Interview: Living and Working in London

Tell us about yourself and why you chose to move to London

I love London so much I came back for a second time. My name is Jodie and I’m an Aussie almost 32 years old living and working in London. The first time was in 2013 for 10 months and this second time started in May 2015. Sadly our life in what I would describe as Neverland comes to an end in November 2017 when my other half and I return to Australia to start our next adventure. Yep… one-way tickets!

I chose London both times because I wanted a home base closer to travel destinations on my bucket list.

How long have you been there?

About three years in total though I lived in Melbourne, Australia for one and a half years in between London adventures one and two.

Did you need a visa? What was the process?

Yes as an Australian you need a visa to work in the UK. My grandmother who I never met because she died before I was born, was born in England. Because of her birth in England I could apply for a UK Ancestry visa which is a five year visa. I used a company called Restless to help me with the application as I’d already booked my flights to London and couldn’t afford to waste any time. Part of the process included me personally having to apply for my grandmother’s birth certificate from England. When it arrived at my postal address in Australia it all started to sink in and I had a strange feeling of connection to this place on the other side of the world.

Tip: get your visa (or at least start the process) before you book your flights. My visa was processed in the Philippines. It takes time. And if you don’t complete the paperwork correctly it may be rejected and sent back to you to complete again. Here’s the story of how I got my UK Ancestry Visa.

Did you move solo or with a significant other?

First time solo, second time with my significant other. Actually I met him in London the first time!

How did you get there? Is this the best way?

We flew with Etihad and had one short stop in Abu Dhabi. There are no direct flights from Australia… it’s too far! For now the quickest time from a capital city in Australia to London is around 25 hours including the stop.

What were your first impressions?

London gives me goosebumps. I love the mix of people, foreign accents, the talented entertainers and professionals London attracts from all over the world, ease of getting around and the opportunities it presents for travel and job opportunities. It’s not everyday you overhear actors talking about their latest film when you’re travelling on the train.

Where did you stay when you first arrived?

With a friend at a share house I lived in the first time. We slept on a mattress in the lounge room for a few nights. It wasn’t ideal, but it gave us the time we needed to search for accommodation nearby which we moved into after visiting a friend in Brighton and travelling to Morocco and the South of France.

Tip: it helps if you know someone to stay with when you first arrive in London. Even if they are a friend of a friend. Alternatively you could book an AirBnB. Unless you’re 110% comfortable with staying in hostels, you’ll want some time alone to just sleep and adjust to the fact that you’ve just shifted your whole life to the other side of the world.

How did you find a place to live?

There are loads of share accomodation websites. Our go-to is SpareRoom.co.uk If you’d like a piece of home to keep your homesickness at bay, check out the ‘Aussies in London’ or ‘Kiwis in London’ Facebook pages for short and long-term accommodation.

What is your room or place like?

We’ve lived in three places in London since we arrived almost two years ago. Our first place in Battersea (South-West London) was only for three months and was way too small for us as a couple. Even turning over in bed meant pushing the other off! On the plus side we had a bathroom to ourselves. We shared the two bedroom flat with another couple (Aussie girl and English guy) and what started out as a potential friendship ended in feeling like we were constantly in their way and not living up to their cleaning standards.

Our next place in West Hampstead (North-West London) was not as modern though we had a bigger room (and bed, so no more kneeing each other in the back!). And we only had to share our bathroom with one other person. The lease holder and fellow housemate was a post-it note bandit though, constantly reminding us with her yellow stickies on the dining table that we’d left the tap dripping, the light on… etc etc. She was French and our two other housemates were English guys. We actually really liked it there but when we returned from our Russia in winter holiday, the lease holder decided that after signing a new 12 month contract that she was going to cancel it and move out with another friend. Our options were to take on the lease for the full property or move within the month. Moving!

Finally, our third and current place in Tufnell Park (North London) is our favourite. We have a large room, our own large ensuite, a lounge room and a garden. It’s pretty rare to have a loungeroom and/or a garden in London. And we share the place with a fun and friendly Kiwi couple and Canadian. The plan is to be here until we leave the country!

What are your tips for others trying to find a place to live?

  • Be quick. Decent places that don’t cost the earth are quick to go
  • Choose a place near public transport, shops and the fun stuff like bars and restaurants
  • Don’t rely on the photos in the advertisement – they can either make the place look MUCH better than it is, or in our experience with Tufnell Park they might make you consider cancelling your viewing (glad we didn’t!)
  • Try and meet all the housemates if you can
  • Don’t lock into a place until you’ve found a job and know where you’re travelling to and from every day

Where is your place in relation to the city centre?

About 10 minutes on the tube to Leicester Square, one of the well known tourist hot spots of London.

Transport – how do you get around? 

I walk to and from work, it takes 25 minutes each way. Otherwise generally the tube, overground train or the bus.

How much does it cost per month for living essentials like rent, food and transport?

  • Rent – £775 per month plus bills (up to £100 for council tax, gas, electricity, TV licence and internet)
  • Food – around £40 per week for groceries
  • Transport – £0 when I’m just walking to and from work! Otherwise between £1.50 and £6.60 per day for public transport depending how often I use it

What are you doing for work?

I’m a Senior HR Business Partner at a drinks company. I’ve worked there for the whole time I’ve lived here the second time around, with the exception of seven weeks working for a bank on a fixed-term contract when we first arrived in the UK.

My ‘growing’ team and fave lunch spot!

Is the salary comparable to what you’ve earned elsewhere? 

Before Brexit and the drop in the GBP in 2016, the salary was comparable to what I was earning in a similar role in Australia. Now with the currency exchange it is 20% less. I’ve also opted to cut back to 4 days per week (to really enjoy life in London!), reducing my salary by a further 20%. And if you think that’s a lot, for my first job in the UK I was earning 50% less than in Australia. This was because it was my first role in the UK and I didn’t have any UK employment law experience.

