UK Starter Kit: How-To get Yourself Set-Up Once you Arrive in Britain

London Underground

So, you’ve done it! You successfully applied and got approved for your work visa (if not, read how to apply here), and you’ve touched down on UK soil! Congratulations! …. Now what?

Getting settled in a new country, especially on your own, can be really challenging. Things that were easy at home, can turn out to be a giant nightmare abroad. But don’t fret, as someone who has gone through it, I’ve learned the ropes and am here to help! I’ve put together a list of all the things I can think of that you’ll need to get set up once you arrive in Britain.

This post will cover:

  • A General Overview of London 
  • How to find a flat
  • How to find a job
  • Setting up a bank account
  • Getting an NI (National Insurance) number
  • Getting a phone contract
  • Registering with a doctor
  • Finding friends / socialising
  • The best and cheapest way to transfer money to/from Canada

General London Overview

If you’re like me and moved to London thinking Piccadilly Circus was an ACTUAL circus (it’s not), let me give you the low down. London is divided into zones. In total, there are 6 zones, each one divided into a circle around the city. You can see from the Transport for London tube map below, London is massive. Before you press the panic alarm, a small version of this map is located for free at every tube station, I would suggest keeping it as a pocket guide until you start getting your bearings. It looks daunting, but after a while you’ll figure it out 🙂

London Underground Map

The centre of London is called, Trafalgar Square; London post codes are listed as: direction + xx distance away from Trafalgar Square, ex/ NW9 = North West London, 9km away from Trafalgar Square.

A quid is slang for pound. Like a ‘buck’ is slang for 1 dollar.

When a Brit asks if you’re ‘alright’ they don’t mean, ‘what’s wrong? You seem concerned!’ They mean ‘hey, how are you?’ Confusing.

I could write a whole post on this. In fact, I probably will one day. But let’s move on.

Firstly: A Home

Finding a flat in the UK, especially if you’re moving to London, can be a Canada-sized hassle! The quality of some places can leave a lot to be desired, not to mention the extortionate price tag that goes along with them. Decent flats go QUICK in the capital, so be ready to place a deposit down on the spot if you find a place you like! There’s a few resources that are really helpful to find yourself a place to lay your head. I recommend:

  • SpareRoom – this is great for finding a room in a share house and widely used across the country
  • RightMove – this site is really helpful to finding empty flats looking to be filled as well as flat shares
  • Kiwis in London Weekly Flat Post – this Facebook page is liked by over 70k and has a weekly thread pinned to the top of the page where people are listing flats for rent or requests for roommates. Great opportunity to buddy with and live with fellow expats
  • Speed Flatmatting by SpareRoom – Moving in with someone is a big decision, especially if you’ve never met them before. If you’ve moved here by yourself or in a couple, this is a great way to meet up with new people who are also looking for flats.

Finding a place to live can be really stressful, but don’t let that set you back. Until you get your bearings and find a job to determine what type of commute you’re happy doing, why not stay in a Hostel or AirBnb for a few weeks to get settled first? A lot of people in London do that, and it’s a great way to be a tourist before you start life!

Second: A Job

Unlike back in Canada, most people find work here by registering with recruiters. London is FULL of recruiters depending on the industry you want to work in, I would suggest registering with as many as you can for a better chance at finding a role. A quick Google for ‘Marketing Recruiters London’ or ‘Law Recruitment Firms London’ will bring you up lots of results.

I’d also recommend adding your CV onto sites like Reed, TotalJobs, Indeed etc and add in all the key words of jobs you’d like to have (i.e. for marketing: social media, digital marketing, project management etc). Building up your LinkedIn profile and setting yourself to ‘open‘ privately signals to recruiters you’re looking for work, allowing them to message you if a role fits your skills.

Moving to a new city, let alone country is really tough, especially because you don’t have any of your connections from home to rely on. You do, however, have a massive community of fellow expats who all know what it’s like to be in your shoes. Lots of the expat groups often posts jobs looking to be filled or quick ways to make money, always keep an eye open for those opportunities, or feel free to post that you’re looking for work. I found my first job in London through Facebook! More on expat groups in a bit.

Setting Up a Bank Account

Money, money, money, moneyyyyy!

Setting up a bank account for me was the straw that almost broke the camels back. At home in Canada, my mom works at a bank and has always done everything banking-wise for me. All that I was required to do was show up and sign the dotted line. When you live in another country and your mom isn’t there, it doesn’t work quite the same way.

There’s lots of different and great banks in the UK from Lloyds, Halifax, NatWest, Barclays, Metro, and each one has their own benefits and perks. Personally, as outlined above, I know nothing about banking so when I went to set up my account I went for whatever was the closest branch to where I was living, which happened to be a Lloyds Bank. Another reason I decided to go with them was because they were one of the easier places to set up and open an account with limited proof of UK life.

In the UK, what we refer to in Canada as a ‘chequing account’ is called a ‘current account’ and functions the same way.

What do I need to set up a bank account?

  • proof of identity – passport + visa is required
  • proof of address – this can be a phone bill, utility bill, rent agreement etc

Having a proof of address can be challenging if you haven’t yet decided on a place to live or are crashing at a hostel/friends place. There are ways around this. If you have a utility bill, you can use that, if not, you can ask a friend or person you trust if you can use their address temporarily until you get settled.

Once you’ve got everything set up, unlike at home where you’re able to leave bank card in-hand, you (of course), have to wait for your card to be delivered, yup you guessed it, by post. But then, you must wait again for a special one-time passcode to arrive, also by mail. Sigh, so must wasted paper.

As with any bank card, be careful with how and where you use it. The UK has one of the highest bank fraud rates in the world and having your card compromised can happen. I know several friends, myself included, who had money wired and stolen somehow from their accounts to a dodgy 3rd party. It happened to me 2 times and to this day, I don’t know how it happened but I now have the highest level of security on my account to prevent it.

Getting a National Insurance Number (NI Number)

NI numbers are similar to SIN numbers back in Canada, you need one of these in order to work. But, don’t panic if you start a job without having one, it’s still possible to still work while you wait for it to arrive. Apparently some of the new work permits have the ability to apply for an NI number at the same time and will come with your biometrics card. At the time I got my visa’s mine personally didn’t. If your visa comes with one, consider yourself lucky and skip on down to the next section!

Here’s how to get an NI number: 

  • You must first be in the UK
  • You must have the right to work or study here
  • The digital transformation hasn’t yet hit the UK gov and a lot of things are still in the stone age. To get an NI number you must CALL someone and request they mail it to you …
  • Telephone: 0800 141 2075 Textphone: 0800 141 2438 Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm

When you call the above number, you’ll need to have the following documents ready:

  • Proof of your identity – passport / drivers license / work visa
  • An account of all your past years of work and travel
  • How and when you arrived in the UK

Sometimes after answering all these questions, you’ll be asked to come into a Job Centre for a mini interview to verify your identity. It will come at no surprise to you that the NI number comes through the post and can take up to your entire life to arrive (dramatic, but it’s a long time). Because of this, I recommend applying to it straight away once you land in the UK to speed things up. I would also suggest that you try to remain at the address you’ve registered yourself at during the application time, if not, calling to switch addresses mid-application will draw things out even more and add more frustration.

If you’ve already started working and your number hasn’t shown up by snail mail, not to worry, your employer can put you on what’s called an ’emergency tax code’ which will ensure that tax gets taken off your paycheques while you wait. Note: you ideally don’t want to be on this as this means the gov is taxing you at a higher tax bracket and you end up losing a lot of money on your salary. This will get straightened out once your real number arrives. You will also be entitled to claim that extra money back at the end of the tax year.

For more information, you can check out the UK Gov website here.

Getting a Phone Contract

I don’t want to picture a life without 4G. Luckily, the UK has pretty decent – and CHEAP – phone plans. In Canada, I remember paying $120/month for like .. 3GB of data which lasted a hot minute. In the UK, with an unlocked phone you can get a pay as you go £20/month, unlimited data, call display, voice mail AND international roaming packing!! It’s amazing!! I highly suggest before moving abroad to get your phone unlocked in Canada to make things easier.

Personally, I use the phone provider called Three, and haven’t had any issues with them, but most phone providers are decent here. In the UK and Europe, most phone companies allow you to use the local phone networks to access signal, wifi and phone data at no extra change. I know with Three, they have a list called the Feel At Home Countries which lists over 70+ countries that you can use your phone abroad for no extra cost – unfortunately, Canada is not yet on the list (but the US is – hopeful!). This extra feature is great for when you’re travelling away for the weekend.

Note: you will get charged if you use your UK phone plan to call a number local to the destination you’re travelling to ex/ If I was in Germany and tried to call a German phone number from my UK SIM, I would be charged. Note: WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger WiFi calls are free! – loophole! 😀

If you want to open a long-term contract with a phone provider, you must provide the following:

  • Proof of identity
  • Address in UK
  • Enrolment in University/college (or acceptance letter)
  • Proof of employment (or acceptance letter)
  • Bank details

Registering with a Doctor

In the UK, getting a doctor is based on your geographical location. Instead of choosing to travel farther because you like a certain doctor better, the National Health Services (NHS) makes you go to one within your postal range. The good thing with the NHS is that they have an online ranking system where you can see the ratings clients have given to specific doctors and practices to make your choice easier. This system also lists what languages they speak which makes it easier if you’re looking for a doctor that speaks the same language as you, as well as if they’re accepting new patients.

To find what options you have close to you, visit the NHS Choices website and enter your post code to see what GP Practice options are nearby. Once you’ve made a selection, you must fill out a form and show some basic ID (drivers license or passport depending on location, as well as a bill which has your name and UK address listed). Sometimes these forms are listed on their website, other times you have to go in-person to collect and hand in. If you don’t have an address or bill with your name on it, there’s walk-in clinics available.

If you have an emergency situation, you can call NHS 111 to speak to someone immediately who can advise next steps or call an ambulance if needed.

Sexual Health

In the UK, all sexual health related questions or check ups are done by a separate doctor than your regular GP. There’s a few locations around the country that offer services, take a look here to find out your nearest one. All types of contraceptives are completely free and can be accessed or put in through these clinics.

Making friends

Making new friends as an adult is really friggen hard. You have to make a conscious effort to put yourself out there and hope that someone likes your kind of weird. The best part of expat life is that there’s literally thousands of others in the same city going through the same thing. I found that by just attending a lot of the expat events I discovered on Facebook or through MeetUp groups I’ve joined, you meet a lot of others who are in the same boat and are interested in the same things, so bonding becomes easy.

Something I did to make friends was to join a sporting group. For three seasons, I played competitive co-ed dodgeball – yes, you read that right. If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball! Go Mammoth lists hundreds of different types of sporting leagues you can join, from dodgeball, to ultimate frisbee, American Football (aka regular football for us), yoga, etc there’s loads to pick from. You can join as an individual and get allocated to another team of individuals, so you’ll make lots of friends. Plus, most of the game venues are located close to the local Slug and Lettuce cheap-as-chips pub where you get a 10% off coupon to use! #winning Reward yourself for getting out of your comfort zone!

My dodgeball team quickly became some of my closest friends, we had socials all the time, international weekend trips, boozy brunches, and some teammates even ended up dating! Who knows, you might find the love of your life, too!

Expat Community

When you’re having an ‘expat day’, or just you want something familiar, these expat groups are really helpful for easing your frustrations of life abroad. These groups are really good for keeping up-to-date with news from home, finding out where you can snag some treats from home (i.e. the latest Tim Hortons openings, where to get poutine in London, which big Tescos sell Clamato juice), sharing news of Canadians artists/events happening around the country, how to file income tax in two countries etc. I suggest joining all of them and getting engaged with some of the posts. Here’s what I’ve found to be the best sources:

Transferring Money to/from Canada

When you first move abroad, all your money is going to most likely be in your home currency. The exchange rate from the dollar to the pound can be BRUTAL and bank transfers can be costly and take a long time. When you need money quickly, the last thing you want is to have to wait 72+ hours for the money wire to reach your account.

Alternatively, when you start earning money, you might need to transfer money back home to pay off student loads, credit cards etc. I’ve found the best, cheapest and safest way is with TransferWise, which lets you transfer money up to 8x cheaper than what the banks would charge. How it works is if you’re looking to convert pounds to dollars, TransferWise will find someone looking to exchange dollars for pounds, and will swap the currencies in the opposite direction. In my experience, money usually reaches the destination account 24-48 hours later and usually only costs about £2 to do so (this price will vary on the amount you’re looking to send). I’ve been using it for over 3 years without problem. If you’d like to set up an account, check out their website.

 

I hope these resources have helped you to feel a bit more confident with moving abroad to the UK. It can be a hard adjustment, but never feel alone because so many of us have gone through the rollercoaster. If I’ve missed anything on this post, or if you have any questions/comments on something I’ve written, get in touch! Make sure you subscribe to this post as I’m going to try and keep it as up-to-date as possible.

 

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