Living in England

Introduction

I lived in England for more than three years and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I have had the opportunity to see many new things and meet many new people, but then, that is how it all started…

Why?

People are always curious as to why I would move from Canada to live in England. I have always told them that I wanted to experience something different. I figure that you only have one life and being without any wife and family I am free to do as I wish. Living in another country gives new opportunities to see new places and experience different things. This is the same reason why I am considering a move in the future to somewhere in Asia, just to give it a try: I might not like it but I can always move back.

With the move to England has been the added benefit that people in my occupation (Computer Analyst) are well paid here and my current employer offers many side benefits that effectively triple the salary I was making in Canada. Quite an incentive. But that was not the original idea.

How?

Moving to another country is not as difficult as you might imagine. I was unprepared for the move and ended up suffering quite a deal before I was finally settled with a job and apartment (flat). To even be able to move here you must get a VISA (or work permit). I found that it was very useful (as a Canadian and, of course, member of the Commonwealth) that my grandmother was from England since I could claim United Kingdom Ancestry and easily enter the country but in some countries (e.g. the US) you require a direct relative (e.g. father or mother) before you can qualify for UK Ancestry and even then it is often very difficult. Talk to your local UK embassy or Consulate for further information.

Before you move there are a number of practical considerations:

  • Do you get a flat/apartment before you leave? In my opinion this is not really required, for the price of a nice apartment I was able to stay at a Bed and Breakfast in London for a number of weeks while looking for both a job and place to stay. Ok, living in a hotel is not great but reasonable for a short term.
  • Do you get a job before you leave? This would not hurt though many employers will want to talk to you before they hire you. My suggestion would be that you keep an eye on the job market (pick up a London Times newspaper and/or visit the various job sites available on the Internet, see below for further details). Even if you are not planning on getting a job until you arrive it is good to see what the various jobs are on offer and what the salary is.
  • Do you want to forward your mail? I had all my mail forwarded to my sister's address so that I had a Canadian address for all mail. Many companies will not like having the mail forwarded to another country, notably Credit Cards and Banks. I would suggest that you make do, if possible, with a home country address until you can replace Credit Card and Bank services with their local equivalents (though I have to admit I am still using my Canadian Credit Cards but payment every month is VERY complicated).
  • Should you keep your Bank Accounts in your own Country? Yes, it allows you to (more) easily transfer money back and forth and allows for things such as bill payment and access to funds when visiting.
  • How much money do you need? When arriving in the country they will ask you how much money you have (or have access to). It is a good idea to have enough money for one, two or even three months to live without working. Even when you do get a job be aware that it may be as much as four weeks before your first pay cheque arrives. This was my one mistake, I eventually had to rely on my credit cards far more than I should have. You will be able to access your funds from bank machines here with your bank or credit card.
  • After arriving, how do I get a job? Well, you get some interviews and get hired (GRIN). Seriously though, I would suggest going through a job broker, if at all possible (many are on the Internet) and allow them to get you job interviews. Be sure to have lots of copies of your resume (or CV as they are called here) ready for faxing or mailing. Note that you will be required to have a National Insurance number for employment (or at least an appointment to get one – there is ALWAYS a LONG waiting list to get a National Insurance number from the local Social Security branch in any town).
  • How much does it cost to live? A lot. Pay tends to be a bit higher to offset the costs of living however costs are still fairly significant. If you pay less than £10 for dinner you are doing quite well (which, perhaps, explains the popularity of McDonald's and Kebab shops). Other costs you should be aware of (currently):
    • Petrol (Gas) - £1.20 a litre - I would skip on a car if you can at all avoid it, at least, at first. You can get around fairly easily by public transit (though many people here complain about it it is more than adequate to get you from one place to any other)
    • Meal - Reasonable prices from £10 to £20 - Unreasonable ANY amount higher (I have seen £250 for a single meal but of course the sky is the limit here)
    • Public Transportation - London - £4 for one-way, single zone, ticket. There are LOTS of options including a daily pass for unlimited travel on the Underground/buses. In London the cheapest fares are generally for those holding an “Oyster” card which is a stored-value transport card that can be topped up as needed (or, even, automatically topped up when the balance falls below a specified threshold) – This is also the most convenient as it just requires you to simply pass your card over a reader in any bus/train. Transportation across the whole of England is possible through a network of train links as well as extensive bus networks (both run by different companies).
    • Bed & Breakfast/Hotel - London - Reasonable prices from £50 to £60 (most include breakfast though you may have to share bathroom/toilet facilities)
    • Flat/Apartment - London - Expect to pay from £1,200 for a single bedroom flat/ apartment in London though you will want to pay a bit more for better quality. Note that prices are generally given on a weekly (as opposed to monthly) basis and that rental leases are generally for a year (six month is also possible). A “bedsit” is an apartment/house that you share with others quite often meaning you have a bedroom to yourself but you share everything else (bathroom and kitchen) – including bills. Though things are more expensive than many other places to live the quality of most things (such as consumer goods) are much better though, regrettably, this does not seem to extend to things such as hotels (B & Bs tend to be fine) and restaurants.
  • How do I move my things? - I brought all of the essential belongings I needed with me on the plane. Check what the allowances are for the airline you are taking and take the maximum you can take (though keep in mind you may have to take these packages with you on public transportation when you arrive). I had my further, less important, belongings sent to me after I arrived though that was VERY expensive. When talking to the customs people when having parcels shipped be sure to mention that they are personal belongings required since you have moved otherwise they will charge you duty. Unless you have absolutely superior furniture, I would seriously reconsider having it shipped to you. Determine whether it would be cheaper to purchase new furniture than to have your current furniture shipped (check out the shipping prices).

