9 years. I can’t believe it has been 9 years since I moved here. And to think it was never planned. I was 18 when I moved to London and what a city it is to be 18 in. Let’s give you a bit of a background story to help you understand how I made it all the way from South Africa to London and how it became my permanent base.
I finished high school and knew that going into university straight away was not what I wanted so I took a gap year. I was already one year younger than my peers so I had ‘time’ to catch up. I had been fantasising about travelling Europe my whole high school career, and I finally got the chance. My first obstacle was money.
I worked as a waitress and receptionist for about 5 months and saved as much as I could. All I could really muster was a few hundred euros but my gap year was ticking by and I was itching to get out and explore the world.
After packing my oversized backpack (which seemed to be a prerequisite for your gap year at the time) I hopped onto the plane and over to Greece where I spent the next three months trying to sort out my greek passport. Once the passport was sorted I made my first great solo adventure to Mykonos and hated it, not because of the place but because of my anxiety but that’s a whole different blog post.
Finally, I went over to Cyprus for a couple of weeks to visit family and set my sights for London – firstly because my brother lived there and secondly because I needed to make money and fast. By this time it was the end of July and my gap year was quickly coming to an end. So off I went after a 6-hour flight delay in a tiny airport. Who would have thought that London would then become my forever home (I promise I wasn’t a stray puppy)
Once I landed in London it took me a couple of weeks to find a job and by then the magic of the city had wrapped me up and I found myself calling my parents telling them I wasn’t going back to South Africa. And that is the very condensed version of how I now call London home.
Adjusting to London life
Coming from South Africa was quite an adjustment to the London way of life. The people, the buildings, the atmosphere, the weather, and the transport system were all polar opposite of what I grew up with. Being in such a contrasting environment to what I was used to was hard.
The first month I was here though I never thought I would make London my permanent home, so I think that helped with coping. Funny enough the longer you stay in one place the more influence that place has on you and you start becoming what you once couldn’t understand.
I came from an environment that was very open, friendly and chilled. London at first seemed cold, rushed and stressful. And to a point, that’s very true. But the beauty of this city is that you can make it whatever you want it to be. It is a city of change. Constant turnovers of people and places can make it hard to familiarise yourself and create a little family away from home but it will become natural.
There is something for everyone here, especially if you don’t know what your something is yet. London is a great city to find yourself or to lose yourself whatever you are after haha. But in all seriousness moving away from home and into a very large city like London can and at times will be difficult and lonely but you will adjust and if you’re open to it you can find others doing just the same.
People come to London mainly to seek a better life, whether that be a better job or more money to support families back home or just to make a name for themselves. The city is full of workaholics which makes the parties all that more fun and hardcore as most people have a lot of steam to burn off.
I could go on forever about this city so instead, I will break it down into sections below and tell you my personal experience when I first arrived and give you some tips to help you survive.
Finding a job
All those years ago I found my job on gumtree. I would, however, suggest you don’t do that anymore.
So this advice is very specific to my industry as I have no real-world experience with anything other. If you are looking just for a job to get by or in catering I suggest using the website caterer.com. They have anything from events waiters to managerial roles in hospitality
Here comes the golden nugget, if you land a job within a hotel after your three-month probation you get insane discounts. This is all depending on the hotel chain but most of the well known larger brands offer you £35/€35 per night for a room and breakfast. Which is insanely good value for money.
For other industries, Linkedin is a good starting point. Just reach out to recruiters on there and let them do all the hard work for you. They know the city and they have the contacts so trust I bn them to do their job.
Unless you are highly skilled, companies do not like sponsoring for visas and they especially do not like doing interviews when the person has not arrived in the country or is not a permanent resident yet so it might just be easier to take that leap of faith and come over without a stable job but enough savings to get you by for the first 3 months.
Ok, let’s be honest. Living in London is Bloody expensive. If you are not used to sharing a flat/apartment then you better get used to it quickly. Even if you are earning a decent wage it is still hard for people to live alone.
