Jumping the pond, where to live?
July 27, 2006 4:27 PM   Subscribe

I will soon be transferring from San Diego, CA to the UK. The office is near Farnborough, Hampshire but from what I can tell, I don't want to be living there. I am debating between living in London with a 40 minute train commute (from Waterloo), versus living in another town closer to work and probably cheaper rent. What to do?

I'm 27, won't know a soul there, and will be making about 30k GBP. I grew up in San Francisco and also lived in Los Angeles for a while so I'm used to busy cities. On the other hand, I love visiting New York but sometimes I found it overwhelming.

For those familiar with the San Diego area, currently I live in the North Park/Hillcrest/South Park area and I just love it. For those that don't know, it's kinda artsy, indie, hippie with small cafes, divey bars, independent restaurants and near a great park, not really like downtown, which I don't like too much. I don't know if it will make a difference but I'm an Asian female.

1) Should I live in London? If so, what are some good areas to start investigating given my situation? Are there cool areas near the Waterloo station?
2) Should I live outside of London? Anyone have advice about Reading, Guildford and Woking in particular?

When's the next London Mefi meetup? ;)
posted by like_neon to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
London on £30k will be a tough deal - one of the world's most expensive cities for rent. There are plenty of small towns and villages along that corridor and beyond which would give you a flavour of England (as opposed to London - not the same, rather like New York and the US.) It really depends on how much/whether you feel the need of a cosmopolitan mileu. Reading is a biggish University town. Woking and Guildford are both prosperous, but perhaps not very cosmopolitan.
posted by A189Nut at 5:25 PM on July 27, 2006

OK, note that I haven't even been to London but a good friend of mine is right now in the process of getting a job/house/etc in the UK, having moved there from Australia.

He wanted to live in London for the social life but could not find an engineering job there so accepted one way up north. He's earning more than twice what you are and could barely afford the rent on a shoebox in London... so I guess what I'm saying is that you do not want to live in London unless you're earning a shirtload and actually working right in the city.

For reference, he was paying on the order of GBP200 per week for a one-bedroom hole in the city. Where he's moved to (County Durham), that gets you an awesome 2 bedroom place.

I've no idea where you'll find artsy hippie places. If Farnborough is half as far from the big smoke as I think it is, your commute would be prohibitively expensive even if you were getting free accommodation (ha!) in London.

I shall now defer to the Londoners who actually know what they're talking about...
posted by polyglot at 5:29 PM on July 27, 2006

I'd recommend a short-term let near your office to start with, and then look for a place that suits you when you're over here. The M4 corridor is a wealthy part of the country, but the cities along it are generally modern depressing places, full of Warner villages and that strange breed of west London chav.

It is possible to live in London for 30k, but the commute would be a pain. I'd look for somewhere closer to where you work.
posted by derbs at 5:41 PM on July 27, 2006

well, I'm barely making 10K (if that) working in retail, and living in North London. Admittedly I'm doing the flat sharing thing, so rent ain't too bad.

You'll find it difficult finding anything terribly artsy/indie/hippie in hampshire, or pretty much anywhere outside of the "major" city/ies.

On the other hand, you may regret commuting out of London everyday. Why not live somewhere between work and London? Pretty much anywhere around hampshire/surrey etc. is going to be at least a little swanky.
posted by iamcrispy at 5:52 PM on July 27, 2006

I don't know if it will make a difference but I'm an Asian female.

You may well be the only "Asian" person for quite some distance, if you live outside London. You might get stared at, if you end up living in a small town or village. And the inverted commas are there because "Asian" to most people in England means sub-continental, Indian/Pakistani etc.

What do people in the UK say for Chinese/Japanese/Vietnamese people, East Asian people? Just use the nationality? Surely nobody says "Oriental" any more?

Anyway, short answer, there is nothing "artsy, indie, hippie with small cafes, divey bars" about that part of the UK and you should prepare yourself to suck it up or commute from London, which might be pretty hard going.

But I don't want to sound too negative. Maybe you'll really get into English small-town village life. Morris Dancing? Folk music? Harvest Festivals? Brass-Rubbing? Developing a snobbery about Real Cider as opposed the the big corporate ciders? Maybe you'll get into that stuff instead of your inner-city hipster thing that you've got going on at the moment?

