Moving to a new country is always a life changing experience and to ensure that it will be beneficial one should undertake a thorough research of a new destination. If you are contemplating a relocation to London for the purpose of work, studying, retirement or whatever reason, and are unsure about its personal suitability, a glance at the following advantages and disadvantages of London life may help you in the decision making process.
1. London is an amazing cultural hub
London is one of the world’s culture capitals with internationally renowned theatres, museums, art galleries, events and notable attractions such as the British Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Trooping the Colour and the Notting Hill Carnival to name a few. Each year the city hosts around 250 festivals, of which over 40 are free and is home to a thriving music scene with more than 32,000 annual performances, 17% requiring no admission fee. There are also more than 17,000 theatrical performances, and according to the World Cities Culture Report 2013, London hosts the world’s highest number of comedy performances per year. So living in London offers an amazing cultural experience for those who share this interest.
2. It’s a cosmopolitan and friendly city
London is one of the most cosmopolitan and least racist cities in the world and, despite its cultural diversity, it is renowned for being friendly to foreigners of all nationalities. According to the results of HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey 2013, the UK is ranked ranked number 3 in “the world’s friendliest countries” listing. The words “Thank You”, “Please” and “Sorry” are often heard in London and serve as a general reminder of the renowned politeness of the British people.
3. London and the UK enjoy a free health service
The free health service in UK known as the NHS was created in 1948. UK residents and expats are entitled to free visits to a local doctor (GP) and a free treatment in some cases. London also has the largest emergency ambulance service in the world, with 5,000 staff across 70 ambulance stations that respond to around 2,800 incidents every day. This is comforting to know in case of any unforeseen accidents.
4. It’s easy to get around via public transport
London has both an underground and overground rail network in addition to a regular bus service. There is the added advantage of a night time bus service being available. Live bus departures can be checked for any stop in the capital via apps. There’s also a handy facility provided by TFL to check routes and jorney fairs online.
5. Safety is not an issue
Like every majour city, London has pick-pocketers, thieves and a few areas (like Brixton) which should be avoided walking at night. But overall London is a very safe place to live.It’s also worth mentioning that London has one of the highest number of CCTV cameras comparing to other cities in the world.
6. London is one of the greenest cities of its size
Did you know that London is home to the world’s largest urban forest in the world? There are 3,000 parks, 65,000 woodlands and 3.8 million gardens in London that cover around 40% of city’s surface – this is around 173 square km which is three times the size of Manhattan. Thanks to such area of green space (which is publicly accessible), London is considered to be the greenest city in Europe and the third greenest city of its size in the world. This makes London an ideal location for those who love jogging, picnics on the open air and just being close to nature. Nothing beats a nice pleasant walk in the beautiful park after a stressful day at work.
7. England’s beaches and iconic sights are on a doorstep
It only takes a short (and inexpensive) train ride from London to get to the picturesque beaches, iconic cities and famous attractions in England: bustling seaside Brighton – 1 hour away, sandy beach of Bournemouth – 2h, Oxford – 1h, Thorpe Park with over 30 thrilling rides – about half an hour, historic Bath – less than 1 hour, and the list goes on. Don’t forget about the Eurostar train which can take you to Paris and Brussels in less than 3 hours.
8. Living in London can be affordable
Despite high living costs especially in central areas, it is possible to live cheaply and economically in the capital. Quite often there are reduced prices with special offers and discounts at shows and eating establishments. There are bars and restaurants which provide quality reasonably priced food, and general issues such as avoiding tourists areas, cycling to work, using packed lunches and renting single rooms can make London affordable.
9. London is a great place to start a business
London is one of the top 10 cities in the world to start a business. So if you decide to launch your own venture, London is an ideal place for that. There’s a lot of free support available by, for example, Small Business Centre and Business & IP Centre by British Library, the entrepreneur visa makes it easy to settle in the UK, legal and tax structure are favorable and the geographical location is superb.
10. Free advice available to foreign expats
There are organisations in London and the UK (such as Citizen Advice, Shelter and others) which offer free professional advice. Advice is offered for health and safety at work, legal affairs, consumer issues, employment rights, discrimination, debt or any housing problem. Help is available to anybody and can be provided via email, phone or as a walk-in facility. Such services are invaluable for newcomers to the UK seeking assurances about their rights and local laws.
1. Getting a UK visa for non-EU nationals is complicated and costly
If you don’t hold a British or EU passport, you need a visa to come to London. The UK point-based immigration system is quite complex and over the last few years visa rules have become even more strict. The application process of obtaining and extending a UK visa is not only complicated with long processing times (sometimes people have to wait for months), but also very expensive (check out visa fees here to have an idea). Especially it’s hard to get a work visa. The worst thing is that companies in London prefer to hire candidates from the EU, because in order to recruit a person from outside the EU, the employers must obtain a sponsor license and issue a sponsorship certificate, which is a burdensome and lengthy procedure that put them off. This makes it very difficult for non-EU foreigners landing a desired job in London. If you’re happy to go through the British visa adventure, moving to London will be fun for you, if not – find another place to relocate where visa matters won’t be such a headache.