The minimum wage is also lower here. In the facilities management company I worked for in 2013, the cleaners earned around £6.20 per hour. It’s the same for bar work unless you find a bar job where you can earn tips.

How did you find the job?

I found the HR Business Partner role at the bank via Hays, a recruitment consultancy. I found my current role at the drinks company on LinkedIn.

How long did it take you to get a job after you arrived?

Having lived in the UK before, I had already registered with a few recruitment agencies. A quick email to let them know I was back meant that I had an interview over the phone when travelling through France, and started work a day after getting back from our holiday!

How much money did you have saved up before moving over?

Around £5000 which at the time was equivalent to around $10000 Australian dollars. With rent usually costing between £500 and £700 per month for a single person and bond about £1000 (can be less or more, that was how much our bond was), you’ll have gone through half your money in two months. To keep emergency money for a flight home plus some travel money to make the whole experience worth it, you have up to three months at the most.

What tips do you have for others trying to get a job there? 

Register with recruitment agencies that specialise in your field of work. Keep in mind though that companies often try to recruit the role themselves to save on recruitment agency fees. The biggest UK recruitment search engine is Reed and others include The Guardian and Total Jobs. It’s worth getting your LinkedIn profile up to date too because that’s how I found my job at the drinks company.

Tip: Set aside time every day to apply for new jobs as they are advertised. It’s almost not worth applying for jobs over three days old or that have already had 20 or more applications, unless they are specialist roles.

What do you do after work and on the weekends?

Generally after work if my aim is not the couch, I go to yoga or meet friends for drinks and dinner. Most often the weekends are filled with travel to a European destination or spent exploring another corner of London! Also on the weekends and sometimes after work we take Ned or Harvey (dogs) to the park for a great big walk. We found them on the BorrowMyDoggy website!

Family photo with Ned

Is this something you started when you moved overseas?

The weekend part yes.

How is your lifestyle different there?

If we wanted to, we could go out every night of the week. We could even see a gig every night of the week. In Australia, for the 16/17 New Year’s eve celebrations we were two out of a total of nine people in a country pub (and two were security guards!) So yes – very different!

Another difference is the amount of walking we do in London. We don’t have a car here and rely on public transport and our own two feet to get us from A to B. Living in Melbourne was similar with the train and tram systems though if you live in any other states in Australia you can guarantee that you’ll need a car.

What’s the weather like?

Mostly cold. During winter the sun goes down around 3:30pm. I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit of a downer. But also pretty cool given that we don’t experience anything like that in Australia. Events like Winter Wonderland help make up for the lack of sun and warmth. London does warm up in summer sometimes even 30 degrees celcius or more, but is generally only for a few weeks.

How did you make friends?

Through work, the share houses we’ve lived in and travel.

What do you eat for dinner every night?

We cook at home most nights of the week to save money. It’s also much more healthy for you! Quite the contrast to my first time in London. I cooked at home twice in 10 months. Oops! But I had a bit more money behind me thanks to a voluntary redundancy payment.

Do you eat out often?

On average once a week. You owe it to yourself to do it while you’re here. There are so many different types of cuisines!

While we’re on the topic, have you got any local favourite restaurants or activities we must try?

Ceviche (Peruvian) and BiBimBap (Korean) in Soho. The flavour! Remember to book in advance. A new favourite of ours is Rosella, an Italian restaurant in Kentish Town. Food – perfect! Customer service – warm, friendly and prompt! Price? We tipped them £10 by accident because we thought they’d not included everything.

Activities well there are so many I don’t even know where to start. If you’re into museums there are plenty here to explore. We’re going to visit the Imperial War Museum this weekend for their 100 year celebrations! That’s a piece of the Berlin wall in the picture below.

What are the biggest cultural differences?

The drinking culture is BIG here! I’ve settled down this time compared to my first time in London. Partially because I think I made irreparable damage to my stomach lining! It doesn’t help that in all the London suburbs I’ve lived in so far, I can walk to the pub. And not just one pub – we’re talking options.

What has been the most local experience you’ve had so far?

The first things that spring to mind are pints of beer in an English pub and a Sunday roast. I’m actually hoping for a quintessential English experience with an English couple we are visiting in the picturesque town of Bath in April. I met them as a volunteer at a rhino sanctuary in Africa!

Where is home? How often do you travel there and why?

Australia. I’ve travelled there on average once per year this time around. Once for my Dad’s 70th birthday and the other for a family wedding.

What do you miss most about home? 

Family, friends and the sunshine!

Do you think you’ll go back there to live? 

Yes we have a one way ticket booked for November 2017.

How do you feel about going home?

I feel sad about leaving what has now become home. I love being surrounded by open-minded people, most of whom have travelled to all corners of the world like us. But! I’m also excited about settling down with my partner and being close to family again. You never know, we might live in the UK again one day!

What’s been the best thing about this experience?

I met my partner in London and we’ve now been together for three years! Travelling is the next best thing. Already for 2017 we have travel booked to Glasgow, Paris, Bath, Leamington Spa, Cinque Terre, Madrid and Greece!

What would you do differently? 

Nothing.

Hints and Tips… do you have any other tips for living and working abroad in London?

Give it time. When I set out for London the first time, I promised myself that I would stay for at least six months before I went home with my tail between my legs. It takes a solid six months to find and settle into a job and home, start making friends and find your way around London.

How do you know Jodie from Hoff to Explore?

That’s me! I just interviewed myself. Why ‘Hoff’? Well, it’s part of my last name and that’s it really! No connections to the Baywatch star…

And lastly: describe living and working in London in one word!

Exciting!

Interview date: March 2017