So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Budgeting for Living in London

You may find other posts in the Expat Series helpful. Click for the post listings.

Another frequent question I get from people who are thinking about moving to London is “How much does it cost to live in London?” This is obviously another one of those “it depends” answers, because it depends on your lifestyle and the trade-offs you are or aren’t willing to make. Below, I’ve given a descriptive idea of my experience so that you can have an anchoring point for where you might fall along the spectrum. In addition, tax (VAT), is included in all the prices I’m discussing below.

To skip to a section, click on the link below:

  1. Food (Grocery)

Generally, I’ve found groceries to be at least 10-15% cheaper here than in Canada, depending on the item. I’ve included a sample receipt for some groceries I’ve recently bought. However, you can take your average grocery receipt and try to find the equivalent items on the grocery delivery sites for the major grocery store chains (which will match closely with in-store prices) to estimate what your monthly grocery bill will be (Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury, Ocado).

SainsburyReceipt

In my sample receipt, I’ve taken a few of the items and broken them down into meals in this spreadsheet here. If you consumed the food I do, you’d be able to make a breakfast for £1, and a lunch / dinner for £3.20 (you can assume £4 if you have a big appetite). You can budget in £1.28 for snacks – I’ve put in 1 peach and a bakery item. In total, a full day’s worth of food would cost £8.57 if you never ate out and ate things similar to my taste. That’s roughly £260 for 30 days of groceries for 1 person.

Additionally, there will be a slight price differential between Central London grocery stores and grocery stores further out. You can also buy produce for cheaper at local fresh markets as well as ethnic grocery stores (for example, the bok choi is much cheaper at the Chinese grocery stores in Chinatown than at the Sainsbury in my neighbourhood).

  1. Food (Dining Out) & Drink

Dining out and alcohol is one of the most expensive categories when compared to food and drink back in Canada. I’ve thrown some international brands in here as well so you can get a sense of comparables. I’ve also linked you to menus, where possible. The prices below include VAT (tax), but do not include service. Sometimes restaurants automatically add 12.5% service, other times they do not. At your discretion, though not required except on large party sizes.

Restaurant Type Sample Cost
Subway Fast food / takeaway ·      £3.40 for a 6” Tuna Sub
Starbucks Coffee takeaway ·      £2.50 – £3.00 for an Americano
Franco Manca Small chain – casual ·      £7.50 for a handmade pizza

·      £5.95 for a glass of wine

Dishoom Mid-level restaurant – casual ·      £8.50 for a Chicken Tikka

·      £3.20 for a Garlic Naan

·      £8.50 for a cocktail

Pig & Butcher Mid-level pub – casual ·      £18.95 for a roasted leg of Saltmarsh lamb (Sunday roast)

·      £5.65 Bottled IPA

Granger & Co Mid-level restaurant – casual ·      £12.95 brunch pancakes

·      £9.95 white peach Bellini

Lima Floral Mid-level restaurant – casual ·      £14 tuna (starter)

·      £24 hot ceviche (main)

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal 2 Michelin Star restaurant – upscale ·      £21 meat fruit (starter)

·      £44 powdered duck breast (main)

·      £16 tipsy cake (dessert)

·      £15.50 glass of white wine

Housing & Bills

To answer the housing question, this really depends where you live, whether or not you want flat mates, the condition of the property, etc. However, there’s plenty of rental pricing information available online, and I’ve written a separate guide here to give you an idea for how much you might pay for a given neighbourhood, including the bills.

You could probably pay as little as £300-400 per month for housing and bills, but you’d live 50 mins + train journey away from Central London, or you’d live in a lower quality building, or you’d have a lot of roommates. A studio flat in Central London would easily cost at least £1600 a month, and more if you want more space or a one bed. If you’re living on your own, check your post code to see if you qualify for a single-person council tax discount. In my flat-hunting guide, I’ve also detailed what bills you need to factor in for your housing and where you can find information for what those bills might cost. An anecdotal survey from my friends indicate the following ranges:

Bill Type Amount per month per person
Council Tax £50 – £75
Water £10 – £15
Gas + Electricity £15 – £25

Internet and Phone

This is another area that I’ve found to be cheaper than in Canada. Especially because the population density in Canada is very low, phone plans (especially concerning differences in data included) are fairly expensive. As I bought an unlocked Apple phone, my sim-only contract is £15 a month and it includes 12GB of data and unlimited texts and phone calls in the UK. Though there are quite a few mobile providers here, I went with Three because of the awesome Feel at Home feature that is sure to help you when you plan all your weekend and bank holiday trips as it allows you to use your texting, calling, and data allowance in 71 other countries. Your other main telco provider options are O2, Vodafone, and EE.

For broadband, I pay £17 a month with TalkTalk for the most basic internet speeds and unlimited usage. If you stream a lot, this might not work for you, as I do find that my internet speed is occasionally laggy. I suggest you go on to a couple of comparison sites (uSwitch, Compare the Market, MoneySuperMarket) and find the best plan / deal for your needs, as you may also want TV or a landline as well, but make sure to be aware that some of the plans in their results are sponsored (those are labelled as such). In addition, Relish are a 4G internet company for home use that doesn’t require that annoying engineering set-up appointment where you have to be at home. As a result, they may be a viable alternative if you’re just looking to get up and running really quickly.

  1. Transportation

Your transportation options around the city include tube, overground, bus, regional train, taxi, Uber, ferry, or cycle. I’ve generally found transit cheaper than back home in Toronto, but the cost of everything, as always, will depend on distance of travel, frequency, and any government subsidies / programs you should look into.

