Growing up in a really (REALLY) small country on the other side of the world, nothing was ever quite enough for me. I wanted more- more culture, more music, more travel, more passion, more fun, more wearing of shoes in public places.
New Zealand in the 90s and early 00s was a sleepy, quiet little place and although this was an idyllic childhood, by the time I reached my early 20s, I was completely done with it.
Having always harboured an intention to live overseas for at least a couple of years, I first accepted an exchange to Uppsala University in Sweden for six months; what I thought would be a wee taster of living overseas, getting a bit of travel in before I returned home to follow the classic path of the Kiwi OE- work for a few years after uni, move over to London at the same time as all your mates, and spend two years living in Clapham, causing a ruckus, and going on organised tours of Europe.
As you may already be able to tell by the tone of this piece, I did not continue down the classic Kiwi path. Six months living in, and exploring Europe had me hooked, and pushed me to make the decision to take out my ancestry visa and go it alone in London, aged 21.
After a couple of the most stressful months of my life, including a last minute policy change that doubled the price of my visa (thanks Home Office), almost losing essential documents that proved I was actually allowed to move here, and being stranded in Sweden with nowhere to live, no money, and no passport due to a hold up in my processing times, I was finally granted that sweet sweet visa and given five years in the UK. When I finally made it to London (honestly, this was also a nightmare- a two hour flight turned into a 48 hour trip involving a train to Denmark) I was absolutely shattered and had $20 to my name.
So I think it is fair to say my London story didn’t start off the best. Luckily, I was able to find a job fairly quickly, and although this didn’t end up being long-term, this was the best thing I could have done. After three years in the country I am settled in to a great house, have a job that pays the bills, and a really solid social circle- it took time and a lot of crying, but I got there. So, to ease people through their journeys in a slightly less chaotic manner than mine, here are my top tips if you are thinking of making the move to London
Get a job as soon as you can
London is a pricey place to live, and my quality of life improved exponentially when I stopped having to live off a single Tesco salad bar pot each day- aka, when I started getting a regular paycheque. To get yourself on your feet as best as you can, reach out to recruiters before you make the move- not too early as they won’t be able to do much, but you want to be in conversations about 2-3 weeks before you arrive, and have some interviews set up for the first few days. You also want to make sure you have AT LEAST 3 recruiters on the go- it’s a dog eat dog world, and this gives you more chance of getting yourself a paying job. Additionally, if you’re a broke bitch like me, what you do for the first few months isn’t that important- it’s a lot easier to look for your dream job when you’re not struggling to keep a roof over your head, so don’t be too picky, and remember the market moves incredibly quickly.
Don’t be afraid to be a bit overbearing when you’re trying to make friends
Look, it sounds odd, but some of the first friendships I managed to make in London were through conversations in which I made no secret of the fact I had no friends in the city. You hear all kinds of things about Londoners not being welcoming, but this is not the case at all- if anything, people just don’t really consider that you may not have the same kind of social circle that they do and that you might like an invite. So make little jokes about how you have no plans cause you’re a Nigel no-mates, or just don’t be afraid to be a bit weird and ask people out for coffee if you’ve had a good laugh with them. It’s so important to have a good support network in London, so do everything you can to create this. Some of my best friends have been made through work also, so don’t turn down those Friday night drinks or office events, because after a vino or two you might just find yourself a new little clique
Get that touristy stuff out of your system while you can
To be honest, once you get settled into the city, the idea of going to the Tower of London, or any museums, or basically anywhere slightly famous, will fill you with dread. You’ll spend the week working and on the weekends, you will really try to avoid any places where tourists congregate, because no offence but they are the WORST. You’ll also probably be likely to want to do things that make the city feel more like home for you- for me, this was going to comedy shows or finding new pubs/bars/restaurants/cafes in my area, which will take up a lot of your time. So before you get too settled in, make a list of your must-do things and TICK THEM OFF. Most things you will only need to do once (a been there, done that kind of vibe) but being able to say you have seen the Crown Jewels or watched the changing of the guards is pretty cool.
Learn the Tube, and learn it fast
I know this is a much-touted piece of advice but that is because it is actually SO important. Being able to direct yourself home when your phone has died and it’s 3am is a key skill, and there’s only so far Uber can take you when you’re broke or you literally have no technology to help you. Memorise routes to your house, work, and places you frequently visit- this will come in handy innumerable times. Also, you will be able to feel smug when you realise you can jump off one line, onto another, and back on to the original and save yourself some time OR that actually it is faster to walk between some places. Additionally, learn those etiquette rules- from the widely known like always standing on the right, to the more unspoken like PLEASE not having loud conversations during commuting hours; you’ll feel like a true London expert in no time.
The MOST important. Yes, it is a tough city and can be overwhelming at times, but it is truly a blessing to live here and to have the freedom to explore new cultures, experiences, and people on the reg. Make the most of this- it is a transient place and you don’t know if you’ll be here for a matter of months, or if it will become your forever home, but what you do know is that you have the opportunity to do anything you want to while you are here. So truly embrace it- try to limit the time you spend swaddled on your sofa and push yourself out of your comfort zone a little. Because baby, it’s London.
P.S, if you have any questions about the moving process please do get in touch- I am happy to help other people avoid my nightmare experience!