Moving from LA to London. What do I need to know?
August 12, 2009 9:22 PM   Subscribe

Hi there, My company is transferring me to London at the end of the month and I haven’t had much time to do some essential research. Part of the problem is I don’t even know the right questions to ask, or the right places to go on the web to find the info I need. Here are a few things that I’d need to know in order to get me started, if anyone is so inclined to lend their knowledge: Apartment, bank, mobile phone, international calls, location, public transit, exemption from US taxes, tying up loose ends in the US. Anything else I may be missing?

APARTMENT – what documentation/qualifications/prerequisites will I need to rent an apartment there? Do I need to have a local bank account or credit established? Will it be a problem if I’m from the US?

BANK – I’ve heard that I should consider setting up an international bank, that way it will be set up before I get there. I’ve also heard that the international fees are outrageous and I should eventually set up an account with a local bank like Lloyds. I’m not sure if it makes much of a difference, but I will be getting paid in pounds. Any recommendations? What do I need in order to open an account (international or local)? I currently bank with Chase in the US.

MOBILE PHONE – can I use my current iPhone that’s under AT&T’s service? And advice on unlocking it vs. selling it here and buying one when I get there (only thing is I don’t want to be without a phone when I first get there since that’s my lifeline)?

For INTERNATIONAL CALLS, should I look into an international plan through a UK carrier, or should I use services like Skype?

LOCATION within my budget– I will be working in Bromley but will most likely want to live somewhere in central London. The train to Bromley leaves from the Victoria station. Any advice on areas to search that would be within my budget (income will be 32,500 pounds p/year)? I’m a single person and happy to live in a modest – but safe – studio.

PUBLIC TRANSIT – I would need M-F access to the train to Bromley, plus 7-days a week access to the underground for sightseeing & exploring. I priced out a monthly pass at 169 pounds per month, but this seems rather high after talking with an acquaintance who recently lived there. Is there a cheaper way to do it?

BICYCLE OR VESPA? - I’m used to having an automobile at my disposal and feel I may miss the freedom of being able to “drive” & arrive quickly to anywhere the public transit may not reach. Anyone have an opinion on whether a bicycle or a scooter may be something to consider? Parking/fees/ theft/plentiful places to lock up a bicycle, etc?

TAXES – Since I will be there for a year and getting paid in pounds, is there anyway to claim exemption from US taxes for the time I am away?

What LOOSE ENDS do I need to tie up in the US if I’m going to be away for one year?
Car insurance, registration, etc.

Anything else that I may be missing? I’d be infinitely grateful for any info you can provide, or web resources you can direct me to.

posted by Danah_78 to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Insurance? Do you have a US forwarding address for mail (a PO box, parent etc.)?
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:29 PM on August 12, 2009

You'd want to get a season pass to Bromley - there are various options (weekly, monthly, yearly etc). I don't know if you could get it on an Oyster card - I doubt (not a Londoner though, nor a commuter, so someone may correct me).

For exploring London, you'll want an Oyster card. You buy it at a tube station, and can top it up online or at a tube station. You swipe the turnstile at the beginning of you journey and the end, and are charged for each journey - but you can only be charged £4 a day (I believe that's where it tops out). The credit isn't time limited either.
posted by djgh at 9:46 PM on August 12, 2009

Season ticket
posted by djgh at 9:47 PM on August 12, 2009

You can likely use the resources on this page to start to unravel your tax questions.

One of your questions should be where you can find a good tax accountant. Because U.S. citizens are taxed on their worldwide income, my expectation would be that you would not avoid tax on your wages while in the UK. There is an exemption that you can learn about through that link to the IRS, but I would doubt you will qualify, given that you expect to return to the U.S. (i.e., you will not have a tax home in a foreign country). Your tax accountant should be thinking about Section 988 foreign currency gain and loss, the exemption I just mentioned, the housing allowance rules, travel expense deductions, and (ooh, you'll love this) possibly foreign bank account reporting, and about a dozen other things. No TurboTax for you.

IANYL, this is not tax advice, and is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding U.S. tax-related penalties or promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related matters addressed herein.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:53 PM on August 12, 2009

Banking - if you're only there for a year, I wouldn't be too concerned about banking. Many ex-pats use Citibank... With 1 location. Opening up a bank account is a huge PITA.
But a lot of utilities are direct transfer. My rent was too.

American car - Geico let me put my car on a special storage insurance plan.

Housing - finding a place in London is a huge PITA. Worst week of my life was marching between brokers offices begging for listings. I paid a lot to live on the edge of zone 1. Are you sure you don't want housdmates?

Transit - you're there a year. A Vespa? Impractical. Maybe a bike but biking in London is nuts. I'd try to test the waters with buses and the Tube.

Don't be dumb like me and buy stuff that you don't need - like a DVD player or nice pots and pans. Get everything used. It is only a year!

There are tons of moving to London threads BTW.
posted by k8t at 10:04 PM on August 12, 2009

Are you replacing a different ex-pat at the end of their tour? If so, call that person and ask the same question as well as see what you can buy used from that person.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:13 PM on August 12, 2009

Housing - they can, and will, do a cross-Atlantic credit check. Get to know Gumtree. Otherwise, no, you don't need anything else, especially if you bypass the estate agent.

