10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to London

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Moving to London

Don’t make the same mistakes

What’s this? A non-technical post?

In a brief departure from the technical nature of this blog, I thought I’d take a shot on blogging about a personal life update – I’ve moved to London from NYC.

For your amusement, here’s a list of the top things that frustrated me about my move from NYC to London. This post aim’s to help folks moving abroad avoid the same pitfalls, especially while trying to navigate COVID-19 restrictions. Or you know, just provide an entertaining, quick read for the rest of you. I’ll note that this list was created while I was pretty frustrated with the entire experience, so… enjoy!


  1. I was not forced to move.
  2. I consider having the option to move (financially, logistically, etc.) a privilege.
  3. I have never lived abroad for more than a few weeks. A lot of these items will seem silly to seasoned expats.
  4. Many of these items are specific to moving during a pandemic. Your mileage may vary (YMMV).

With that out of the way, let me vent for a minute… 😤

1. Finding a Place to Live

The London letting market is more competitive than anything I’ve seen in NYC.


  • On the same day a flat was listed, the agent sent out an email requesting sight unseen offers. This is after I’d already been flat hunting for a couple of weeks, so I was pretty desperate. I put in an offer (well above asking, for a place sight unseen) and was still denied.
  • For the second time in a week, on the way to view a flat, the agent called me to tell me that the place had been already let. This was for a flat posted the day before.

Now, I know how competitive the renting market in NYC can be; this was levels above. COVID-19 compounded these issues. With everyone moving back to London post (third) lockdown, and the summer stock of flats being eaten up, the supply of flats simply could not keep up with demand.

2. Exploring

An unintended consequence of having such difficulty finding housing was that I was forced to explore all over London.

I’d go so far as to say I’d recommend shopping around different flats in different boroughs as a way to get used to any new city. I got relatively familiar with the different neighborhoods and where I would (ideally) like to live. This also got me comfortable with getting around London, to the point where I don’t need directions to/from major tube stops.

3. Recursive Issues

Establishing identity in a new country requires existing identity.

These are things that I expected to have issues with. Some examples of recursive issues:

  • To get a mobile phone plan, you need (an existing) UK phone number and a bank account. They use this phone number to contact you about your phone plan.
    • You also need a UK phone number for a bunch of other things (UK NHS, internet, etc.)
  • To let a flat, agents want to you have letting history in the UK.

A local friend can help you get started with a mobile plan, and I ended up needing to shop around to agents that didn’t mind my non-existent local letting history.

4. Proving Yourself

Guilty until proven innocent.

At no fault of the lovely phone operators that I spoke with, having to prove that I am who I say I am was quite difficult.

Given that I did not yet have a local identification card in the UK when I arrived (due to post office delays), I had no way to open accounts. I had to spend countless hours on the phone, trying to even understand the requirements to open things like a bank account. Phone operators were not necessarily trained in assisting cases such as mine, and most seemed confused when discussing alternate methods for proving my identity. I should clarify that I’ve had no issues opening accounts elsewhere.

5. Making Friends

Londoners are friendlier than you think.

From previous trips here, and based on what I’ve heard from friends, I assumed that I would be treated differently being from the US. The reality is that everyone has been very welcoming. London is a big city. There are people from all over, and I’ve seen nothing but warmth so far.

Meetup.com and/or reddit.com are both great tools for meeting people in new cities. Prior to COVID-19 and the restrictions that have come with the current state of the world, I’d use these nearly everywhere I was traveling. At the very least, you’re guaranteed to meet an open group of people. At most, you’ll make long-term friends, as I have from these events.

6. Getting Around

The London tube is far better than NYC’s trains.

  • First of all, everything is contactless (more below). NYC is catching up here, but London has this well established.
  • The London tube is much cleaner than your average NYC subway.
  • I have yet to wait for a train more than three minutes here. Compare that to waiting for 20+ minutes in NYC’s sauna stations. The tube seems to be liked far more here. That said, there are always things to complain about.
  • Expect to pay much more to ride the tube here compared to NYC. This improved service comes at a cost. Also expect to pay by distance rather than a flat rate per ride.

7. Contactless Payments

You just need your phone.

Contactless payments in London are similar to NYC, but what feels like years ahead in adoption. You can pay for all of the same things that you’d expect in NYC, but you can leave that backup card at home. Do yourself a favor, leave your entire wallet behind. Even the NHS COVID pass is on your phone (compared to the physical card required in the US).

8. Air Bud

Pet travel is awful.

My pup Eevee for context.

Every airline that has an approved route from NYC to London no longer allows pets over ~20 pounds on the plane. Not under your seat, not booking a separate ticket, not emotional support animals, and not in standard cargo. Speaking to several airlines, they quote that this is because of reduced staffing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I spent over 80 hours creating spreadsheets, contacting every airline, trying to understand rapidly changing policies, just to conclude the above.

This left me with the only option: shipping Eevee via pet cargo on a separate flight. This meant booking an export agent from NYC, an import agent in London, and paying thousands (!!) of dollars to coordinate this all. I shopped around multiple different options, and thousands of dollars is indeed the cheapest you can do this for. Even after booking multiple agents to handle this for us, as you cannot do this yourself per airline policy, this will require meticulously timed vet appointments and dozens of emails and calls to coordinate.

9. Dog Parks

There are far fewer dog parks in London.

In my experience, most folks here take advantage of the lax off-leash laws in the plethora of regular parks. Given that Shiba Inu’s are notoriously bad off-leash, this was an issue.

After months of consistent training (and pockets full of treats), my pup now enjoys long (off-leash) runs in the nearby parks and I can sleep easy knowing she will always run back. She’s thriving.

10. London Weather

The sun does come out… tomorrow.

There are sunny days in London, many more than expected. That’s not to say that most days will be sunny. Most will indeed be partially rainy and grey. If you’re someone that can’t survive in this kind of climate, just keep that in mind. The upside is that it doesn’t get as cold as NYC on average, so the wind hurts your face much less.

In Summary

London has been a great experience so far.

I’ve mentioned several not-so-great things that I’ve noticed as part of this move, but most hindrances are now dealt with. I now get to sit back and enjoy this beautiful city. I’d highly recommend at least visiting if you ever have a chance.

Hopefully this post was helpful for folks looking to make a similar move soon. Drop a comment if you have any questions about your upcoming move, or you believe I’ve missed something that you’ve experienced as part of your move already.

I’ve enjoyed this brief departure from technical blog posts, but rest assured I’ll be getting back to my regularly scheduled technical content.

Cheers 🍻


  1. Contactless and Oyster account
  2. British Airways - Travelling with pets
  3. Heathrow - Travelling with pets FAQs
  4. London Weather Averages

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