Are you thinking of living in London, or just wonder what it’s like to live in London as an expat? In this Expat Interview, Claire will answer all the questions regarding expat life in London. You can understand the city better from an expat’s viewpoint, and get to know important information such as the cost of living in London, how to prepare for moving to London, overcoming difficulties, best things to do in London, etc.
London is the capital of the United Kingdom. With more than 8 million people, it is the biggest city in Europe and its surface area is twice as big as New York. From the romantic neighborhood of Notting Hill to the super trendy Shoreditch, London offers something for every taste and everyone. It is also home to some of the most famous museums (and most are free to visit!), theatre shows, and touristic sights. Each corner of the city transports you to a very different world where different cultures and languages mix to create one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Is London a great place to live as an expat? Read this interview and Claire will let you know!
1. A bit about Claire – Our Interviewee today
My name is Claire, I was born and raised in the North East of France. I moved to the UK in 2011 after spending 18 months in the US, so this wasn’t the first time I moved abroad. I am a Communications Manager for a healthcare technology company.
After studying and working in the US for 18 months, I knew I wanted to live closer to my family. I had enjoyed my time in the US and developed a strong taste for the expat life, so I decided to look for a job in London. I knew I loved the city as I had visited several times before, and it was much closer to France. It took me a while to find a job. I was temporarily based in France while looking for a job in the UK. After a few months, I finally got a graduate position in London and moved!
2. Why did you choose to live in London?
I had always loved London and I was already speaking fluently English so it was an obvious destination for me. London is huge, very cosmopolitan and there are so many things to do, you can never get bored of it. What is there not to like? The weather, I guess you definitely don’t move to London for the weather!
3. How to prepare for moving to London?
Being European it was pretty straightforward as I didn’t need a visa. I just packed and moved. The only thing I would recommend planning for if you don’t need a visa, is a deposit for a rental accommodation. London is expensive so deposits can be fairly high. Also, don’t bother with summer clothes, winter last 10 months here.
4. Cost of living in London
Living in London is VERY expensive!
Rental accommodation can go anywhere from £700 for a small double bedroom in a shared flat, to £1800 for a spacious 2-bedroom apartment in Zone 2.
Groceries are average and similar to places like Paris. London also offers a great variety of eateries so you can eat out on pretty much any budget.
Transport is VERY expensive with a monthly Oyster Card Zone 1-2 costing a whopping £131.
Your salary is taxed directly at the source so there is not much to worry after that other than the council tax and your electricity, gas and water bills.
If you decide to move to London just expect to have no money by the end of the month is the short of it. You can and probably will spend it all.
5. How to overcome difficulties while living in London?
I have some difficulties with people’s accents! Everybody speaks differently in the UK which at first was overwhelming even if I was already speaking fluently. I eventually got used to it, but it still takes a fair amount of ‘Pardon?’ every now and then. Making new friends can be a challenge too, mostly with British people as most already have their network of friends. It took me a long time, and even now I don’t have a million friends but the ones I have are very dear to me! Quality over quantity!
6. Did you experience any discrimination in London?
No, being French, when I meet someone new, I usually just get compliments about French food or some mention of a vacation they took in France. Sometimes I get a funny look when I first talk because people do not expect me to have an accent, but that is pretty much it. French bashing is a thing though and the constant jokes about French people can be tiring.
7. Did you have culture shock in London?
Not really, being European and having lived abroad before, I knew how to deal with cultural shock, plus I had visited London before and I was aware of the main differences with France. Most differences made for funny stories and I talked a lot about it on my blog. I am also very lucky to have never been homesick!
8. What do you like about London?
It is so big that there is always something new to discover! Museum, eateries, bars, neighborhoods, I think it would take a lifetime to visit every corner of London. There are also so many parks, which is amazing to have access to in such a big city. I have never lived more than 5 minutes’ walk away from a green space in my seven years in London.
9. Is there anything that you don’t like about London?
The trains! They are always delayed, slow and so dated.
10. What are your favorite things to do in London?
On weekends, I love to take a walk in a new neighborhood with my husband. I can easily get claustrophobic in small cities so I embrace the fact that there is always a new street to discover in London. I am also on a constant quest for the best food and I love to try a new restaurant or cafe.
11. Where would you recommend to visit in London?
It is a tough question! If it is your first time in London and you have limited time, visit all the touristic sights because they are actually worth it! The South Bank, Buckingham Palace, St Paul, etc., many places to go! If it is your second or third time, start to walk further away and visit Notting Hill, Shoreditch, Columbia Road, Greenwich. Visit a couple of museums too, my favorites are the Natural History Museum (because of dinosaurs!) and the Victoria & Albert Museum (just beautiful). During any visit after that, take the time to watch a show in the West End, have lunch or dinner in one of the many food markets (Mercato Metropolitano is fantastic) and go explore neighborhoods further away like Hampstead, Brixton, and Richmond.
12. Is it easy to make friends in London?
As I mentioned above, it can be challenging to make friends in London. Foreigners are usually easier to reach out to as, like any expatriate, they are away from home. British people can be a bit coyer and more reserved so it can be difficult to connect with them at the beginning. In both cases, it takes time.
13. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?
I mainly hang out with locals, but this is mainly because my husband is British and his friends became mine (at least that’s what I think ☺). I also made a lot of friends through work which helped a lot!
14. Where is your favorite place in London to hang out with friends?
This is a difficult question to answer as I have so many: Chiswick, East Dulwich, and Marylebone, to name a few. What is important to know is that ‘real’ Londoners do not live in the central neighborhoods, so if you want to meet some you will have to go at least in Zone 2 or 3. If you decide to move to London and live in the very central and/or popular area chances are all your neighbors will be foreigners.
15. A memorable experience in London
I have been in London for seven years so it is hard to choose one! I got my first grown-up job here, I met my husband here, I got a cat, I bought a house, Will and Kate got married, I went to the London Olympic Games, I went to numerous shows and concerts, I ate all the food the world has to offer… So far, I would say that the London life is my favorite memory! But ask me again in five years!
16. Did you change your perspective about London after living here?
Yes, London is not a giant Notting Hill! It has rough bits, ugly bits, and non-terraced houses bits.
17. What are your advice and tips for moving/ living in London?
Just do it! I have moved abroad twice now and the main lesson I have is that moving abroad just requires planning and organization, but it is really not rocket science. You can make it as complicated or simple as you want it to be. In regards to London, only move there if you like to live in big cities if you are a countryside person you may find it too overwhelming.
18. Would you recommend to live in London?
If you can afford it? Absolutely! If it is too expensive for you, but you still want to move to the UK, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Bath, and Brighton can be fantastic alternatives. There is so much more to the UK than London!
19. What have you learned from living abroad?
To be more attentive and respectful of different cultures. Things can very easily get lost in translation so don’t jump to conclusions straight away. Be patient, listen and be observant, body language can mean everything! I find that living abroad is so much more interesting than living at home. If you are curious about it, just do it! Trust me, you will have ZERO regrets!
20. More about Claire
Claire is a French living in London. Communications professional by day and blogger at Claire Imaginarium by night, she loves food, traveling, London, her husband – Andrew and her cat Buffer. She can spend a ridiculous amount of time in a furniture shop and love to get lost in the aisles of drugstores looking for the best face cream. Don’t forget to follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube.