Moving is hard to do. I always find that the hardest part of moving is the questions. Sure, I am neurotic and a control freak so I always believe that research is key and knowledge is power.
In my opinion when moving a country you always encounter difficulties and hurdles you can’t plan for, so you would be wise to plan for those you can.
This page is my 2 cents about moving to London. These are the questions I would have liked to get answers to before moving here. It is by no mean a complete list or gospel, just my experiences and what I remember now. I think you can take most of the questions and apply anywhere, unfortunately you’ll get very different answers. Feel free to comment, correct or ask.

The first thing we learned the hard way is – knowledge is power. Be sure to know as much as you can about as much as you can. For instance – legal stuff. We were put in a weird situation when we left Gibraltar because they could not provide us with the Family Permit we needed in order for Hidai to work in the UK legally. After researching the internet and reading the actual law, we found out you can get it at the airport (sort of, and not recommended because they don’t really like it when you do that), so research is everything. Even if you are doing a proper Relocation through a company it is no less important to know your rights, because sometimes (and trust me, it happens more than you would think) the company can tell you / do things that you have a legal right to say no to. You really don’t want to be totally dependant on the company that brought you over. So my first advice, and I can’t stress that enough, is (and I know it sounds paranoid, but like they say – it ain’t paranoia if they are really after you) KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.

Second, the four big issues you have when moving – legal, work, house, school. For those things my second advice will be – DON’T BE SHY. You are new, ask everything and everyone.
Legal comes first, because you have to do it in advance and it takes time.
Work, I am assuming you found before arriving, but if not (or if you are looking for a place to start), every field is different I guess, and I only know what worked for us, but a good place to start is recruiters and LinkedIn. You will also need an English CV according to the rules here. Google it. And a cover letter (more a cover email but still very important). The only advice I can give is – DON’T BE SHY. Especially with recruiters and LinkedIn, try everything, approach everyone, and don’t be afraid to go straight to the managers and not through HR. We found that on the internet, people really have no shame, and the worst thing that can happen is that they won’t respond, but on the other hand you can get good connections, a few interviews to let you hone your interview skills and maybe a job in the end. Oh, and remember salary is discussed in yearly terms.
House, that is the biggest issue coming over. It is interwoven together with job and school. The questions to ask are (in no particular order) – location – inside or outside of London, distance from work, schools, ethnic group you want / don’t want to be near to, transport, house or apartment, money for rent.
These are all very personal questions and the importance given to each of them is different for each person. For us, school is the first factor and the most important one.
Budget planning – the rent is calculated in weeks, so a month is 4.2 weeks, not 4. Also take into account the travel cost, and be aware that it will be your single biggest expense and can be half of your earning (sometimes less, sometimes more).
If you decided to live inside London you will need to start by choosing the borough you want to live in. It is not easy, because London is a big city and every borough is divided in itself, and every neighbourhood has good and bad streets etc. If you feel you are lost there are companies that help with that, like this one, which we talked to. Keep in mind they take one month rent as a fee, and that they use their own set of criteria for where to send you. I can’t tell you how to choose. I can offer you to do what we did – sit down and decide on a budget, then on a set of criteria that is right for you and it doesn’t matter how silly or un-right they sound to anyone else (for us it was – education, Arsenal, good transportation to everywhere, and that we can afford it), and then start looking for letting agencies and setting appointments. It is a very lively market, and houses get snatched very fast, but also new ones appear every day so don’t be discouraged. Use as many as you can in the area you chose, and also if you are looking at apartment complexes there is usually a management company in the building that has apartments for rent that no other agent has, so ask them. The deposit is usually 6 weeks rent, and it will stay with the letting agency until you leave. Get a receipt. You will also need a reference letter from someone, in English, stating that you are a nice & responsible person, and one from your employer stating that you work for them. The landlord might ask the employer to sign some assurance that they are responsible for paying your rent, or they might want them to co-sign your rental agreement. It’s fine, you are new, next time will be easier. It usually happens that the letting agency will be the one handling everything and managing your place, or you might get a landlord who does it himself and it’s just the contract and deposit that goes through the letting agency. The houses are sometimes furnished and sometimes not, rent in London is high and houses are usually smaller than what you are used to, and sometimes you have to downsize a room or two, so take that into account.
School, is another big decision. The best place to start is ofsted, who are in charge of checking and grading the schools in the UK. If you want something more easy to read, go to the BBC, and also Foxtons agency is a good place to start looking, because they have a map with the houses for rent in relations to schools and the schools latest ofsted grade. We called all the schools we were interested in and made appointments to tour all of them, and we took Ron with us so he can help choose. It gave him a sense of control, and of being a part. Keep in mind that schools has catchment areas, so if you want a specific school you need to live inside its catchment area, but things are a bit more complicated than that. What I know is true for Islington, but I think it’s the same everywhere. When you first enroll a child to school here you list up to 6 schools in order of preference and the council (and school) choose for you according to a set of criteria: first are kids that are looked after by the council or adopted kids etc, then siblings, then social/medical needs, and then distance to school. If you didn’t get in to the school you wanted you are put on a waiting list that goes according to distance. When you arrive mid-year the council has to provide you with a place, but then it goes according to which school has an open spot and then to distance, so you can live across the road from a school and still send your kid to a different, further away school. Of course that is true unless the school is willing to let you in and ask the council to enroll you with them. That is why a visit to the school is super important. Also, everything I wrote is true for primary schools. I have no knowledge of Secondary schools (year 7 and up) and for private nurseries. Yon goes to the school nursery (age 3 and up are part of school system). He gets 15 hours a week of free nursery time, and after that I can choose if I want to pay for him to stay longer hours.

