Welcome to London, baby! If you have dreamed about moving to the English capital and now the dream is turning into reality, you are probably experiencing a mix of feelings. When we arrived, I had 1 month until the start of my master’s course and the idea was to take this time to enjoy the city. If only. We did some touring, but also stressed out about basic things such as opening a bank account, registering for National Insurance, getting internet… Even though we talked to people, each one says a different thing and you feel even more confused.
I wrote this guide focusing on everything I wish I knew, but nobody told me. So, if you are arriving in London as an EU citizen or with a student visa, here goes the essentials to start your life with spare time to find that special corner at Hyde (Regent’s, St. James’, Battersea etc) Park and chill out.
Housing: yes, it’s true that London is expensive and full of traps. Keep in mind that the most important things are not closing a deal without seeing the place beforehand, look for established real state agencies and find out if the rent includes other bills such as electricity, gas and Council Tax. Pay for an Airbnb for about 2 weeks before signing a contract is a good idea. And prior to that, think carefully about the chosen zone. Even with excellent public transport, living in further areas may not be so cheaper because Oyster prices increase and commuting time may put your social life down. Oh, usually flats come furnished, at least with the basics (bed, sofa, table….) but eventually Ikea will be your best friend!
Obs: click here to read a post about where I live, Dolphin Square, which I highly recommend
Bank account: without one, it’s impossible to have mobile, electricity and cable TV accounts. Each bank has a different rule to open account for foreigners. Usually, European citizens just need to take passport and tenancy agreement whilst students need these and a letter from the university (just send an email and the responsible department will provide). The tip: go to different agencies in your area, talk to managers or receptionists and go with whomever be more considerate and interested in work things out. Basic accounts are free and you get a debit card – credit card only after many months of active account.
Oyster Card: the magic card that gives access to bus, tube, overground and several train lines. You can use it in 2 ways: paying for periods (weekly, monthly or even annually – ideal if you travel every day since there’s no limit of use) or choosing Pay as You Go (for those who don’t use as much). The good news for students over 18 is that you get a discount but need to make a card with photo. Also, some credit, debit cards and mobile phones may replace Oyster in Contactless Payments with the same charges as Pay as You Go.
Council Tax: the housing tax varies for each Zip Code. Again, students are entitled to discount but you need to send an official statement from the university (also easy to obtain by email)
Phone, Internet, Cable TV: well, anyone still need a landline? If you need it, the best is to have a package with companies that provide internet and cable (they’ll push everything together anyway and after all, it can be cheaper). Some offer mobile account as well. To make a decision you have to do a little research online and in stores. Meanwhile, buy a SIM card to have mobile and internet access.
Electricity and gas: they are not always included in the rent and even so, you’ll probably need to contact companies to make a registration. Most of them provide both services, which makes life simpler. The landlord or the agency must give necessary information to open an account. Another thing: it’s good to send a monthly Meter Reading. Otherwise, they will charge based on an average, which may be higher than the actual use.
National Insurance Number (NINo): you can’t get paid without having one, so before start looking for a job, get yours. Just go online or call 0345 600 0643.
NHS: medical assistance is 100% free in the UK so all you need to do is access the site and register. With your number delivered, go find a local GP, i.e. the doctor in your neighbourhood. You can search online and then go to the clinic to make an in person registration, which don’t take long.
If you have any other doubts, leave a comment and I’ll try to help! And if you sorted everything out and is searching for a job in London, read this post asap.