Banking - Stay with Chase. They charge $3.00 per withdrawal. Citibank used to used to be free if you used their ATMs, but since they changed their policy it's extortionate. Not recommended. Any anyway, your company should help you with this.

International Calling - Cannot imagine why anyone would not use Skype. In fact, you could even pick up a Skype phone when you're there.

Everything else - you may be overthinking this a bit, if you don't mind me saying so. You're going over there to live, not being sent on a reconnaissance mission. Go with the flow, and enjoy.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 10:14 PM on August 12, 2009

Citi or HSBC are likely to be better than Chase for international banking: more branches (esp. HSBC), and better set up to deal with dollar and sterling accounts.

Location: a centralish 1-bed/studio flat is likely to run you around £300-350/week, which means "half your income". I'm not sure if that's ideal: most single new arrivals in London end up in shares. You can knock that down to under £1000 per calendar month by looking further out -- and probably south of the river, given your workplace. You aren't going to miss a huge amount by being in Denmark Hill or East Dulwich, which are basically on the line towards Bromley from Victoria.

(Don't discount the option of sharing: it may sound like returning to student existence, but if you're young and want to spend your non-work time enjoying the city, you're going to find plenty of people in the same situation, including Americans on transfers. That can be a good way to land on your feet, though it can also be a nightmare.)

The US and UK have a tax treaty to avoid double-taxation. Read IRS Publication 54 [pdf] and talk to whoever in your company gets paid to deal with this stuff, because somebody probably does.

For public transport, I'd probably lean towards starting with a month-long rail season ticket for the commute, then deciding whether a Tube pass or pay-as-you-go is better for your non-work travel. If you're in Zone 2, commuting to Zone 5, but wanting to spend time in Zone 1 on some (but not all) evenings and weekends, a 1-5 Travelcard (the £169 option) may be more expensive than a season ticket and pay-go, especially if you're on a bus route.

(Ask your employer if there's the possibility of a season ticket loan, which will allow you the additional discount of an annual travel pass that you pay back in monthly installments.)

Don't even consider a bike/scooter until you reach the point when you look right instead of left when crossing the road. And understand roundabouts. For that, rent a car for a couple of sightseeing weekends first. I have friends who cycle-commute, but from the outer to inner part of the city; they are also British and have developed the London savvy to do so.
posted by holgate at 10:24 PM on August 12, 2009

use the website www.moneysavingexpert for advice re certain things like phones, insurance bank accounts etc.

1) getting an apartment should be no hassle at all provided you can prove you have regular income to cover the rent. But I would have thought your company should assist with this if they are relocating you?

2) Banking. Citibank is probably your best bet, I believe they let you hold a £ account and a $ account making it easy to transfer between both. See if you can set it up before you go online to save a headache.

3) do not use your iphone in the UK unless you unlock it and use a UK sim card. The cost will be ££££. You can pick up a cheap pay as you go - much cheaper here than in the US (no cost to receive calls here, you only pay for calls that you make

4) if your new flat will have a landline already it doesn't cost a lot to make international calls if you set it up with the carrier or use calling cards. But skype will be way cheaper, and you'll probably have a better connection. If you aren't going to have a landline, you could always set up a number through skype for your non-skype users to call (this can be a US number too to make cheaper for them if you want).

Can't help on the latter points as I don't live there but hopefully the above helps. Defo get an Oyster card. I for some bizarre reason haven't yet, and everytime I head London-bound I waste money!
posted by nunoidia at 11:50 PM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

PS - if you do move out of central london (no real reason to live in central london if you ask me, the transport system is so good) Greenwich is lovely. And Bromley bikable from there, and doable on public transport.
posted by nunoidia at 11:54 PM on August 12, 2009

If you can payout your iPhone and unlock it, do so. You will then want to go to O2 (UK carrier). Check to see that your flat actually has a phoneline. Ours doesn't and we've had a nightmare trying to get one installed (no luck yet)

Rent here is hellacious. A large number of professionals share with more than one other person. It's not like being a student again, and it also gets around the difficulty of finding your own place to live.

Don't ship all your worldly possessions - it's expensive and time-consuming to do so.

If you do choose to cycle, buy a beaten up second hand bike. Theft here is very high.
posted by wingless_angel at 12:13 AM on August 13, 2009

I moved to London from the US last year. First of all, I second everything holgate said above.

London is expensive and I'd consider what others have said about looking for a share. Especially, if you're only going to be here a year. Let's work through some numbers:

At 32.5K a year, your monthly take-home is about 2K, using this calculator.

Now, keep in mind that when a place rents for 300/wk then the total monthly rent will be about as follows:
300*52weeks/12 months = 1300/mo

If you have your own place, then there's a council tax of anywhere from about £30-100 a month. So, even if you want to spend half your income on rent, you should ideally be looking at places for 200-250 a month. To me, that means either a lot of searching, a share, or living outside of central London - as others have suggested.

