What I’ve learned about London

Photo of a red telephone box in London

In my mind, the transition from Sydneysider to Londoner should’ve been a piece of (tea)cake. πŸ«–πŸ°

Both cities are roughly the same size in terms of commuter belt, but Sydney’s population is half that of London, and appear quite similar at surface level.

But dig a little deeper and you might uncover a culture clash or two! We may share a monarch and language, but life as an Australian expat in London will teach you that football means a very different thing in this corner of the world! ⚽

Weather

Photo of a rainbow above King's Cross Station in London

London is known for its moody grey skies and drizzly weather. This is true to an extent but after living here for a couple of years, I find “moody” is the keyword.

From stifling heat waves to blink-and-you-missed-it flurries of snow, it’s no wonder Londoners resort to drastic measures like swimming in ponds and sunbathing in parks.

Autumn and spring are by far my favourite months in the UK as both seasons boast stunning natural beauty, and they tend to have more stable weather. πŸŒΈπŸ‚

Before signing a lease, make sure your new room or flat has double glazed windows and heating!

Work

Aerial photo of Monument

London a land of opportunity. No matter how niche, there’s a role for everyone in varying degrees of seniority in almost every industry.

Competition is fierce and this can sadly drive down wages, particularly in industries like marketing and events. Finance and tech roles are paid well but be prepared to compete. βš”οΈ

Recruiters are important for getting your CV seen. In London, recruiters form close working relationships with companies and can advocate for you once you’re in their system.

Recruiters are so commonplace that they specialise in different industries (e.g. marketing for not-for-profits), so be prepared to do your homework in approaching the right ones.

Renting and expenses

Photo of houses facing a Hampstead Heath pond

Renting in London is equally, if not more, competitive than job searching. Spareroom is your best bet for finding a room in a flat share, and Rightmove or Zoopla for leasing your own place.

Key considerations

  • Plan your budget around rent, bills and expenses as a whole to avoid any nasty surprises. For instance, council tax and transport fares vary depending on the area
  • Ensure there is central heating (wall mounted heaters) and that potential flatmates are in agreement on usage as electricity costs do tend to go up in winter
  • There are no power sockets in bathrooms, so a mirror in your room is useful for drying your hair
  • Check the TV licence situation. If you don’t plan to use it, make sure you’re able to opt out
  • Areas without a Tube station are generally cheaper. If you can bus, walk or cycle to work then consider living in an area like Crouch End or in South London
  • Hard water, limescale build up and mould are sadly part of the fact of life in London. Keep on top of your cleaning schedule and consider splitting the costs of a cleaner for a deep clean
  • Some flats don’t have living rooms! If you plan to entertain at home or enjoy a sociable living environment, factor this in. πŸ›‹οΈ

Transport

Photo of the Tube roundel at Piccadilly Circus

London transport is world-famous. It gave us colourful Tube lines, red double-decker buses and “Mind The Gap”. πŸš‡

The city is a maze and there’s absolutely no shame being a Londoner for years and relying on navigation apps! The most popular ones are Citymapper, Google Maps and TfL Go.

Transport in London is also notoriously expensive. The Tube (London Underground) fares tend to be the highest, while buses, Overground and cycle hire are much more affordable. And scenic! The front seats on the top deck of the bus offer the best views.

Everyone’s in a rush, so knowing where to walk and stand is important. Walk on the left, and stand on the right of escalators. It’s a bit nonsensical, but you’ll get used to it!

The network is old and particularly susceptible to weather; autumn leaves and snow can cause delays. Having multiple routes available for where you need go is advisable.

Food and eating out

Photo of a Borough Market food stall

Traditional British cuisine can range from warm and hearty, like Sunday roasts and homemade pies, to downright dull i.e. a different sandwich for every day of the week. πŸ₯ͺ

But London’s food scene draws inspiration from all corners of the globe and offers huge variety to impress every foodie and gastronome. Check out my guides on where to find the best Australian brunch and pizzerias in London! 🀀

Some iconic menus to sample in London are Dishoom, Padella, Kanada-Ya, Duck & Waffle, and Nando’s (no kidding). πŸ—

Food markets and food halls are also a great experience all round. My favourites are Seven Dials Market, Brixton Market, Broadway Market, Borough Market, Mercato Metropolitano and Mercato Mayfair.

Eating out (and ordering in) can be an expensive habit. Here’s how you can save without missing out.

Health

Photo of a thank you NHS banner in a tree

While comfort and convenience in terms of food choices may be appealing, it can lead to a phenomenon called the Heathrow injection, so remember to strike a healthy balance. πŸƒ

The NHS (National Heath Service) covers almost all your healthcare needs and is free (once you’ve covered the IHS payment as part of your visa application).