Seriously, I recommend that you stay near work for at least a few weeks as derbs says -- there'll be a lot to get used to, jet lag, unfamiliar food, money, language -- why make things extra hard for yourself at the start? Find your feet and then make the decision about commuting/living locally.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:59 PM on July 27, 2006

As a North American who has lived in both London and 50 minutes outside of London, I'd say that one thing to consider is how completely different London is to the rest of England. Living outside London was like going backwards in time - nothing was open at what I consider reasonable hours, everything was soooo slow, nothing was logical or efficient, transport was terrible...I could go on. If you are at all inpatient (like me), or need constant stimulation (like me) - go for London. I am in the process of moving back there, even though it will mean an hour commute each way for me - I couldn't stand living outside the city.

That being said, I second derbs' advice - look for a short let near your office, and go from there. You may fall in love with Farnborough (though having visited a friend who works at the BAE office there, I doubt it!). This is all coming from a North American who still hasn't gotten over how British "efficiency" works - but I still love living in London! Oh, and I lived about a 5 minute walk from Waterloo Station, on Stamford Street, just off the South Bank and loved it. Right next to the National Theatre, National Film Theatre, and a 10 minute walk over Waterloo Bridge takes you to some of the best areas of the city.
posted by meerkatty at 8:14 PM on July 27, 2006

Er....that would be "impatient" not "inpatient"...I swear I'm not one!
posted by meerkatty at 8:15 PM on July 27, 2006

Reading, Guildford and Woking; not exactly places I'd associate with Morris Dancing or Harvest festivals. In my experience (I've never lived in these cities, only visited), they tend to be a mixture of chavs in their souped up cars, and rich people commuting to the city who live in expensive houses on the outskirts. For some idea of houseshare prices try www.spareroom.co.uk and compare them. London can be cheap if you look around and are happy to share. £30k is adequate to live in London, and commute, its more than most people in London earn!
posted by MrC at 8:58 PM on July 27, 2006

- £30k is a huge amount of money, even in London.
- It won't be too easy to find somewhere decent to live near Waterloo. Trains from Waterloo to Farnborough also stop at Clapham Junction, which is in the middle of a nice-ish residential area. Waterloo is also well-connected to the tube network.
- Apart from possibly Brighton, no towns in southeast England outside London have any discernible culture whatsoever.

(Hopefully you're smart enough to realize half the posts on this thread are axe-grinding bullshit)
posted by cillit bang at 9:53 PM on July 27, 2006

£30k is a huge amount of money, even in London.

No, it really isn't. Not when small 1-beds go for £700-£900pm.

You may well be the only "Asian" person for quite some distance, if you live outside London. You might get stared at, if you end up living in a small town or village.

This is also not true at all.
posted by influx at 11:05 PM on July 27, 2006

I'm with cillit bang. £30k is enough to get by renting in London. There are plenty of nice places within walking distance of Clapham Junction (which is actually in Battersea rather than Clapham, confusingly). It has a young population, plenty of good bars and restaurants, a good arts scene (Battersea Arts Centre is just up the road). Battersea Park, Wandsworth Common and Clapham Common are all great outdoor spacesa nd you're quite near the river. You're within 20 minutes of the West End. There's a reasonable mix of cultures too. Oh, and I live there! 1 beds are expensive but you should be able to find somewhere reasonable for no more £550 a month if you consider flat sharing. E-mail me if you want any tips on estate agents or more information about this particular area.

And influx is also right, the Asian female issue will make no difference at all anywhere in the South East.
posted by greycap at 11:14 PM on July 27, 2006

Thanks for the input so far everyone! Here is some more info that may help figure out what I need/want.

- I will most likely get corporate housing for a couple of weeks (months?) near work until I find a place to live. I just need an idea of where to concentrate looking. I am sure I will get some good advice from coworkers as well, but AskMe is such a great resource for this sort of info!

- I wouldn't mind sharing a flat but I do have furniture I'm determined to bring with me (work is shipping it for me) and at first glance it seems that most shared flats are fully furnished, including the bedroom. Is this typical or am I doing the wrong kind of searches?

