Saturday, October 20, 2012

5 things to consider before relocating to London

Moving and relocating to London tips
Moving to London need not be stressful

Every now and then, I would receive an email asking me about whether a particular pay package is sufficient to "survive" in London, whether London or another city (Sydney being the most recent) is a better place to live in. However, after responding to a couple of the emails, I realised that all of them revolve around the following concerns

1. Banking and Tax
2. Visa
3. Cost of Living
4. Healthcare
5. Schools

So I thought I would compile a list of websites that I have come across, which I would have definitely find useful before making the plunge back then.

1. Banking and Tax

One often overlooked point when considering about whether to relocate is the presence of international banks. Unless your bank has a local presence you would pretty much be carry around cash for the initial weeks; opening a bank account in the UK without an existing relationship isn't exactly a walk in the park. More importantly, whichever bank that you bank with should be able to provide international payments services without costing you an arm and a leg.

Packages offered are usually presented in gross figures, before taxes that is. Before you go pop the champagne, check out your take home pay (that's what really matters, isn't it?) after deducting for income tax and national insurance. If you are employed (vs self-employed), these would be deducted at source.

For the precise levels and thresholds of income tax rates, refer to HMRC's income tax section. There's also another section on national insurance. For a quick estimate of your take home pay, visit Listen to Taxman.

2. Visa

Visa is the main concern. With the immigration being tightened after the last General Election (the large influx of immigrants from the EU and Commonwealth states was a hot potato then), one of the most popular visa "Tier 1" is closed for those who are looking to apply from outside of the UK. While that is pretty much the end of the road especially for those outside of the EU but there are still other avenues that you can explore. I would recommend you spend some time going through them at UK Border Agency's website.

3. Cost of living

London has always been purported to be one of the most expensive city to live in. That might be true at the turn of the 21st century. With the sterling pound plunging more than 30% in recent years, that's no longer the case. According to Mercer's 2012 cost of living report, London is now the 25th most expensive city to live in (dropped from 18th in 2011). If you are one for details, I suggest you head to Numbeo, a site that is maintained and edited by those in the know (think Wikipedia). Numbeo is particularly useful to compare the costs of living in two cities.

Curiously, of all those asking about cost of living, none ask about the quality of life. Granted that the latter is largely intangible but Mercer did come up with another report on the quality of life in the world's major cities.

4. Healthcare

When the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act (commonly known as ObamaCare) was signed in 2010, Britain's National Health Service (NHS) was pushed into the limelight as an example, often unfavourably, of how ObamaCare would turn out to be. While the NHS isn't perfect but we cannot deny the fact that it does provide a reasonable level of care for the great majority.

The good news is that you would be covered under the NHS if you are a resident in the UK or can show evidence that you would be looking to live in the UK. To find out whether you are eligible to receive free NHS care, refer to Department of Health.

5. Schools

This is something close to the hearts of those with young children (also read Cost of Childcare in London). The good news is that state schools, which are entirely government funded, is free to all children. Faced with with the myriad of choices of state schools, private schools (also known as "public" schools as they are available to the paying public) and religious schools, there's a need of standardised rating. Enter Ofsted, the official body for inspecting schools.

For further reference, I would recommend getting a copy of The Good School Guide, which offers no holds barred comments on schools. Else, there is always Mumsnet - a treasure trove if you can afford the time to go through all the relevant forum threads by, as the name implies, mostly concerned mothers.

Like I said, if I had known about these websites back then, it would definitely save me loads of unnecessary running around. Well, give me a shout below if you come across any other useful websites for relocating to London. While we are on the topic, you might want to skip to 5 things to do within the first month of relocating to London.

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