NHS wait times can be long, so if your employer offers membership to private health insurance I recommend opting in. Keep in mind the NHS doesn’t cover all dental, eye and contraception care.

To register with a local GP, you’ll need proof of permanent address (utility or council tax bill or tenancy agreement) but there are walk-in clinics to tide you over until you settle in. 🏠

Socialising

Photo of two girls at an art gallery in London

With so much going on in London, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Once you’ve ticked the main attractions off your list, check TimeOut for what’s coming up. 🎭

While London is full of millions of people, most people experience loneliness. With people coming and going all the time, it can be difficult to make friends. This is especially true as an adult.

Thankfully there are so many options for socialising and meeting new people. Bonding over a common interest like sports and hobbies or joining expat communities are often the best foundation for lasting friendships.

In terms of finding someone special, having so many fish in the sea can be tricky. On the one hand, people don’t feel pressured to settle; on the other hand, they might keep swiping. Being open and upfront about your expectations is the best way to avoid the tedium that is online dating. ❀️


Whether you’re here for a gap year or for the long haul, London will bring you a wealth of life experience. What advice would you give to someone thinking of making the move? πŸ‘‡


More in London

Photo of a squirrel in London in autumn

Fall for London in autumn

London in warm autumnal hues coupled with fun activities and events will make you think twice before swapping hiking boots for slippers. πŸ‚

What to pack when you move to London

Photo of a girl packing clothes

With limited baggage allowance, packing up all your worldly possessions into a suitcase might seem impossible but it doesn’t have to be. Each item just has to earn its place, and this guide will show you how! 🧳

Clothes and accessories

Photo of a woman's outfit

Did you know the term “capsule wardrobe” was coined by a Londoner? Essentially, it’s the essentials: a collection of timeless staples which can then be paired with seasonal pieces.

For example: coat, jeans, white shirt, black blazer, pencil skirt, little black dress, sundress, jumper, scarf, hat, flats, heels and boots.

Aside from the staples, bring about a week’s worth of underwear, socks and sleepwear. The rest you can cheaply stock up on once you’re here. πŸ›οΈ

I also found it handy to bring a set of activewear and trainers as you’ll be doing a lot of running around in the early days.

Key considerations

  • Quality over quantity is key. Leave the bargains and synthetics back home and bring only your best pieces.
  • Prioritise versatility. Your typical rented room in London is cosy, so ideally each piece can be worn for different occasions, including at work.
  • Practice some self-love. If you haven’t worn something in months because it’s uncomfortable or makes you feel self-conscious, donate it to charity.
  • London is one of the fashion capitals of the world, so you have loads of options to look forward to!

Toiletries

Photo of toiletries

Toiletries take up a surprising amount of space and the weight quickly adds up. Unless you have a skin allergy or particular hair care needs, don’t bother bringing your cosmetics collection.

Pack around a week’s worth of shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste (travel size is perfect) and stock up when you arrive. You’ll be surprised how cheap toiletries are in the UK, however makeup prices vary greatly.

You might even score a few freebies from the airline or hotel! 🧴πŸͺ’

Key considerations

  • If you use over-the-counter products, ask your doctor to cover your prescription for the next few months so you can stock up before you leave. Getting a local GP in the UK can take time (a permanent address is essential), so it’s best to prepare in advance.
  • Not all products have the same retail name in different countries! Might be worth double checking online for specific products.

Tech devices

Photo of various tech

Tech is important to get right early on. Having data on your phone for navigating and a reliable laptop for forms and applications are crucial for hitting the ground running. πŸ§‘β€πŸ’»

What to bring: mobile phone (unlocked SIM!), laptop computer, portal power bank, charger per device, adapter (AU to UK is essential, and AU to EU is useful for trips) and a USB stick (you never know).

Key considerations:

  • If you’re planning to upgrade in the near future, consider waiting until you arrive so you’ll be covered by warranty in the local region. I bought my mobile phone on my first day in the UK!
  • Consider bringing a power board to avoid over-relying on adapters.

Important documents

Photo of an Australian passport and flight ticket

Get your life admin organised before you go anywhere near Departures. πŸ›«

You’ll need originals and photocopies of all your important documents and, ideally, digital versions backed up in cloud storage and synced to your devices just in case.

What to bring: passport (visa vignette included), various forms of ID, visa approval letter from the Home Office, proof of funds document (valid up until 3 months), and any professional accreditation documents (university degree etc.) required for your field of work.

