Karla Canary Wharf

10 Things I wish I knew before moving to London

Karla Brown, International Consultant

Moving to London is an incredible and life-changing experience, there’s no doubt about it. However, sometimes a few small pieces of advice can go a long way before conquering the hustle and bustle of the big city.

1. Always stand to the right

Here's a great piece of advice for navigating public transport in London. When standing on the escalator both inside train stations and anywhere within the city, always stand to the right. Londoners are very specific about this rule and you WILL get yelled at (literally) if you don’t obey. The left is for walking only. Be prepared, if you do take it on, walk at a steady pace. Don’t worry, by the time I left I was certainly a walker….’aint nobody got time for that.

2. CityMapper is a must (especially for supply teaching)

Download it on your phone now because this app will be your saving grace when navigating around the streets of London, or finding your way to a destination. CityMapper will allow you to set your desired location whether it be an address, name of a shop or landmark, and will provide you with recommended ways to get there. It will give you information on taxi / uber prices, how much public transport will cost and which lines to take, all the way down to where to sit on the tube. 

3. For great/reasonable coffee find an Australian cafe

Brickwood, Milk or Clapham Common are generally the go-to locations to find a coffee that taste like home. I struggled in my first month to enjoy the taste of a nice cup of soul juice, but after a chance encounter with a stranger at Pret (like Starbucks) I had that familiar taste back again. There is a delicious range of Australian and New Zealand cafes in London that have great baristas who will give you that caffeine fix.

4. Don’t convert pounds to dollars once you start earning

It’s so easy to do, convert to what you know; a trap that many people fall into when moving to a new country. It’s fine for when you first move to the UK and you’re transferring Australian / New Zealand money into pounds, but once you start to earn in pounds, spend in pounds. Spend what you earn and don’t convert back and forth. It will make it so much easier for budgeting purposes and for ease of mind. Check out Global Reach for a quick and easy way to transfer money across bank accounts.

5. You will never have time to do everything

There is so much to do and see in London, let alone Europe. Your list might be long and full of amazing aspirations but remember, you will never be able to do it all. Enjoy and embrace the time you have there. Remember not to burn yourself out either, give yourself permission to spend some weekends on the couch, recharging the batteries. You are living there, not on a really long holiday. That being said, soak it in, get out when you can and enjoy the big city! Balance, Balance, Balance!

6. Try not to stop at Bank (...not a bank, Bank Station)

Bank is the absolute worst! I seriously felt like I was walking across the city anytime I had to change platforms or just leave. It’s like a rabbit warren, and after two years, I can safely say I think I always came out a different exit (which was never where I wanted to be). I learnt pretty quickly that if you don’t have to get off at Bank, don’t.

7. Take advantage of all the freebies

London can be expensive enough as it is, fortunately there is always something happening around the city that is free. From Trooping to the Colour, deer spotting in Richmond Park, West End Live and so, so much more. Alternatives for paid activities can also be found, such as Sky Garden instead of The Shard and lottery tickets for events. Picking up a Time Out magazine every Tuesday is your best bet for advice on what’s on throughout the coming week. It’s a must for any Londoner looking for a great, cheap time over the weekend. 

8. It can be lonely....but you’re not alone

It almost seems impossible to feel alone in a city that big but trust me, everyone feels it. And that’s OK. The best course of action is to get out and about, join a sporting team, go to one of our Smarties in London events, join a Meet Up group, ask a fellow teacher out to coffee. In no time at all you will have a great support network. The friends I made in London are some of the closest that I have ever made, they become like your family away from home. 

9. A good pair of shoes and a thick winter coat will go a long way

Coming from sunny Central Queensland, I was certainly knocked for six moving over in the midst of winter. A good winter coat and thick pair of shoes for once you get there will be a saving grace. I waited until I got there to buy a puffer jacket and boots as my choices were quite limited where I moved from, but saying that coats and shoes in London are made for London. Shoes are generally better quality to help walking on the cobblestones, but be warned, they will wear out very quickly!

10. Find great apps! 

TodayTix, Fever, Groupon are just a few great apps to help save some money. Check out ticket apps to score lottery tickets to West End shows, Fever and Groupon for cheap movie tickets and a great selection of activities and getaways with a nice saving. You will find your inner budgeter in London.

London is an amazing city full of opportunity, but unlike any place, it’s only what you make it. The best stories come from people who get out and try. I’m not going to lie, I was certainly daunted when I first moved over and there were times that it would have been so easy to just stay at home. Getting out there and trying new things (safely) is what it is all about. My last piece of advice is to learn from others. Talk, share and listen to what people have learnt. If you find out about a great upcoming event let others know. 

Enjoy your London adventure!


If you’re an overseas teacher thinking of teaching in the UK, we would love to hear from you.  Our international team aim to support those thinking of heading abroad to teach in London- it's a big move, but it doesn't have to be.  Please contact us with your CV today.