You’ve finally made it to London as an expat. A cultural city full of people from around the world, living and experiencing in all the traditions of tea cakes and Sunday roasts as well as pub nights, free museums and english men. But where do you rest your head at night? What do you call home?
It’s hard to find the perfect spot, especially as a foreigner with no real concept of the vibe of each neighborhood. London is small yet so big and it honestly can feel like a challenge to find the ideal location to live.
As an expat who has had to overcome hurdles to move into my own place with my husband, I’ve decided to share a comprehensive guide for anyone looking to make a move to London and secure their own flat. I firmly believe that knowledge is power so hopefully you won’t be caught off guard when it comes time for you to rent or “let” as it’s called over in the UK. Check out some of my tips and let me know what other info might be helpful to you on your journey.
Scouting The Perfect Location
London can be huge! There’s north London, West London, East London, South London and then all the other directions in between plus outer London. There are iconic locations like Kensington, Soho, Shoreditch and Notting Hill to name a few. Then there’s Walthamstow, Hackney, East Croydon, Highbury and Islington and so much more. Ok, I guess you get it. I can stop naming areas in London. The point is that there are so many locations that it’s hard to know where to start but this is my advice: pay close attention to the travel zones and where you will be working. I feel like that’s obvious but you’d be surprised how many people overlook.
The way to pick the perfect location in my book is to think about where you’ll be working or commuting to the most and think about how long you’d be willing to travel. 45 minutes is apparently the standard commute time in London so anything shorter than that means you’ve hit the jackpot. Once you’ve figured out how far you want to commute, mark where you work on on a map and then use Google Maps or CityMapper to determine how long your commute would be from a neighborhood you’re eyeing.
Then look at what zone that neighborhood falls in. You might be only 25 minutes to work but is your new potential spot in zone 4 while you work in zone 1? The farther out you live with regards to zones, you will have to spend more money on transportation. Is your £1300 a month flat worth it if you have to pay £194 a month for a 1-4 travel card. Think about it.
I’ve primarily spent most of my time in South London and bits of the East but not too many other places. You can check out some of my neighborhood glimpses of Wimbledon, Brixton, Camden and Greenwich to give you an idea of some of these locations but that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Flat Must Haves
What do you want in your flat? A dishwasher? A balcony or garden? Charming English attributes? Start by looking on rental sites like Zoopla, Rightmove and Spareroom (more for room rentals but still good if you’re on a tight budget) and setting their filters to include what you’d want and need (probably reverse that order).
You’ll be surprised to know that a washer, dishwasher and even a bit a patio or garden space aren’t too outrageous to hope for.
On these sites you can set parameters on where you’d like to search and what things are most important to you. Here, you’ll see what is actually in your budget in the area you’re searching in and if you need to get more realistic. Is a balcony overlooking the Thames a pipe dream? Maybe for the time being but there are other options like communal garden space or scrapping the outdoor space in favor of more square footage and living closer to a park.
Trust me that some things aren’t as pricey as you might think. There are some luxuries you can totally fit within your budget but just do your research and get real with what you want vs need.
Making An Offer
This is important. The money. So you can let or rent a flat but did you know the asking price doesn’t have to be the price you pay? There is room to negotiate even though you’re not buying. So if you see something at £1300, you can suggest paying £1250 if you think that it’s more reasonable. You can also ask for things to be included and/or removed. This may sound obvious to some but in NYC, I never encountered this as a renter (though I only rented once).
And to make sure you have enough to cover the rent, this is the figure I’m using as the agent didn’t tell me a specific measurement: monthly rent x 10 +£10,000. I know it’s not a measurement that everyone uses but this is as good as I have right now.
It’s also critical that you’re aware of your job contract. The UK has lots of jobs offered on a fixed contract so if you’re trying to let and your contract doesn’t last as long as the rental period, you could run into trouble. Most agencies want a guarantee and in that case, you may need a guarantor so just keep that in mind. Maybe you want to bypass this and just do a room share rather than let your own flat.
When you are ready to rent and you’re renting with an agency, be prepared for the following fees:
- 6 weeks deposit (they list rent as weekly fees out here but you only pay monthly)
- Referencing fee (to run your credit check which appears to just see if you have a job that pays you permanently)
- Agency fee
- One month’s rent
This varies pending the agency you use but you can pretty much expect something very close to this.
Bills in London
Did you know you have to pay to have a TV? In London, the following are bills you can expect to pay:
- Council Tax (monthly) – neighborhood maintenance
- Rent (monthly) – paying for your flat
- Electric (monthly) – this covers electric and heat (if you’re in a new build. If not, gas/heat may be separate)
- Water (monthly) – all your water usage
- Wifi (monthly) – internet
- TV License (monthly) – owning a TV
- Renters Insurance (monthly) – covers your flat incase of theft, fire, tsunami
Yes. Council tax and a TV license are new to me (coming from the Bronx).
Apparently the council tax is a number that depends on the neighborhood you live in. You pay monthly in order for them to keep up the roads and streets and all the other neighborhood maintenance. The nicer the neighborhood, the likelihood of your council tax being a bit pricier goes up. And then there’s a TV license. They offer free TV out here in the UK so if you get a TV and tune it, you will end up with some channels which is not how it works in America. You need to pay for cable. Here you pay for certain packages and access to networks like Sports Networks or movie channels. You can get away without paying for a license (or so I’ve heard), if you don’t tune your TV and only watch Netflix and Prime. That’s all most people use TVs for these days anyways so I think you could bypass this.
This is a strange one for me to get used to but a good deal of flats in the UK come furnished or partly furnished. You can find flats that are pretty much set up like an Airbnb or you can find some that have closets and beds included. To this I say, decide on what you’re comfortable with and how much money you want to invest in new furniture.
Coming from NYC, I’m skeptical about other people’s furniture because NYC has a bed bug problem. London is ok with regards to furniture. But you still might want to add your personal touch. Check out places like IKEA for low cost basics to get started or to least get inspired. Their room arrangements are such a smart concept because it really helps you visualize how to use small spaces and ways to decorate it. You don’t have to but furniture there if you don’t want to but definitely use it for ideas.
If you want a sofa, you can try out places like Sofology, Dunelm, DFS Sofas and Next Home. In Dunelm and Next Home, you can find other furniture basics like bedding, utensils, bathroom bits, etc. It’s like Bed Bath and Beyond or Crate and Barrel in the US. Lots of things to make your home standout and feel like you.
They also have places like Wayfair out here and Amazon so you can order things online. And then there’s the ultimate free, FreeCycle where you can grab people’s free things that they no longer have use for.
So everyone loves a washer dryer out here. In London though, you have to beware. Apparently they set off your bills to an unruly level (or have the potential to). I have a washer dryer but have yet to use. Time will tell how much they change the bill but I will let you know once I do figure it out. If you don’t have a dryer, you can use the free clothing racks. You can dry your clothes using air and it’s even better if you have a balcony to do it on.
Cleaners. I personally think this is a wasted expense. Absolutely frivolous unless you have a huge house or a lot of people in your house messing up. For one person, two people or even four people sharing a flat, you should be able to clean up after yourself. Not only is it a good skill but it can you help save money. I’m not looking down on having a cleaner but for any budget conscious person, this isn’t the way to go in my mind. However, it seems to be a little more common out here than one would think. When I was looking for shared flats a while back, I saw that almost 80% worked in cleaner costs into the bill. Um, pass.
Parking. A lot of people have cars out here so street parking may not be your friend depending on your neighborhood. Think about how much you want to pay for having a car and if finding a place with designated parking is a priority. Do you really want to park on these small streets?
This is my guide. It’s as comprehensive as I could get for now but I will certainly come back to this as I experience new things and get more information to update. Hopefully this helps. Let me know if I left out anything and I’d be happy to answer!