Though very similar to other countries, if you are moving to England remember that it is another country with different attitudes and lifestyles. It is easy to forget this. READ UP on ALL aspects of England before you leave, newspapers, television, whatever you can see. It will help you to adapt more quickly when you arrive.

Miscellaneous

The Telephone System

The telephones are by and large operated by British Telecom however there are a number of private operators offering local and long distance packages. Most carriers do offer phone cards which can be used in most telephone booths. Care should be taken when using a telephone booth as some ONLY accept cards. All phone calls (including local) incur a minute-to-minute charge except for 0800 numbers (including telephone booths). All numbers consist of a local long distance access code (eg. 0) an area code (eg. 20 – formerly 171/181 – for London) in addition to the normal telephone number (this can be called without the prefix number if you are within that area code) which has anywhere from 5 to 7 numbers in length. The emergency phone number is 999. This phone number can be called FREE of charge from any telephone (pay or private).

Television

There are five terrestrial television channels accessible from most areas of the country (though this number is increasing as digital television expands in it's use). These channels are provided free HOWEVER a television license of about £100/year is required to operate a television. The channels are:

  • BBC 1 & 2 - Owned and operated by the BBC, probably the best of the lot (no commercials except for other BBC programs)
  • ITV/London Weekend Tonight/Carlton - Privately owned, with commercial support
  • Channel 4 - Privately owned, with commercial support
  • Channel 5 - Privately owned, with commercial support. This channel is NOT available in all areas of the country (strangely, in areas fairly close to London where it is broadcast from)

Cable television is available but not in all areas and is not as popular as satellite television (received on mini-dishes you see attached to the sides of buildings) which broadcasts a modest assortment of channels. Digital television can be received through the use of digital receiver connected to a standard television aerial though digital satellite is available as is digital cable. Most new televisions (and cable boxes) have a digital decoder built in. Televisions, DVD players and VCRs use the PAL format (incompatible with NTSC only players and televisions). On the content side, television in England leans a little on the European style where it is not unusual to hear swearing or to see nudity well before the midnight hour (even before the government imposed 'watershed' hour after which the content can be as the channel wishes, largely). Even panel shows and sit-coms can contain swearing.

Internet Access

Internet access is provided by many different providers across the country, most of whom provide an ISDN/ADSL router that you can attach to your phone line (a digital telephone line is required in most situations). Most of these ISPs are uncapped due to recent complaints but it does not hurt to access.

Banking

Most banks will allow individuals to open an account with a reasonable amount of identification and a modest quantity of cash though some branches require a larger minimum initial deposit. Most banks are open on Saturdays though tend to close around noon, otherwise, they are open only during Mondays to Fridays. Switch is a banking network that most bank cards can access to pay for purchases directly from their bank accounts (direct debit), there is NO fee for this service. The following English banks/building societies are on the Internet:

Public Holidays

The following are the public holidays in England (and the UK):

Name Date
New Years Day January 1st
Good Friday
Easter Monday
May Day First Monday in May
Spring Public Holiday Last Monday in May
Summer Public Holiday Last Monday in August
Christmas Day December 25th
Boxing Day December 26th

Eating Out

Eating out in England is very different than the American equivalent. People visting from most other countries will find the restaurants over-priced, the service terrible, cleanliness largely ignored yet the quality is not to bad (though don't look for quantity). There are really only two kinds of restaurants in England: Dine-in (complete with white linen, waiter service, stuffy atmosphere) and fast food. Fast food consists of the obligatory American chains (Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Burger King (inexplicably more popular here than in it's home country), and Dominos, to mention a few) in addition to Kebab Shops (the quality of many such shops is a bit lacking and quite often their customers are people crawling out of pubs who do not care what they eat – or would not eat if they were sober – at least, that is what the common belief is), Fish and Chips, Pub Food (largely food such as chips (french fries), burgers, fish and chips, etc., etc) and not much else. Though 'take away' exists at most such places (very few you can actually eat in) 'drive thrus' are essentially non-existent (I have heard of one drive thru about forty miles from where I live). There are places to eat a good meal but these are largely located in either remote areas or right in the middle of VERY large cities (e.g. London – see my London Restaurants page).

Further Information

For further information, please see: