London's history goes back two thousand years, but that hasn't stopped this city from becoming a cutting-edge, vibrant metropolis. While many people associate London with rain, a healthy tea obsession, and the royal family, it is an incredibly diverse place ethnically, economically, and culturally.
From Russian oligarchs to Arab sheikhs to Polish construction workers to bronzed Aussies, it seems like everyone wants to be here. And with more than 8.5 million people from every corner of the globe, you're almost guaranteed to find a part of London that is just right for you – provided you can afford it. Thanks to being in such high demand, the cost of living here can be astronomical. Many formerly affordable working class neighborhoods are quickly gentrifying as price increases radiate out from the city's affluent center.
You'll see fantastic wealth in some areas: homes selling for tens of millions of pounds, streets lined with Ferraris and Lamborghinis, luxury shop after luxury shop. Other parts seem to have been left behind and suffer from chronic unemployment, gang violence, and terrible schools. Nothing is truly stagnant in this city, however, as neighborhoods transform themselves again and again.
London long ago demolished the stereotype that the English can't cook. With Michelin-starred culinary institutions on fashionable avenues and incredible ethnic cuisine tucked away on quiet streets, this is the kind of place foodies could spend several lifetimes. Historic pubs, football mania, iconic museums, and huge music festivals are just some of the other ways to spend your days here.
For now this is the financial capital of the world, but time will tell what effect Brexit has on London's standing in the global economy.
Read on to learn about the basics (housing, transportation, internet, and more!) in London and to find the perfect neighborhood for you.
London is a safe city and crime has been trending down, though there are hot spots.
London has excellent public transit so you don't need a car in most areas.
"London is known as one of the world's great cities for a reason. Here, there is literally something for everyone. If you like a bustling nightlife, London has it. If you like to get immersed into history, it's here. From English Premier League football, to fun afternoon teas, to quiet gardens and cozy cafes, London has everything!"
Real estate in London is a hot commodity. Whether you're a Russian oligarch looking to park your money in a ten million pound house you'll never see in person or actually looking for a place for your family to live in, you can probably expect competition from others also looking for a home.
And chances are it'll cost a pretty penny since London is consistently in the top ten of the world's most expensive cities. That means that "affordability" is a relative term here: what is affordable for London is probably considered expensive in many other cities. Still, there are homes that are within reach of mere mortals like us. And a good rule of thumb is the farther you go from London's center the cheaper it will be. The question then becomes: what sort of commute can you handle?
When looking for a home you may come across unfamiliar terminology, so here are the basics:
RENTING IN LONDON
Since London is an expensive city, those renting (referred to as 'letting' in the UK) spend, on average, two thirds of their income on rent. Part of this is driven by the high cost of living in the city, but it's also driven by the high demand for properties.
Competition for rentals can be quite intense in many neighborhoods. Many rentals hold mass viewings on certain days where potential tenants all come through to see the property, adding to the stress of finding a home. And a small number of properties are rented out using an auction format where the highest bidder wins the right to sign a lease. The only good thing about this method is you can buy a new home while sitting in your current home wearing your pajamas and having a spot of tea. The bad part of that is watching the price sprint out of your reach in real time.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED TO RENT
Below are the documents you'll want to have ready before you start looking at rental properties:
TYPICAL RENTAL FEES
When it comes to renting in London you can use a real estate agent or work directly with a landlord or management company. There are fees charged to tenants and all 'letting agents' must fully disclose their fees and charges on their website and in their offices. Agents may charge you fees for:
Not all agencies charge these types of fees, however, so it is worth asking about. Also, it's worth knowing that agencies cannot charge you for routine inspections during your tenancy or anything else they charge the landlord for. Note that you'll incur many of these fees when working directly with a landlord as well, such as a credit check.
When you sign a lease with the landlord you'll be required to put down a security deposit, which is typically equal to one or two month's rent. When your lease ends and you move out this security deposit will be returned to you in full (unless you've caused any damage to the property or owe money to the landlord for unpaid bills). You'll also be expected to pay for your first month's rent and pay any letting fees -- the average is £350 -- so altogether this can be a significant outflow of money at one time.
HELPFUL REAL ESTATE WEBSITES
London has a great system of public transit. Transport for London is the agency that manages public transit, which includes London's buses, tubes, and trains.
The city is divided into 9 transit zones that radiate out from the city center, with Zone 1 in the middle and Zone 9 at the outer edge of the city. Costs for public transport depend on which transit zones you start and end in.
Travel is managed through the Oyster card which you swipe at a turnstile to enter and exit train stations and buses. You can pay as you go or get weekly, monthly, or annual discounts if you'll be commuting to the same location each week. Each duration offers a different discount level, with longer durations (i.e. an annual pass) offering the largest discount. An annual pass can range from £972 all the way up to £3,048 depending which zones you're traveling to and from.
Owning a car in London is certainly not necessary in most parts of the city and many recommend against it: traffic is horrible, parking is difficult, and an £11.50 congestion fee is charged for any vehicles entering central London during business hours on Monday-Friday.
With that said, there are some parts of the city farther out from the center that don't have great public transit options where a car will make life easier.
