Important: take any advice, any story, any step with a grain of salt. There are multitudes of ways to do everything and often there is no good or wrong way to do anything, just as there are many ways to move abroad or to the UK. I am always interested to hear how others did what they did, how they got to where they are. This time I will share my experience. Pick what works for you, what doesn’t and make it your own.
What is this post for those who:
– are moving to the UK
– are thinking to move for the very first time
– want just a little bit more assurance that they’re doing everything right
– are wondering, if it is difficult or how it happens
– are doing it on their own and don’t have big commitments (like a mortgage)
Will this approach suit you?
Possibly. Or you will get some important paperwork information that will help put things in order. My living situation was very simple:
- I didn’t have a mortgage, I rented. Flexibility has always been my top priority. It’s not a big issue for most people, but it allowed me to make a quick change, without paperwork or additional organisation and finding tenants. But you can easily rent out your flat, give it to your friends and let them pay the mortgage/bills and take care of your cat.
- I didn’t own a car and that many things. If you do, you can sell them or rent storage somewhere if you want to keep your belongings. With time you might lose attachments and it will be easier to get rid of stuff.
- I was moving on my own. It means I didn’t have to convince anyone else to change their lives, organize schools or doctors for my kids, have long discussions with a partner over which country or city to pick (I am picky about that stuff). Alone I can also accept bigger challenges without worrying that I am putting my loved ones in an uncomfortable position just for my own sense of adventure. I can take the basic single room and save a ton of money that way (you don’t know when you will work or what unexpected expenses might happen). When you are moving with your whole family, then you have to rent a flat right away, make comfortable arrangements for everyone, organise schools and doctors, of which I have no knowledge, so will not talk here. Going alone ends up being just so much simpler sometimes.
- I speak fluent English and I had enough savings. I didn’t need to crash on anyone’s couch or start working right away. This was my safety cushion. If things went awry, I could have just bought a ticket back home. I had enough for months of unemployment, which allowed me not to just jump into anything but look for something I’d enjoy doing.
- I knew no one in the UK. So I had to figure things out on my own. And that is amazing! Such a self-confidence boost. People with friends and family will have a totally different story, but the paperwork is all the same.
First, prepare yourself mentally
Are you someone who wants to move abroad but have no one to go with? Do you worry you can’t do it? Oh yes, you can! I did that alone with no one waiting on the other end. It is not much harder, possibly even easier on your own. I can’t seem to find an exact quote, but this is how I live my life:
If you wait for other people, you will wait until they are ready. If you go alone, you can leave now. – Someone.
I waited too long to start living my life: for a company, boyfriend, friends, better opportunities, even being ready, while such thing as being ready doesn’t exist. Or you might wait for decades. You have no idea, how much strength you have until you stretch it. And it can stretch so far. People live lives like they have all the time in the world, but they don’t. Life goes by really fast and if you want something in life, you have to go for it now.
If you are afraid to make a mistake and regret later, let me tell you something. People regret things they haven’t done. Not so much those they did. Rarely any mistake is big enough to never find a way out of it. And if you are young, just like I am, this is the best ground to mould your life and soul. In the best-case scenario, you have 50 more years to have a steady job, buy a house, raise a cat, find a partner, plant a tree, watch your favourite TV show. Do the brave thing now and get back to your predefined life plan after it. It will still be here if you want it back, of which I doubt.
If this all thing turns out to be not for you, then you gained priceless life experience, knowledge and answers, ending some of your doubts and wonderings. In my personal experience, moving abroad gave me a lot of self-confidence. I found out that I can take care of myself and solve all of my problems. There is no limit to what I can do. This was important to find out, to believe, because knowing something is not feeling it. There are always enough people who will tell you what to do, think or feel, but once you find out things on your own, you are just a step closer to living the life of your dreams.
