How to survive in London (2) – What not to do

London traffic lights
photo: Doug Wheller/flickr

In the previous post in this series (Things to do before arriving), I listed a series of things to do before moving to London. However, it’s important to remember which things to avoid doing, too.


1. … send money by Western Union for a room before even seeing it.

Oddly enough, many people have fallen for this scam. Seeing an advertisement for a room at a very good price and with very promising photos, the “victim” contacts the scammer (usually before arriving to the UK), who promises to give him or her the room or apartment if s/he sends the first month of rent or the deposit by Western Union. Once the money has arrived, the scammer disappears and the apartment doesn’t exist.

2. … arrive with (almost) no savings.

photo: David Holt/flickr

Even though most people usually bring a decent amount of money to the UK, many don’t bring enough because they are not aware of how expensive everything is once you get there. I cannot recommend an exact amount as it all depends on what kind of job you find and when you find it, where you live, and many other factors. However, even if you find a high-paying job the first day and get paid within two or three weeks (the chances of this happening are almost non-existent), you will have to pay for rent before then. Let’s say you have a simple room in zone 3 for £500 a month, plus two weeks’ deposit (the deposit is often a month or even more): that’s already £750. If you add in transport fees and your food budget… that’s a minimum of £1,000 that you’ll need before you get paid, and this is the best case scenario. Although, as I mentioned previously, there are other options: you may have someone with whom you can stay for free for a month, or maybe you want to stay in a hostel until you find work and then look for an apartment (in these cases the initial payment for the new apartment would come later). In conclusion, it all depends on your specific circumstances, but the more money you can bring, the better, because you don’t know how things will go.

3. … be intolerant of differences.

photo: Paul Bence/flickr

If you already know London and you like it and that’s why you want to live here, that’s great: you won’t have problems. However, if you do not know the city very well and only come because you need to find a job, you should know that London is an extraordinarily multicultural and multiracial city. If you have prejudices against other nationalities or cultures, leave them at home. Many of the comments constantly being made in Spain are considered very offensive and you can get in trouble for them. If for you living and working with people from around the world, listening to dozens of different languages, and seeing other customs and religions is more of an inconvenience than an interesting way to learn new things, you’d better go somewhere else.

4. … forget to familiarize yourself with London transport.

There are two important things to consider about London’s public transport system: first, London is a very big city and there are many zones (and the further you go from central London, the higher the price of the journey will be), and second, you can’t always trust it. The first point is important because you will realise that if you go far, the apartments will be cheaper, but if you live in zone 8 and have to travel to central London every day, you may well end up paying the difference in transport (plus you may regret the amount of time you spend on the tube). The second point is also crucial, as it’s the reason why many of us check the Transport for London’s website frequently or register to get the company’s weekly reports about which lines will be closed, upcoming strikes, or whatever else comes up. Surprisingly, every week there are several lines affected for one reason or another, and many people have suddenly found themselves in a situation where they couldn’t reach their destination, unless they took three different buses and left two hours earlier than normal. With the buses, you also need to take into account that sometimes they don’t come when they are supposed to, some of them change their destinations mid-way or are on a diversion and some of them simply stop sooner than they should (and instead of having a clear sign outside explaining this, they tend to announce it later, when many people are already inside). My advice is to be patient, and if you have something important like a job interview, or if it’s your first day, leave home way earlier just in case something goes wrong. Once you have done the same route several times, you will become familiar with any incidents that might happen and have a solid plan B (and C).

5. … assume that everything will go smoothly.

photo: Chris Devers (Banksy) /flickr

I don’t mean to be a killjoy, but in most cases the London dream is not what many expect it to be. Perhaps you imagine that you will arrive, find an apartment near Covent Garden for yourself, find your dream job, see musicals every month and have a group of English friends who are dying to hang out with you, and every two or three months you will go home for a few days to see your family. I’m afraid that the chances of all that happening are very, very low. It’s more likely that you’ll arrive in London and it will be raining, you will have trouble understanding the different accents; if you get a job people might get frustrated when they see that you don’t understand them; you will share an apartment with five people (if you’re lucky), with no dining room and a filthy kitchen (you’ll have seen a mouse several times, and suspect there may be more); and one filthy bathroom. And if that weren’t enough, you will live in zone three and earn next to nothing, and when you have a day off, you will have neither the money (you spend it all on rent, food and transport) nor the energy to do anything. Unfortunately, this scenario is way more plausible. Maybe you’ll arrive and everything will go really well, but just in case, don’t expect too much and stick to strive to improve things little by little. Because that is possible, and it is one of London’s advantages.

6. … assume that everything will be a disaster.

Don’t worry, I won’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Although it may seem as if I’m contradicting myself, I want to advise you to not be too pessimistic either. In London you can start on the bottom, but you can also climb to the top much faster than in many other places. The possibilities of changing jobs, getting promoted and having your salary raised are generally much higher in London (depending on the job sector), and you can benefit from this. At first, you have to sacrifice many things, and you may have a bad time, feeling that all you are doing is working and you barely have money left at the end of the month (this happened to me at first). But when you are more qualified and find a better job (maybe even doing something you like), you will start saving and will be able to do things like afford a better apartment in an area that you like. Eventually you will look back and think it was worth it, even though the beginning was not easy.

Post written by Roser Aguirre

Roser runs, where she offers information about living in London and learning English for Spanish speakers. If you want more information about living in London, download her free guide “Cómo triunfar en Londres” (Spanish).

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