TRANSIT AND WALKABILITY RATINGS
For each London neighborhood you'll see a Transit rating and a Walkability rating. The Transit rating tells you how good and reliable public transportation options are in that neighborhood. The Walkability rating tells you how many local amenities (shops, restaurants, fitness options, etc.) you can walk to in that neighborhood.
Opening a bank account can get tricky here since many banks want to two forms of identification and only allow one of them to be from your home country, such as a passport. The other form typically has to be something showing a UK address, like a bill or (ironically) a bank statement, which many expats don't have in their first few weeks.
However, there are a couple banks in London which don't have that requirement:
Of course, once you do have a UK address there are many other banking choices available, including Halifax, Santander, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Standard Chartered, and others. The UK also has something called Building Societies. This is a member-owned bank that is similar to the credit unions of the United States. Each member gets voting rights and can attend and speak at meetings. The largest of these is Nationwide, which has branches all over London.
For now, savings deposits of up to £75,000 held in a bank or building society are insured by the European Union. This may change as the UK negotiates its exit from the EU.
There is no fee to withdraw money from any bank's ATM in the UK when using a debit card, regardless of whether it's your bank or not. Credit cards may incur a charge, however, when used for cash withdrawals at an ATM.
School enrollment and attendance is required for all children living in the UK aged 5 to 16 and all students are entitled to a free education at a state-run school.
Basic education in the UK is divided into four phases:
Primary, secondary, and sixth form schools have three terms per school year. The first runs from early September to late December, the second from early January to late March, and the third from mid-April to late July. Each term has a mid-term break and a break at the completion of the term.
These schools will also have certain admission criteria. The criteria could be based on having siblings at the school, living nearby to the school, religious affiliation, or meeting academic standards.
The UK's public schools follow a standardized national curriculum that covers English, math, science, art and design, computing, design and technology, geography, history, languages, music, and physical education. Independent schools are free to design their own curriculum.
The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (known as Ofsted) inspects and rates all public schools.
There are dozens of international schools in London that cater to the huge population of expats; most of which serve children aged 3 to 18. Tuition can be staggeringly high, however – the most expensive is nearly £30,000 per year per student.
HELPFUL EDUCATION WEBSITES
Locrating - This website lets you search a London neighborhood, see what schools are tgere, and see Oftsed ratings and parent reviews in an easy-to-use format.
Schools Finder - This resource helps you find a school using the official government website.
International Schools Service - Directory of international schools around the world, including in London.
Most healthcare services in the UK are provided by the government-run National Health Service (NHS). However, you'll find many private insurers and providers who augment care.
Through the NHS, you get free emergency treatment regardless of whether you pay UK taxes, make national insurance contributions, are registered with a physician, have an NHS number, or own property in the UK. If a General Practitioner (GP) refers you to specialized services or tests, however, you may be liable for payment. (Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, and the EU are example from these healthcare payments. Time will tell what impact the Brexit has on EU exemption.) Dental and Optometrist services do have out-of-pocket costs, though they're modest.
Once you get settled in London you should look for a GP practice you like and register with that practice by completing this form (http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/AboutNHSservices/doctors/Documents/GMS1-Jul12.pdf) and turning it in at your chosen practice.
Patients do pay for prescription medication, although the UK has capped costs at £8.40 per item. The NHS offers programs for people who require more than three prescription items per month. Additionally, people over 60 or under 16, full-time students aged 16-18, women who are pregnant or had a child in the previous 12 months, and people with certain medical conditions or physical disability qualify for free NHS prescriptions. All cancer patients also receive free prescriptions.
Getting an appointment with a GP typically doesn’t take more than a few days, but waiting times for non-emergency treatment can vary. The current NHS guarantee is that it will take no longer than 18 weeks to see someone.
PRIVATE HEALTHCARE OPTIONS
The main benefits of having private insurance are not having to wait for treatment and the ability to choose the hospital where you receive treatment. Waiting 18 weeks for treatment, let alone a few weeks, is just too long for some people. You can tailor your insurance coverage based on your needs and budget: what specialist fees you'd like included, which types of hospitals you want to be able to visit, and whether you want additional benefits like Dental cover.
For an individual, coverage can be as low as £14/month for very basic insurance and go up to hundreds of pounds for gold-plated insurance. Because the NHS provides free healthcare to UK residents, most employers do not pay for private insurance for their employees.
HELPFUL HEALTHCARE WEBSITES
Doctify - Doctify enables you to find a private doctor by location and specialty and read reviews from other patients.
NHS Choices - This NHS site lets you search for GP services in your neighborhood and see patient ratings, the number of patients served by the facility, and other characteristics.
GoCompare Health Insurance - This site lets you compare quotes from different private health insurers.
Dogs, cats, ferrets, and horses can be brought into the UK without being quarantined as long as its microchipped, has a "pet passport" or official veterinary certificate, and has been vaccinated against rabies. If you're traveling from an unlisted country (https://www.gov.uk/take-pet-abroad/listed-and-unlisted-countries) it will also need a blood test. Pet rabbits and rodents must spend four months in quarantine.
Note that several breeds of dogs are not permitted in the UK. All Pit Bull-types, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Fila Brasiliero dogs are illegal to own or bring in to the country.