Third part is the smaller stuff –
Bank Account – you really need one. Open it as soon as you can. We opened ours in Gib so I can’t tell you how it’s done here but I am very sure you will need a letter from your employer.
National insurance Number – you need one. When you get here you need to check this page, and then call them and set an appointment with “JobCenter Plus” and they do an interview in which you explain why you are entitled to one, and they give you one. Please, please, please bring all your documents and make sure they understand exactly what your legal situation is. 
Bills are important. The most important bill you’ll have is the council tax because it will be what you use to prove where you live. Everyone wants to see your council tax, so talk to your council (usually you can do it online) as soon as possible  It is a yearly sum that runs from April and is divided to monthly sums that they will be happy to take by direct debit. Electricity and water are the other two bills you’ll pay every month. I don’t have a lot to say about both, because they came with the house, just be aware that if you use electricity for heating – it can increase your bill by a lot. We pay it through a fixed amount in our rent so that’s an option also sometimes.
Phone, internet, TV are usually linked together. First of all – take a deep breath, it takes time. A lot of time. Second, check your area for coverage because some of the new stuff they offer so nicely on the website just won’t exist in your area. The big companies are Sky, BT, and Virgin. It’s a good starting point. They all make you take a landline, even if you don’t want one. BT supplies all the landlines (even if you go through Sky or whatever you still pay “rental” to BT on your landline. Even if you go through BT you pay rental, which is about 12 pounds per month). TV is dependant on what you want – you can get the Freeview channels everywhere and for free. If you want more – sports, movies, etc., then you will need to pay one of those companies. Internet comes in different speeds and ways. It usually better to take a package from one of them as it’s cheaper, but shop around and compare, and always – define needs. Oh, and do it as soon as possible, because installation takes time… Until you get your internet make sure to have the 3G on your phone, and if you have a computer, sign up to BTOpenZone, you pay for a set period of time and you get internet on one machine. You have to have someone install a phone line (really. Even if you know for sure that the last tenant had a phone line) which takes about 3 weeks to happen, in the meantime you get your router in the post, and only about 24 hours after the technician installed your phone line will you be able to log-in to the network they install with the password they assign you. For the TV, if you want more than the Freeview, they send you by post the viewing card and you get a technician to come and install it about a week-ten days from when you call. For a second TV in the house you should look at something called a magic eye, that lets you watch TV in a different room, you buy that and an extra remote control and you’re fine. The only thing is you have to watch the same channel on all TVs.
Mobile phones, because you can’t live without them can you? You have lots of different companies in the UK and I can’t tell you who’s better than who, and anyway it depends on preference  As a new person to the UK, I don’t really know a lot of people but I need to use the maps wherever I go, so Internet (3G) was the most important for me, but the real reason I chose mine is because it was what they sold at the airport and had the best package for beginners. Hidai got his from work so he didn’t really had a choice. My only advice here will be, go with a pay-as-you-go and not a contract, at least until you are sure you like the mobile company you chose, and when you get your debit card / credit card, register online so you can buy your add-ons or packages online and quickly. You will need a local address and card for it, so don’t try doing it outside of here.
Transportation – the sooner you start using public transportation and not taxies the better for you (and your money). If you need a taxi use Hailo, and it will order it for you instead of trying to catch one on the street (unless you see one on the street). Also, you really don’t want to drive or own a car in London in the beginning, at least until you feel secure enough to drive on the wrong side, and when you see if you have parking, which is a HUGE problem here. What you want to do is go to TFL website and find out how much it will cost you to get to work / school / etc every month, and then buy an Oyster and register on-line (again, you will need a local card and address for that) so you can do either auto top up or season ticket. Do it because otherwise you’ll get stuck with no money on your Oyster. While budget planning don’t forget to take into account the travel cost. It can be very high.
 best Apps I am using to get around – Citymapper, bus Times, Hailo, Oyster Card, Tube Maps, Tube Status.
GP, you are entitled to NHS treatment, and for that you need a GP. The question of wether NHS is good enough for you is a personal one and depends on your needs, where you live, and costs. We have both private medical insurance (as Jewish and Israelis are lives are not whole without private medical insurance), but also NHS GP because usually our needs are very basic, except for Yon who get excellent excellent excellent treatment through the NHS. Anyway, if you want NHS treatment look at the NHS website, and see what clinics are in your area. You will need your passport, Council Tax and to fill lots of paperworks, but in the end you will have a GP and you will get NHS numbers in the post a few months later. Don’t worry, you’ll be in the system and you can go see a doctor if you need even before you get the NHS numbers.
Moving your things – it’s called Removals here (which I didn’t know), and it costs a lot of money. You have road, sea or air removals, and it basically depends on where you are moving from and how much money you want to pay. It’s expensive in every way and it always takes a lot of time, so choose wisely. My advice is – take everything you can. We tried both ways – fast(ish) air removal with no furnitures, kitchen things, electronics etc. and road removal with everything we own included. The second way is better. Buying new is expensive and time consuming. You won’t know where to buy, you will miss the things that turnes a house into a home, and you will have to pay for delivery anyway. So if you can, send it all. It’s easier to chuck it out here than buy new. Don’t bring big electric things like fridge or oven. But bringing your furniture makes it easier to rent unfurnished places.
Clothes – you will need formal clothes for work, especially if you are used to Israeli standards, school uniforms and winter clothes. Trust me, you will need winter clothes – coats, gloves, hats, boots (for rain and for snow), warm socks, etc.
Food – you have your Asda, Tesco, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Ocado, and speciality shops. It depends on what you like, which one is nearer to you and how much you want to pay. We buy online because a) it’s more convenient if you don’t have a store near you and a car, b) it gives you more control on your expenses c) it lets you combine a few stores. We usually combine Sainsbury’s, Ocado and Kosher kingdom. But what i can say if you are new here – it takes time to learn what you like, how much to buy and where. Even coming from Gib, where you basically have the same food, it still took us about 3 months to get a handle on our new eating habits and stop throwing stuff.