2. High cost of raising and educating children
Childcare comes very expensive in London. Since 2009 the costs have skyrocketed 27%, while salaries remained unchanged. The current average annual cost of full-time childcare for two children is 11,700GBP. The Raising Children Abroad league table from HSBC’s Expat Explorer Survey 2013 shows the UK ranks much lower than its European counterparts. Parents in Britain pay a large proportion, 27%, of their take-home-income on childcare, compared to just 10% in France, 25% in the USA and 17% in Japan and this is more than four times that spent by parents in Denmark and Sweden (data source).
3. Significant air pollution
London has the dirtiest air in the UK with pollution from diesel vehicles particularly evident. The British capital has been breeching air pollution legal limits since 2005. Clean Air In London suggests that London has the highest concentration of the toxic Nitrogen Dioxide of any European capital city. It may come to one’s surprise, but the world’s famous shopping street Oxford Street is the most polluted street in the world with higher levels of nitrogen dioxide than anywhere else (an average of 135 milligrams of NO2 per cubic metre). According to the air quality study by ‘Soot-free for the climate’ campaign, London ranks among worst major European cities (12th out of 17) with F for “Fail”, i.e. for failing to take effective measures to reduce deadly soot particles in the air.
4. It’s expensive to own a car
Getting a car in London is not a good idea, because the UK is the most expensive country in the world to run a car. Cost of fuel, car insurance, road tax and repair bills will take around £3,500 per year out of your budget and that doesn’t include parking and congestion charge (11.5 GBP per day if you enter the city centre). The price of fuel is among the highest in the world and currently at around 1.36GBP per liter of diesel, which is more expensive than in many neighbouring countries.
5. It’s always cloudy
In contrast to the myth, it doesn’t rain all the time in London. Being the UK’s driest location, it rains about as much as it rains anywhere else. The average annual rainfall in London is less than in Amsterdam, New York, Milan, Tokyo, Shanghai and many other cities. However, London is a very gloomy city with always cloudy sky. The lack of sunshine and greyness can be quite depressive. Bare this in mind if you’re a sunshine addict or suffer from seasonal affective disorder
6. Difficult to find a decent job if your English is not fluent
Finding a job in London is a challenging task and if you can’t understand spoken English and speak it fluently, the job search becomes even more difficult. If your English language level is poor, it’s recommended to improve the skills to stand a better chance of getting a dream job.
7. You’ll have to pay Council Tax in addition to your rent
Council tax is a property tax which you will have to pay (exception if you’re a student and a 25% discount applied if you live alone) when renting an accommodation in London. This money goes to the local authority to cover the provision of such services as recycling, street maintenance, police service, etc. The amount of council tax varies and depends on the area you live in and the size of your property. Usually council tax, the same as water and energy bills, is not included in your rental fee and this is an unpleasant surprise for newcomers in London. This wouldn’t be an issue if the charge wasn’t so high. Currently council tax rate ranges from 627.86GBP to 1,883.58GBP per year, where in other European cities it’s much less.
8. High cost of living
London is a very expensive city to live in and it’s not a myth. Those without a very well-paid job are considering leaving the capital. Rents, transportation and housing costs are so high that it’s cheaper to live in Barcelona and fly to work to London. Mercer’s 2014 Cost of Living Survey lists London as the 12th most expensive city in the world leaving behind New York, Paris, Dubai, Berlin and Amsterdam. The rankings are based on everyday costs including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment. Although a recent report by Expatistan.com reveals that the cost of living in London is actually the highest in world.
9. Quality of life in the UK is lower than in some other countries
London offers less desirable living conditions comparing to many other world destinations. This is proved by various surveys. According to Mercer Quality of Living Survey 2014, London ranks well down the list (37th out of 223), legging behind Zurich, Vienna, Paris, Frankfurt, Vancouver, Singapore, Tokyo and other cities. Quality of Life Index Rate by Numbeo shows that London is not even in the first half of the list. A study by HBSC into expat preferences shows that the UK ranks as the second worst (30) among selected 31 global countries in terms of the overall standard of life. The PwC/Demos report finds London to be one of the worse places in Britain to live in terms of availability of jobs, housing affordability, income inequality and general work/life balance.
10. The British drive on the left-hand side
And finally… For anybody bringing a motor vehicle into the UK for the first time or hiring/buying a car, driving on the left can be a daunting experience, especially as most of Europe and other parts of the world drive on the right side. UK cars are arranged for left sided driving. Furthermore, London is particular busy for traffic compared to other UK cities with multi lanes at several junctions.
Hopefully that these pros and cons offer a general idea of life in London and will help with the difficult decision of relocating to this city or move elsewhere.
Author: Anetta Kulikova
Image by Garry Knight via Flickr