Moving to London? The ultimate living and working guide to the city 2021

London has always been a big business hub with companies and their employees coming from all over the world, looking to expand their horizons in England’s capital. The one downside of moving to London, or any major city, is that the size and variety of the city can make it difficult to know where to start. In this guide we look at everything you need to know about putting your roots down in London.

Getting a visa for working in the UK

One of the most important things to get in place before moving to London is finding out if you need a visa. The general rule of thumb is that if you are getting paid by a UK company then it is highly likely that you should have one. Failure to secure a visa before starting work can have serious ramifications. The only exception is if your stay is short-term and you are being brought in as an expert in your field (for example as a guest speaker or to provide advocacy in legal proceedings). Whether you are researching or applying for a visa, the best place to go to is the UK Government website.

Do you need a National Insurance number to work in the UK?

Alongside a visa you will need to have a UK National Insurance number to be paid legally for your work. In short, paying National Insurance will contribute to your pension and will also allow you to claim certain benefits, such as maternity or jobseekers allowance if you find yourself out of work. It can take up to eight weeks to get a National Insurance number, so make sure to allow plenty of time to get through the process. For more information or to apply, visit the UK government website.

What is it like to move to London as a foreign national?

There is a very positive attitude around foreign nationals coming to the UK. Especially within central London there is a welcoming culture for professionals within the city. It is worth noting that, according to migration statistics, more than a third of London residents were born outside of the UK, this certainly helps foreign nationals feel a little more at ease.

You may even find little pockets of communities across the city where people from other countries congregate. For example, there is an undeniable French presence in Kensington. In the Bute Street area there are numerous French bakeries, cafes and shops to enjoy, all of which have a tasteful and genuine atmosphere that make people feel like they have stepped into a mini Paris. There is also an appeal to South Kensington for Americans as it closely resembles the SoHo area of New York and the trendy parts of Chicago. That being said, arguably the best way to get settled into a new country is to absorb the culture and surroundings of your neighbourhood and the area around where you work.

Finding a place to live in London

As you might expect, a city as large and prestigious as London is not cheap to live in. In 2019 and 2020 London was positioned 26th and 28th, respectively, in the Cost of Living Index by Numbeo. However, in the 2021 update London moved down to 37th place, meaning it was cheaper than Stockholm, Amsterdam and Seattle, amongst others. It’s no surprise that the central areas of London are more expensive. For example, Mayfair house prices are, on average, around £4,698,704 for an apartment or £6,988,750 for a terraced house, according to RightMove. Whereas, a little further out of the city centre, houses in the area of Barnes are closer to the £1,000,000 price.
If you are moving to London for work, it is highly advisable to research the area where you will be working and figure out the best transport links to that district. Most commuters tend to use the underground tube, which might take time to adjust to if you are not used to busy commuter trains at rush hour.

Although there are exceptions to the rule, some industries find a way of forming communities within an area, for example most of the major financial institutions can be found within the Square Mile area and most of the modern tech companies are in Shoreditch. Because of the large number of employees working in the area, you can expect to see large investments made to transport and infrastructure within these districts. Be sure to also take into consideration that the closer a house is to a train or underground station, the higher in value it will be. Areas with in-demand schools will also have a higher average selling price.

Renting a house in London

If you are moving to London for a short-term placement, or you want to get your bearings before you buy a house it is highly likely that you will need to rent an apartment. Because the supply and demand curve favours the landlord (and rented accommodation is a premium option) be wary of landlords expecting a large amount of money upfront as a deposit, especially if you do not have rental references or a bank account in the UK (more information on that further down).

London has a good reputation for attracting overseas investors to buy city centre properties for the purpose of renting them out, and although many of them may mean well there are also a large number of landlords that might not be so trustworthy or accessible should you need to contact them. We highly recommend renting through a reputable estate agent, ideally with a high street presence, so they can be called upon when needed.