You define your life
Before I moved, I read stories, changing the way I think and look at things. I didn’t move because I was unhappy. I moved because my heart was longing for something more: the big vast world which is out there, beyond your comfort zone and to experience everything, see beauty, feel the excitement, be happy with each and every day of my life. Settling into the normal society lines isn’t it.
Your life is what you make of it. There are no rules (just a few laws, but in most cases, they are not interfering with your freedom and if they do you probably need to rethink your choices…). Your family and society didn’t make the rules of how life should be spent. Open Google and you’ll find people living any type of lifestyle – and flourishing with smiles on their faces and passion in their eyes. There is no one or two, or a countable number of ways to live your life.
Often those, who are against your choice, are so because you are reminding them of their own unfulfilled dreams and desires. Happy people don’t try to ruin other people happiness, to argue against their choices. I think, most unhappy people ended up following somebody else’s path and now stuck, too deep into the path to turn back and will do anything to justify their choices (maybe deep down they feel they were mistakes, but afraid to admit even to themselves).
I could talk endlessly about making your own choices and standing against other people desires. But let’s get back to that leap.
Before you leave
- End your lease or talk about it with your landlord. Usually, this has a longer notice period than anything else.
- Tell your employer and co-workers that you are leaving. According to the laws in my country, we have to give 14 working days notice (that’s almost 3 weeks). Read your contract. I think it’s 30 days at my current job.
Note: there might be other commitments depending on circumstances: school, therapist, doctors, hobbies, societies, arranging the flat rental/sale and others.
- When all is settled and you know your final deadlines – book your flight. Add checked baggage. There are delivery services for your things, but I tend to take 1 suitcase with me and leave everything else behind at my mom’s house. During my first move abroad, I took the only suitcase I had, which was tiny compared to the current one. I carefully packed all necessities which allowed me to face the lifestyle of minimalism.
- Book Airbnb (first move) or a hostel (second move). Hotels, guesthouses, housesitting are all viable options. Some people instantly deal with an agent or have friends who are able to find them a falt. I choose cheap and flexible, so Airbnb and hostels are for me. Airbnb feels isolating to me, although more secure. But I haven’t lost a single thing during my stay at a hostel, felt very safe and I had more flexibility. Good thing that I moved both times in winter, so I had a better pick of options. Just check how long you can stay there at a time – hostels in Edinburgh usually give you only 2 weeks (I got an exception because it’s a low season, so there were plenty of empty beds).Make sure the locker in your room is big enough. See the photos or check with the hostel. I wanted to keep my laptop and smaller backpack in there with my paperwork, electronics and all-important bits. The kitchen is a must for me. I also skip the party hostels – that’s just not the way to live. I can highly recommend the High Street Hostel in Edinburgh. Make sure you book through their website, rather than Booking.com – cheaper. They also store suitcases right in the reception, so no one has gotten into my suitcase (helps to have a tiny padlock for it, just in case).
- Get a SIM card. I ordered mine for free from the Giffgaff to be delivered before I even left for the UK. You will need it to get in touch with your Airbnb host or a friend, or for your NIN interview, or for job search. You will need it.
Note: order Giffgaff through my referral link and you’ll get an extra £5. Win-win.
- Pack pack pack. The hardest part, in my opinion. You will have to leave many things you want, like or think you need, behind. Unless you decided to take everything with you or you already a minimalist.
First week in the UK
- So now you settled in your Airbnb room/flat/house, hostel or whatever else you’ve chosen. To get a job and work legally, you need to have your National Insurance Number (NIN) and this could take time, so you do it ASAP. You cannot apply online or visit an office, so you have to call the Job Centre (contact phone number is somewhere in gov.uk, here you go: https://www.gov.uk/apply-national-insurance-number ). Remember the SIM card you have purchased? Now it’s the perfect time to use it.Make sure you know your exact address because you will have to dictate it together with the exact postcode. It’s good to learn how to spell your surname too if it’s unusual. Oh, this was so stressful to me. You call them, someone really nice answers and asks only the basic questions. You really don’t need any third-party companies currently advertising themselves all over the internet and taking large fees. They give NIN basically to everybody from the EU – at least they did 2 years ago, but it was already after the Brexit vote. I don’t know about other nationalities, so you’ll have to do some more research based on circumstances.The nice person on the phone agrees with you on the time you have to come for an interview. He will tell you what documents you need to bring. I was asked to bring my passport and proof of address (I didn’t have it, but I asked my Airbnb host to write a signed letter that I really live there, but nobody asked to show it later). I might have been lucky. If all goes well, then 2 weeks later you will get a letter addressed to you with your NIN. Save the letter, protect the envelope: this is your proof of address now.