- Thanks for the link MrC! (And that's the first time I've heard of the term "chav". How very enlightening and hideous!)

- Thanks for the offer greycap, what you mentioned about Battersea sounds pretty good! (bars, arts, park) I'll get in touch with you soon.
posted by like_neon at 12:25 AM on July 28, 2006

I'm with cillit bang and greycap. I lived in Clapham Junction, in Battersea near to the Art Centre on Lavender Hill (which I assume is of "The Lavender Hill Mob" fame). Vivienne Westwood lived on the same street as me. Lot's of nice places to eat and shop, with quite a lot of green space too.

I'd definitely concentrate your search there. If you're searching on property websites it might be useful to know the start of postcodes (zip code) for this area - SW11.

One other thing to remember - according to the South West Trains website, a monthly train ticket from Fanrborough to Waterloo (or Clapham Junction) including a London travelcard costs £293, so unless your company is paying, add that to your monthly outgoings.
posted by brighton at 1:31 AM on July 28, 2006

£30K will be enough to exist on in London, but you'll have to share a place (including bathroom) with strangers and get used to having not much spare cash, especially, as brighton says, if you factor in £300 a month in travel to work.

England in general is way more expensive than the US. What you pay in $$, we pay in ££ (and more).
posted by essexjan at 2:02 AM on July 28, 2006

- Don't worry too much about where you'll live yet. Stay in the corporate housing and go explore. Check out London and areas closer to where you work and see

- I'd expect that if you don't live in London that you'd need a car. Factor that (and the USD7 per gallon of gas) in

- If you're used to a city (even a smallish US one), anything outside of London will probably seem very bland. It does to me

- Check how far your office is from the train station. Waiting for a bus and then a 20 minute ride will change your commute time drastically

- The good thing about a train commute from London is that it's against the crush of commuters coming in

- A friend lives in Farnborough. He says that he's "the only black in the village". Life isn't very diverse outside London. (the quote is from a popular TV series here called Little Britain; it's funnier than it scans)

- "Asian" means something different in the UK; it means someone from the Indian sub-continent (India, Pakistan or Bangladesh) (oops, as AmbroseChapel says)

- Meeting people can be hard, particularly if you don't enjoy the pub culture where the standard place to meet is in a smokey pub and get hammered. London is much better for this, as the range of people is more diverse, but it's a big city and people can seem distant at first. Follow up with the friendly MeFi locals who offer, as it really helps to have a local perspective and to seed a group of friends from like-minded individuals. My email's in my profile.

- Most shared flats are furnished; if you're going into a flat-share then you generally don't have your own. One of the reasons I got my own place was so I could keep my bed.

- http://maps.google.co.uk/ will show you where things are in relation to others. Understanding the post codes will help lots

- If you cycle, you can get a fold-up bike (+-GBP300) which can be taken on the trains, tubes and buses. But it'll be pretty crappy in winter if you don't have a backup route

- FWIW, as a non-Brit, I'd leave the country rather than live outside London.

- Useful websites for looking for property: www.primelocation.com and more here

And welcome! It's a great time to be coming to the UK.
posted by quiet at 2:10 AM on July 28, 2006

Londoner here. I don't have much to add, but if I was *forced* to choose Reading, Guildford and Woking I'd probably choose Guildford; it has marginally more character.

A warts-and-all primer to UK towns and cities, written originally for skateboarders, is The Knowhere Guide. Don't take it too seriously, but it gives you a good idea of what some places are like.

It says Farnborough's best parts are the people (mostly war veterans), the quiet and the thatched cottages. The worst are the Totlands Estate, no nightlife and "a lot of kids with nothing to do."

Alternative lifestyles in Farnborough. Nuff said.
posted by randomination at 2:47 AM on July 28, 2006

Hey, that's my neck o' the woods. The Farnborough/Rushmore area really isn't the wealthy, WASP cultural wasteland that this thread is making it out to be.

In my small street, for example, I've got Sri Lankan, Indian, Italian, Nepalese and Zimbabwean neighbours (amongst others), and there's a Chinese supermarket just down the road. Last night someone nearby had a house party and there was some fantastic traditional African music being played and joyously sung along to. I can walk down most streets in my neighbourhood in the evenings and catch the scent of an exotic meal being prepared, or hear a language that I can't even identify being spoken.

