A couple of Aussies living in London: Part 1 – Our Story
We have had so many people come up to us and ask us …
“How do you pack up everything and move across the other side of the world?”
I’m not going to lie, this was not easy. It took a few years to convince Jenna that it’s all possible, in fact, it took a move from our home in Brisbane to my new role in Sydney to realise just how easy, with the right attitude, it is to relocate to a new city, slot into that new job and make more (not replacement) close friends!
My point is, it really just depends from individual to individual as to how comfortable you will be with the thought of moving abroad. I enjoy being adventurous, trying new things and taking risks. I never want to regret deferring a decision or saying no. If it ends up being a mistake, you simply learn from it and follow another path.
This is part 1 to a series of posts that will take you through our journey of relocating from Australia to the United Kingdom, specifically the following:
Part 1: Our story
Part 3: Arriving in the UK. Where to live? setting up your internet, utility bills, bank accounts, National Insurance Number
Part 4: Living & Working in London. How to find work, UK Doctors & NHS, Driving in the UK, day to day shopping & transferring money to and from the UK
Part 5: Travelling Europe and how to make the best of your available time, including many travel tips!
The globetrotting really started as part of my career, which has been with one of the big 4 accounting firms. The firm has provided many opportunities which I believe triggered a love affair of exploring the world. I have worked in Brisbane (Australia), Sydney (Australia), London (UK), Budapest (Hungary) as well as Atlanta (USA). Living abroad can benefit your career, but more importantly benefits you personally. The people, the culture and things you see every day expands your thoughts and somehow creates a common connection with people irrespective of their cultural background or beliefs.
I put my agility down to my childhood, having moved homes and cities consistently throughout, I don’t think there was ever a house we lived in for more than 2 years, and when I was 16 my family decided to take the plunge and we moved from South Africa to Australia. But for Jenna, she grew up in the same house, went to the same school and went on the same annual holiday, until she met me that is! Now on one hand Jenna was very fortunate to have grown up in the same area, being involved in many team sports and having many life-long friends…
But we both really got itchy feet after my 3 month short-term assignment to London in 2010. Mind you, this was the longest Jenna and I had been apart and it was quite challenging given the 9 hour time difference, having to find and make time for a quick call either first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Time in general during the assignment passed very slowly as I refrained from exploring London as felt I needed to wait for Jenna to arrive, which is when we got a taste of Europe on an incredible 7 week European adventure!
Having had that taste of Europe, we simply needed to get back there and once we decide on doing something, there’s not a great deal that will get in our way! As for my feelings for making the decision … excitement for the unknown!
Once you’ve made the decision to go, the rest comes naturally. You need to sort out a lot of admin… At the time, it feels like the never-ending list of things to do – to give you an idea…
- Create a checklist of what you need to do!
- Valid passport and relevant visas applications
- Visa’s generally need medical checks
- Booking flights and temporary accommodation
- Obtaining an international driving permit
- Buying travel insurance
- Notifying the relevant organisations, your bank, superannuation fund and so forth
- Registering as overseas voter with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)
- Redirection of your mail with Australia post
- Sorting out your finances, taxes, bank accounts
- Selling, storing and packing up your belongings!
- Saying goodbye!!
I’ve only included the most obvious and must do tasks! We’ll have a separate post focussing on much, much more that may be relevant to you and your family.
Having tossed up the idea of moving abroad independently, researching visa options, looking at job opportunities and investing countless hours we decided to move across with the firm that I was working for – this ended up being such as simple process, we literally just did what we were told, completed the documents and quickly sent them (to the Philippines!) to be processed. Now, clearly as we learnt, there are some downsides to these tricky Tier 2 (intra-company transfer) visas and something to be mindful of is that you’re sponsored, and very much linked to that organisation. If your circumstances change, or you simply want a change in your career, you’ll find it very difficult finding another employer that is willing to take over your sponsorship, and annoyingly if you want to re-apply independently, you will be required to return to your home country and start the process over from scratch!
In the meantime, we started looking at flights and decide when we would like to head over… we’ve never been skiing so needed to make sure we were there, settled and well prepared for the ski season in the Alps, so we decided to finish up work in September 2013, said farewell to our family and friends in Brisbane (as we were living in Sydney at the time) and arrived in London in October 2013 to start our adventure!
Now, taking it back to the boring admin bits… once the visa and flights are sorted, you need sort the rest of your life out! For us, this meant finding a 8 month rental agreement to tide us over until we left the country… thankfully we got something (not great) fairly quickly, but to make it work, we had to move from a very spacious 2 bedroom apartment, down to a 1 bedroom apartment… Now, at the time we thought this was challenging, listing the spare bed and a few items that wouldn’t fit into a 1 bedroom apartment on Gumtree and eBay. The months quickly passed by and whilst I was sorted with my role abroad, Jenna also needed to look for a job in London. She managed to arrange a few video conferences and phone calls and at a massive relief got a gig before even leaving the country!
I’ve become a great delegator, certainly one of my strengths, so whilst I avoided it as much as possible, Jenna was frantically working on selling all of our remaining furniture, white goods, decorative items and a lot of our clothing as we couldn’t take it all with us. This could have been a full-time job! She spent every morning, evening and weekend advertising, taking photos, negotiating and arranging pick ups of items. The last thing to go was our fridge, washing machine and bed.. Soon, our place was filled with only a few boxes we wanted to store with our family in Brisbane, and the bare essentials (including our Christmas tree!) we needed to relocate with us to London. We had about a week left between the date of the removalists and our flight, so we thought we would rough it given our prior camping experience, and we were convinced we would be able to sleep on the floor of our apartment with some old blankets and pillows… It lasted a total of 2 nights before we booked a hotel in the city to get a good night’s sleep!
Now, I should say that the removalists were simply amazing. They literally packed all our remaining belongings for us, wrapped each individual plate, glass and ornaments. You’re not meant to pack your own boxes given the risk of damage – these guys certainly know how to pack and what not to pack when they loan your manifest of belongings into the steel containers, which in reality ends up bruised and battered along its journey on the back of the truck, moved again and again with the gantry crane to balance out the ship perfectly to make sure it withstands the brutal, yet perfect storms in its voyage across the world.
The thing you really struggle with is the fact that the voyage takes around 12 weeks for your goods to arrive, clear customs and get delivered to your new home. You need to take what you need during this time with you in your luggage or risk spending a small fortune.
Arriving in London
It all starts to sink in… you’re sitting in your allocated seat on your one way flight to thousands of miles across the other side of the world… You start to get butterflies in your tummy and wonder if you’re doing the right thing! The moment the plane starts to take off, the most incredible sense of excitement hits you… we were no longer nervous, but excited to go on this next chapter of our lives.
We landed at Heathrow Airport and it was buzzing, it was so incredibly busy with people going in every direction and all in a hurry. We headed straight to the luggage carousel only to find my luggage was mistakenly taken! That’s not what we needed on day 1! Having reported it to the Emirates lost baggage crew we disheartedly left for our hotel in London, by the time we arrived I received a call from Emirates to notify me that my luggage has been located and it was a simple mistake of a fellow passenger who also had a very inconspicuous grey suitcase… the only struggle here was that my luggage was now in Reading, a couple hours in the wrong direction! I honestly cannot fault Emirates, there were fantastic, my bag was collected and delivered to my hotel that same evening – problem solved!
London in October was a bit of a shock to the system! It was freezing cold (well, we thought it was!) and we weren’t dressed appropriately that’s for sure! But for Jenna, she was like a little girl, ecstatic about the fact that she could see her own breath each time she exhaled! This honestly remained a novelty for Jenna for the entire two years we lived there – haha.
We had booked a hotel for the first couple of nights before relocating to our pre-arranged (and paid for) 2 week temporary accommodation in St Albans (which is where my office was based). So, in the freezing cold and rain we took the express train to St Albans followed by a brisk 15 minutes walk to our temporary accommodation. The woman meeting us was over an hour late and didn’t answer her phone! We were cold, wet and very tired – not a good combination! Nevertheless, she finally arrived spent the evening in our very warm and cozy 1 bedroom apartment with an electric fireplace – it was exactly what we needed that night!
Living in London
Again, we were pretty lucky as we had a relocation agent arranged for us through the firm. We had to narrow down an area in which we wanted to live and she would focus her search and inspections in that area. We only had a half a day so we had to see as many as possible. Having spoken to a few people, we decided on West Hampstead as it was a 6 km jog away from Oxford Circus and has great access to public transport, the Jubilee line, overground, national rail and plenty of buses! Even with the notorious London tube strikes, we were never stuck without an alternative.
The relocation agent raced us through 10 flats, and after the first 5 we weren’t hopeful at all… They were awful, tiny, dark and I’m sure some parts of the flat certainly wouldn’t have been of legal height in Australian terms! However, we then came across two potentials properties… the first preference was withdrawn from the market and we were thankfully approved for our second preference. It was a nice, above our budget, 2 bedroom, spacious flat with plenty of cupboard space! The kitchen was tiny, but since we didn’t plan on spending much time cooking it didn’t bother us too much!
We were able to sign a 2 year lease which took the stress out of having to look after only being in the country for a year, so it worked out perfectly! The other positive is that the market in London can often mean you can offer less rent per week than the asking price! So we managed to save £30 per week on our rent!
Working in London
For the both of us, work was sorted out prior to arriving in London. This took a lot of stress out of the actual move. It let us focus solely on the move and getting settled in.
As I said earlier, I was based in St Albans, a city located in Hertfordshire and Jenna was working at More London near the tower of London. Of a morning, Jenna would jump on the Jubilee line to London Bridge and I would get on to the National Rail to St Albans. Quite simple actually!
Working in London certainly has its benefits…. but the culture and quirky customs can be tricky. But luckily there is always someone for everyone. You’ll no doubt find colleagues who have been in similar situations or know someone who has been, straight away you’ll have something to talk about, it’s just finding out who you ‘click’ with. The easy bit is to ensure you sign up to the social club, the hard bit is to make the effort to go to events and build that relationship! I have met people I normally would not have come across. These experiences have reduced my own animosity and in turn has made it easier to work with people who have different cultural backgrounds.
Working and living in London is a great base if you love to travel as you can see all of Europe. It is so easy to leave work on a Friday afternoon, jump on a flight to anywhere in Europe and fly back to London on the Sunday evening, giving you ample time to see most cities! For more information on this, read our blog on making the most of your available time!
I would recommend living in London to anyone that asks me!
It was the most incredible two years we’ve ever had. We were able to increase our country count to 38 countries with a total of around 226 cities. Something that never would have been possible without living abroad.
Watch this space for our upcoming posts specifically around the ins and outs of moving to London and getting yourself set up.
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Anonymous