I first arrived in London four years ago, for a one month experience in the UK headquarters of the consultancy I used to work for in Bucharest. “I am sure I will love the city”.
I hated it. I was so happy to leave once that month was over. The commuting, the robots walking to their offices in the morning, confined spaces that made me feel claustrophobic, the overall impatience of the city, all these freaked me out.
“I will never be able to live in that horrendous London”, I was telling to anyone who had ears to listen to me. I have been living now in this city for almost two years.
If you want to defy Brexit and still move to this metropolis, you might want to know that:
- Rents are high. Sharing is the norm here. Even people in their 40s have flatmates. If you want to be by yourself, put aside some significant chunk of your monthly paycheck.
- Public transport is expensive as hell. I pay £131/month to use the tube, trains, buses for zones 1 and 2 only. Last year the monthly pass was £126, I think a sudden £5 pound increase is outrageous.
- Despite the high prices, public transport is not reliable. When I first moved here, I thought I was living close to work. I had to take the tube one stop and then change at Canada Water station, where I had to hop on a train called the Overground through 3 more stations. Easy peasy. Except that the amazing Overground is slow as a turtle, it always comes fully packed, and it has signal failures every week. My advice: move close to work. When I say close, I really mean it. Not ‘almost close to work’. That means you will still curse your life almost every day.
- On the other hand, Uber is great! Much cheaper than the black taxis, drivers come wherever you tell them to pick you up, and they give you a ride even for short distances. In Brussels or Amsterdam, you should avoid Uber drivers.
- You will find medicines in supermarkets and food and beverages in pharmacies.
- Try to get a private health insurance. The public system, also called NHS, has some big issues. Great specialists, but it takes an eternity to get an appointment: three, four, five months. Without a private insurance, you will not be able to afford the private services. An endoscopy can cost £1500. A consultation is £250. Another option is to fly back to your own country for medical issues. Or to pray.
- You can find amazing restaurants in London. Cuisines from all over the world. Artisanal coffee. Street markets are a big thing and you can easily find delicious meals when you visit them. I can recommend the Maltby Street Market and Brixton Market. Borough Market is really colourful and beautiful but too pricey. There are also plenty of excellent brunch places. I can mention here 100 Hoxton and The Pear Tree @Greenland Place. The food in supermarkets is not of high quality. I usually buy it from Waitrose, which has better fruits and vegetables.
- You can find plenty of desserts as well but they lack finesse. Too much butter, too much sugar, the cake batter is dry, with a dense, chewy texture.
- Going out is expensive. There is a fee for almost everything. A friend tried once to book tickets for us for a Halloween party. The venue was asking extra money for insurance. Insurance? Insurance for what? For being on this Earth? It’s the venue’s responsibility to provide the insurance in case something bad happens. We felt that someone was trying to rob us so we gave up.
- It’s difficult to be spontaneous in London. If you want to go to any kind of performance, to go to a spa or even to enjoy a brunch in a nice restaurant, you can’t just show up like that. You can’t even book them two days in advance. It has to be planned a few weeks ahead. It’s the same when meeting friends. Everyone lives in different parts of London so any encounter needs to be carefully planned in advance.
- Brits love air conditioning. There is air conditioning everywhere, summer, winter, it doesn’t matter. You will feel the cold breeze at the gym, in the taxi, in your favourite brunch place, at the theatre, in the public bathroom. You will not feel it when you most need it: in the tube/trains during summertime.
- Opening a bank account is literally more demanding than being Elon Musk and sending a Tesla car on Mars. Read more about it in my next post.