- The situation is trickier with banks, but not always. It was for me. Everybody here encounters different problems and everyone can give their own hints and bits of advice from trying the smallest branch in the smallest bank to getting the signed letter from your employer proving that you are employed (I wasn’t). If you already have a job – things are much easier. I needed to get a local bank account for daily expenses. I walked into several banks and asked whether or not they will open a bank account for me, but they all showed me the door. Not all banks recognize a NIN letter as a proof of address, but without any bills to pay this was the only proof I live in the UK.After a while, I got accepted to open an account with TSB. After so much rejection, I still thought that the account manager will soon realize that I only have the NIN envelope. They will give you an appointment date (smaller branches – quicker) when you have to show up with your papers. Again, the nice lady took me in, gave me some hot tea on a cold February day and created an account for me. Finally, I felt like the UK accepted me. A few days later I got my letter and my card.
Note: If you are able to get the utility or internet bill – then it is much more valid than a NIN letter and you will not face that many difficulties. The rental lease is also proof of your address. Letting agents can definitely help with that, but my experience with this is limited
You can start looking for work before or immediately after the move. For the most part, I opt for indeed.co.uk or reed.co.uk. To go an extra mile, meet people, attend events and try to make some connections out there. Real person recommendation and advice is worth hours of browsing through the sea of ads and sending your CV into the pool of overqualified candidates. I have a decent CV, but I never had much luck with them when applying for something new other than what I used to do in the past. In this world, chances of someone picking up your CV and deciding that you are a worthy candidate from that sheet of dry information are in a range of 5-10%. They really suck. Even more so in London.Finding a job you’ll love is hard and takes a long time. Do not give up. Let’s say 3 months of looking is normal. It will all depend if you are looking for something new or have enough experience and trying to get into the same field, or maybe you want anything, whether it’s a cafe, waitressing or a factory job. I never used employment agencies, but those could help with certain jobs. Since I tend to look for something I would like to do and often it’s a new field, I am prepared to have enough savings for 6 months. That’s how long it took me to find a job in Scotland, it took 4 months to start making money in London. Count your savings and be ready to be unemployed up to 6 months. If you browse through my blog posts, you will see that unemployment can hit you pretty hard and you have to be ready for it. Some examples:
When you don’t get the job of your dreams
Employment freakout and absolute bliss
Still unemployed and tired of it
You can either find work or long term accommodation first. For private (not agency) flatshare or own flat use spareroom.co.uk, openrent.co.uk or gumtree.com (be careful with the last one – a lot of scams. If it looks too good to be true, it is). Agencies (search them in www.rightmove.co.uk, zoopla.co.uk, primelocation.com and others) will take from £100 to a few hundreds of pounds for fees but will help you find a flat and help with the paperwork, but won’t always be a stress-free option, neither is renting directly from the landlord or other tenants. I worked with agencies and people who used them, so it is not always a better deal. However, I have never rented my own flat before. Private landlords can also cause a lot of headaches. You live, make mistakes and learn from them as did I. That’s life and shit can happen anywhere. Good things too. So trust your intuition, ask all questions you can come up with and always sign a piece of paper before you hand in cash or better – use bank transfers to have proof of any payments that happened. If you get into trouble, UK has tenant protection systems and you can always take your landlord to court. Due to large numbers of people always looking for a place to rent, London landlord’s act like “merciful” gods for allowing you to enter their property. So protect yourself first, use deposit protection schemes and always keep proof of everything.