Mode of Transport Approx. Cost Subsidies / Special Pricing
Tube Single journey – Zones 1-2; Oyster / contactless payments:

·         £2.40 – £2.80 off-peak

·         £2.90 – £3.30 peak

·         Daily cap of £6.80

·   Discounted travel

·   Travelcard

Overground Single journey; Oyster / contactless payments:

·         £1.70 peak

·         £1.50 off-peak

· Travelcard
Busses / Trams Single journey; Oyster / contactless payments:

·         £1.50 all journeys

·         Daily cap of £4.50

·         Weekly cap of £21.20

· Unlimited journeys in an hour

· Bus and Tram Pass

Regional Train Varies depending on time and destinations ·   Rail Card – 1/3 off train tickets

·   Season ticket pricing

Taxi / Uber Back Cabs (taxis) are 2-4x as expensive as Ubers. Generally I can get most places for £5 -£15 with Uber Install Uber with invite code n57u3 to get £10 off your first ride
Cycle ·         £2.00 per 24 hours unlimited use for journeys <30 minutes

·         £90 annual membership

Save 25-39% on a new bike for work with your employer
Ferry Single journey; Oyster / contactless payments:

·         £4.60 to £9.90

· Discounts

Entertainment / Leisure

Rather than give you a precise number, I’ve given a list of common “things to do” and links to pricing information so you can get an idea of cost. Theatre shows, plays, gigs, and admissions all vary widely, so I believe this is the best way for you to gauge cost. One thing to note is that a lot of the regular collections (i.e. not special exhibitions) at most museums and galleries have free admission. You can see the likes of Van Gogh absolutely free at the National Gallery, for example!

Type Merchant / Vendor Examples Sample Prices
Musical Theatre ·      Delfont Mackintosh Theatre

·      ATG Tickets

·      £49.75 – £94.75 (Aladdin)

·      TKTS discounts

Plays / Operas ·      Barbican

·      Almeida Theatre

·      London National Opera

·      Old Vic

·      £18 (Crave)

·      £10 – £40 (The Writer)

·      £25 (Acis and Galatea)

·      £8.50 – £100 (A Monster Calls)

Music Gigs ·      Ticketmaster

·      See Tickets

·      Dice

·      £28.25 (Of Mice and Men)

·      £22 – £83 (Walk Off the Earth)

·      £83 – £280 (Taylor Swift)

Museums ·      Somerset House

·      British Museum

·      Museum of Natural History

·      £14 – £17 (Rodin)

·      £7 to £38 (Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

Galleries ·      National Gallery

·      Tate Modern

·      Victoria and Albert

·      National Art Pass

·      £20 – £22 (Monet & Architecture Exhibit)

·      £10 – £32 (Picasso Exhibit)

Talks ·      Eventbrite

·      List

·      £27.50 to £35 (Sir Ranulph Fiennes)
Sport ·      Ticketmaster

·      Eticketing

·      Lord’s Cricket

·      £50 – £85 (England v. Pakistan)

·      £55 – £200 (Aviva Rugby Final)

Clothing & Goods

I haven’t done as much shopping here as I did back home, as I would often shop in the US. With the exception of home goods which will be the topic of another post, I would recommend you look at some generic fast fashion retailers online for pricing. Clothing prices depend so much on style and taste that you’ll have to budget for this yourself. There are plenty of thrift / charity shops that have a good selection as well if you’re on a budget. Have a look at ASOS, H&M, Forever21, BooHoo, and Pretty Little Thing for fast fashion. For some higher quality brands, look into Uniqlo, & Other Stories, Maje, Net-A-Porter, and Sandro, or check out the higher-end department store Selfridges.

For home goods, you might want to check out Amazon, Argos, Flying Tiger, Next, or H&M home. But also, don’t underestimate your ability to find free or good quality used items on Freecycle, Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, or Schpock.

While this guide is not meant to be a comprehensive look at the cost of living in London, it is meant to give you at least an idea so you can start imagining what your monthly outgoings would be to support your lifestyle. If you have any tips or budgeting ideas, please leave a comment below!

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So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Switching Sponsors on Tier 2 (General), Part 2

This blog is a continuation of the Part 1. Click here to read about the first part of my experience changing sponsors on a Tier 2 (General) visa.

  1. I attended an in-person expedited visa approval appointment with my application and documents

Because of my travel plans, I asked Deloitte for same-day service for my visa appointment. There are four options (speed-wise), but all four of them require you to submit your BRP card for a varying length of time. The Premium Service Centre option allows you to keep your passport, whereas you have to submit your passport for all other options. Technically, you’re not supposed to travel anywhere without your BRP, and while I’ve rarely been asked for my BRP at the border especially since I now use Registered Travellers e-gates, this was not a risk I wanted to take, so I did not travel whilst my new BRP was being processed. Below I’ve broken down the options:

Option Fees Location Estimated Processing Time

Super Premium Service

£10,500

+ fee of visa type (<3 yrs £677 / > 3 yrs £1,354)

+ immigration health surcharge (IHS)

Courier comes to you to collect Decision – Within 24 hours

BRP – not specified

Premium Service Centre £610 (inclusive of booking fee)

+ fee of visa type (<3 yrs £677 / > 3 yrs £1,354)

+ immigration health surcharge (IHS)

List of service centres Decision – 2 hours and 30 minutes

BRP – 7 to 10 working days

Tier 2 Priority Service £1,136 / £1,813

(<3 yrs / >3 yrs)

+ biometrics from Post Office fee

+ immigration health surcharge (IHS)

Via post Decision – 10 working days

BRP – 10 working days from decision date

Standard Mail £677 / £1,354

(<3 yrs / >3 yrs)

+ immigration health surcharge (IHS)

Via post

Decision + BRP – Up to 8 weeks

It is also much easier to book an appointment with the non-London service centres, so I was able to book an appointment slot 2-3 days from the day I booked online. I went out to the centre in Croydon and the entrance looks like this – don’t get confused by the staff entrance which does not look like this.