Plenty of great little restaurants especially if you're fond of Indian/Chinese/Thai/Nepalese food (be sure to try Zaffrons in Farnborough when you get here), although most of the cafes and bars won't be anything like those you're used to. The Surrey/Hants border areas are amongst the safest in the UK according to police statistics, if that's a concern.

derbs is right - the towns/cities you mention are all thoroughly chavtacular, and I can't see you being much happier there than anywhere else in the south east. Plus a daily commute into Farnborough from any of those places would be a grind. If you're really set on being immersed in a truly cosmopolitan city lifestyle then living in London is the best option - expect to spend a few hours each day and the best part of £2000 each year travelling, though. I've worked with plenty of people who do a daily London-Farnborough commute on the train, so it's certainly a valid option.

If you want to be close to Farnborough for a while you might like the North Camp Urban Village. The whole borough of Rushmore is a densely populated urban area, but if you find yourself developing an affinity with the English countryside there are plenty of rural and semi-rural places to live nearby, and loads of old traditional English country pubs, beautiful back roads and sites of outstanding natural beauty within easy reach. But the biggest advantage of the area is that it's easy to get out - great road and rail transport links.

BTW if by some astonishing coincidence you're going to be working for CSC, they lay on a shuttle bus service around the area.

I've got an email addy in my profile if you need any more info. And welcome to England!
posted by boosh at 2:55 AM on July 28, 2006

I suppose it's a long shot and no less expensive, but Winchester is the only university town in Hampshire, which tends give a place a little bit more of a funky character
posted by A189Nut at 3:25 AM on July 28, 2006

My vote's for London.

I know people living in Woking, Guildford and Reading and they're all bored to death in them. Nice places to visit (been to all three on occasion) but I would hate to stay. It all depends on what you want out of life.

I live in London and pay more in rent, but I live for my days off/weekends. In London you're spoiled for choice when it comes to how to spend your free time. If you're the stay-in type, or are looking for the easiest way to get to/from work, then I'd recommend living outside of London.

I would also like to point out that £30k is plenty to live off of. (*mumblegrumbleIneedaraisemumble*)
posted by slimepuppy at 3:27 AM on July 28, 2006

Oh, another thing to mention about London. I find it much less overwhelming than any other major city I've ever been to (in the States). It feels... cozy. I don't quite know how to put it into words, but I've never felt really lost in London.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:31 AM on July 28, 2006

Winchester -- that's actually not a bad idea. Seconded.
posted by randomination at 3:50 AM on July 28, 2006

£30 K is more than enough to live on in London, and you'll only pay £700-900 a month if you live smack in Zone 1 or get screwed by an Estate Agent - my advice would be to look at the line out of Waterloo, and check out the different places it goes through coming out of London. Moving into a flatshare is also a good option - check out www.gumtree.com or www.moveflat.co.uk for nice places.

Plus, as for London being a big, scary place, it's really not, it's more like hundreds of villages smooshed together. Which it kind of is, I suppose.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:12 AM on July 28, 2006

Most of your questions have been answered so I'll chime in with ideas for areas near Waterloo. North of Waterloo is Zone 1 and pretty central (=$$) so if it's affordable housing you're after, I'd look South / East.

My own neck of the woods is Kennington which is a 10-minute walk (or 1 tube stop) from Waterloo and has some great parts: good restaurants, indie pubs, delis... and London's best Tiki bar on your doorstep. There's also some pretty crappy areas, particularly close to Elephant, so you'll want to visit the area before you make up your mind.

As others have said, Clapham is definitely an option: its a very young area and there's certainly lots of options for nightlife. House prices are a bit higher than Kennington and Oval. London Bridge is worth considering; some good places to live round there. Plus, you'd have Borough Market on your doorstep. Sweet. Camberwell is a very diverse area and quite affordable, though there's no close tube line so you'll be walking/bussing further. Battersea has similar transport limitations but is also a decent area to live/play in.