If you have a job lined up before you move to London, another way to find a place to live is to contact the Head of HR or Office Manager at your new company as they may know of someone looking for a house share tenant or could do some research on your behalf.

Driving in London

London is no different to any other major city in the way that owning and driving a car can quickly become expensive and parking can be difficult. That being said, if you are lucky enough to have an apartment or house with a garage or allocated parking then owning a car is an option that you might consider.

If you have a full and valid driving licence in your home country then you can drive a car in the UK for up to 12 months from your date of entry into the country. After this time you will need to apply for a UK licence. The following points assume that you will be staying in the country for work for more than twelve months.

Unlike many other countries, it is compulsory to have car insurance in the UK which will cover the third-party of an accident, as a minimum. Many drivers, especially those in cities choose to have fully comprehensive cover which, although is more expensive, will cover for theft, vandalism and windscreen damage. The cost of car insurance varies depending on the area in which the car will be kept, meaning that if you live in a neighbourhood with a low crime rate, your insurance will be cheaper.

It is also compulsory for a vehicle to have an MOT certificate, which is a check of the vehicle’s condition to make sure that it is safe, road-worthy and within emissions limits. These must be carried out once every 12 months and are transferable if you buy a second-hand car. If you are buying a used car be sure to ask the owner for a copy of the latest MOT certificate to check what, if any, work needs done and when the next test is due.

A vehicle must also be taxed, this is a yearly payment and is non-transferable when a vehicle is sold. As long as the vehicle has a current MOT certificate it is easy to buy vehicle tax online, just make sure that you buy it before driving away after buying the car.
One alternative to buying a car is to rent one when it is needed. Many international car rental companies (such as Hertz, Enterprise and Europcar) have branches in Central London so it will not be hard to find a reputable company nearby.

If you are not sure if you need to buy a car straight away, it would be advisable to try public transport for the short term. The underground tube has stops near every major landmark and district, so you are never far from a train. Buses also run very regularly and London is well served by taxi services.

Other costs of living in London

One major difference between shopping in the UK, compared to the USA, is that most items carry a 20% VAT (value added tax) which will be included in the price displayed in the vast majority of shops. The only time when the price displayed does not include VAT is when the shop or website primarily sells to businesses. This is because if an item is purchased for business use (such as office equipment) the company making the purchase can claim the VAT back.

One of the world’s most famous broadcasting companies, the BBC, is based in London and has been commercial-free since its inception. The way it is funded is through the public paying a TV licence. A TV licence costs £157.50 a year at the time of writing, alternatively you can pay monthly or quarterly. The law states that you must have a licence to watch or record TV on any channel. This includes on-demand services such as the BBC iPlayer and even if you watch it on a computer, laptop or tablet. Inspectors have been known to visit properties that do not have a licence and it is notoriously difficult to appeal a fine. For more information on how to pay for a licence or to check if you need one, click here.

Sometimes seen as a hidden cost to people moving to London or the UK for the first time is council tax. As the name implies, this is a property tax which goes to the council to cover the upkeep of the local area and pays for local emergency services. The rate you pay varies depending on the area you live in. It is worth noting that if you are renting a property the council tax bill is yours to pay, not the owners.

Opening a bank account

Opening a bank account in the UK will follow much of the same procedure as it would anywhere else in the world. First of all you will need to do some research and find a trust-worthy bank, ideally one that offers accounts that are designed for expats moving abroad. Having a bank account at one of the major banks will help when securing a house or apartment rental as many landlords will require proof on financial security.

HSBC is highly regarded by expats worldwide (they commission the yearly Expat Explorer Survey) and they even have specialist accounts for people that move abroad for work, read about their expat bank accounts here. NatWest also has a branch on most high streets and have their own selection of international bank accounts.

Moving to London from abroad

When it comes time to pack and move your belongings to London you will need a reputable international removals company. Cadogan Tate are trusted by expats all over the world and have years of experience in moving people and their belongings to and from the UK. For more information on their premium London removals service, click here.