Sunday, 8 February 2009

Amanda's comprehensive guide to London

One of the initial purposes of this blog was to inform others who were/are considering an OE all about London life and things I researched and learnt before coming here. And I realise I havn't provided anything truly informative for some time!! So heres my list of advice and tips about what i think you really need to do and dont need to do when coming to London for your OE.


Money. According to the visa rules, you need to have £2000 pounds in your UK bank account sitting in the UK by the time you arrive. I did do that and found it was a decent amount of money to see you through the first few months. I was reasonable and didnt spend too much initially. Some people get right into going out and spending a lot of money and waste all their savings but if you are sensible you can make it last a few months. You will be thankful for what you can save because I dont know of anyone who can save much in london.. Of course rent/bond take a chunk out, but when the tube is £20-30 a week and grocerys £20-30 a week, and you can have a decent night out on £20 (if you buy cheap drinks and dont take cabs) you can make it last.

Job. For myself and many others, it takes about a month to get a job here. If you get one sooner, then your lucky, but if it takes longer, make sure you have that money sitting there to make sure your not flour-bag poor before you get a job. Register with recruitment agencies 1-2 months before leaving home and get your name and CV on every job site and agency you can find. I met with 6 recruitment agencies once arriving in the UK and spent a couple of weeks trekking around the city going to agency interviews. If you can find something or even get a promise of interviews or jobs before arriving, do it, and be prepared to spend hours in the internet cafe (or on your laptop) applying for jobs - and make sure you've got money on your phone to ring the agencys back!!

Flat. I was lucky enough to have a friend that was moving out as i was arriving so I could take her bed. It was the best thing in the world after spending 2 whole days in an economy class seat to be able to go straight to my new home, put down my stuff and have a cup of tea. Being half dead with jet lag and being completely lost, it was great. So do have an arrival plan and somewhere to stay initially. Dossing/couch surfing is popular and a cheap option. A hostel may be just as good but if you can get a flat sorted before you come, do so -then you dont need to move twice.

NHS. This is the National Health Service. It's a free service which means you get as much quality and respect you'd expect from something free. You should register with a doctor when you arrive. I registered with the centre just down the road from me. You need a UK address to register somewhere, so wait until you know where your living until you do this. And just stay healthy and dont hurt yourself until you have a doctor! They told me 'wait two weeks to see if you will be accepted', but i was anyway. Enjoy the free doctor visits.

Bank Account: You can sort this out before you leave. I went through the HSBC, so did some of my other friends. You call into a branch, get some application forms, fill them out, go into a branch to return them, they set up you account while your there, and you have the choice of them posting your debit card (like eftpos card) to your UK address, or to home. The account I was eligible for is the passport account, which is for non-HSBC customers. It lasts for one year, fees only £6 a month, and after 1 year you get upgraded to a normal long term bank account. Some people are eligible for a proper account right away - so do investigate.

NI Number: This is the National Insurance Number, which, like the IRD number, you need to have and need to provide to be paid when you get a job. I cant remember now which contact I went to for this, but check with the HSBC or google it, thats how I found out. I recommend you apply for it at home before you leave, and get your number either sent to your UK address if you have one, or home, if youll get it in time.

TOP TIP:: You need absolutely every bit of paper work you can get your hands on to apply for things in the UK. Of course you will take photocopies of all your important documents - but you need name, ID, proof of address etc - so much easier to apply for everything you can in NZ where you have bank statemtns/bills/letters with your home address and get things posted there before you leave. If you apply for things once you get to the UK, you get stuck in the loop of needing a job to work out where you live, you cant apply for anything until you get an address, and round it goes. Having all important paperwork for everything was the most important thing to do and having applied for everything I could from home made it even easier. Ive heard of countless people getting stuck in the beurocratic loop of applications here and you dont need that. Hit the ground running!!!

Other important bits:

Clothes: Dont do what i did and take 10 singlets, 5 tshirts and 5 summer tops with you. It will never be warm like NZ. I have not worn any of them apart from the 5 days of summer. What you need is any warm gloves, scarves, woollen jerseys, possum fur/wool socks, etc. And thermals. Everyone here lives in thermals. Coats are the staple diet of clothing items over here, no-one ever seems to go anywhere without one. Make sure you bring clothes/tops that you can layer. bring a couple of basic glassons tops and singlets that can go under some warmish cardigans or warm tops. Dont bother with more than 2 pairs of shorts, youll only get a couple of wears out of them. Take 1 skirt or 1 shorts so you can wear them out on the town with a pair of warm tights underneath. Thats the other thing, in autumn/winter, everyone wears tights. And NZ's stockings are not warm enough. no way hosee. 70 odd denier is the going rate over here. Dont bother buying stockings or coats until you get here, because a) no new zealand coat will be warm enough, and besides you can buy an £8 coat from Primark that is really good, and b) they make clothes for the weather over here c) you can buy 3pack of warm tights for £3. As for summer, there isnt enough of one to mention it. bring a tshirt and skirt or shorts. And if you bring sunnies or sunscreen with you, you will take them home untouched.

Water. Be prepared for your clothes to shrink or just feel awful because the water here is hard and our clothes from home get a battering. So does your skin and hair. All appliances need to be de-scaled regularly (imagine what were ingesting!) and the water takes a while to get used to. I had difficulty actually drinking tap water for the first 4 months because of the taste/whats in it, i couldnt stand it. i lived on bottled water. but you get used to it.

Umbrella. It is a fact you will need one. I brought 1 over with me so i had it ready in my bag for the eventuality of rain. It broke, but luckily there are 50,000 umbrella outlets, including most tube stations, all boots stores, and many shops. The 3 biggest selling items in this city have got to be coats, A-z's, and umbrellas.

A-Z. Ahh the old A-Z London map book. One thing I do recommend is buying a London A-Z (pocket size) and keep it in your handbag (or manbag) because you will need it. Oh yes you will. Everyone, even londoners, know the virtues of the A-Z.

TFL. Thats transport for london. Get familiar with the website, It has all the tube, train, bus, tram, info and timetables and maps you could want. Even all the londoners I know use the tfl journey planner to find the best way from/to somewhere.

Tube. You will learn very quickly that there's more to the tube than just hopping on and hopping off. People have devised countless strategies about which carriage to get on and where to stand on the platform to get off presicely by the exit or to get a seat. Do you know theres a map that shows you where to stand/wait to acheieve getting the premium entry & exits? There are ways to devise who is getting off the train next, and how to let them off and get there seat all in one swift move. There are ways to take seats like someone taking the parking space that you were waiting for. There are many other unwritten rules for things to not do on the tube. If you read a paper, fold it in 4 to read it. Do not read it expanded out in full. Theres no room for that. Bags go on your lap, feet go on the floor. Move right down inside the cars! Let the passengers off first! Don't push. just makes you look like a jerk. Offer you seat to those less able to stand. And on the escalators, the right is for standing, the left is for walking! Those are my top tips. Hope they help!

And remember, during your stay in Britain, there is to be NO eye contact. Thank you, and stand clear of the doors - this train is about to depart.

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