Chelsea, 25: London, UK
In this series I sit down and have a chinwag with some of my fellow expats from all around the globe. We cover what makes them tick, and ask them to share any advice they may have on moving, living their best expat lives and their pro-tips on making it in their new home. Hopefully their collective experiences help give you an insight into how to kill at the expat game.
Where do you consider yourself to originally be from?
I’m a kiwi (although I get asked way too often whereabouts in Australia I’m from).
Why did you decide to move, and how long have you been living in London?
I’d spent quite a bit of my childhood living in London, and so once my husband and I had both finished our degrees we decided it was now or never. We’d been living in Auckland, NZ for several years and both hated the humidity, the lack of culture, and the relentless noise. We had a little apartment right in the middle of the city and it was just loud and grubby.
We moved to London a year and a half ago, and live way out in Zone 6 (about a 45 minute journey into London on the train). We bloody love it. We’ve got a cute little place with an amazing garden, and heaps of nice walking tracks around us. It’s sort of strange that we escaped New Zealand and moved to London to get a bit of peace and quiet, but it’s working out great for us right now.
What do you do for a living?
I work at a company that sells products to fertility clinics – I really love my job and work with an incredible team. We’re really focused on promoting fairness in the NHS with regard to IVF cycle funding; I really admire that we support this side of the industry – it’s not just about making money. I love going into the clinics and observing the different things they do. Watching a sperm being injected into an egg is cool anyway, but realising that’s a couple’s chance at a baby and thinking of all the emotions that are involved in this moment is quite overwhelming. It’s a career opportunity I would never have got if I’d stayed in New Zealand.
What is your favourite thing about London?
There is always something on! Sometimes things are ridiculously expensive, but it’s really important to make the effort to go out regularly – visit a museum, see a show, go to a festival – if you can afford it after rent that is!
What are the biggest challenges or culture shocks you have experienced since moving to London?
New Zealand is full of friendly people who smile at you when you walk by, and will stop you in the street to say something nice. London can be a weird, lonely place if you don’t know anyone. I’ll never quite get over my morning commute, which involves an absolutely rammed train carriage, an awkward cramped pose with your head in someone’s armpit and your bum against someone’s knee, and dead silence.
What are the biggest advantages to living in London?
It’s an amazing lifestyle while you’re young. I couldn’t do it forever, but the fun things on in London and the cheap travel to the rest of Europe are brilliant.
What are the biggest disadvantages to living in London?
It can be hard sometimes living on the other side of the world from my family and friends back home. Fortunately, with things like WhatsApp and Skype, it doesn’t feel so far away. My mum lived in London in her 20s and could only afford to call home a few times a year, and I think that would be really difficult for me.
Is living in London expensive? What do the following cost:
Average monthly rent: My rent is 950 GBP between the two of us…but then it turns out that over here you pay council tax (another 120 GBP a month), bills, food and a monthly railcard (240 GBP).
Petrol: Because of the aforementioned costs, I can’t say I know the price of petrol because there’s no way I can afford a car!
A Beer: A pint of beer is roughly a fiver, but you can usually find me enjoying a G&T or a nice wine!
So super expensive. I’ve found takeaways are outrageously expensive where I live, but a supermarket shop is usually very reasonable.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love going for walks around where I live – it’s super pretty and every season brings new things to explore. The woodland near my house has blackberry bushes for miles each autumn; this year we must have picked and frozen about 5kg of blackberries. We also really like catching the trains out to places near us for weekends away – we’ve been to Brighton, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bristol, Bath… it’s a great way to see a new part of the world without forking out for airfares.
What is the local food like? Is there anything you would recommend trying (or avoiding)?
Honestly where do I start! The brits do not know what a good pie is (what is this weird cold gluggy pork nonsense?!) and I can’t find decent kumara. Their beef is so overpriced, and to make matters worse, the chocolate is revolting (it’s horribly sweet and it smells like old vegetables)! On the flip side, there are so many incredible authentic cafes and restaurants in London with such good food that you stop worrying about the pies and the chocolates.
I really rate Vagabond, which has decent wine by the glass, and awesome nibbles, and Belgo for Belgian beers and fresh mussels. There are some awesome cheese shops dotted around the place with the stinkiest, goopiest, bluest European cheeses you could ever dream of. For a proper meal, Brick Lane is a great area to go to for an authentic Indian curry, and the great British tradition of a bottomless brunch with unlimited prosecco is something you have to try!
What 3 things would you recommend doing for a first time visitor to London?
1 – Visit the Science Museum and see an IMAX film there. It is blimmin’ huge and the films they show are so interesting.
2 – Check out the HMS Belfast, the old navy ship moored by the Tower of London. It is so much fun to explore and they have some great interactive parts. You also get a great view of the Tower Bridge and might even get to see it open!
