-booking could mean 5min before you are ready to leave). I always use Kabbee because it compares all the nearby mini-cab companies and gives you a rating for them. You can always go Uber but I personally don’t agree with their ethics, so I stick with hailing a Black Cab on the street or using Hailo to flag one down with my phone.

Jobs

As a general rule for office based jobs it is a good idea to register with two or more recruitment companies, and then bug them to death (they will forget about you). Shapelle has written a great piece on recruitment companies and job hunting in London which you can read here.

The recruitment companies over here are industry or job type specific. So you first need to find out which recruiter is going to have the type of job you are looking for. The best way to do this is ask someone already in the industry, but assuming you don’t know anyone go to a job site like Guardian Jobs, Total Jobs, Monster or Reed. Recruiters post job adds there, so find a job you are interested in and then approach the recruitment company that posted it. And if you are truly freaking the freak out about getting a job, click the panic image at the bottom of this post.

Food

You can feed yourself in London far cheaper than in New Zealand. I highly recommend going to markets for cheap fruit and vegetables, they are everywhere so just do some googleing for one near you.

In terms of supermarkets Waitrose is considered to be the most expensive, but they have some of the best meat/fish around. Sainsburys, Morrisons and Tesco are middle if the range, much of a muchness price and quality wise. The cheapest options are Aldi, Asda and Lidl, worth stocking up on basics.

Clothes

Kiwis are known for shopping up a storm when they first arrive. This is partly because there is some incredible shopping over here, but mostly because we had to pack our entire lives into a suitcase (and you had to make the hard choice of hair straighteners over those amazing glitter stilettos).

As an emergency measure (i.e. if you expected summer and got winter, the airport lost your luggage, or you are skint) start at Primark. The quality is not fantastic, but it is the ultimate in fast fashion where most of the clothes are under £10. Along the same lines is TK Maxx which is a bit like Kmart in NZ.

H&M is also a really good place to start, particularly for interview clothes. I got a jacket there for £14 that has managed to secure me two jobs. For vaguely less fashionable but yards ahead in quality, go to Marks and Spencer or John Lewis.

Although you can get a cheap suit at Primark and a still cheapish but a bit nicer suit at H&M; if you are after a proper corporate uniform head to TM Lewin, Marks and Spencer or Moss Bros.

When you get the flu after a week

First stop is Boots, which is a massive chain of chemists. The pharmacists in Boots are pretty good, and if you ask them simple health questions they can quite often help you out on the spot.

If you do need a prescription you have two options. You can go to a NHS walk-in centre – you will wait for a couple of hours but will be seen by either a doctor or nurse and you normally don’t have to pay anything.

Or, if you have a permanent address you can register with a GP. You can’t just pick which one you want to go to, they have catchment areas and they have to be accepting new patients (check out your options here). You then need to fill in a form and show bank statement or bill as proof that you are in their area and you can make an appointment to see them.

If it is life threatening the emergency services number in the UK is 999.

Rather confusingly (for Kiwi’s at least), over here 111 is a number for non-life threatening emergencies, if you are panicking and need advice it is the number to call.

Clothes hangers and rubbish bins et al

When you do finally move into a permanent flat, locating some of the mundane aspects of life can be challenging. Below is a list of shops to check out:

  • Poundland
  • Robert Dyas
  • Supermarkets
  • Marks and Spencer
  • Primark (for bedding)
  • John Lewis
  • IKEA
  • Argos

Social media – your new lifeline

One of the biggest surprises since moving to London is the extent to which social media has become ingrained in the expat lifestyle. If you need help, advice, or just need to know where to watch the rugby Facebook groups like Kiwis in London are the answer.

When you are new to a city even the smallest things can be seriously confusing (the two things that confused me when I first arrived was how to register with a doctor and where to buy coat hangers… the two are totally unrelated). But with a Facebook group you can quickly find the answer from the community.

Twitter has also been brilliant, both in finding other adventuring expats and in finding things to do. I (like the majority of people living in London) am completely skint, but because I follow @skintlondon on twitter I can fill my weekends with cheap/free activities.

It sure beats sitting at home complaining that you can’t afford a pint.

Making friends

This is one that took me almost a year of being here to learn. Some people move over here with a group of friends which is ideal because you have a buddy for all your London firsts. Me? I jumped the gun on London and moved a couple of years before my friends.

After months of walking and wandering on my own I decided to be brave and go out and meet people. I joined a netball team (until I realised that it involved running…), found a book club, attended blogging network events, and stalked Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi.

These were all activities that suited/interested me; if you want beer and rugby there are support groups out there for you as well.

Yes you feel like its the first day of school and are asking the kid eating crayons to be your friend, but the reality is that most expats (and some Londoners) are in the same position and are overjoyed to expand their social circle.

Some ideas for the lost and lonely:

  • go to KIL drinks (don’t worry if you are by yourself, just buy the guy next to you a shot and it will all be ok)
  • attend pub crawls e.g. Waitangi day pub crawl
  • social sports teams
  • evening classes
  • ask people at work out for drinks

You are in a city of almost 12 million people, there are friends out there. Find them.

So youve decided to move to London oh