Tip: take photos of your flat and all imperfections before you move in. You can even send them to your agent or landlord on the same day or walk around the flat together and sign that you both seen the damages in the flat. Landlords have a lot of tricks to charge you for things you haven’t done or they masterfully hid right before the tenancy. This happens all the time.
To have a rich experience abroad and live a happy and healthy life you need to have a social circle. For the most part, it’s starting a social life from scratch and Google can point you to some great advice. Even how to make friends in a particular city or country. Some people like to begin with their coworkers, make them their friends. For outside of work environment, try meetup.com, couchsurfing.com events and hangouts (mostly for travellers, but there are some locals too, good for a nice day sightseeing and talking), local Facebook groups. I haven’t attended many meetups, but I did go to group yoga in a beautiful park and played board games in a pub in London. Can’t expect much if you come twice and never show your face again … I happened to make a friend through a Facebook group of international expats.Eh, I didn’t have that much success making friends in London, online apps never worked for me due to my huge trust issues that came up after using online apps for a while. What I know now, in Edinburgh, is if you do things you enjoy, at some point, you’ll stumble on other people who are doing the same. You will need to initiate, invite people, star ta chat, instead of waiting (which is hard for me to do, but you have to fight your laziness! It takes a lot of time to form a friend, but when you’ll finally need one, there will be no one around. Thinking this way helps me take action).Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was your social life. When you live in one place, things evolve naturally, especially through university. Until you leave this all behind, you don’t even think about how all these people came into your life. School, university, jobs, hobbies give them to you naturally. Only when you move, you have to put real effort and face the fears of rejection, being vulnerable and learn to make friends again. Many expats fail to do this and spend their years abroad sad and lonely. Making friends is a skill just like any other. You can’t learn without practice and mistakes. Every experience in life will be enriched if there are real people to share it with. Not Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Real people to share a bottle of wine and a night under the starry sky. Most of expats are in the exactly the same boat and will be happy to make a real friend and it’s okay to be open about it.
Another thing to be happy and healthy is getting yourself a doctor (or GP). In London, you have to show up at the medical practice office with your passport and proof of address (bank statement will work), but better check for the requirements in their website. The medical practice has to cover the area you live in. You will have to fill up a massive sheet of papers and you’re done for the day. They will tell you what’s next. In London they told me, that I must call and arrange a medical checkup to finish a registration (I never called…). In Edinburgh, I have first found a home, then I looked up a practice nearby. This one required a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which is free, but they never asked to see it. After my initial registration, I haven’t received a letter or any more information. I took my chance and went for a dentist and NHS covered most fees. Life’s good here in Edi.
In short, you must have these things to successfully start a life in the UK:
– proof of address
– bank account
– UK phone number
– savings for at least 3 months
And a few more personal lessons
- You might want to start looking for your own flat ASAP, but I’d hold off with that. If you already have a job – everything is much simpler and this tip is not for you. But if you are still unemployed, it’s best to look for a place once you know where you will be working. Unless you find something amazing in a great location and don’t mind the possible long commute. However, at the end of the day, you will more likely curse the hours spent on a train or bus, not the colour of your kitchen tiles.
- My preference is not to live too far from the action. This is a new city, possibly – a new country. If you stay close to the centre, you will get more involved and you’ll want to get out more often. I lived close and far and speaking from my experience. My first 3 months in London were spent exploring suburbs. Boooring! But again, if you are a bit away from the hustle and bustle, you’ll get more for your money, you’ll probably have much more charm in your home and the extra money you saved, can be spent on going in and out of the town, if you don’t mind the commute. Or maybe you’re not interested in the town at all! I don’t own or want a car (massive expense, according to expats and non-expats in the UK), so instead, I try to be as close to the action, as possible.