If you do get your own apartment, they wont look into your US credit history. They will check your employment and verify your income, primarily.
posted by vacapinta at 1:20 AM on August 13, 2009

Vonage? Personally I prefer open platforms but you could potentially take a vonage phone line with a US number (maybe even port your current number to them) and a UK number with free calls to US so people can get in touch with you seamlessly. This could help you cushion the sudden nature of your move.

Cell Phones here are not very expensive and you should be able to use your unlocked GSM phone or get one here. Try not to sign up for a 18 or 24 month contract, call charges are dropping all the time thanks to the EU regulator so things can be very different 12 months from now.
posted by london302 at 2:08 AM on August 13, 2009

Best answer: Funs! I moved here over 2 years ago and I was pretty anxious about it at first but seriously, I wouldn't dream of changing my decision at all.

APARTMENT – Avoid estate agents if you can. Go on gumtree. Ask your co-workers. See if your work will cover you to stay in a B&B or hotel for the first week or two while you are here until you find a place. Mine did. You will probably have to share (London is ghastly expensive) but I think that would be good for you to get more exposed to the country. The other mefites are right, it's really common for people to share, just cross your fingers you find nice people. You should know that it is quite common for rentals to list their rent on a weekly basis. Do NOT multiply by 4 for the monthly rent. You actually have to multiply by 52 (weeks in a year) and then divide by 12 (months). On top of that ask if council tax is included, because property tax is liable to the renter and is also on a weird cycle where they skip January and February. I know, it's weird, get used to it.

Have at least £500 in hand ready for a deposit. On second thought, bring as much cash as you are comfortable with because transfer fees are a bitch.

BANK – I don't know about international banks but don't get an offshore account like NatWest Jersey, trust me from experience they are a hassle. Your work should be able to provide some sort of way to "vouch" for you to open up a current account (what they call checking accounts here) because you will have no previous address or income to speak of. Talk to HR there. NatWest (local), Alliance & Leicester are the two I deal with. They're ok. Avoid RBS and Northern Rock, they are having issues.

MOBILE PHONE – Sorry can't help much, my work gave me mine. You CAN buy a pay as you go SIMs pretty easily and you can top up from practically anywhere (convenience stores, petrol stations, grocery stores, ATM machines). Vendors you can use easily: O2, TMobile, Vodafone, Orange, Carphone Warehouse.

I would think Skype is the obvious answer, but depending on where you end up living, see if your housemates have Sky as their cable company. They also do a telephone plan that lets you have free international calls for up to an hour (you can hang up and call again to be free again). That's what I do. Keep in mind that the 8 hour time difference sometimes makes it difficult to keep in touch with folks back home. I call my mom once a week on a Saturday afternoon - her morning - because that's the only time we can really fit.

LOCATION within my budget – Again, I would really suggest you make an effort to find some nice folks to live with. Especially if it's just a year. Take advantage of this fantastic opportunity! Drinking, eating, and living in London is expensive, you will appreciate every £ you save in rent.

PUBLIC TRANSIT – Follow the other people's advice above.

BICYCLE OR VESPA? - You won't miss a car. Public transit is great (though expensive if you don't use Oyster or something like that) and it's really common for people to walk everywhere. I don't know how friendly the city is for biking though, sorry. I personally wouldn't get a Vespa though, the drivers here freak me out. Oh and as a pedestrian a word of warning, you do NOT have the right of way so don't be embarrassed to read the little "Look left/Look right" signs on the street! :D

TAXES – I believe that you're ok making £32k to not pay US taxes but check the IRS websites for citizens living abroad. Your UK taxes will be deducted automatically. Is £32k before or after taxes? If it's before taxes, you are actually only going to be earning £24k and I am pretty confident you will have to look into sharing a flat in this case.

What LOOSE ENDS do I need to tie up in the US if I’m going to be away for one year?
Car insurance, registration, etc.

- Check if your driver's license is going to expire while you're away.
- Secure a US address for correspondence, route all mail there.
- Are you going home for Christmas? Buy your tickets now.
- Check check and double check that you have all your documentation ready for inspection at immigration.
- Don't forget to buy US to UK plug adapters for your chargers. Other than your computer and phone, don't bother with any other electronics.
- In fact, prepare to pack light, so sell what you can and secure storage for all your other stuff. You can buy everything here and the storage here is TINY compared to LA. That is, if you have any storage at all!
- Prepare for the fact that it's expensive. I know I've said that a lot already but I've known several ex-pats who really struggled with this notion. It doesn't matter that the pound is stronger than the dollar because things aren't cheaper. A $5 burger in the states is £5 here, which means it is closer to $8. Hope that make sense? I effectively got a pay cut when I moved here. But it was worth it. The best way to prepare is to have an open mind for your new adventure! :)
posted by like_neon at 3:09 AM on August 13, 2009

UK-Yankee forums are a great resource.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 6:03 AM on August 13, 2009

Another thought about finding flatmates to share with: It'll almost certainly cut down on the cost for household items, like kitchen utensils, pots, pans, and other durable goods. If your flatmates already have these things and don't mind sharing, you'll save a lot of money not having to buy them once you get there.
posted by booknerd at 12:23 PM on August 13, 2009

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