Looking for what to do your first month in London? Look no further. Here’s everything you need to know about getting settled in the Big Smoke your first month in London, from a London expat.
Your first month in London is one you’ll always remember. Between the rush of moving to one of the most exciting cities in the world, setting up your life in a new country and figuring out what exactly it means to be a Londoner, it’s easy to forget all the practicals.
Here’s all the things to get done your first month in London to make it smooth sailing from the beginning. And P.S if you’re looking for an in-depth guide to moving to London be sure to check out my ebook Across the Pond: An Expat’s Guide to London Life.
Let’s get into it!
1. Find a Place to Live
The first and most obvious thing you’ll want to do your first month in London is find a place to live.
I’ve had a few women DM me about finding a flat before they move to London but in all honesty, I don’t suggest looking for a permanent flat before you move to London.
It’s best to stay somewhere temporary for your first month in London (whether like be Airbnb, couch surfing, hosteling or a short term rental) while you explore London neighbourhoods, see flats in person and get to know your potential flatmates (a good flatmate is SO important in London, especially since they will most likely be your first friends in the city.
I’ve found all the places I’ve rented in London through Spareroom. But like any London rental, the good ones (heck even the bad ones) go fast.
Because of this, it’s always best to have at least one month’s rent, and a 1-2 month deposit, (add an extra £150-300 if you’re using an agency) saved up so you’re ready to move fast as soon as you find your perfect flat.
Overall, be organized, be patient, be quick and you’ll have no problem finding a place in London.
2. Learn How the Tube Works
Everything you’ll need to do your first month in London from the moment you hop off the plane will require the tube (unless you’re in the .0001% of people driving in London, in which case— skip ahead!).
In all honesty, London public transportation is amazing, it’s fast, reliable (mostly) and gives you tons of downtime to get things done during your commute.
The best way to use the tube is to purchase an Oyster card at your nearest station (London Heathrow, for example) upon your arrival. It’ll charge you a £5 fee to activate the card. I would start with loading about £20 (so total £25) as this should be enough to travel for the week.
There are 6 main zones in London. Your travel fare is calculated based on the number of zones you travel through, for example, travelling from zone 1 to zone 3 would cost £2.80 (off-peak) but travelling from zone 1 to zone 2 would be 2.40.
To save money you’ll also want to try to travel off-peak when you can. Peak hours in London (when it’s busier) are 6:30-9:30am and 16:00-19:00.
You’ll also want to budget in around £60-80 for your monthly transportation costs. However, if you’re constantly taking to tube to work and explore London expect to spend anywhere up to £130-£140 a month on transport.
3. Open a Bank Account
Like moving anywhere you’ll also need to set up a bank account when you move to the UK. The main banks in London are Lloyds, Barclays, (I use Barclays), NatWest, HSBC, Santander, and TSB.
More traditional banks in the UK will often require documents such as your passport, visa and proof of residence. You’ll also need to make an in-person appointment to register (although with COVID this may vary by bank).
However internet banks are more and more popular now and I honestly can’t remember the last time I used a traditional bank. Online banks like Monzo and Revolut are wildly easy to use and sign up for, you just need a UK address and phone number.
Speaking of UK phone numbers…
4. Get a UK number
Getting a UK phone number is pretty straightforward, but there’s a few things to keep in mind.
Firstly make sure your phone is unlocked. This will make it super easy to switch to a UK SIM. The biggest phone providers in the UK are:
Over the years I’ve used EE and GiffGaff (a partner of O2).
If you’re not in London yet you can also get a UK number before you arrive, cool right?
Just order a UK SIM (here’s the one I got) and activate a pay-as-you-go plan for the same month you’re moving to London. You’ll have data as soon as you land in the UK.
Of course, if you’d rather wait until you’re in London (for example, to sign up for a contract) you can visit their stores in person.
Keep in mind the process for contracts is a bit different, as you’ll need to show some documents. This includes proof of identity, your UK address, proof of employment (or university enrollment) and your bank details.
Personally, I prefer the ‘pay-as-you-go’ option as it gives you the freedom to switch providers and upgrade or downgrade your plan easily. The average phone bill floats around £15-20 a month here.
5. Register with your GP
In your first month in London, you’ll need to register with your GP (General Practitioner).
Typically, you could only register at a clinic within a certain radius of your home address. But as of 2015, you can register anywhere that’s convenient for you (i.e., next to your work etc.).
If you’re moving for university your school will have an appointed GP for you to register with. Keep in mind you can only go to the clinic you’ve registered to; however, you can change clinics if you unregister from the first one.
As an expat you’ll need to bring your passport and immigration documents (i.e., your visa and letter of employment or study) to your appointment, which you can book in advance. You may be able to get a walk-in appointment depending on the day.
If you’re worried about choosing the right GP use this handy tool from the NHS to compare GPs in your area.
6. Get Your National Insurance Number
Every UK citizen and resident needs to have an NI number. This is used to pay your taxes and National insurance contributions in the UK and is one of the most important things to do your first month in London.
Some visas have your NI listed on the back of it, otherwise you’ll have to wait until you get to London to apply (unless you’re already a UK citizen of course). Keep in mind until you get your NI number your paycheck can be incorrectly taxed, so get it done ASAP.
You apply by calling their hotline (0800 141 2075) and they’ll follow up with a letter for an appointment. It’ll list the documents you need to bring for proof of identity (i.e., your birth certificate, passport, visa, etc.). Once you complete it, you’ll be sent your NI number in the mail.
P.S – Remember to tell your employer as soon as you get your NI number and email it to yourself just in case
7. Apply for Student Discounts
To this day one of my biggest regrets moving to London is not taking advantage of all the student discounts from the very beginning. Make sure to get a:
• 16-25 Railcard (or 26-30): This gives you discounts on all TfL (make sure you link it to your Oyster card and National Rail travel in the UK). Apply here.
• Student Oyster: Get 30% off adult travel cards and season tickets. Apply here.
• Totum Card: The #1 student discount card and app. Check it out here.
• UNiDAYS: Also great for exclusive discounts and eating out in London. Check it out here.
• Spotify: 50% off for students. Check it out here.
Whenever you’re shopping or eating out there’s never any shame in asking if they have a student discount too! I did this at Gourmet Burger and got 25% off my meal!
8. Estabilsh Grocery Shopping Routine
I don’t know about you but having a grocery routine makes me feel like I have my life together. And it’s definitely one of the easier things to get done your first month in London.
Although there is a bit of a hierarchy to the London grocery scene, I’ve found the quality is high across the board for produce, fruit and veg, whether they’re a budget supermarket or not.
The most popular supermarkets in London are…
• M&S (higher-end)
• Waitrose (higher-end)
• Sainsbury’s (mid-range)
• Tesco (mid-range)
• Asda (budget-friendly)
• Lidl (budget-friendly)
• Aldi (budget-friendly)
You’ll also find tons of shops around like the Co-op and Poundland for picking up bits on the go. And for my Americans, you’ll be pleased to know there’s even a Whole Foods in London!
P.S – Don’t forget grocery bags aren’t free in the UK, so always bring a reusable one when you shop.
9. Join a Gym
Let’s face it, your first month in London may be a bit stressful. And not to be *that* friend, but it’s true — exercise really is good for reducing stress.
Not to mention having a gym routine is a great way to start feeling some normalcy your first month in the city. Here’s a blog post on the most affordable gyms in London. I’m currently a PureGym member!
10. Make Friends
Making friends in any new city is important, but especially so in London. Living in a big city with a busy schedule means it’s all too easy to miss on making connections in your adulthood.
But personally I’m of the belief no matter where you live, it’s the connections that make your experience in the place. I’ve also got a handy blog post on How to Make Friends in London so you’ve got no excuse! 😉
11. Make a London Bucket List
The best part about living in London of course is — living in London! But that’ll all be lost if you don’t make time to explore the city.
Personally I think the best way to go about things is with a plan which is why I highly suggest creating a London bucket list!
Given how big the city is it’s impossible to do everything in a day. But if you make a bucket list and find yourself in a particular area, take it as a chance to tick something off!
You can find my whole London bucket list in Across the Pond: A Young Expat’s Guide to London Life but a few examples could include:
☑ Walk along Westminster Bridge and get a picture in front of Big Ben
☑ Spend a Sunday at Columbia Road Flower Market
☑ Visit St Dunstan’s in the East
☑ Wander through Richmond Park
London is your oyster!
Across the Pond: A Young Expat’s Guide to London Life
And that’s that! All you need to get settled your first month in London. If you’re looking for a more in-depth guide to moving to London be sure to grab my book Across the Pond: A Young Expat’s Guide to London Life with over 200 pages of advice to make life across the pond easier from the moment you land in Heathrow.