3 – Get some height and see the city from above. You can get into places like Duck & Waffle, the Skygarden, or Vertigo 42 if you want to enjoy the view with some food and drink, or of course head to the London Eye. For those on a budget, head to Greenwich Park or Primrose Hill and have a picnic while checking out the skyline. It gives you such a different perspective on the city.
What is the easiest way to get around?
The tube! It is so much fun to navigate. Apps like Citymapper will help you plan your journey, with maps, ticket prices, and live journey options. Just check out how quick it is to walk somewhere before you take the tube two stops – London can be smaller than you think, so a ten minute tube ride might only be a five minute walk away.
What is the shopping like?
Regent Street is heaps of fun to walk down and pretend you have money. Definitely pop into Hamleys and Harrods; if you’re there around Christmas time they have wonderful window displays. Camden Market is a really cool, quirky place to explore and has awesome food stalls – Primrose Hill is a short walk away so I can definitely recommend grabbing some doughnuts and then enjoying them while looking over London.
What is the nightlife like?
The pub reigns supreme in the UK, and that’s where you’ll find a lot of locals letting their hair down. For somewhere a bit louder though, something like Rebel Bingo is a truly London experience – held in the Vaults, with pumping music, awesome costumes, and lots of swearing, it’s an unforgettable night. There are always interesting events happening in London, like a silent disco or stand-up comedy nights. A good place to see what’s on is Time Out’s website.
What is the best time of year to visit?
I reckon September and October are best – the school summer holidays are over, people are back at work, and the weather’s still great. I’d avoid winter as it can get really gloomy, and the trains grind to a halt as soon as the snow starts! The Brits like to complain about the wind and the rain in London, but to be honest I really enjoy the weather! It’s usually not too hot, and having snow in winter is exciting for me as it’s not something we ever see back in Auckland or Wellington. Despite what they’ll have you think, it really doesn’t rain much at all, so as long as you’re not here in the middle of winter you’ll be okay.
What do you miss about ‘home’?
I do miss the informality of kiwi life, where you can talk to someone on the street and make a new friend instantly, or walk to the dairy barefoot without getting strange looks. I miss the quick, sarcastic humour – I have to really watch what I say over here as some people really don’t get it! But I don’t miss how small New Zealand can feel, and how expensive travel is from there.
Do you get homesick? If so what do you do to make yourself feel better?
At the moment I don’t feel homesick at all! But to be fair we travelled back to see our friends and family and get married this year, so I don’t know if I’ve had the chance to get properly homesick. I regularly text and Skype my family, and my phone plan over here gives me heaps of call minutes to NZ so if I ever really just need a chat I can contact them any time.
Moving over here with my husband made it really easy, and I think if I’d moved over alone and not known anyone it would have been a much harder adjustment. I make sure I’m chatting with my friends and family back home regularly and staying up to date with the little things going on in their lives. It’s also really important to find a good group of friends over here as it’ll make you feel much more grounded.
For people looking to move to London, what industries are good to get into?
There are jobs in every sector by the dozen. However if you need an income quickly, there are heaps of jobs in hospitality. A lot of hiring is done through recruiters over here, so I’d recommend sending your CV through to lots of recruiters and expressing your interest. Be wary that recruiters get paid when they fill a position, so stand your ground if they’re trying to push you into jobs you don’t want.
What is one thing that you wished you knew before moving to London?
Don’t tag out of the bus when you get off! The buses here have a flat rate so you don’t need to put your card against the reader when you leave. The bus driver will look at you like you’re a moron. It’s okay, we’ve all been there.
What is the visa process like?
I have a UK passport so luckily didn’t have to go through the process at all. We literally just walked through the border control at Heathrow and that was it. There is heaps of information online about the visa process though, and it seems relatively straightforward, albeit expensive.
What is the expat scene like?
It’s awesome! I’m part of the Facebook groups Kiwis in London and Aussies in London, which have a treasure trove of information on visas, accommodation, bank accounts, jobs, transports, and of course where to get food from back home. They also have regular meet-ups; this is a great way of meeting people in the same situation as you. On top of this, also worth checking out sites like meetup.com as they often have expat communities who will catch up regularly.
What is the biggest misconception about London?
I think perhaps a lot of people see Londoners as rude. They keep to themselves and it can be tougher to befriend them. However once they open up to you they are just like the rest of us! Like anyone else, they’re living in London for the amazing events, culture, and job opportunities. Just don’t tread on their toe on the tube and you’re fine.
If you could give one piece of advice to other expats, or people looking to move overseas, what would it be?
Just do it. Book the plane tickets and panic later! Don’t overthink it, you will be just fine. There are so many communities to support your move, and so much information online. Set yourself up, get outside, meet people, and of course make sure you see as much of Europe (or the world) as you can!
Are you interested in sharing your story? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch and drop me a line.
* All photos in this article have kindly been provided by Chelsea