15 Practical Things You Need to Know When Moving to London: US to UK Guide

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I recently moved into a new flat with some friends (who only recently moved to London) and, as we went through the moving process, I realised there were so many things about renting and living in London that have become second nature to me which were so foreign to them (and to me when I first arrived!).

Read on for my guide to help you seamlessly move to London!

Editorial credit: Tomas Marek / Shutterstock.

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1. There are a lot of rules (in place since June 2019) about renting in the UK to protect tenants.

This U.S. to UK guide will help you avoid shady landlords taking advantage of you when moving to London from abroad.

First off, your landlord must protect your deposit in an officially registered deposit protection scheme. This company will hold and protect your deposit throughout your tenancy and will be your first port of call for mediating deposit-related disputes.

At the end of your tenancy, once you request it back, landlords have 10 days to return it.

On that note, the maximum amount a landlord can charge for a deposit these days is 5 weeks’ rent. If landlords break any of these rules, you may be entitled to compensation. You should definitely seek advice through Shelter or Citizen’s Advice if you find yourself in that situation.

Similarly, charging tenants end of tenancy, check-in, or agency fees is now illegal, so keep that in mind.

2. You have to take your own meter readings for your electricity and gas (and sometimes water!) usage.

Some homes have smart meters to do this for you, but this is often not the case. You should try to enter meter readings at least once a month so you’re only paying for what you use.

You can choose how often you pay, but it will often default to quarterly, so make sure to set aside enough money to pay these bills.

Also, there are a variety of different tariffs you can be on for your electricity and gas and loads of different companies that provide it, so check out USwitch or Look After My Bills to make sure you’re getting the best price.

For water, it’ll be through Thames Water and you may or may not have a meter. If you don’t, they’ll calculate your estimated usage based on the size of your house.

When you move in, you should get letters from these companies with your new account number or telling you to sign up (if your landlord is nice and has told them you’re moving in), otherwise, you may need to reach out yourself.

3. I'd be remiss not to mention another unique expense in a U.S. to UK guide: council tax.

You can pay this at a variety of intervals of your choosing. As a student, you don’t have to pay council tax, but it’s important that you still sign up with your local council (either online or using the form they will mail you).

Also, if you’re living with someone who isn’t a student, they’ll be responsible for paying the entirety of the council tax. There is a discount if only one person is paying council tax, but this is also something they’ll need to apply for.

4. Estate agents can make the process of relocating to London from abroad way more difficult (even if you've lived here for years and especially if you're a student).

Many will (unethically) require you to jump through extra hoops because of this to prove you can afford to live somewhere. They may even ask for several months’ of rent up front or for you provide a guarantor. The guarantor may need to own property in the UK which can be nearly impossible if you just moved here.

One way to avoid this is to find a flatshare through SpareRoom or OpenRent, as landlords are less likely to pay for third-party credit checks, etc.

That said, be wary of scams on SpareRoom and at least get a “live” virtual tour before you pay any money upfront.

For more information on finding a flat in London (particularly from abroad) check out this guide.

5. 45 minutes is a pretty normal commute time in London.

This also goes for your distance from other friends in London. I’ve had friends who have lived almost an hour and a half away from me on public transport when I lived in central London. This is certainly different from other cities.

Furthermore, if you’re looking for something cheaper, it may be worth looking slightly outside of London, as many places are accessible by a short train ride and may actually be a shorter commute than somewhere within the bounds of London.

For more guidance, check out my guide on where to live in London.

6. There are loads of student discounts in the UK.

Lots of chain restaurants offer crazy discounts as well as popular brands. Take a look on Unidays or Student Beans for a full up-to-date list or check out this article for my top 100 favourites! Some of my favourites are the Apple one and the ASOS one.

On that note, you should definitely install the Honey browser extension when you’re shopping online to check for discount codes.

7. You can live very cheaply in London, but costs can also add up quickly.

It’s important to budget before moving to London. Even one shop at a slightly more expensive supermarket can send you over the edge of your weekly budget. Some people tested out prices of different items at various UK supermarkets and found that even a shop at Tesco was £20 more than Aldi.

I’ve done a separate post on budgeting as a student and what I spend in a week.

8. Getting a bank account can be a hassle when you first move to London, but your university or employer can help you.

You’ll need to provide proof of address and may also need a UK mobile number first. This can be difficult when you're first moving to London, before you’ve paid any bills, signed your tenancy agreement, or if bills are included in your rent.

Your university can provide proof of address and can also recommend student-friendly banks. Barclays and Santander are good options for student accounts.

A lot of places will only accept UK cards (for example, my cell phone provider), so you’ll need to get one ASAP.

9. If you’ll be earning any money, you need to get a National Insurance Number.

This is your identifying number for paying tax. You’ll also need a permanent address for them to send this to. Speaking of tax, HMRC automatically takes it out of your paycheck. However, sometimes they mess up. You may be eligible for a refund at the end of the year. It may come automatically, but you may also need to apply.

Furthermore, if you’re doing any TA-ing during your PhD, make sure to get your hours in as you do them. If you wait until you have tons of hours stacked up, your paycheck will be larger and HMRC will think that you’re going to get paid that same amount every month going forward. This may bump you into a higher tax bracket and they may withhold more tax. (Which, again, you probably won’t get back until the end of the year).

10. Not every house can be a houseshare.

Landlords have to fulfil certain requirements and pay to have an HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) license. So, just because you see a fabulous four-bed on Zoopla, doesn’t mean that you and three friends can share it. This is why SpareRoom is so useful (since it is primarily for sharers).

For more information on finding somewhere to live in London check out this article.

11. Internet installation takes forever when you first move to the UK.

Also, not everywhere has the infrastructure for fiber broadband, so definitely check before paying extra for that.

It can take up to a month after moving in for them to schedule your installation if the previous tenant used a different provider.

A lot of the infrastructure in houses is old, so your internet might not be as great as you’re used to in other countries.

However, hyperoptic broadband is slowly being installed throughout London. This has insane download speeds (though, they’ll cost you) and doesn’t use the same old infrastructure as traditional broadband.

I, personally, have been with Plusnet for years and have been pretty satisfied with their service.

12. Citymapper is your new best friend.

This mobile app is the best thing ever to help you get around London (and other cities). It’s much more accurate than Google Maps and has a very user-friendly interface.

13. TV Licenses are another weird thing to be aware of.

Basically, if you watch the free TV (BBC, etc.) on your TV or use BBC iPlayer, you need a TV license. If you don’t, you’ll get angry letters saying threatening home inspections and fines. If you genuinely don’t have a TV (or don’t watch anything besides Netflix or Amazon Prime (bonus tip: you can get free Amazon Prime for 6 months as a student!), you can fill in a form online to say you don’t need a TV license and then they’ll leave you alone for a year.

14. Congratulations, one of the best things about moving to London is that you'll have healthcare (we 💜 the NHS)!

Particularly if you’re coming from the U.S., the UK system is very different. (And, dare I say, much better. Yay for not going bankrupt from going to the hospital!).

You’ll need to sign up for a GP near your home or university (this can usually be done online).

It may take slightly longer to get non-urgent appointments, so keep that in mind if you need a prescription refilled.

If your GP refers you to a specialist, you’ll get a letter in the mail telling you when your appointment is. You’ll need to be flexible. Employers and universities in the UK are aware of this and will understand if you need to miss a commitment because of this). There’s also a new NHS app that can help you make appointments.

15. No U.S. to UK guide would be complete without some mention of pubs! People generally pay in rounds for drinks.

Definitely make sure to speak up and pay when it’s your round otherwise people will be very angry. (Though, not outwardly so, of course, because they’re British 😉).

I hope these tips will help you with the more practical and less exciting (but still important) bits about moving to London or living in the UK.

Comment below if you found any of these strange, if you found this moving from the U.S. to UK guide helpful, or if you have any other tips!

Also, if you're about to move in to a place in London, check out my comprehensive list of must-buys for your first flat.

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