Here is an Expat Story from Liv, a 20-something Canadian, living, working and travelling in London. Liv shares her story and tips on moving to London, settling in and enjoying life there! You can read more from Liv on her blog livonashoestring.
Four years ago, I was living in my small-town home in beautiful rural Nova Scotia, Canada. I had just graduated university and was working a soul sucking government job, living with my parents, and felt stuck in my life. Everything seemed to be happening around me and I didn’t have much of a say on the outcome, I was at a low point in life and I wanted change. I needed change.
I decided to go travelling and take back control of my life. I was no longer going to be a passenger, I was going to steer my life in whatever direction I chose and go in search of whatever made me happy and felt right in that moment. I bought a one-way ticket to Iceland with the intent of staying away as long as possible. So, with my flight already purchased, I applied and was accepted to the 2-year Working Holiday Visa and moved to the UK, settling in London.
I moved alone without a job, a house, friends and the bare minimum amount of money to get by. Some might call me crazy but when life gets boring sometimes you need to shake it up!
Having never even set foot on English soil before, I was coming at this move as a complete noob – I literally thought Piccadilly Circus was a real circus with animals .... Turns out it is a circus but with a different kind of animals; humans.
Like moving anywhere, getting settled in a new country has its ups and downs, things that are so easy to do at home, like setting up a bank account, can almost break you if you let it. It takes a solid year before you start to feel like you know your way around the capital. Not to mention the extortionate costs and the poor exchange rates.
Cost of Living
London can be a very expensive city, one of the priciest in the world, if not for just the exchange rate alone. Rent and bills are incredibly high and can easily set you back half your pay check each month, transportation is costly, and eating and drinking out is expensive. It’s common for expats over here to share rooms, sometimes even beds, to try and reduce the financial strain and get to live that #LondonLife. If you’re thinking about moving over here, make sure you’re prepared to make sacrifices, depending on the type of work you do and the salary that comes with it will drastically dictate the quality of life you’ll have over here.
I would say if you’re not earning at least £20k/year, it will be very difficult to really experience London without feeling like you’re sitting on the side lines. While London is very expensive, there’s also a lot of cheap things to balance it out. For example, for a phone plan with unlimited data and free roaming access all across Europe(and beyond), you can expect to pay £20/month. Buying weekly groceries and bringing your lunch every day will save you a lot of money (I usually spend £20/week on food), and corner shops sell full bottles of wine for £4! Bargain!
Aside from bills, London has a lot of free activities to offer. All the major museums and parks are free, and there’s always cool pop ups that come along to get lost in. You can also get last minute coach bus tickets to neighboring towns like Oxford, Cambridge etc for a cheap day trip to the countryside.
I get by with a little help from my friends
One of the biggest benefits London is that there is a massive, and very welcoming, expat community here. People from all walks of life call the city (and country) home and understand the struggles life abroad sometimes offers. There are three major groups on social media that I’ve turned to many times in search of new friends, social activities, visa/immigration advice, flat hunting, a place to vent and for buy and sell opportunities.
If you plan on moving over to London, I suggest you follow:
• Canadians in London – a private group that only accepts Canadians
• Kiwis in London – public New Zealand expat group with over 40k followers, open to everyone
• Aussies in London – public Australian expat group but open to everyone
My first flat in London I found on these groups and, by chance, moved into an all-Canadian girl’s house. I found living with people from your home country makes the initial transition easier.
I think one of the best things about London is that it doesn’t matter what strange or obscure interest you have, I guarantee you that you’ll find a group of people to connect with and share your passions. This city has something for everyone, and everyone belongs here; it might take a while to find your niche, but once you do, you’ll feel at home. Since moving here, for the first time in my life I felt like I was surrounded by like-minded people. It’s a really great feeling to know that if you want to go and explore a tiny box with glow-in-the-dark pumpkins in it, someone else will come with you.
I’ve always said London will be your best friend, but she’ll be the first person to kick you while you’re down. You need to want to be here and have the drive to make it work because it’s a hard, fast-paced and relentless city.
What I’ve Learned
Living abroad has been a rollercoaster, with more ups and downs than you can imagine (don’t even get me started on the Brexit conversation) but at the end of the day, a bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else.
Being in this metropolitan city has taught me so many lessons, from how to open my eyes and be accepting to the diversity in cultures, when it comes down to it £10 can be stretched farther than you think, and what it means to be free. As cliché and stupid as it sounds, I feel like London has allowed me to come into my own. I’ve made some friends that will be with me until the end, I’ve learned how grab life by the horns and not think twice, and that yes, you should ALWAYS buy that cheap flight.
Canada will always be home for me, and one day, I will go back there and spend the rest of my days but for now, I’m a Londoner and that’s exactly where I want to be.
If you want more tips on how to get settled in London, a snapshot into the London life, or how to live life on the cheap, take a look at the Expat Diaries section on my blog, www.livonashoestring.com