Space in the city is a hot commodity hence why there is such a hike in rent prices. Finding a room or flat can be pretty straightforward and quick it just all depends on your standards and how far you are willing to travel to work.
Transport and rent will go hand in hand as will the cost. The closer to the center you live the cheaper the train costs and vise versa. With rent, you will have to pay for bills mainly water, electric, gas (if you have that) council tax, internet, Tv license, etc.
I was lucky enough to always live very central and close enough that I could walk to work. However, there were some downfalls to that. The first place I moved into was £90.00 per week for a box room which consisted of a single bed and just enough space to walk next to the bed with a cloth wardrobe from Ikea stuffed in the corner. It was with a large family which had about 10 other people living in the house. I wasn’t allowed to use the washing machine and I was too intimidated to ever use the kitchen so I literally never ate at home. But it was cheap and all my bills were included.
I didn’t have it easy when finding a place to stay though. I spent a lot of time sleeping on a pullout sofa and my brothers, bedroom floor. The fault of that mainly fell on me though and my naivety.
You can find some places where the bills are included in the rent but I see that less and less nowadays. When renting it’s more than likely that the room will come furnished which in my opinion makes like easier. If you are looking for a whole flat there are more options available for furnished or unfurnished. You will find that the price of the flat will stay similar whether they provide a bed for you or not.
Your council tax will be the biggest expense but it is unavoidable, unfortunately. Please take the responsibility to sign up to the council tax otherwise you will have people knocking on your door and you won’t be able to plead ignorance.
Transport in London
Transport in this city is sizeable. Yes, there are constant delays and works and is affected more by the weather than the weatherman but the network of trains, buses, boats, trams, and the underground covers almost every inch of London. London is split up into zones. The center is zone one and it works outwards in a circular effect as to which zone is where. Living and travelling in each zone has its unique benefits.
The most extensive part of the network is the underground, commonly known as the tube. There are several one-lines but the underground deserves its own post so head over here to read an in-depth guide to navigating London’s tube network.
Buses are cheaper and cover much of London as well the only difference would be it’s much slower than the train, obvious much? The night buses cover a huge part of London as well which helps with getting home after 00.30. There is also the night tube that runs but it’s not the full network.
The boat is expensive and I have only ever taken them on a sunny day if I’m feeling like exploring the city of a different angle but they do cover the main points and areas that the Thames river cuts through.
There is a joke about London weather and it goes like this…
Summer will be on a Tuesday this year.
Let that sink in.
London has always been described as grey. This is somewhat true but like many other cities, it has seasons (who would have guessed). One great thing about is English weather is its consistency. I know consistency is not the word you would usually associate with the weather, never mind the English weather. But it’s true you know what to expect and that’s usually not great weather.
It’s best just to buy a little umbrella and keep it with you as it will rain most times. Summer is pleasant enough with us get a few good weeks of really hot weather but the rest of it is mild. Winters to me are cold and misarable but I am not a great judge as I generally hate the cold and get cold very quickly. Let’s face it you are not coming here for the weather. In comparison to the rest of the U.K, I think we actually have it good as London has milder weather than the rest of the country/s.
The people in London are an interesting bunch. London is like many large places where you find a melting pot of different nationalities and cultures. Each neighbourhood in London has its different stereotypes with the people to match.
At first glance, everyone is stressed and not very friendly. This is partly due to English culture which in contrast to other cultures is more reserved. I have found if you give them a pint or two they warm up quickly or if the sun happens to be shining. But in general, they are actually really friendly it’s just in their nature to leave you alone unless prompted. Saying that try not to talk to people during their commute .public transport is a scared quiet place and not somewhere you meet your next best friend.
I think that’s a good starting off point, for now, make sure to keep your eye out for more blog posts about adjusting to Lonon life and how to navigate it. Hope you found this personal account insightful. If you have any questions drop me a note and I’ll gladly oblige.