Moving to London is a dream for many people. London has some of the world’s best museums, a fantastic theatre district, stunning architecture, and yes- incredible food! But, sadly it is often credited as one of the world’s most expensive cities in which to live.
When I first lived in London during my Florida State University Study Abroad Programme years, my parents financed my life. I was extremely lucky and lived on Great Russell Street next to the British Museum. It’s when I met my husband (Mr. Sunny) too.
Our lives went different directions, and we reconnected in 2010. Deciding which one of us would leave our country was difficult. Family, money, culture, and lifestyle were discussion points. We decided it would be me moving to London. It was a tough decision and the move wasn’t easy. For example, I had no idea that when I moved to London I wouldn’t have a credit rating.
A huge part of the conversations involved financial decisions. When I was invited to write a sponsored post on my experience of moving to London and expat tips to save money during the process, I immediately said ‘Yes!’ Americans, other expats and Londoners frequently ask me about my experience, so an advice post was a great idea!
Moving to London: Two Visas and a Wedding
Any person living in London on a fiance or spouse visa could write pages on that experience. In summary, know all of the costs before even planning a wedding. Also, plan on the fees increasing and the unknown to happen. It sure did to me.
I had the misfortune of sending my fiance visa application to the UK Embassy in New York City the day Hurricane Sandy took seige of the area. What was supposed to be a ‘two week process’ per our immigration attorney’s advice, was two and a half months of agony.
The smart things I did prior to my plan for moving to London were not purchasing the airline ticket for the flight and arranging to stay with my parents while waiting. The not so smart things in my moving to London process: resigning from my very lucrative job and renting a flat in London prior to my visa’s approval.
Once I did arrive to live in London on my fiance visa, I only stayed a few months. I had to return to the US because of my father’s illness. This stopped my ability to work, and my fiance visa expired.
We were finally able to get married in November 2013 in the US and opted for a wedding ceremony with four guests to save money.
We had to pay for the entire UK visa process again. This time we paid the additional priority process fee. It was perhaps one of the best investments we ever made because my visa was approved and returned in 10 days. No matter what type of visa for which you apply- pay priority! It will probably cut down on the ‘ride’ you have while waiting for your approval.
Moving to London: Job Search Expectations
Once we were finally married and I could begin job seeking, a whole new set of problems surfaced. Monthly prices on flat rentals had increased as much as 20%. We were forced to live even further away from Central London than the year before, and it had been 14 months since I worked fulltime.
People warn you about how difficult it is to get a job in London. Listen to them and plan for it. Prior to moving to London, double the time/money you think you will need to job search. So plan accordingly to this and be savvy on things like bills. Also, expect the currency exchange rate to fluctuate wildly. Since moving to London, I’ve seen the dollar equal anywhere from £1.49 to £1.71 in less than a year.
If you are moving to London for a job transfer, you’re certainly one of the lucky ones. If not, be ready to accept a position for which you are drastically over qualified. This also means calculating your lifestyle on a budget lower than what you are accustom.
Moving to London: Food and Travel
My husband and I shop carefully but still treat ourselves to dining out as often as we can. The concept of coupons barely exists in London. However, grocery stores still have things ‘on offer’ regularly. Having discount cards on restaurants and pubs helps tremendously. Research these through your bank and online as soon as you can.
Plan on using busses or the Underground as much as possible. I’ve written a separate advice post on that. But, buying an Oyster card and avoiding peak travel times are some of my top tips to save money on travel in London.
Since London is in such proximity of fantastic holiday destinations, you’ll have many travel temptations. Be advised a train is not always the cheapest alternative. In fact, many times it’s more expensive than flying.
Don’t underestimate all the free museums and historic locations in and around London that you can visit also.
Moving to London: Final Expat Tips to Save Money
Making money decisions is never easy or perfect. My husband and I know that once I get situated with a permanent job, our next step is to buy a home in London.
Did you find a move to London challenging?
What advice do you have to add either as a Londoner or expat?
What can you add to my advice for the UK visa application process?
You can read more about the expat experience on the blog. Be sure to see the review of an international shipping company, which includes a discount for you.
If you’re visiting London for the the first time (especially the NFL in London Games this Fall), read my ‘Guide to London for Americans Visiting the First Time!’ Or you can subscribe to Sunny in London emails. I’m happy to help Americans find their way here faster, so share this post or that one if you have friends travelling here soon.
So glad I stumbled across this blog!! I’m planning a big move to London as part of changing my life entirely, career/location/lifestyle….pretty much everything and I found your blog so interesting (and helpful!). I was wondering, which areas in London do you believe are best for new people entering the city nowadays? I’ve researched this but all the websites say something different and it’s difficult to even find something recent. :/
Sunny London says
Hello Nicole! Glad we found each other. I’d love to help you with your question. I’m curious what you mean by ‘best’. Food? Living? Entertainment? I’m excited about helping but need a little more information. Aside from my ‘Advice’ category in the Menu Bar, I have a few more posts coming up that should help too. Keep an eye out this week.:-)
As always wonderful advice I am sure that any will find this such a helpful post. I hope that you are now in the UK you are glad you made the move Lucy x
This was really interesting – my expat experience is pretty different from yours in that I’m much worse off financially, so I cut half the costs you mentioned (or rather never had them) but I also didn’t have to deal with visas because I’m from the EU. I think so much about how much I’d like to own my home but it’s just not in the cards right now.
One thing though – isn’t the dollar less than one pound?
A wonderful article! Quite an interesting (and worrying) comment about the difficulty in finding a job in London – it’s the main thing that concerns me. Is it the normal practice to have to go through a recruitment agency? I heard that was the case and that agencies are not overly pleasant to deal with.
Sunny London says
Thank you for reading and commenting, Anita. Sadly, I have to say the recruitment agency experience that I have had has been horrible here. I’ve been sent to interviews and once I arrived have been told the interview was for a different position. I’ve also been called, texted, and even ‘What’s App’d’ so many times that I had to write a complaint to an agency and withdraw my information. Now, I don’t even put my mobile # on my CV. It may depend on the industry, but I’d be happy to share specific information with you.
Thank you for sharing your experience, Melanie. It’s so helpful to hear from those that have already made the move. I’ve got my visa (woohoo) and will be moving to London in February. It’s a little disheartening to hear that it is difficult to find work. I’m not worried about budgeting or finding a place to live…my biggest concerned is getting a job. Do you mind if I ask what field of work you are in?
Sunny London says
Hi Lisa, id be happy to share more information with you via email and would love to help your move in anyway I can. Thank your for reading! And congratulations on your visa. I definitely appreciate what that process is like.
Randomly London says
Interesting that you found it difficult to find work here. In my experience I found the process relatively quick, but I imagine it depends on industry. I work in digital marketing and have found the recruiters are by far the best resource. Got heaps of interviews when I was looking, including my current job by using them. Other top tip is to make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date.
Also surprised to see you say that, “the concept of coupons barely exists in London.” All the major supermarkets do offer points cards (Tesco Club Card, Sainsbury’s Nectar card, etc.) and you can also get discounts on restaurants, theatre, etc. from places like GroupOn, TimeOut Deals and Amazon Local Deals. I use these all the times to get half price meals.
You are completely right about the VISA thing though. I’m on the other side of sponsoring my wife and it is a major pain and getting more difficult all the time. I’ve written about some of the common issues on my blog Randomly London.
Finally good luck with the home search, I’m also hoping to get on the property ladder in 2015, but am not really looking forward to the process. At least stamp duty has been reduced!
Sunny London says
Thank you for reading. I’ve used offers from department and grocery stores in terms of points, but still there’s no comparison of what it’s like in the US in terms of coupons to save money. It certainly depends on the industry in which you are seeking for jobs, because I’ve heard from numerous people in my field that it’s next to impossible to have your experience considered in London. I am constantly contacted by recruiters, however they fail to acknowledge that I am so far ahead of what London looks for in my area. Best of luck with your visa process.
Sheridan Swain says
I find your tips really useful! It is really interesting for me how expats from the US feel here in London. I have some friends from LA who are really curious to come and live in London or a year or two and I am willing to help them with everything but the thing is that I have no idea how is here for expats! Thank you for the post! 🙂
Louise Foster says
Great article! Actually London is my dream place to live. I know there are many disadvantages but is very cosmopolitan city, and offers a lot for people who want to develop. Best regards
Hello! I did it the other way (moving from London to America!) Love hearing how you had the same problems (but in reverse!). One thing I can’t get my head around is the cost of groceries is the states, we’re finding it super expensive compared to the UK! Thinking we are shopping in the wrong places. Hope your still enjoying London and all it has to offer 🙂
Just curious as to what type of work you were looking for when you first arrived in the London? I am currently trying to join my fiancee a year before our wedding and have been applying to jobs in my field but I get the impression that no one is interested in giving me an interview because I’m currently not in the country. Did you try to secure a job before moving? If so, what was your experience?
Sunny London says
Hello! Great question! I’d be happy to help you specifically, if you’d like to send me an email. It really does depend on your field, so I’m happy to help. I was searching in two different sectors, so I can offer specific information on those plus what I have heard from other Americans in different area.
Eden Humphrey says
thank you so much for this. I also have a dream to move to London and I’m doing the research to make sure I’m prepared for everything. Flying there is expensive alone but living there felt intimidating. but after visiting there in 2014, i knew hands down that I wanted to live there. I will be checking your blog regularly. Thanks a bunch!!!!!!!!
Sunny London says
Hi Eden! Thank you for reading. Today’s post will be about UK visas and is an interview with an immigration specialist. It may be of interest to you if you’re not from the UK.
Karina Cohen says
I loved your blog! Im researching everything i possibly can. Im moving to London in february, 2017. Im an american who loved in the states most of my life, but i currently live in Brazil. Im moving as a carreer choice for me, but eithout any actual job offer. I intend on taking some short courses at two fashion schools again, after years having graduated already. The schools are Central Saint Martin, and Fashion College of London. I trully want to be inside zone 1 pf london, and wondered what neighborhoods are good to live in today? That are safe, not too expensive, has a nice feel to it as well. I might need some help on tips on what to do first.
I also, wanted to know, i want to buy a telephone plan as soon as i arrive, to be a le to
Communicate and have internet access. What companies do you reccomend?
Sunny London says
Hello Karina and thank you for reading! Unfortunately, every neighbourhood in Central London is very expensive. I lived in Bloomsbury the first time I moved to London. I would also suggest Marylebone and Mayfair, but they are my preferences. Many people recommend Shoreditch for a more hipster vibe. I have a monthly plan with O2 that has worked well for years. It’s under £30 a month and offers enough data to hold all my blog social media and lifestream video broadcasts! However, I did buy my iPhone myself. Have you had a chance to watch the YouTube videos on my channel about moving to London?
I really like your post.I appreciate your post.Moving anywhere can be expensive.Unless you’re moving from Europe, you’re probably going to be taking a flight to get to London. The city is officially served by four airports (to include London Luton and London Stanstead), but in all reality, you’re likely to be arriving at either London Heathrow or London Gatwick So when you’re packing up and moving overseas to London, you know the fees are going to mount up.
Keep sharing !!