Expat guide: London

This expat guide offers information and advice if you are moving to London. Click on the different tabs to find out about anything from tax rules and banking to education and cultural highlights.

You can also read our expat guide to the United Kingdom.

Moving to London

Few cities offer the grandeur and excitement of London. It shines with possibility in even the greyest weather, and offers opportunities for career development and personal discovery unmatched elsewhere. Expats moving to London encounter a multicultural, densely packed amalgam of people working feverishly against a backdrop of cutting edge technology and two millennia of history.

London might feel physically removed from Europe but is ideally placed to explore it, a proximity that is a key benefit of living here. London is also home to world class tourist attractions, magnificent architecture, incredible theatre, concerts and art, plus beautiful expansive inner-city parks for restive lunch breaks.

There is no denying that London is expensive – by some estimates the third most costly city in the world for expats, although the weakening pound is making the city cheaper for Europeans and Americans. The long English winters can be a trial for those hailing from warmer climates. Expats also face the challenge of London's public transport system. Rush hour commuting on the tube or bus system can be unpleasant and almost certainly malodorous, but you will get to where you need to go without recourse to a car.

London has a huge expat population. There are large, well established communities of Asians, South Africans and Australians, and a sizeable population of Americans and Caribbean immigrants. The result is a dynamic, energising environment that never ceases to surprise and always values people’s skills over their origins.

Shipping and removals

Costs will depend on the volume of goods and the length of time involved in shipping. Goods shipped from the USA and Canada will take around four weeks, with extra time added for customs clearance. Shipping pets to the UK is a lot easier than in the past thanks to the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). Provided the animal has a veterinary certificate and all inoculations are up-to-date, they can be freely brought into the country without undergoing quarantine. See full details here:

Air and sea freight:

Freight company:

Sea freight:

Pet shipping:

Working in London

Unless you have a British passport or are from the European Union, a visa is required to work in London. The application process is normally preceded by a job offer.

If you are looking for work in London, consult one of the London’s recruitment agencies or read the active recruitment pages in national daily papers, such as the Guardian. It is essential that you have a good, up-to-date CV and are well presented.

Recruitment agencies will require you to interview with them first, before they secure you an interview with a suitable employer. London’s job sector is very diverse, but is particularly active in the fields of finance, media, tourism and IT.

The working day typically runs from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, with 20-25 days leave per year.

Visa and work permits (UK)

EU nationals do not need a visa to work or live in the UK, but all other foreign nationals will need a work visa. For more information visit the website of the UK embassy in your home country or The UK Border Agency.

The criteria by which work visas are issued can be hard to understand. There are numerous schemes and skill enticements – suffice to say the more highly skilled and experienced you are in a desirable field, the better your chances of a smooth and speedy application process. Key fields include doctors, scientists, engineers and MBAs.

After four years of working full time in the UK, expats can apply for permanent residency. There are, as yet, no restrictions against duel citizenship.

The easiest way to gain a work visa and residency without requiring any sponsorship from an employer is to fall within the requirements for Tier 1 visas for highly skilled individuals.

Banking, money and taxes (UK)

Opening a bank account in the UK can be a frustrating process for expats. You will require proof of income and employment, evidence of a local address, and a passport.

It can be helpful to have a letter of introduction from your home bank, specifically testifying to your credit worthiness and financial track record. A series of recent bank account statements will also be helpful. Banks vary in the strictness of their requirements so shop around.

There are over 20 commercial banks in the UK. The major banks including HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds TSB, Barclays and NatWest. Banks do not charge for most minor transactions, including issuing cheques and drawing money from ATMs.

Expats who have lived in the UK for over 183 days across the tax year must pay tax on their UK or overseas-generated income. Tax rates vary from 20% for income up to £36,000 annual gross income, and as much as 40% for amounts over £36,000. The main personal allowance is £5,435. The tax year ends on 5 April 5.

Expats must complete form A86 (you can download it at www.hmrc.gov.uk) and submit it to their local tax office, for the purposes of determining their correct tax status. Until this is done you will be assigned a temporary insurance number to establish your tax level. This will mean you will pay a higher rate of tax (“Emergency tax”) but this can be refunded once you acquire full tax status.

Business (UK)

Politeness and punctuality are highly valued in maintaining good business relations, and initial meetings are often conducted formally and impersonally. It is normal to exchange business cards during introductions. Business dress code is formal, with dark suits preferred. Business hours are normally 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken at lunch, with 15-20 days leave per annum.

Public holidays (UK)




The vast and densely packed London metropolis has accommodation options to suit every budget, lifestyle and predilection. A positive consequence of the economic crisis is that rentals in some areas have dropped by up to 30 percent. Prices drop even further once you move outside of London and beyond the ring-road.


London has a temperate climate, with mild daily highs in summer (although there is the odd heatwave) and winter lows that approach freezing but shyly recoil at the last minute. Rainfall is constant, mostly in the form of drizzle, throughout the year. Snow falls occasionally in winter but seldom more than a few millimetres. In general, the weather and grey skies are the number one complaint expats make about living in London, with the cost of living a close second.

Parks in London

London’s parks are one of its strongest features. You’ll find the vast expansive of Hyde Park right in the city centre, and Regent’s and St James’s Parks close by. Browse these parks and others at


Area guide

One way of understanding the layout of the city is to use the underground Tube map: zones 1 and 2, correspond to the city centre and accommodation here will be expensive and difficult to find. Zones 3 and 4 contain a plethora of suburbs with semi-detached houses and tenement units. Zones 5 and 6 offer the cheapest accommodation but transport times into the city can easily exceed one hour during busy times.

North London has several areas popular with expats: leafy Hampstead Heath and bohemian Camden are close to both the city and some of London's best parkland. Primrose Hill has lovely buildings and stunning views - rare in this predominantly flat city. Expect to pay a price for this privilege, and fight off celebrities for the last Sunday paper. A little further out are the cheaper suburbs of Wembley, Manor House and Finchley.

To the east are the now gentrified areas of Docklands and Brick Lane, with plenty of historical charm and trendy little restaurants. The former East End suburbs Shoreditch, Hoxton, Spitalfields and Bethnal Green are dense with new media companies and coffee bars.

London's South stretches across the Thames and includes areas such as Greenwich, Clapham, Tooting, Putney and Wimbledon. Kew and Richmond are some of the most desirable and expensive areas of London, reserved largely for bankers and the extravagantly wealthy.

To the West, you find the exclusive suburbs of Knightsbridge, Chelsea, Kensington, Earl's Court and Notting Hill and further out the more affordable suburbs of Fulham, Shepherds Bush and Chiswick.

Cost of living

London recently lost the title of ‘world’s most expensive city for expats to Moscow and Tokyo. However, at number three in Mercer’s cost of living survey it is still a pricey place to make a home. The most expensive factor is housing although the recent property slump could make London more affordable . For more details, see www.citymayors.com/economics/expensive_cities1.html and www.mercer.com/costofliving

Do I need a car?

Not really. Public transport, though crowded and erratic at times, is comprehensive and can get you to wherever you need to go. Owning a car is expensive, too. Petrol prices are among the highest in Europe, driving into central London attracts an £8 daily congestion charge, and parking is a nightmare.

See and do

London offers an exceptional expat lifestyle for those who can afford to enjoy themselves in this expensive city at the centre of the world. It is in general an exceptionally sociable lifestyle, as the poor weather forces people to mingle, and the range of dining and entertainment options are virtually limitless.

Places of interest

London is sufficiently big and diverse that even locals can be tourists in their own city on weekends. For expats, London is a city that is constantly being discovered, full of surprises and new adventures.

Key attractions, such as the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Tower Bridge, are worth visiting as is St Paul's Cathedral and tranquil St James Park. The West End, with its bright lights and billboards of Piccadilly Circus is always interesting, and nearby Chinatown, Soho and Covent Garden are lively districts packed with both history and modern distractions. Don’t miss the world-class British Museum and Natural History Museum in South Kensington while the London Eye, the London Aquarium and Tate Modern are also worth visits.

Getting around to see the sights is easy, if a little uncomfortable at times. The city’s red buses and extensive underground train network link all the major attractions and residential areas.

