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.

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So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Finding Work on Tier 5

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

If you’re not a student, one of the fundamental problems as you’re considering your move to London is finding work. When I was mulling over this problem, I saw a few different paths forward. Essentially, you may be able to apply for an Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer Visa with your current company, apply for work from abroad and secure sponsorship through the Tier 2 General Visa, or look for work locally once you’re here on the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa. Each of these options has its own benefits and downsides; I am going to focus on finding work on the Tier 5 visa in this post.

If you’ve successfully been approved for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa, you’ll be able to look for work / start working as soon as your visa is valid. My visa was activated on 3 September 2014, so I landed here that day and immediately started my job hunt. However, I’d recommend that you also do some preparation work beforehand to make this process as easy as possible as it certainly expedited my job search to maximise the amount of time on my visa.

  1. Prepare your CV

    Part of the localisation process is getting into the lingo, spelling, and terminology. Prior to my arrival in the UK, I researched and spoke with people who had been through the process to ensure that my curriculum vitae (CV) – or resume as it is known in North America – was in a locally accepted format. I ensured that my spelling was converted from North American English to UK English (e.g. specialized to specialised), highlighted my language skills (being bilingual / multilingual is an advantage here), and used my family / friend’s local mailing address on the CV to give the illusion that I was already locally settled. I also put “Authorised to Work in the United Kingdom” near my namesake, as right to work will be a common question that comes up as you look for work. I also changed my LinkedIn link from ca to uk.
  2. Research Jobs and Agencies

    A couple of things to note on the local job market, at least in London: the market moves quickly and it is a recruiter-driven market. On the first point, vacancies come in and are filled in a matter of days, which I found quite different from the lethargic pace of the job market back in Toronto when I was interviewing for some managerial roles. As such, it’s not worth applying to jobs weeks in advance of your move to the UK as the vacancy will be filled before you get there, unless your application was facilitated through your network. On the second point, my advice is to focus in and research the types of roles for which you’re seeking on the popular job search sites (reed.co.uk, fish4jobs.co.uk, indeed, monster, The Guardian) and then document which agencies tend to have the types of roles that you’re seeking (the logo/contact information for the agency will become apparent in the job posting). Identifying the agencies of interest to you early on will make your recruitment targeting much easier.A note on salaries: It was difficult for me to gauge my market value initially, as I wasn’t entirely sure how my worth converted over from the North American market to the UK. Ultimately, I’m nominally earning the same as I would expect to earn in Canada, but my buying power is significantly weakened here due to the cost of living – this seems to be generally the right range that you should expect, but could vary based on industry / niche due to supply and demand. I would recommend speaking with your recruiters to get a sense of what level you’d come in at given your experience (they’re incentivised to get you working in your highest possible bracket given that their agency fees are likely tied to your compensation). You might also be able to speak with people in the industry / university alumni working locally – I asked an ex-colleague at my level working locally to see what kinds of roles and offers he’d been getting from headhunters enticing him to leave. Finally, you can always give the local Glassdoor a try.
  3. Call the Agencies

    The week I landed, I got a local UK number on a pay-as-you-go plan, and I started calling the agencies on my target list. I stated my 30-second headline upfront to describe a) my background / experience and b) what I was looking for in terms of roles (sometimes referencing previous job vacancies they had filled), and asked if they had any vacancies in the areas which I was looking. Usually, following this, they asked me to send my CV to either their personal e-mail or to the generic agency inbox but requested that I put their name in the subject line so that he / she could look out for it. I also asked for their name and number should I need to follow up on my CV, and called recruiters back if I hadn’t heard from them after 24 to 36 hours. I recommend the calling approach over simply blanket e-mailing your CV to agency accounts as calling someone at the agency makes them immediately accountable to you, and this guarantees that your CV will be reviewed.
  4. Ace Your InterviewsWithin two weeks, I had four interviews lined up. Within 3.5 weeks, I had two job offers while interview interest continued to trickle in. I started work exactly one month after I had landed in London. When I said that the job market moves quickly, I meant it. Most of my friends here have had similar experiences, usually settling into their new positions within 4-6 weeks of landing in the country, though there likely is variance depending on your industry and level. Of course, don’t forget to do your due diligence on the target company and to prepare for your interview as you would back at home. I found the behavioural interviews to be quite similar to North American interviews. Additionally, I would recommend coming up with a tight narrative on why you left your last role, why you moved to the UK for work, and prepare a response for the time horizon that you intend on staying here as appropriate for the role / industry in which you’re seeking employment as these are likely topics of discussion over the course of your interviews.

I’ve attempted to condense my advice into the tips in this post, and I hope that you’ll find this information easily digestible and actionable. Feel free to leave any questions you may have or share your own experiences and tips in the comments below.

So You Want to Work and Live in the UK: The Visa

Since moving to London, many people have asked me about the process of getting a visa and moving here. I’m hoping that this blog series that I’m embarking on will give you a good foundation for deciding whether or not this is the right move for you.

Please note that this information is current as of 18/08/2015. Please consult the gov.uk website for the most up to date visa information.

As a Canadian, the easiest path to make a crack into the UK market is through the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) Visa. The requirements are none too stringent. You are eligible as long as you:

  • are aged 18 to 30
  • don’t have any children or dependents
  • have £1,890 in savings
  • have certain types of British Nationality or are from Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong*, Republic of Korea*, and Taiwan*
  • meet the other eligibility requirements

*You need to be sponsored if you’re from Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea or Taiwan.

A couple of things you should know about the visa:

Visa Validity:

  • The visa is non-renewable – you can only apply for and be approved for this visa once, even if you have multiple nationalities. Once your 24 months is up, you must leave the country.
  • The visa entitles to work or study in the UK.
  • If you turn 31 while you’re in the UK, you can stay for as long as your visa is valid.
  • Important: Note that the date you state in your application as your intended date of arrival is the date that your visa will begin. Make sure you time this appropriately to maximise the amount of time you’re working / studying in the UK so that you don’t waste time on your visa not in the country.

Fees:

If you’re still reading, then that’s pretty much all you need to know. The documents you will need to have to apply are:

  • a current passport or other valid travel ID
  • a passport size colour photograph
  • a bank statement showing you have at least £1,890 in savings
  • your tuberculosis (TB) test results if you’re from a country where you have to take the test

You’ll also need a page in your passport that’s blank on both sides for your visa, and you’ll need to provide a certified translation of any documents that aren’t in English or Welsh.

Finally, some practical notes from personal experience. Note that my application was before the health surcharge was enforced. I applied for the visa online and had to go in to the Toronto UK Visa Office subsequently to give biometrics and submit some of my documents in person – it was quite a bit of a wait during the weekday. Once submitted, it took no longer than 1.5 weeks to get approved. Your passport gets sent to the UK consulate in New York for processing, but they DHL the passport back to Toronto, so it should physically arrive quite soon after your visa is approved. Note of caution – they never notified me by phone or email when my passport had returned from New York. After 4 weeks of furious waiting after my visa was approved, I decided to drop in to the Visa Office in Toronto, and sure enough, my visa was there. Keep this in mind if you’ve already been approved and haven’t heard from the Toronto Visa Office.

I hope this guide helps you navigate the process, and I wish you the very best as you take the first step in embarking on an exciting journey! My own journey began with this step, as getting that visa in my passport made things very real for me. I haven’t looked back since.

Click Here to Apply

Bonus – if you’re 25 or under, do get a 16 – 25 railcard to save 33% on your train journeys (regional trains outside of London; for example, to places like Cambridge, Oxford, Windsor, Edinburgh, etc.).

Share your visa experiences in the comments, or check out the next blogs in the series: So You Want to Work and Live in the UK: Circular Finances or So You Want to Work and Live in the UK: Finding Work on Tier 5.

A Shout Out to the Digital World

Out of, perhaps, obligation, this is my online persona and “business” blog to which I am attaching my name. I endeavour to write about all things digital retail, to humbly share career management and life experiences, and to round it all out with some photography and neat personal projects. Here’s to a new chapter on this domain that I’ve owned since 2010!