When I decided to move to London, I did so with the faith that I was walking down a path that was fairly well trodden. There are many aspects of England’s capital that make it the perfect place for first-time expats (although this was to be my second stint, as I’d previously lived in Qatar).
Looking back on my two years in the city, there are a few things I wish I’d done a bit differently, as they would have made my transition to the UK all the smoother. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, sometimes.
Here are some of the mistakes I made when I moved to the UK.
1. I didn’t research all the red tape I’d have to navigate before arriving in the country
It’s far easier to settle in my home country of Australia than it is in the UK.
I know this because I’m watching my boyfriend organize himself in Oz. He entered the bank with only his passport the other day and walked out with an account. That same process took me around three weeks in England. I got stuck in a vicious cycle of having to prove where I lived, without any means of obtaining proof of address!
British bureaucracy is, well, difficult to navigate. I never quite anticipated just how frustrating it could be.
Through several cases of trial and error, I managed to get everything organized in the end. I just wish I’d done some solid research online in advance, so I knew what to expect when I first arrived in London.
Hitting the ground running would have been much nicer than struggling through.
2. I didn’t account for how much the exchange rate would hurt my savings
There’s no real set figure for how much you need to move overseas. Some people I know have moved over with thousands of dollars in the bank. Others have lived on the scent of an oily rag.
I moved over with enough money to support myself for around four months in Sydney if I were particularly frugal with my money. Unfortunately, I hadn’t accounted for the strength of the pound against the Aussie dollar, or the comparison of the cost of living in London to Sydney (both upsettingly expensive, but in different ways).
It then took me around six weeks to find a job and then ANOTHER six weeks to get paid (hooray for monthly pay!). I had around $50 left in my savings when my British bank account had its first top up. I was so happy that day that I almost wept.
3. I traveled too much the first year there
Half of it was due to the appeal of living so close to Europe, after spending most of my life stuck in the middle of nowhere. I could go to France for the weekend! Jet over the pond to New York! Make as many trips as I desired to Iceland! Oh, the novelty just wouldn’t wear off.
Yet, between traveling and working to fund said travels, I managed to burn myself out completely. Whoops.
4. I didn’t consider living anywhere other than London
I am crazy in like with London but found it hard to love the place. It’s a great city to spend time in, and although I enjoyed living there, there were many moments where I wondered if it truly was the home for me.
On the flip side, there are plenty of other places around the UK that I dug – Brighton, Bristol, and Edinburgh to name a few.
As someone who is a fan of smaller cities, particularly ones that have an easily accessible gateway to nearby nature, I sometimes wonder if I would’ve felt more comfortable living somewhere other than London.
Yet at the time of moving there, it was an option that just didn’t cross my mind.
5. I didn’t make enough of an effort to find friends outside of work
Expat life can be pretty lonely – it’s imperative to put effort into finding new friends, from the get-go.
I was lucky enough to know already a handful of people living in London when I first moved there.
People come and go, and after a while, my core group of friends consisted mostly of people I worked with.
Although they were a fantastic group of folk, we were all rostered on shifts. This made socializing outside of work near impossible.
No joke – a group of us tried to organize a book club earlier this year. It took us four months to successfully schedule a date where we could all meet up.
I wish I’d worked harder to find friends outside of work earlier. Here are some of the ways I would have gone about doing such a thing.
6. I treated it like too much of a home
Once again, sounds like a bit of a non-issue, yes?
London eventually started feeling a lot like home. This was not necessarily a bad thing.
It was around this time that it became less imperative to explore the city at every given opportunity. Some days were just better off spent sitting around in my pajamas, and not visiting the Kew Gardens or the National Portrait Gallery (these were both things I wanted to do, but somehow never managed to never get around to, boo).
Oh well. Just gives me more to see when I go back to visit!
Have you lived overseas? Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?