Key contacts:

  • If you get into trouble and require passport or consular support, contact the Australian High Commission: United Kingdom on +44 (0) 20 7379 4334.
  • Register your journey on Smart Traveller and follow their recommendations for the United Kingdom.
  • Dial 999 to reach emergency services in the United Kingdom.

Food and confectionery

Before you stuff your face or fill every compartment with TimTams, relax. Australian confectionary, even lamingtons, are relatively easy to come by in London.

Pay Clapham a visit and you’ll get a decent (albeit pricey) flat white and ANZAC biscuit in no time. πŸ‡¦πŸ‡Ί

Key considerations

  • Ask your friends and family to bring a goody bag when they come to visit.
  • Admittedly, there are a few things you won’t find like Weis Bars. Have a go at making your own! 🍨
  • Australian brunch is hugely popular in London. Check out my top picks to get your avo on toast fix. πŸ₯‘

I hope you’ve found this guide helpful. Let me know in the comments below if you think I’ve missed anything! πŸ‘‡


More in London

Photo of Oxford's skyline

Day trips from London

There’s nothing quite like strolling along a tree-lined canal or cobblestoned village lanes. πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§

Photo of Tower Bridge and London's skyline

First impressions of London

If expat life feels like home then you’re doing it wrong πŸ˜… This is my ever growing list of culture shocks I’ve experienced since moving to London.

Australian brunch in London

Photo of brunch menu sign and pot plants

Australian brunch is world-famous, and that’s no exception in the Capital. But what is Australian brunch, anyway? β˜•πŸ₯‘

Bright mashups of foods that are healthy, natural and luxurious all at once … Cafes serve plates of organic porridge with raw honey and grass-fed cream, free-range poached eggs with local bacon and roasted broccoli, and all manner of avocado toast, garnished with everything from pickled onions and hoja santa to sesame seeds and shiso leaves.

The New York Times

Australian brunch is more than just what’s on the menu. It’s the industrial-chic decor, the coffee aroma and friendly welcome from bearded baristas.

Intrigued? Read on for my tried and true blue Australian brunch hotspots in London.

Kiss the Koala

About: a great place to brunch in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. You will find great coffee and the most beautiful plates that taste as good as they look.

We ordered: waffles with Prosecco poached strawberries and the English breakfast.

Find them in: Crouch End, north London.

Granger & Co.

About: reflects the “Australian” spirit: sunny, easy-going and generous. From first opening in Sydney’s Darlinghurst in 1993, Granger & Co. has gone global with restaurants in Sydney, Seoul, Tokyo, Honolulu and London.

We ordered: ricotta hotcakes with banana and honeycomb butter, sweet corn fritters with roast tomato, spinach, and bacon.

Find them in: in central London (Chelsea, Clerkenwell, King’s Cross) and a little further out in Notting Hill.

Farm Girl

About: Farm Girl is a group of stylish, health-focused cafes and restaurants serving holistic, fresh food and good coffee, Australian style.

We ordered: their staple rose lattes! 🌹

Find them in: central London (Fitzrovia, Knightsbridge, Soho) and spread around (Notting Hill, Hoxton).

Antipodea

About: all-day Australian brasserie that converts from a laid back Melbourne affair to a hustle and bustling night time dining spot.

We ordered: green pea arancini, Aussie burger and lamingtons!

Find them in: Richmond and Kew down south.

Brew

About: serving Australian food day, noon and night. They also stock iconic confectionery and make fresh ANZAC biscuits and lamingtons.

We ordered: sweet corn fritters, avocado with cottage cheese, lemon, salt and Vegemite on pide, and toasted banana bread with hung honeyed yogurt and pistachios.

Find them in: south London at Clapham, Wandsworth and Wimbledon.

Lantana

About: all day dining including Australian brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner of world fusion small plates & mains. They also serve vegan wines, craft ales, alternative cocktails and house blend coffee.

We ordered: pulled Chicken shawarma grain bowl and smashed avocado.

Find them in: central London at Fitzrovia, London Bridge and Shoreditch.

Highly rated

While I’m yet to brunch my way around London, these places come highly recommended by trusted sources:


Discovered a fab new Australian brunch place recently? Sharing is caring! Tell us all about it in the comments. πŸ‘‡


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Thrifty London life tips

Photo of a Pret coffee cup at a picnic in London

London is one of the most vibrant, thriving and exciting cities to live in the world. It is also one of the most expensive. πŸ’·

Coming from Sydney, I was confident the high cost of living wouldn’t be painfully obvious. I was mostly wrong.

Steep rent, public transport and bills (some, you’ve definitely never heard of) coupled with generally lower wages takes some getting used to. After your first few pay cycles, you’ll start to work out what you can afford and what’s best to enjoy in moderation.