If you're looking at any specific areas, drop me (or one of the other London-ites) a line; we'll be happy to provide any local knowledge we can.
posted by blag at 6:29 AM on July 28, 2006

I'm a lifetime londoner, and I'm very fond of the place, despite the dirt/expense/weather etc. There is something for every taste, and despite living here for such a long time, I'm still discovering cool new stuff. Its much less hectic than NY. Also, your other options are not great. These dormatory towns near london are, in my view, rather dull and soulless.

30k is enough to live in London, you won't have masses of cash, but you'll be perfectly comfortable. The vast majority of my friends live on that sort of money, indeed it probably around the average salary for London. Most of them share flats though.

I used to have a flatmate who did the exact commute that you do, from London to Farnborough. We lived near Victoria, and he used to take the train from Victoria, and change at Clapham Junction. Clampham Junction, by the way, is the busiest train station in Britain, most of the trains from London going south go through it. Have a look at this map it shows all the trains that go to clapham junction, and hence all the places you could live without a nightmare commute.

Having said that, you might find that clapham/battersea suits you quite well. Its not too hectic, not too expensive, and its easy to get into the centre of town. Clapham common is a huge green space, and there are plenty of nice local restaurants and bars. Its not particularly cool, or edgy, but there is plenty going on, lots of young people, good ethnic mix. I'd look around there if I were you.

Good luck
posted by Touchstone at 6:31 AM on July 28, 2006

iamcrispy - how can one live with 10 k AND live in North London? I am making a bit more, flatsharing, don't go out loads, and I'm still broke!

Like-neon - Yeah you don't want to live in Farnborough. London is the way to go and with 30k you can live well i reckon.
posted by Sijeka at 6:38 AM on July 28, 2006

Another vote for London. Couple of extra tips:

- Places in zone 2/3 have the best prices and are still easy to get into Central London.

- If you can, share with someone else. You'll get a better place in a better location and still pay less per month than you would if you were on your own.

- Avoid living somewhere that means you have to commute across Central London. It's not pleasant especially in this weather.

- Try and find somewhere which has train, tube and night bus service. It'll be in a slightly more expensive area but you'll be covered for nights out. As you lose these options then the price gets cheaper. Never go somewhere that has only tube access as you'll have to use a taxi after midnight to get home.

- Avoid Farnborough.

- Look into places on the route to Farnborough that are still within London. If you're on a train route then you can go up to zone 4 as it'll be pretty quick back into London. Don't forget about the tubes and nightbuses.

- www.loot.co.uk is good for finding accomodation. You'll need to buy a pass for the stuff added less than 7 days ago but its cheap and you can get plenty of places to see.

- Anything that gets you into Clapham Junction isn't bad too as you can get to Farnborough that way. However check the timetables (use ojp.nationalrail.co.uk) as it may be longer from there.

- Bear in mind that Clapham Junction (the railway) is 15-20 minutes walk from the Clapham tube stations.

Good luck!
posted by mr_silver at 10:06 AM on July 28, 2006

Thank you everyone for such wonderful responses! It's difficult to mark a "best answer". I'll come back and mark it after I decide where to live. It's very encouraging to see that the UK is full of such nice, helpful people. :)

So far Clapham/Battersea sounds very promising, so I'll start my search there. That post code link is a lifesaver thanks!

It sounds like my biggest deterrent to living in London is train costs, but the monthly pass is a little less than what I pay in car payments/insurance/gas right now so it's sort of a wash I guess. I'm going to ask HR if they give any allowance for transportation costs.

Oh and I'm Korean so I guess I'm not "Asian". Am I considered "Oriental"? The term is so weird to me, it makes me think of rugs and noodles.
posted by like_neon at 11:19 AM on July 28, 2006

Let us know where you end up, at any rate, and come to the next meetup too! Good luck with the move.
posted by greycap at 4:00 PM on July 28, 2006

I did a very similar commute from central London out to Sidcup one whole year. You should bear in mind that "reverse commuting" is much nicer than the usual slog into London. There's always a seat on the train for sleeping/catching up with work; and if you prefer to drive the roads are quiet(ish). I wouldn't fuss too much about where you live. Victoria/Waterloo/Clapham Junction are all easily accessible from right across town. Settle in wherever work will pay for, and then spend the time finding somewhere that suits you as an individual.
posted by roofus at 4:10 AM on July 30, 2006

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