Why London isn’t the best place to immigrate to

Cosmopolitan, enormous, frenetic, modern, historical, full of opportunities… and the only city in England that some people know. That’s London. But today I’d like to ask whether it’s really worth it to go live in the capital.

Six years ago, when I tried to start a new life in the UK for the first time, I thought of London (like everyone) but I ended up in Plymouth, and since then my eyes have been opened a bit. Now I live in Bristol, but I stay in touch with many friends who are putting up with London. I also often visit the city for work. As I was saying… here are some reasons they’ve given me NOT to live in London (or at least, not to have it as your first choice):

Life is more expensive.

This may seem obvious, but many people pack their bags and head to the airport without having Googled anything about the lifestyle and quality of life. Renting a room in a shared house in London can be about £500 (or more), while in other cities you can get a room in a house with fewer people for £300.

“As far as housing and renting goes, the prices in Cardiff are about 35% of the price you pay in London, maybe less if you’re further from the centre, etc. (…) In Cardiff it’s much easier to have a car. You can park in the centre cheaply and forget those hellish London buses and the Tube.” (Javier)

The salary doesn’t normally make up for it.

Life is more expensive and so you’d imagine the salaries are higher, but when we talk about new European emigrants, we’re often talking about minimum wage. Technically, there’s a ‘London Allowance’, where companies pay £1 more than the minimum, up to £7.50 an hour. But I know almost no one working in a café, bar, or in a similar line of work who receives this amount. Maybe they’ll get it, but it doesn’t seem to be a common thing.

However, for more specialized jobs, the compensation is higher. In some cases, 20% higher, but personally not even that would make me move to the capital unless it were for a better, long-term job opportunity. I think that doing the same thing for more money, when this means you have to spend more on housing and transport, and you don’t have the free time to enjoy the extra money, doesn’t make up for it.

You live far from the centre and/or from work.

Just because you don’t have a higher salary in such an expensive city, you have to look for the most affordable housing possible and it’s fairly far from everything. Because of this, you end up spending more money on public transport, in addition to spending one or two hours every day commuting.

“In Reading I go everywhere by bike, as nothing’s far. In London, I avoided the metro because I ended up hating it (too stressful) and it took 40 minutes to get to work on the bus. It’s true that the organization of public transport there is much better; here (in Reading), there are bus stops that don’t even tell you which bus stops there.” (Irene)

There’s more work in London. Yes, but…

I won’t argue that if you’re looking for work anywhere, you’ll find something quickly in London so you can scrape by. But it’s likely that if you invest a little of your savings and time in another city, it’ll be easier to find cheap housing: closer to your job but no more expensive. The United Kingdom has very dynamic cities like Bristol, Oxford, Brighton, or Manchester that might be better choices.

“… there’s a lot available in the services industry, but if you’ve studied and you want to work in your field, you’ll need luck and patience. During the six months I spend looking for a job in my field (in London), almost no one called me. One day, out of curiosity, I sent off my CV for a job in Liverpool and they called me the next day for an interview. (…) … in London I worked as a restaurant manager, and in Reading I’m doing a PhD.” (Irene)

As far as your professional career goes, everything depends on what you’ve studied. For architecture, design, business, and things like that, London has the best companies. If you’re looking for something more scientific, Cambridge and Oxford have business parks that invest in research. Bristol has a very good aeronautics industry. Nurses are needed all over the UK and pharmacists are given very high salaries in all cities, no matter how small.

There are work opportunities across the UK for all professions. If you prepare and put effort in your job search, London isn’t necessarily the best.

“In contrast, London is a city that’s three times bigger than Madrid and has everything to offer. Lots of work opportunities, and opportunities for promotion arise more quickly than in other less important cities. A great variety as far as employment goes, and easier when you’re looking for something in your field. (…) Depending on how well you do it, whether or not you work hard and take advantage of opportunities, etc., etc., the city will end up eating you alive or you’ll do great. It depends on how you deal with things and especially on your attitude. In London you can find whatever you are looking for.”(Jaime)


Quality of life.

What is quality of life? Everyone will have his or her own preferences when it comes to saying whether he or she is comfortable in one city or another. Work, social life, friends, stress, money, housing, free time… I think it’s a combination of everything. But in my experience and based on friends’ comments, if you live in London: you’ll spend more money, you’ll spend more time on public transport than with your friends, you’ll notice the stress, and you’ll feel overwhelmed when it comes to things like housing and salary.

“If I were offered a good job in London now, I would definitely turn it down. Seeing my daughter grow up in the countryside where she can play in the parks and go off on a bike without any danger is priceless. Being able to have your own garden, chickens, even pigs or rabbits is unlikely in a big city like London. (…) If I had to recommend a city to someone it wouldn’t be London, since housing is very expensive and people aren’t as friendly as in other places in the UK.” (Milena)

In a smaller city (which doesn’t have to mean a town), you can get around on public transport faster or go on foot, you’ll save more, and you’ll live at a different pace…

“Spanish people in Cardiff have a calmer life with fewer problems than those in London. I imagine they have more free time and more money at the end of the month. (…) Leisure activities and nightlife in Cardiff are fairly good, and the bars are much closer to each other than in London. There are fewer events, but it’s not bad given the city’s size. I think it’s worth living in London for a year, but after that it’s better to settle in a cheaper city, unless your career prevents you from doing so.” (Javier)

Points in London’s favour:

I realize I’ve thought about and written this article with the goal of “selling” the other cities in the United Kingdom as better than London, but everything has its pros and cons.

Nightlife and leisure activities are much better in London. But you already knew that: in a city of nine million people, the culture and activities on offer are bound to be lightyears ahead of anywhere else. However, if you’re earning minimum wage and spending almost half of it on rent… where are you going to get the money to go to the cinema, to go out, or to go to the theatre?

Public transport takes you everywhere. The tube is great because it goes everywhere. There are also hundreds of bus lines… but it comes down to the same thing again. If you have to pay £40 a week for your Oyster Card, only to feel like a sardine every morning in the metro before going to work (and in summer the heat is unbearable inside the train cars)… maybe it’s better to live in a smaller city and go by bike or walking to other places, stress-free.

I can’t think of any other points in favour of London, because you don’t have to live in London to enjoy the events, concerts, and activities there. Often, depending on the frequency with which you go to concerts, clubs, or whatever interests you in the capital, you can just as well live in another city, pay half the price for rent, and put that money into the train (while still saving some too).

Londoners, if you have arguments that’ll open my eyes, please leave a comment!

A big thank you to the Spanish people who helped me by answering some questions:

  • Milena García. 35 years old, from Alzira (Valencia). Currently living in Chilmark (Salisbury). Married, with one daughter. She first arrived in the UK 16 years ago.
  • Jaime. 26 years old, from Madrid. Living in London, but lived in Northampton before. 10 months in the UK.
  • Irene, 28 years old, from Bierzo (León). Currently living in Reading. Lived in other cities like Birmingham and Aberdeen. Now she’s doing a PhD. Four years living in the UK.
  • Javier Martín, 33 years old, from Seville. Less than a year in Cardiff. Came to London five years ago.

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