Fourth part – Cost
That is the last of the big questions – how much does living in London costs. It’s a difficult question, and as usual depends on a lot of variables, not the least of them is – how much money do you have.

The average salary in London is around 35,000 pounds per year, but I think for a family who needs at least a 2 bedroom house, that is way too low. According to an article in the Guardian, a family in London needs at least 52,000 and it would be better to have 60,000 or more.

I can give you our numbers, but you have to remember that they are just that – our numbers. A lot of people live in London on less, a lot live on more. But because I know that’s the one big variable that you need to consider before accepting a job offer and before moving, here are the numbers:

These numbers are for a family with 2 kids in school.
Rent – our area is anywhere between 400 to 800 pounds per week for a house of 2-3 bedrooms.
Council Tax – around 100-200 pounds per month, depending on where you live.
Electricity – we don’t pay for the heating (it’s included in the rent), so about 85 pounds per month.
Water – 30 pounds per month, which according to Thames Water is the average for a four person home, with a yearly offset at some point.
Mobile – 15 pounds a month for one cell phone, for a calls & internet monthly bundle.
TV, phone and internet – again depends on what you want, but I think the average is about 70 pounds per month, and you have to calculate a bit more for Skype if you want that as well.
Transportation – anywhere between 100 and 500 a month. Take that into account when choosing a house, because sometimes it’s better to pay more for the house and less for the travel.
Food – anywhere between 400 and 1,000 pounds, depending on where you buy, what you buy, and how many times you order in / eat out.
Of course that’s not all, and if you want to go out and enjoy London budget around 100 pounds per family outing, you have shopping, house furnishing, etc. so you would ideally want to leave some money for the unplanned and for the fun.
But also, you have to remember that getting back to the way you lived your life before you moved takes time. It takes time to find a cleaner, it takes time to feel secure enough to go out and leave the kids with a babysitter, to want to go to a gym, to find a hairdresser, etc. So when you are planning your budget don’t try and copy exactly what you spent your money on before the move, because it won’t be the same.

Fifth part – conclusion
The thing is, the first year is chaos, and it usually feels like the money is not enough, no matter how much of it you have and how meticulous your planing is. Don’t be hard on yourself. A lot of people (in Israel. i don’t know about other places) choose to move to make their financial situation better, and it will, but not in the first year.It takes time to learn how to shop. It takes time to learn how to live, and until you’ve completed one full circle (at least) you are still in the learning stage, not only in the money area, but in all areas of life.
That is why, I think, my final advice is – DON’T GIVE UP. It’s hard, sometimes it’s heart breaking, sometimes there is no light in the end of the tunnel, and sometimes you just can’t remember why you did the move for. But after all is said and done, living in London? for us, it’s a dream come true, and we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Expat Women

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One Response

  1. Spencer Kitamura
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    I appreciate your effort
    Spencer Kitamura recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

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