Here is a subjective list of worthwhile but admittedly touristy attractions to start you off on your expat adventures in London town:

Tower of London 

Built in the 11th century, it is home to the crown jewels and the famous Yeoman guards. A fascinating place and an essential piece of British history.
Telephone: +44 (0)844 482 7777

Houses of Parliament 

Built 1,000 years ago and formerly the main residence of Britain’s monarchs, the Palace of Westminster is the administrative centre of the country. Best known for Big Ben and lively Commons debates.
Telephone: 0870 906 3773

Tate Modern 

The former Bankside Power Station has been reinvented as the Britain's new National Museum of Modern Art with an astounding and immense collection of 20th and 21st century art works. An excellent café and restaurant with wonderful views add to the allure.
Telephone: (0)20 7887 8888

National Gallery 

Britain’s National Gallery lines the northern side of Trafalgar Square, and is home to works from all the major European schools from the 13th to the 19th century. The guided tours enhance an experience that can be bewildering for all its variety.
Telephone: (0)20 7747 2885

British Museum 

One of the world’s great museums, home to over 6,000 historical pieces from all over the world, the British Museum has collections of antiquities that include the Frieze or Elgin Marbles, Roman Portland Vase and the original Rosetta Stone.
Telephone: (0)20 7323 8299 or (0)20 7323 8000

London Eye 

Catch the best views in town aboard the gently revolving London Eye. You can gain a rare sense of geographical perspective in a city that is mostly flat.
Telephone: (0)870 990 8883

Shakespeare’s Globe 

An excellent reconstruction of the original theatre, the Globe celebrates Shakespeare’s life and times and houses performances of his plays.
Telephone: (0)20 7902 1400,

Buckingham Palace 

See the changing of the guards and take a sneak peek inside the Queens’ chambers. Cheesy to some, but a pilgrimage to others.
Telephone: (0)20 7766 7300


Quite simply one of the most luxurious and opulent shopping emporia in the world. Apart from the wonderful range of departments and services across seven floors, there are 22 restaurants to restore your energy levels. The Food Hall is the place to stock up on picnic goodies.
Telephone: (0)20 7730 1234

Camden Market 

Hugely colourful and diverse shopping experience with a pleasant bohemian character to remind one of its 60s culture heritage.


Visit the site of the Greenwich Meridian, where the split between the globe’s East and West is located and from where the world clock is set on zero degrees latitude. You will also find lots of markets, the Cutty Sark ship, and pleasant river views.

St. Paul's Cathedral 

Sir Christopher Wren’s 1673 masterpiece is a truly iconic London building that miraculously survived the bombings in the Second World War. Head inside for some rare peace amid all the London business.
Telephone: (0)20 7246 8357

Annual events

Notting Hill Carnival 

From 1964 this has been London’s biggest and most colourful party, initiated to promote positive race relations. After the Rio carnival, this is the largest street party in the world. When? Around the summer bank holiday at the end of August.

Lord Mayor’s Show 

Every Lord Mayor since 1215, including Dick Whittington has marked his election with this opulent pageant which concludes with big fireworks display over the Thames. When? The second Saturday in November.

London Marathon 

The Flora London Marathon is run over a 26.2 mile (42km) route starting in Greenwich Park and taking in Greenwich, Canary Wharf, and Big Ben. 30,000 professional and amateur athletes take part and the atmosphere is very convivial and festive for spectators. When? End of April

Trooping the Colour (Queen's Birthday Parade) 

A colourful parade full of pomp and pageantry, the Trooping of the Colour takes place in June in the summer weather even though the Queen was born on 21 April. Highlights include the march of the Massed Bands and the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment with their magnificent black chargers.

Chinese New Year 

London's Chinatown in Soho marks the advent of Chinese New Year in February. Expect processions, parades and lots of great foods.

Education and schools

London's schools vary tremendously in conditions, facilities and the standard of education they offer. As a rule, the better schools tend to be in the more affluent areas. School days run from 9am to around 4pm weekdays. There are three terms with a week break between each, an additional two weeks at Easter and Christmas and eight weeks over summer. The school year begins in early September and concludes in July.

There are two types of school: State schools are government run, follow the national curriculum, and can only be attended by pupils resident in the catchment area. Waiting-lists for the best performing institutions are long. Independent schools are privately run, charge high fees, and usually offer a superior standard of education. Research schools through the comprehensive www.schoolsnet.com

A third option, popular with expats, is the international schools. These offer the advantage of continuity with one's home country curriculum (eg the American K-12), and familiar modes and languages of instruction.

International schools

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