While you work out your budget, here are some tips for scrimping and scraping without missing out. πŸ‘Œ

Food and groceries

Photo of a London food market stall

Bottomless brunch and covering the next round of drinks can stack up quickly. Fast food is cheap, but you can easily achieve a healthy and sociable lifestyle:

  • Β£3 meal deals are a convenient mid-week lunch or breakfast to go. They typically include a sandwich, bottled drink and packet of crisps
  • Packaged salads and sandwiches at supermarkets are great for healthy convenience, but costs much less if you meal prep at home πŸ§‘β€πŸ³
  • Cafe loyalty cards offer freebies or discounts over time. Following your favourite places on social media is also a great way to spot a giveaway
  • Supermarket prices can vary a lot. Opt for cheaper groceries at Lidl, Aldi, Asda and Morrisons
  • Yellow stickers typically signifies a reduced price item which is perfect for a sandwich or sushi roll to be consumed that day.

Transport

Photo of a Santander Cycles docking station

TfL isn’t a world leading transport authority for no reason, but its coloured Tube service and iconic Black Cabs come at a cost. There’s plenty of ways to get from A to B in the Captial:

  • London Bus and London Overground services are the most affordable options (aside from walking!)
  • Off Peak fares apply outside of rush hour periods, and avoiding Zone 1 when using the Tube is also cheaper
  • The Santander Cycles cycle hire scheme are also affordable and accessible with thousands of docking stations located in zones 1-3 🚲
  • Cycle to Work scheme offers significant discounts on purchasing a bicycle, so it’s worth checking if your employer has one.

Rent and bills

Photo of the view from a London flat

Well, let’s get this one over with like a bandaid: renting in London is ridiculous. Paying up to half your salary for a “cosy” room sharing with random people with varying hygiene standards and noise tolerance levels gets old fast. πŸ™ƒ

While you don’t always get what you pay for, these tips can help ease the pain:

  • Rent is typically cheaper in East London and South London
  • Avoiding Zones 1 and 2, and often depending on the area 3, is a good rule of thumb but bear in mind public transport costs increase the further out you live
  • Living within a 10min walking distance of a Tube station will drive the rent up. Consider moving to an area with good transport connections to Central London or your office via bus, Overground or Docklands Light Railway
  • Not all council taxes are created equal so it’s worth taking into consideration
  • Opt out of paying for a TV licence and avoid doubling up streaming subscriptions. You can split the cost between your flatmates πŸ“Ί
  • Central heating can easily double your bill in the cooler months. Substitute it for warm indoor clothes and a good quality duvet from autumn!

Socialising and sightseeing

Photo of Sky Garden

Enjoying all London has to offer is hugely appealing; while it’s important to treat yourself to a West End show from time to time, there’s plenty of affordable options to keep you entertained:

  • London hosts some of the best museums and galleries in the world, and almost all of them are free to enter
  • Panoramic views of the city are free from Sky Garden and the Viewing Level at Tate Modern
  • Standing tickets are just Β£5 at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
  • Pubs and bars often host cheap trivia nights, comedy sessions and theatrical performances
  • London’s many stunning parks are perfect for picnics and outdoor fitness πŸƒ
  • Food markets or food halls are a great location for social gatherings as there’s a variety of options to suit everyone’s tastes and budget
  • Lunch time menus are typically cheaper than dining out in the evening
  • Rush tickets are a great way to bag cheap tickets for live and theatrical performances
  • MeetUp and other online groups offer socialising and free or cheap classes.

Fashion and beauty

Photo of a clothes rack

London is considered a fashion capital of the world. If you’ve ever wandered down Oxford Street and Regent Street, you’ll see why! Fast fashion is the name of the game, but your wardrobe doesn’t need to be at odds with your wallet:

  • Bag a bargain for a good cause at a charity shop
  • Shop sustainably at London’s vintage and retro markets
  • Use an app like Vinted or Depop to find your next secondhand treasure πŸ‘—
  • Student discounts are available at many major retails (and food vendors) so make sure to flash your ID card
  • Get your hair cut for free or coloured for a significant discount with salons like TONI&GUY who need hair models for their apprentices
  • Check Groupon or similar services for beauty package deals to get your nails, waxing and more for less.

