I know, I still haven’t moved out of London. I’m still here, getting the tube every day and reading TimeOut every Tuesday. However, I’d like to talk about my experience living in London these last two years because London isn’t everything that people think it is.
Don’t worry, I still think London has a lot of great qualities and it was a great experience for me, something that I’ve always wanted to do and I feel happy that I’ve done it. But I think that people come to London expecting the perfect place, where getting a job is easy and people are accepting of you, when this isn’t exactly true.
So today, I’d like to tell you about the biggest cons about living in London in my opinion. It is going to be a bit negative, so please, only read this if you’d like to hear my honest thoughts.
Jobs: It is relatively easy to find a job in London, most of my students have succeeded in doing this without much trouble. However, the kind of jobs that they are able to get are as waiters, cooks and shop assistants. Now calm down, I’m not saying these are bad jobs in any way! But most of my students are trained architects, lawyers, journalists, economists, insurance workers, you name it.
So when people say that it’s easy to find a job in the UK, they’re right, it is, but probably not in your area of expertise. My students are willing to work in these places because they know that they need to improve their English before they can apply for jobs in their area, but the sad truth is that most of these jobs are taken by foreigners, which means they don’t really get a chance to practise. It’s like a vicious circle.
My experience with getting a job in London wasn’t great. I tried applying to all kinds of shops but, because I didn’t have any job experience, I wasn’t able to get one and had to go back to Portugal. So for me it wasn’t easy at first. Not even as a teacher. It seems that what you really need to get a job here is not a degree, but job experience.
Living costs (rent): When you compare the minimum wage in the UK to the minimum wage in your country, most of the time you’ll think “Wow, that’s pretty good”. The thing is that people don’t know how expensive London actually is.
Rent is getting higher and higher. I remember looking for a studio flat in 2012 and going to see one in Finchley (North London). It was £700 a month, utilities included, which was expensive but not too bad compared to others. When I got there, it turned out to be someone’s garage. It had a decent sized bathroom, but a tiny room. If you wanted to have room to stand you had to lift your mattress. There was a tiny table that folded to make room for the bed, and a sink with one burner for you to cook in. I still can’t believe how the estate agent had the audacity to actually make it sound like a good choice. I mean look, it has some attic space for storage and the family who own the house are so friendly! And the buses are 10 minutes away and the underground a 15 minute bus ride away, so convenient!
For £500 a month you’d be lucky to get a tiny room in a small apartment with no living room because that was converted into an extra room. The living situation in London is not great and it isn’t easy either! When you view a house, if you don’t make an offer immediately, someone else will take it while you weigh the pros and cons of renting the place.
Living costs (transport): Yes, public transport in London actually is reliable (most of the time) and you do have lots of options. There are buses, the tube and the national rail. But! Yes, sorry, there are lots of buts and howevers in this post.
Because all public transport in the UK is actually owned by private companies, the price for transport is extremely high. A monthly bus ticket is around £80, a monthly underground ticket (zones 1 and 2) is £124,50. And although public transport is good, there are many signal failures and complications that cause endless delays and cancelations. Bus drivers stop mid-route and whenever it rains chaos descends upon the city, which was very surprising to me. I mean, a country that is famous for having grey and wet weather should be prepared for it, right?
When travelling around London, never expect it to be quick, either. Commuting 40 minutes or more is considered normal in London. Sometimes I wondered why more people didn’t live outside of London because it would take the same amount of time to commute. But then I remembered how expensive national rail services are.
Working in London: Although the minimum wage might be higher than in other countries, the normal pay isn’t that much better. In comparison to Portugal, I earned twice as much there for the same amount of hours I worked in my first year in London.
And even if you manage to get a decent salary, the high cost of living will take most of that away from you. Not to mention that whenever you go out in London you always end up spending £10-£20 without even noticing! Things like coffee and other drinks, as well as sandwiches and snacks are overpriced.
Acceptance: London is very accepting of different fashion styles and of new ideas, but deep down, it’s still not very accepting of foreigners. Employers often abuse them and make them work extremely long hours for low pay. They are taken advantage of by companies due to their low English speaking skills.
You can see how English people actually feel about foreigners when you see things like this EU referendum that’s happening at the moment.
People: People here are always in a rush. They get angry easily and most of the time this leads to pushing and shoving and impoliteness. It’s an unwritten rule on the underground that you shouldn’t make eye contact with your fellow commuters. Instead of asking people to let them pass, Londoners groan angrily and loudly.
If you’ve ever ridden the underground, or any kind of public transport in the world, you know that first you let the passengers off, and then you board. I thought this was common sense, especially in London, where you constantly have station staff saying that through their loud speakers, but a lot of people try to push their way onto the trains, as if it was going to leave without them.
Yes, London is a great city to visit. It’s full of art and free entertainment. It’s diverse in its culture and food and it is accepting of different styles. But the truth about London is that it isn’t easy to live in. It’s stressful and unfriendly. It’s grey and sometimes depressing. You are constantly worried about money. It’s tiring and I’m sick of it. Two years was enough.
Of course, I’ve had wonderful experiences and London does have amazing places to visit. And people should come here and explore it. But I’m tired of seeing students arriving all happy and excited and then realising that actually, London is not that great. I want people to come here with their eyes open and to know that it isn’t easy. It’s far from perfect.
If the price of transport was lower, people would be able to live outside of the city and commute in, which would make the living situation a lot better. But hey, I have no power over this, I don’t even have the right to vote in the EU referendum even though I work and pay taxes here.
So please, when you decide to move to London, don’t think it’s all fun and games. Life is tough here, like in most places. It’s extremely competitive and stressful.
Sorry, this turned out to be a little bit more negative than I expected, but it’s all true. I hope it’s useful and please, if you live in London or if you’ve visited it I’d like to hear your opinion of it.
Until next time,