IMG_4754

  1. My visa was approved and I received my new BRP card

My appointment time was for 8am which is considered an “out of hours” appointment. (NB: You have to pay an extra £75 for “out of hours” appointments before 9am and after 4pm). I went in, queued for a counter that validated that I had all the documents I needed (my original passports, 2 x UK passport-sized photos, my BRP card, my application form, and my proof of IHS payment), and they gave me a number. I sat back down with my documents and waited to be called to a counter. Once I was called to a counter, they accepted and processed my documents and I was sent back to the waiting area to wait again.

Had it not been for a silly mistake that Deloitte had made on my application that required some time to clarify, I would have been approved within the hour. After approval, they called my number again and asked me to go into the Biometrics part of the office, and took my biometric details. Shortly after, I received a physical letter which confirmed the approval of my visa and stated that I should expect my new BRP to be mailed to me at the address I specified on my application form in 7 to 10 working days.

8 working days later, I received my new BRP in the mail to the address specified on my application form.

  1. I handed in notice to my old employer

When should I resign?

In the UK, at my level of seniority, the notice period was 3 months. This was something I was not used to as in North America, it was 2 weeks! This is an important, if not, critical point for timing between when your employer expects you to start, when you get your new visa, and when you resign.

Visa approval and processing takes up to 8 weeks, and you can apply for a visa up to 3 months before the day you’re due to start work in the UK. A sponsor of a Tier 2 worker has a duty to report to the Home Office within 10 days of a worker’s contract ending. From the date of your contract ending, you would have 60 days to obtain a new visa.

All of this is to say, on the assumption that there are no issues having your visa approved, you could time your resignation to coincide with your notice period / your negotiated notice period if you think you can bring it down or the max processing time estimated for the application type you’ve chosen, whichever is longer. However if your notice period is more than 3 months and is non-negotiable, then you have to resign before you are even able to apply for your visa.

What’s worthwhile noting is that if you resign before you apply for your visa, if there are any issues processing your visa, you have the remaining time left on your notice period in addition to the 60 days after your last day to sort your new visa out. Otherwise, if you are unable to sort out the new visa by the end of the 60 days after your last day at your old job, you’ll have to go back to your home country and abide by a 12-month cooling off period before you can be sponsored in the UK again. Therefore, there is a risk that you won’t be able to stay in the country if you resign before your new visa is sorted; however, in my anecdotal experience, my friends have not had any issues getting their visa approved.

  1. Finish your notice period and start your new job!

Premium Service Centre Processing Dates / Times:

  • Offer Letter from New Employer Received: 26/01/2018
  • Offer Letter from New Employer Signed: 28/01/2018
  • Contact Initiated with Deloitte: 29/01/2018
  • Documents Gathered, Form Compiled, Unrestricted CoS Issued: 02/02/2018
  • Application Submitted, In-Person Premium Appointment Booked: 07/02/2018
  • Resignation Submitted to Current Employer: 08/02/2018
  • In-Person Appointment Attended: 13/02/2018 (approximate approval time: 1 hour; total appointment duration: 2 hours)
  • New BRP Received: 23/02/2018

So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Switching Sponsors on Tier 2 (General), Part 1

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to provide immigration advice; I am merely sharing my personal anecdotal experience to shed light on what you might encounter in the process.

Before I begin, if you are on a Tier 2 ICT visa, this blog is not for you. As many of my friends who transferred to the UK with their employers on an ICT, you cannot switch from a Tier 2 ICT visa to a Tier 2 General visa without leaving the country for a 12-month cooling off period. There are few exceptions to this.

“Individuals who entered the UK under Tier 2 (ICT) on or after 6 April 2011, or those who entered before then but have since made an application for entry clearance from abroad, will have to leave the UK for the 12 month Tier 2 cooling off period before they can return under Tier 2 (General). The only exception to this rule is if the individual has been offered a new role and will be paid a salary at the ‘higher rate'(this is currently £152,100 but it will be increased to £153,500 on 6 April 2014).”

After consulting my friend who is an immigration barrister, it seems the only way around this might be if your spouse were a dependent on your visa, and he / she got sponsored on a Tier 2 General, and then you became their dependent. In any case, that would require that you were married, and I would advise you to speak with an immigration lawyer if this is something you wish to pursue.

Onto the main topic: switching employers on a Tier 2 (General) visa.

This blog has been split into two parts: The first part will cover the process of finding a sponsor / role as well as documents required for application, the second part will cover off the actual application process and timing considerations.

Employers Willing to Sponsor

I was fortunate enough to be in an industry and skill set where I did not find it too difficult to find another Tier 2 sponsor to hire me so that I could switch jobs. I took the approach of looking for my next job via regular recruiting means, making it clear that I required sponsorship, and generally receiving the feedback that this would not be a problem.

When people ask: “Is it easy to switch jobs on a Tier 2 (General) visa?”, my answer is (as usual), it depends. It depends on what industry you’re in (and the supply / demand in that industry), your skill set, your seniority / salary, and the size of company / type of role you’re targeting. Generally, the more niche / in-demand your skillset, the higher paid you are, and the larger the company, the chances are it is much easier to get continuation of sponsorship on Tier 2 (General). If you’re thinking about switching jobs on the Tier 2 (General) visa and want to get a better idea, the easiest thing to do is to speak to recruiters and actively start looking – you’ll get a sense from recruiters soon enough as to whether your requiring sponsorship is a barrier with employers. As always, do consult the Register of Sponsors for a list of companies who are already eligible to sponsor you, which simplifies the process.

Offer to Visa Paperwork – Process Overview

The employer who took on my sponsorship is a multi-national company, so they were very well versed in the regulation and what is required to sponsor me, and gave me a lot of support throughout. The process played out like this:

  1. The company outreached to me regarding an opportunity for which they conducted the required RLMT in the process

I turned on my “open to new opportunities” feature on LinkedIn as one of my avenues of looking for a new job which resulted in an outreach message from a recruiter at this company. The job posting was available on multiple websites, and at this point, I can only presume they were interviewing other qualified candidates and following the requirements of the RLMT. In my initial call with the recruiter, I made it clear to her that I required sponsorship, but she said it was not a problem.

  1. I interviewed with the prospective employer and received an offer

I had my first and second round interviews within a month and shortly after, received my offer of employment with them for their London office.

  1. I clarified the visa / sponsorship process with them (i.e. whether they had done it before, what the process was like, and likely timelines)

Within the contract, the terms of employment are obviously conditional on my receiving sponsorship / passing necessary checks. However, the recruiter verbally reassured me that were almost never problems with the process (they are such a big company, they probably have a direct line into the Home Office!), and that they would make sure they did everything that they could to work out any unlikely issues.

If you’re being sponsored by a smaller company, it would be particularly advisable to ask them about the sponsorship process, since it might take longer than you might anticipate (or shorter, if fewer approvals are required!). I’ve heard anecdotally that some big companies can take a while.

  1. I accepted their offer formally, signed documents, and negotiated a start date

The new employer was aware that my notice period was 3 months, so they asked if there was any chance that I could negotiate the notice period down with my current employer. When I told them that this was unlikely, we put in a tentative start date in the system taking into account my notice period and holiday. However, at this point, I had not resigned. See section in part 2 on “When Should I Resign?” for more information about timing to protect your status in the country.

  1. The company put me in touch with their internal immigration team and Deloitte, the firm who handled my application on my behalf

Big multinationals tend to outsource the visa application process to third party firms such as Deloitte; however, the application process is not too different from the initial Tier 2 application process which I worked with my current smaller employer to submit. Therefore, if your sponsor is a smaller firm where you’ll have to fill out the form yourself, don’t be alarmed.

  1. I provided supporting documents and verified the details of the application before Deloitte booked an in-person appointment on my behalf. At this stage, fees were paid (see part 2 for details on fees), and the new sponsoring company issued me a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS).

Documents scanned and uploaded:

  1. Copy of my current passport, bio page and visa page
  2. Copy of my current BRP, back and front
  3. Copy of my previous passport (now expired), bio page and visa page
  4. Copy of my registered traveller’s card, back and front

Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS):

You will recall that when you applied for your first Tier 2 General Visa, you will have had a CoS issued to you. This CoS is known as a restricted CoS as it applies to Tier 2 (General) workers currently abroad who will be paid less than £155,300 a year. When you are already on a Tier 2 General Visa and move to a new company, a new CoS will need to be generated for you by your new company. However, this new CoS is a different type of CoS known as an unrestricted CoS which applies to individuals who are already in the UK on Tier 2 (General) but switching sponsors.

There are a limited number of restricted certificates available each month. Applications are considered on the first working day after the 10th day of the month. This is called the “allocation date”. If you apply after 5th day of the month then your application will be held until the next month’s allocation dated. All CoS, restricted or unrestricted must be assigned within six months of the date the vacancy was first advertised.

However, there is no limit on how many unrestricted CoS-es a company can get, though they have to provide evidence annually that the quota they request is justified.

It is reasonable to assume that if you’re working for a large company and they are accurate in their unrestricted CoS estimations, they will be able to easily issue you an unrestricted CoS as soon as you need it for your visa application, which was the case for me.

Click here for Part 2 which details the appointment process and overall timing

Considerations on Buying Property in the UK as an Expat

The purpose of this post is not to explain the home buying process, as many blogs do this already. I want to merely highlight considerations you should take trying to purchase property as an expat, and take you through my experience from that lens.

Understand the Process

Read through this entirety of MoneySavingExpert’s Guide for a fairly thorough overview of the entire process. Do this before you even start to view flats, as it will help you identify what to look for (the good and bad) in even the viewing process, especially as this will be different from viewing mostly new build properties in North America.

Prepare for your Mortgage

Unless you’re walking around with a bag of cash, you’ll likely need to obtain a mortgage. As an expat, it will be a bit more difficult to get a mortgage, and the rates may be less ideal, but there are ways to navigate this.

1. Mortgage Rate Thresholds

There are mortgage thresholds for different rates depending on your LTV (Loan to Value). Your loan to value is the ratio of your loan size relative to the value of your property. If you’re requesting a mortgage of 400k on a 500k property, then your LTV is 80% (400k loan divided by 500k value). Basically, the tipping point for most mortgages is 85%. If you only need 85% of the value of your property or less, you can get a better rate. From the 5-15% range, it should be the same, but speak to your mortgage broker about what the thresholds would be for the particular lender. There are also likely restrictions on what your max LTV ratio is, as an expat. Expect to have to contribute at least a 10% deposit.

It’s worth noting here that I ultimately ended up going to a fee-free mortgage broker (London & Country) and not a bank, because it was way more efficient to get the brokers to trawl through different products on my behalf, rather than have me apply individually to banks. Also, you may have a harder time getting big banks to lend to you, and brokers will be able to find products suitable for expats who may have only a “fair” credit score (i.e. limited credit history).

2. Remaining Visa Duration

You’ll need a certain amount of time left on your visa (if you don’t have ILR). I believe the threshold is somewhere between 2-3 years left on your visa to qualify for any mortgage, but this will vary depending on the lender.

3. Documentation – Proof of Identity + Deposit Funds

You’ll need a lot of documentation. So far, I had to mail in my actual passport and my biometrics card (since it was foreign), to have them verify the document, instead of just the copy sufficing for proof of identity. For proof of deposit, I’ve had to provide:

  • the last 2 months of payslips
  • a payslip documenting my last bonus
  • the last month’s bank statement (and if you’ve recently transferred in money to your main UK bank account for the deposit, you’ll have to prove the source of the deposit, so I’ve been requested to provide the next item)
  • 1 month of foreign bank statements relating to deposit funds

If you’re going to go and download your statements, you’re better off downloading 6 months’ worth of everything (potentially UK credit card statements as well), because you may be asked for further documentation after you provide these initial documents. This whole process is to ensure that you are who you say you are, that you have the funds you say that you have to buy the property, and that the funds you have are coming from a legitimate source (i.e. income / savings and not money laundering).

4. Funding

If you haven’t transferred your funds yet and need to fund your deposit from accounts abroad, consider using a service like TransferWise or HiFX to maximise the exchange rate on your significant sums of money transferred, as bank rates are not ideal. You’ll have to pay a wire fee from North America with every bank for an international money transfer anyway, but it’s the conversion rate that will end up making a couple hundred or thousands of dollars in difference. Keep in mind that international wires also take a few business days, so factor this into the urgency of your transaction.

5. Government Schemes

If you plan on buying a property in London for £450k or under in London (the threshold is lower elsewhere in the UK), and you aren’t planning on doing this in the next 3 months, you can benefit from the Help to Buy ISA as a resident in the UK. Effectively, the government will give you a 25% bonus on your savings up to a maximum of £3k towards your purchase of a home. You can contribute £1,200 into this account on your first month, and an additional £200 every month thereafter. Even if you end up getting a 25% bonus on £2k in savings, think about that as £500 that could help pay for solicitors’ fees. You can also put more than one government bonus towards the home you are buying, so this could be double the bonus if you’re buying property with someone.

When you’re about to close on the transaction, you’ll need to close this account, provide the closing letter to your solicitor, deposit the funds from the Help to Buy account into your main deposit account, fill in this form, and provide the form to your solicitor.

6. Credit Score

As an expat who hasn’t lived in the UK for more than two years, there are important things that will help you make a difference in your credit score. Get your credit score report from Experian. There’s a free 30 day trial, and then it might be worthwhile keeping tabs on your credit score for the duration of your house hunting, as you can see the factors that influence your credit worthiness leading up to a mortgage application.

In general, the two (and a half) things that you can do as an expat to help prepare you for a good credit score are registering to vote in the borough in which you live, and a. having credit cards and/or overdraft, and b. having credit cards that are paid off every month.

7. Comparables / Negotiation

Just like in investments, it’s always good to do your due diligence on comparables; look at what the price per square foot is on similar properties in your neighbourhood, and even your street, the same building, or your own property. Data is a bit sparse, but by cross referencing a couple of different sources, you’ll be able to form some educated judgments on this. I built a spreadsheet (as one does) documenting properties in my neighbourhood with the same number of rooms, selling price, the year it was sold, the square footage (estate agencies will usually have a photo which indicate the square footage on the floor plan), and noting any cosmetic or qualitative notes that would affect price per square foot. It helped me form a picture for what might be a good bidding price. Negotiations may be more manoeuvrable in a post-Brexit world, but of course, demand will still fluctuate even between neighbourhoods.

  • For selling prices by address with some property attributes, see the government Land Registry
  • For sale prices by address and trends by neighbourhoods, see Net House Prices
  • For sale prices, previous rental prices, and sales / lettings listings with photos and descriptions, see Zoopla Property History Searches(helpful for square footage and qualitative look at properties)
  • For an alternate source quite similar to Zoopla in terms of data available, see Rightmove Property

 8. Post-Mortgage Proof of Funds

Once you’ve received your mortgage offer, your solicitor will ask for proof of funds to fund the transaction. Note that they will ask for proof of funds not just for the deposit – they want to know that you’ve got the deposit, enough for stamp duty, and for any remaining fees; ask your solicitor what is the amount you have to prove. I’ve provided a sample of the accompanying form here.

The purpose of this step in the process is to make sure that the funds you’re using to make the purchase are not from fraudulent sources. You’ll be asked to provide the last 3 months’ worth of statements from all of the accounts you’re using to fund the transaction. Expect any big transfers of money to be scrutinised and back up documentation to be expected. For example, one of my Canadian GICs (government bond) came to maturity and the funds were deposited into my account. However, because it was a GIC and not an account, there was no statement available for the 3 months prior to maturity. I had to request a special bank letter detailing what the GIC product was and confirming that it was deposited into my savings account following maturity. The process to obtain this bank letter via mail and have my mother scan and send the document to me obviously took a week. This is a more nuanced example of the types of paperwork that can slow down the process, so be prepared for this early on in the process.

If your parents are helping you out as part of the deposit, they may need to sign a form to state that the funds are a gift and that they have no claims against your assets. Speak to your solicitor about this form if you know up front that you will receive parental contribution (as you will be asked where the money came from if it shows up as a fresh deposit in your bank statements). In general, just remember that this proof process can slow you down since you may need to request special documents from outside of the country. Just keep this in mind if you’re trying to expedite the process.

I didn’t find any other steps of my home buying journey affected by the fact that I was an expat. And of course, just a disclaimer as an ending note – every property search is unique. I am merely sharing what I encountered in my own journey if any of it can be helpful to you. Good luck.

So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Transitioning from a Tier 5 Visa to a Tier 2 (General) Visa

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to provide immigration advice; I am merely sharing my personal anecdotal experience to shed light on what you might encounter in the process.

NB: Since publishing this blog, it seems like the Tier 2 General restricted visas cap has been hit multiple times since December 2017 meaning that only salaries > £50k – £60k or select shortage positions are now being approved, and many people are being turned away. You can read more about this on Fragomen’s website or in this Guardian article.

I was fortunate enough to be in a position where my employer was willing to sponsor me to stay in the UK following the termination of my Tier 5 (Youth Mobility) visa. Overall, my visa was slated to expire in September 2016, but I broached the sponsorship topic with my manager in December 2015, as you should prepare for a generous lead time to go through multiple steps, especially if your employer is not already a Licensed Sponsor (which my employer was not). Check that the business that you’re asking to be a sponsor is eligible to be a sponsor and that your job is eligible for sponsorship. Alternatively, your business could already be listed on the register of sponsors. It’s worth noting here that if you do get sponsorship before your tier 5 visa expires, then your tier 5 visa gets annulled; you can’t keep both visas at the same time, but you also don’t need to cancel anything yourself as the annulment will happen automatically.

Depending on how quickly your legal / admin team move at your company, you could get approval to be a Licensed Sponsor in a short time frame. All in, my HR department sorted all of the paperwork and payments (it costs up to £1,476 to just get the Licensed Sponsor status for a Tier 2 General type visa) and received approval in about a month and a half. During this time, they also put out an advertisement for my role in two places and were required by law to interview anyone who was qualified for the job and show proof of reasons that other candidates were not suitable for the job (residential labour market test). The guidance for these adverts and the HR / legal processes that the sponsoring organisation must adhere to can be found here. If your company isn’t currently a Licensed Sponsor, it’s worth reading through this guide yourself so that you will be able to assist your company in the process. My company also had an external law firm’s help in this process, and I do not know the fees associated with this process.

Once the residential labour market was complete and my company had received Licensed Sponsor status, the next step was to apply for my Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). The HR department applied for this, and depending on the timing of when you submit the application for a CoS, you should receive a CoS, at the latest, one month later, as there is a limited monthly quota for restricted certificates. Following the successful receipt of a CoS, I followed the instructions on the government website for applying for a Tier 2 General, namely submitting the requisite documents, inputting the CoS number my employer received (which is valid for 3 months from the date of issue), and paying a. the healthcare surcharge, which was about £900, and the fee for the visa itself which ranges from £400 to £1200 depending on whether you’re applying for a 3 year visa vs. a 5 year visa, and if your occupation is a shortage occupation.

Once you’ve followed all the instructions and the paperwork is submitted, you’ll then be invited to book an appointment with the immigration office from which you are applying (outside of the UK – in my case, I went home to Toronto to apply from the Toronto UK immigration office) to take your biometrics and process your documents. Keep in mind, switching from Tier 5 (Youth Mobility) to Tier 2 General requires that you apply from outside the UK. If you’re extending your visa or switching from other visas, you may not have to apply from outside, but specifically switching from the Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa requires you to physically leave the UK. So, I booked my appointment with the Toronto UK immigration office a few weeks in advance, and booked a one-way flight to arrive the day before my appointment. You need to ensure that you submit the application and have it approved before your CoS expires, so keep the 3-month CoS validity in mind when timing your appointment.

Going into the UK immigration office to submit my documents was a pretty standard experience. Make sure you have all of your documents as listed on the Gov UK guidance, and print out any automated e-mails that were sent to you, including one confirming your payment of the healthcare surcharge, as you’ll need this to submit your application. If you are in a rush, it is advisable to pay extra for the express processing of your application which puts your application at the front of the line. I did not, and I submitted my application during a time when peak student visa applications were taking place, so I waited a while. You can also check the visa processing time website to gauge how long your application might take. My processing times for both my visas from the Toronto, Canada office are listed below for reference:

Tier 2 (General)

Date of Biometrics Appointment: 09/06/2016

Date Application Received: 10/06/2016

Date Visa Granted: 21/06/2016

Date Passport Available: 22/06/2016

Tier 5 (Youth Mobility)

Date of Biometrics Appointment: 09/07/2014

Date Application Received: 10/07/2014

Date Visa Granted: 21/07/2014

Date Passport Retrieved: 22/08/2014*

*They did not notify my when my passport arrived, so I ended up having to go to the office to check if my passport had come back (and it had). Passports usually come back quite quickly after the visa is issued, so if you haven’t received notice after a week, I’d just walk in during passport pickup time to check.

 A note of advice – work out what you’re responsible for paying in this process and what your employer will take on upfront; this will save you from surprises down the line. The total cost of this visa, including the round trip flight was about £4,000. My employer paid for all things visa related, and I paid for the flight, which seemed like a fair bargain.

How was your Tier 5 to Tier 2 experience?

So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Finding a Flat, Part 2

For the previous posts in this series, please see So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Finding Work on Tier 5So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: The Visa, So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Circular Finances, and So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Finding a Flat, Part 1.

So now that you have a good idea of the neighbourhood you want to target, it’s time to view some flats and make an offer.

Sourcing and Arranging Flat Viewings

Email, call, and walk-in to the letting agencies in the neighbourhood that you are targeting. You will receive many calls and emails for a few weeks, but it’s ideal to book in as many viewings as possible in a short period of time so that you have a good frame of reference for comparison of rates and the kinds of flats that are available to you within your budget. If you see a flat that you like that meets all of your criteria, jump on it and make an offer, or it may be gone by the time you get around to it.

Making an Offer

The process of making an offer is fairly informal. Nothing is binding (for either parties) until the physical letting agreement has been signed, so keep this in mind. There have been cases where landlords have re-negged or asked for a higher price because of competitive bidding. Be wary and know that nothing is confirmed until the agreement has been signed.

Typically, the process works as follows:

  1. You view a flat that you like.
  2. You contact the agent you viewed the flat through to verbally make an offer. They will either provide you a template to fill out, or you should send them a word document via e-mail with the following details:
    • Proposed start date of tenancy
    • Length of tenancy, and break clause stipulation (rolling or one time): standard lease break clause is 6 months (i.e. you can give the notice period that you’re moving out after 6 months)
    • Price: stated in per week terms
    • Special conditions: i.e. furnished or unfurnished, bathroom to be repainted, etc.
    • Full names, occupations, and indication of full time or contract employment status
    • Mobile number, email address
    • Photo ID (passport) & proof of address
  3. The landlord will either accept, reject, or counter-propose your offer. If the landlord counter-proposes you, you should ensure that you like the flat that much to accept his / her conditions.
  4. Once the landlord accepts your offer, you will need to put in a holding deposit so that the agent will stop showing the flat to other prospective tenants. The holding deposit can vary in size, but it was 2 weeks’ rent for our flat, was deducted against the security deposit after our offer was finalised, and was non-refundable should we have changed our minds.
  5. Following this, you’ll then need to transfer 1 months’ rent in advance and a security deposit upfront. The security deposit is usually equivalent to ~6 weeks rent, but some landlords will ask for more. If it is any more than 6 weeks’ rent, do ask the agent and understand why that might be. Also ensure that you get a Deposit Protection Scheme reference number for your deposit, as this will ensure that your deposit is protected should any conflicts or disagreements arise over deposit deductions at the end of the tenancy.
  6. Once the deposit has been paid, you’ll need to submit copies of your passport and visa. Then, the necessary background, credit, and reference checks will take place. This is where an ex-pat new to the UK could run into some issues. Given that you will have had no tenancy record in the UK, either one or more of the tenants entering the agreement will need to make a monthly salary equivalent to 1.5 – 2x the monthly rent and he / she will assume the rental risk as a lead tenant, or the landlord will require a guarantor living in the UK to agree to take on the risk of your lease, should you default on the lease. Again, this is where you’ll have to rely on the support of family  and friends. This is also a sensitive area because it revolves around salaries and asking someone to be legally liable for your debts in a worst case scenario. Hopefully, you’ll know someone. If not, you may have to go down the path of finding a place to rent via a private landlord, where the requirements will not be as stringent. See OpenRent, Gumtree, or Spareroom for private landlord options.

Assuming the above steps have been sorted and you’ve passed the checks and made all payments, you’ll finally get to review a lease agreement! Before you sign your lease agreement, even if you are not a lawyer, make sure you take the time to read through the entirety of the agreement; the language is generally comprehensible, and it is in your interest to make sure that the terms laid out in the agreement match the offer. You should especially pay attention to clauses that pertain to the end of the lease, dispute resolution, and landlord responsibilities for repair. If you have any clarifying questions at all, do go back to the agent before you sign – better safe than sorry.

After you sign and the landlord(s) countersign(s), the keys should be yours! Within a week of moving in, you may receive an inventory report to sign off. This inventory report is important because it documents the state of the flat when you move in. You should check the report with care before you sign it and ensure that what it states is detailed and accurate; fill in any gaps where appropriate. It also doesn’t hurt to take pictures of your flat at this time, as this will help you down the line if there are any disputes. Make sure you submit your version of the inventory report on time, or else they may disregard your comments if you leave it too late.

Good luck with finding your dream flat!

Have thoughts to share on your experience? Leave a comment below.

So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Finding a Flat, Part 1

For the previous posts in this series, please see So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Finding Work on Tier 5So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: The Visa and So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Circular Finances.

Hopefully, you’ve now managed to wrangle yourself a bank account or have access to a place to store your funds so you’re able to put down a deposit down to let a flat. Assuming that this is the case, you can now begin the arduous process of finding a place to live. There are quite a few considerations when flat hunting. I’m splitting this into a two-part blog series to take you through the elements to consider. This post will focus on finding the right neighbourhood and property for you, and the second post will focus on dealing with letting agents and making an offer.

I highly recommend that you have a look at the property listings available on the market and use the pictures and information on the sites to form your preferences. You will likely not be making offers on flats in this information gathering phase, but you will be developing a list of requirements for a flat in your desired budget range. Some of the popular sites where most agencies post their properties (in order of most useful to less useful) include Zoopla, Rightmove, Spareroom, Gumtree, and OnTheMarket. You can also check out the websites for the bigger lettings agencies to see postings on their sites (Foxtons, Knight Frank, Hamptons, and Winkworth). Keep in mind that oftentimes a flat will be posted as available, but by the time you call to arrange a viewing, the flat will have already been let – that’s how fast the real estate market moves in London, which is why it’s more helpful to use these websites as research. Additionally, there are loads of smaller lettings agencies within each neighbourhood, so do not view my above list of lettings agencies as exhaustive.

When I was looking for a flat with my flatmate, there were generally seven factors that played into us being able to find a property that was a good fit for us. These considerations helped us narrow down the properties / neighbourhoods for which we wanted to view flats, and helped speed up the vetting process so that we weren’t wasting our time viewing flats that weren’t going to be a good fit. It also helped to manage our expectations for what would be reasonable requirements given our budget and the neighbourhoods in which we wanted to live.

Lettings prices are generally represented as per calendar month (pcm) or per week (pw). Note that pw pricing isn’t as simple as multiplying by 4 to get to a monthly rate: you will need to multiply by 52 weeks and then divide by 12 months to get to a monthly rate. Prices are primarily driven by the following seven factors:

  1. Supply and demand for a particular neighbourhood
    Generally, the worst time to look for a property to let is during August as this is when students descend upon the city; while there is increased supply as old students move out, the influx of new students provide fairly fierce demand, even in neighbourhoods that don’t border major universities and schools in London. Moving in mid to late September or October will make it an easier process to find a flat. Additionally, some neighbourhoods are simply popular with certain communities thereby driving up the rental prices; for example, many Australian expats choose to live in Clapham, and so Clapham is quite expensive in spite of the fact that it isn’t in Central London.
  2. Transport links / distance to London city centre
    Another consideration is the proximity of your property to Central London. Two things you need to understand: London is very large in area and London is a city comprised of boroughs. If you understand these two facts, there really is no notion of “downtown” as there is in North America. Central London is primarily where a lot of major government offices are concentrated, where property prices are highest, and where there is generally a high population density / high entertainment density. However, within each of the boroughs in London, there are enough shops, amenities, and interesting things to do such that you would never have to leave your borough to survive / not be bored on the weekend. So while being close to Central London means you will be close to an area that is quite lively, it is a completely personal choice as to whether this is important. The other important aspect of this is a property’s proximity to transport links (tube, rail, bus routes). Because London is so big, it can take two hours or more to travel from the east end to the west end. Consider the places that you will need to go most frequently (work, school, fun, etc) and make sure that you’re selecting a borough that will be a decent commute; otherwise, you’ll end up wasting time and money (see cost of monthly travel cards) if you live far from where you work / study / play.
  3. Condition of property (new, period conversion / refurb, old)
    Generally, new or period conversion / refurbished properties will cost more than properties that have not been renovated. If you see wooden floors, retrofitted / modern appliances, exposed brick kitchen walls, modern windows, and new faucets or newly tiled bathroom floors, these are all indications that the property has been renovated to some extent, and you’ll likely be paying a higher rent vs. properties that have carpet or older fittings.
  4. Type of property (council flats / estates, maisonettes, flats)
    Council flats / estates are essentially government housing that are now privately owned due to a buy back scheme. They are often cheaper rents as the properties may still be in dodgier neighbourhoods, or less safe bits of a borough, and some of the council flats within a council block or estate may still be publicly owned. Read more here. Maisonettes are two level flats with internal stairs. For more information about the definition of a flat, read here.
  5. Size of property and number of rooms / living space
    Often, living rooms get converted into bedrooms in some properties. Rent will usually be cheaper in these cases since there is no longer any shared living space, other than the kitchen. The needs of multiple flatmates will have be factored in when searching for a property as well. Some two bedroom flats, for example, are one massively sized master bedroom and a small double or even a single room. If your flatmates aren’t willing to split the rent according to the amount of space, it can cause headaches and disagreements. Equally, it can sometimes be difficult to find two equally sized double bedrooms if you’re looking for an equitable rent split, so do keep this in mind when viewing properties. Another consideration is the number of bathrooms; some flats have one bedroom with an ensuite bathroom which typically means that the letter of that room would pay more rent. You will typically pay more for a property overall if there are more bathrooms.
  6. Basement / ground floor flats vs. above ground flats
    Basement and ground floor flats are generally cheaper than above ground flats (2nd floor and up). The main reason is that basement flats typically don’t have good views and the sunlight is somewhat limited, though there are usually windows. Ground floor flats can sometimes be perceived as “more dangerous”, depending on the neighbourhood, as ground floor flats are more accessible at street level. Sometimes, ground floor flat windows have bars over them for safety reasons, and so ground floor flats may command lower rent.
  7. Other fees / costs
    On top of the monthly rent you’ll have to pay, you will also have to factor in one-time costs such as lettings agency fees (including inventory fees, reference / guarantor checks, and agency fee), as well as monthly recurring expenses including utilities (water, gas, heat, and electricity) and council tax. For one-time costs, make sure you clarify with the agent what the total fees will be, and then determine what it will cost per person, if you are renting with others. For the monthly recurring expenses, it is usually a good question to ask the agent if the rent price includes any utilities, and how much the non-inclusive utilities typically cost per month. For council tax, use the council tax band tool to look up the council tax band, and go to the respective council’s website to look up how much council tax is owed within the council tax band. For example, for the City of Westminster, these are the council tax rates across different bands. Then you can calculate how much you’ll need to factor in per month for council tax. Adding on these other fees / costs will give you an accurate total cost of rental.

People often ask me which neighbourhood or borough they should live in. Unfortunately, I give them the answer that it really depends. Even if you ask me which neighbourhood or borough is the safest, the answer is relative. Even in the safest neighbourhoods, there may be pockets or certain streets that are not as safe. The best way to see which neighbourhood or borough is right for you is to spend some time walking around the neighbourhood and getting a feel for the atmosphere. When you consider that visceral experience with the factors I’ve mentioned above, you’ll likely have a better idea of your perfect area. Good luck with your flat hunt!

If you have any flat hunting experiences or tips to share, please leave them in the comments below.