Health and fitness

Photo of pedestrians crossing Millennium Bridge

While bottomless brunch beckons, it’s important to balance binging with regular physical activity. Affordable options include:

  • Streaming online workout videos
  • Free trials at gyms and fitness centres are a great excuse to try something new. Barre, anyone?
  • Joining a local fitness group. There’s loads of hiking, yoga and other social groups running cheap or free sessions
  • Cooking at home and freeze portions to have something healthy on hand when hunger strikes
  • Reading my guide for avoiding the Heathrow Injection! πŸ’‰

Holidays and travel

Photo of

European holidays and local trips in the UK are a hugely appealing reason for being located in London. With multiple airports and international rail, it’s also hugely accessible. Here’s how to bag a bargin:

  • Score cheaper airfares by travelling mid-week
  • Shop around for fares, tickets, rooms and rentals online
  • Flights and accommodation are generally cheaper in shoulder seasons (off-peak)
  • Student discounts apply for most airlines and travel packages
  • Learn the basics of a new language via app or a free language exchange.

How to do keep your finances under control in London? Share your hot tips and hacks in the comments below! πŸ‘‡


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First impressions of London

FeaturedPhoto of Tower Bridge and London's skyline

If expat life feels like home then you’re doing it wrong.

London seems similar at first – they drive on the same side of the road and speak the same language – until you realise there’s 30+ dialects, they’re football mad (⚽ not πŸ‰) and fish’n’chips are eaten away from the beach.

Here’s my list of things that immediately stood out to me in my first months in the UK, but this might just be the tip of the iceberg!

The good

πŸ“± Citymapper is the only way to navigate – it combines Google and TfL data
πŸ’“ Mobile data plans are much more generous (but with mixed reliability)
βš•οΈ NHS upfront for expats is expensive but the care you receive is unrivalled
🚍 Sitting at the front on the top level of a double decker is the best way to take it all in
🎭 A visit to The Globe Theatre makes studying Shakespeare for years worth it
🧣 Wall-mounted heaters, such genius!
🍷 Mulled wine, where have you been all my life?
πŸ• Squash is a thing – even Franco Manca’s signature pizza base
🌈 It doesn’t rain all that much, it just drizzles
πŸ‡¦πŸ‡Ί Clapham is overrun by Australians and New Zealanders
🦊🐿️ Foxes and squirrels scurry around like Pokemon!

The bad

πŸ“ž Telephone boxes are run down and smell like pee
πŸ€” Brits use ‘You all right?’ as a legitimate greeting
πŸ“Ί You pay for a TV licence you never use
πŸ₯¦ Most supermarkets close early on Sundays
🌬️ Air-conditioning is virtually non-existent, even on public transport
🍫 Chocolate tastes strange, but Galaxy bars make up for it
πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ There are no power points in bathrooms
🏠 SpareRoom.co.uk is a necessary evil – watch out for scammers
🍌 Fresh produce isn’t that fresh at all
πŸ’© The Thames has got nothing on Sydney Harbour and is always brown
πŸ™ Making friends is hard work and you may feel lonely at times.

The ugly

Big Ben will be covered in scaffolding until 2021!

🍦 You won’t find a Weis Bar anywhere but you can try an online recipe?
πŸ‘’ People actually wear UGG boots outside
🚰 Hard water is liquid hell, and don’t even get me started on limescale
πŸš† Trains outside of London are privately operated and hella expensive
🍽️ Eating out is double the cost and half the quality of what we get back home
πŸƒ Everyone’s in a rush – be prepared to be bumped, knocked and shoved daily
πŸ›‹οΈ Some apartments don’t have a living room
🚽 Sharing one bathroom and toilet between five rooms is normal
🚨 You become desensitised to news of violence or moped thieves in your area
🀧 Sometimes there’s black stuff in your tissue after sneezing.

The amusing

Get used to uncomfortable eye and body contact on the Tube

πŸ—£οΈ Try dropping some true blue Aussie vernacular mid-conversation, it’s an experience
⛱️ ‘Beaches’ in the UK
🌳 People sun bake in parks in summer
πŸ§₯ Australia Day in winter is more brunch than BBQ
πŸš‡ Tube, Underground, Overground, Rail, DLR … can’t we just call it a train?
🍻 Brits who are equally rowdy after a couple of pints
πŸ€¦β€β™€οΈ Standing on the right on the escalator but having no clue where to on the pavement
πŸ˜• Brits who pick up on your accent but are too polite to ask where you’re from
🀣 Cockfosters is a legitimate name of a Tube station on the Piccadilly line
❄️ 10min of snow is enough to interrupt the whole transport system
🌏 You learn what ‘Antipodean’ means for the first time
πŸ₯§ Christmas mince pies do not contain mince meat – don’t be fooled.

I’ve got a niggling feeling I might have missed a few things … If you’ve experienced culture shock since moving to London or the UK, do tell!

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