I just moved to London to help Business Insider open its new office, and I couldn’t be more excited! Or exhausted.
Picking up your life and moving to a different country is a lot of work, even if you speak the language.
I had the advantage of studying abroad in London during the summer for a couple months six years ago, so I knew the general lay of the land. But this trip is different. I plan to stay and work for a year, and this time I have no credit card from mum and dad nor a school network of friends.
If you’re a world traveller, some of this may seem like novice advice, but having never moved farther than Connecticut to New York, this was a BIG move. And I’ve learned a lot along the way. Here are some notes on my adventures so far.
Before you go
One of the biggest hurdles is getting the Visa, that tiny piece of paper that makes everything else possible. I was fortunate enough to have the support of my company, which pushed through most of the paperwork and handled the fees. I couldn’t imagine going through that process alone.
Once you have the Visa and know about how long you plan to stay, make yourself a checklist to tie up loose ends at home. Are you going store big furniture or have it shipped? Are you going to keep your apartment and sublet it or let your lease expire? Many of these questions depend on your financial situation and how your company is willing to help you out. I rented a locker in Manhattan to store most of my furniture and moved out of my apartment when the lease was up in April into an AirBnb.
If you’re not holding onto your apartment, make sure give the post office an address where you feel safe having your mail collected, like your office or your parent’s home address. Do the same thing with your bank and utility companies to make sure you don’t miss any important notices or bills, though it’s wise to settle all bills before you leave.
Get a credit card that has no international fees. You won’t be able to get new cards from a bank in your new country immediately, so this is important. Also, let your bank know you’ll be travelling so they don’t freeze your cards.
Travel with some foreign currency. The cab might not take a credit card or your card might not be accepted at the ATM — it’s just a good backup.
I didn’t make myself crazy doing research about apartments before I left because I knew had a temporary place to stay and apartment-hunting in a foreign country is one of those things done best by hitting the ground. I wanted to get a feel for each neighbourhood before settling down in one place. You can ask people for tips on where to live, but I found that everyone gives different advice because everyone has different taste preferences. Sometimes you just need to find what you like and go with that. It’s not a bad idea to check the crime rate though.
I brought three suitcases, including one carry-on and a backpack that was probably the weight of a small child. This was not ideal, but there are few other options when you’re moving to another country by yourself. You can either ship stuff (so expensive it doesn’t even feel worth it) or buy all new clothes there (a fun thought but so expensive you might then not be able to afford a place to live.)
Every airline has their own baggage rules, but Delta only allows one “free” checked bag and charges $US100 for the second one. You’ll also get slammed with a fee if your bag is over 50 pounds. Your bag won’t be allowed to fly if its over 70 pounds. I suggest weighing your bags before leaving for the airport to spare yourself the trauma of rejiggering things at check-in so that you make the cut (yea, that happened.)
This was pretty standard for economy class. There was a blanket and pillow waiting inside a plastic bag when I got to my seat and TV screens on the back of each head rest. The movies were free. I slept through dinner and woke up around snack time — a croissant and yogurt.
London is five hours ahead of New York, so it was morning when the plane landed. Immigration was surprisingly fast despite being jumbled into a line with all nationals besides those in the EU. Why are here? Work. Where do you work? Business Insider. Approved.
Reserving a taxi ahead of time was the best decision of my trip and much cheaper than taking a black cab from Heathrow. After strolling through border control and grabbing my overweight suitcases at baggage claim, I was relieved to see a man holding up a sign with my name on it. Please, take these awful bags from me. At last, I was almost home.
The big banks in the UK are HSBC, Barclays, Bank of Scotland, and Lloyds. Opening a bank account is not hard as long as you have a visa and letter of employment and residence from your employer. One bank turned me away because my letters, though completely legitimate, were not up to snuff by their standards. The next bank gladly took me in. So, if first you don’t succeed, try another bank. It only took two days to get my new cards. Once you open a U.K. account you can generally move money from your U.S. account through online banking, though it can take some time for the funds to transfer over. I took a bank check as a back-up in case the funds didn’t transfer, but it turns out that the check can take up to six weeks to clear, so that ended up being somewhat unhelpful.
I kept my iPhone 5 but had to unlock it in order to get a U.K. SIM card. If you’re not at the end of your two-year contract, you can pay a fee to unlock your phone early, depending on the provider. Once it’s unlocked you can put any SIM card into it. It’s common to get monthly pay-as-you-go SIM cards in the U.K., meaning you’re not stuck in a long-term contract.
They drive on the left-hand side of the road, obviously. As a pedestrian, it seems easier to get hit in London than New York City. Maybe because the streets are so narrow. And every road is curved — so you can never see what’s coming at you from round the corner. Watch out.
Everyone warned me that it rains a lot in London. After a week, I can verify that this is true. The morning sunshine will tease you into thinking it’s going to be a warm, clear summer day, but by the afternoon, the clouds will have rolled in along with a few showers. Best to just bring an umbrella with you whenever you step out of the house.
Sainsbury (pronounced “sanez-brie”) and Tesco are the main grocery store chains. Tesco is a bit lower-end. It reminds me of 7-11 but has more food. You can go to Waitrose for the fancy stuff. It’s equivalent to a Whole Foods. For the most part, you can find the same food here that they have in States, just under different labels. One plus: Grocery stores sell wine. Like, aisles of wine.
London is fairly walkable and, like New York City, each neighbourhood has a distinct flavour. You can easily lose your sense of geography if you’re constantly travelling underground, but taking the iconic red buses is a good way to see how all the districts connect, with posh parts of town flowing directly into more edgy areas.
But back to the Tube. The system itself is extremely easy to navigate. Different lines are colour coded and the station stops are well marked. The one thing that tripped me was actually paying to get on the Tube. In fact, I stared at the card-dispensing machine so long that it prompted someone behind the counter to come over and help me. In London, most people use the Oyster card. It’s the same thing as a MetroCard: You put money on the card and swipe (or tap a touchpad in this case) to get into the tube system. The difference is that an Oyster card charges you by distance. It’s not a flat rate for a single ride like the MetroCard. The farther you go, the more you pay. Riding from Zone 1 to Zone 2 is cheaper than riding from Zone 1 to Zone 5. This actually makes sense. Shouldn’t you pay more if you’re riding a longer distance on the train? But it does complicate things when buying a card because you have to think ahead about your travel plans. You can pay-as-you-go, but that could be more expensive than buying a monthly Oyster card, which also isn’t cheap. Transportation is roughly double what is in New York City. A 7-day unlimited Oyster card costs around £30 ($51) and a 30-day unlimited card is around £120 pounds ($204). Ooph.
YOU CAN’T GET IT! They don’t have licenses here yet.
Instead of sneaking into a hotel lobby or a Starbucks to use the bathroom, London actually has public restrooms dotted around the city, which you can pay something like 50 pence to use. I think this is a great idea. New York City should take note. I would be willing to pay a small amount of money for access to a clean bathroom while running around the city.
In New York City, we have Sunday brunch. In London, they have Sunday BBQs.
I haven’t been here long enough to pick up any weird sayings or pronunciations. So far, I’ve only been told by our own Jim Edwards that I was pronouncing “Sainsbury’s” wrong (it’s not “sanez-berry’s,” as it turns out; see above).
But I still have time.
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