The Ultimate Guide: Living and Working in London
Ah, London. The big smoke. A hub of technological, industrial and commercial innovation for centuries. Is it any wonder why so many young professionals are drawn to our nation’s capital every year to seek new opportunities and take the next big step in their career?
24% of inner London’s population is made up of 25-34 year olds. Many of these are well educated and highly skilled young professionals who come to the capital with a view to furthering their career. With 1,563 businesses per 10,000 residents it seems the perfect place to find the right launchpad for you. No matter where your skills lie, you’re likely to find an employer who can benefit from the unique cocktail of talents and experience that you bring to the table.
However, like any capital city, London has its caveats. While you can expect to command a higher salary than your equivalents in the rest of the country, you can also expect to pay significantly higher living expenses. If, like Dick Whittington, you’re headed to London to seek your fortune, you should go in with your eyes wide open and a clear idea of what you can expect.
That’s why we’ve compiled this handy guide that will provide you with everything you need to know about living and working in London.
London is open for business! Where will you ply your trade?
With so many employers in the city, you’re likely to find a wealth of opportunities in London no matter where your talents lie. However, there are certain industries for which London is best known and if your skills, experience, passion and ambition lie in these areas, you’ll be in the best possible place to take your career to the next level…
When many people think of London they think of the Boom Town of the 1980s. Of yuppies clutching boxy mobile phones into which they’re shouting “Buy, buy, buy!”. But while the ‘80s saw a huge boom in London’s financial services industry under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the city has been a huge financial hub since the Middle Ages. The City of London (the historic financial district around the Square Mile) and Canary Wharf are thriving centres of banking and insurance activities. It’s also home to stock and bond trading and Forex (foreign exchange).
If you have a talent for numbers and great people skills, you could be joining the designer-suited and booted masses who make their way from their trendy Canary Wharf apartments to the likes of Barclays, HSBC or Thomson Reuters every morning.
London has a history of technological innovation which dates back to the Industrial Revolution. A huge corporate presence, range of generous investors and population of affluent consumers have made London one of the most fecund technological hubs in Europe. There are currently an estimated 40,000 tech companies which call central London home, with presences in everything from fintech to consumer technology.
Whether you want to cut your teeth doing research and development for a huge tech firm, or want to help like-minded ambitious tech gurus form their own startup, London is the place for you.
Creative, Marketing and Media
London is home to some of the world’s premier film and TV studios including Pinewood (home to James Bond and Star Wars to name but a few. It has been a hub of top-quality theatre for centuries. For those looking to seek a living from treading the boards, there are more opportunities per square mile in London than anywhere else in the country. It’s also a great place for those trying to break into the world of film and media production behind the camera.
London also has a modestly sized but thriving video games industry. There’s also hipster magnet boroughs like Dalston and Shoreditch which are home to many artists and creative media outlets while some of the world’s biggest advertising and digital marketing agencies have prestigious offices within the creative hubs like Soho and Camden.
Creatively minded and ambitious professionals may find stiff competition in looking for digital marketing jobs in London, but they’ll also find a wealth of opportunity, too!
If you’ve long dreamed of being the owner of a prestigious restaurant, bar, night club or hotel, London is the place to make a name for yourself in the hospitality industry. With around 19 million visitors coming to London every year there’s ample opportunity to make a great living or start a thriving business catering to the millions of locals and tourists who dine, dance, rest and relax in the city every year.
A little homework makes all the difference
The beauty of living in the digital age, of course, is that you have all the time you need to scour job sites like our own for appropriate positions. Oh, and don’t forget to look through our guide to finding a job in London.
Even if you don’t feel that you are ready to apply for jobs just yet, you can nonetheless find out where the jobs in your chosen field are found. This will in turn influence the boroughs you look at for accommodation and will have a knock-on effect on your commute and every other aspect of your work and life.
Now that we’ve looked at where some of the city’s best opportunities can be found, let’s look at money. While salaries in London may seem to dwarf their counterparts elsewhere in the country, remember that these will be offset by more expensive rent, council taxes, transportation costs, food and drink and other composite living costs.
While your mileage will vary depending on your employer, you can expect to command (roughly) these kinds of salaries;
- Content Creator / Copywriter- £25,000
- Executive Assistant - £35,584
- Software Developer- £39,450
- Software Engineer- £44,600
- Graphic Designer- £33,600
- Marketing Manager- £37,400
- Account Manager- £30,100
You can find out more about digital marketing salaries here
As you can see, all are above national average salaries for their respective positions. However, the secret of a happy life and good work / life balance lies in considering all aspects of living, including those outside of the world of work. Let’s dive deep into all the aspects of working and living in London so that you can make every penny count in one of the world’s priciest cities...
Every morning the city streets are thronged with commuters making their way to work not to mention all those scurrying professionals pouring out of buses and underground or overground trains.
Your commute to work is a consideration that should not be considered lightly as it can impinge enormously on your quality of living. If you’re accustomed to driving to work, this may not be viable in the jam-packed inner city streets and paying the congestion charge day in and day out can seriously eat into your budget.
Fortunately, London has a highly comprehensive system of public transport including underground and overground trains, buses, trams and of course the famous London black cabs. Many Londoners have an oyster card (possibly so-called because it makes the city your oyster). This is a prepaid travel pass that allows users to jump on any form of public transport public transport within your choice of zones. A monthly oyster card will cost you £351.40 for zones 1-9 which will give you access to the entire city. Although an oyster card covering just zones 1-2 will cost just £134.80 a month. It all depends on where you’ll be living, working and spending your free time.
Those who like to cycle to work but don’t have a bike of their own (or won’t be able to take theirs with them) can benefit from the city’s cycle hire scheme.
However you choose to get to work, just keep in mind that you’ll have to expect to take longer to travel shorter distances than elsewhere in the country. The average daily commute for London workers is 1 hour and 24 minutes yet the average distance travelled is less than 8 miles. Why the disparity? It’s simply a testament to the city’s bustling transportation system. London traffic is the worst in the country and 7th worst in the whole world.
To offset this, many employers offer flexible working hours, allowing their employees to work 10 to 6 or 8 to 4 as opposed to 9 to 5. Still, you can expect to face heavy traffic and jam packed tubes on your daily commute. However, while there’s nothing you can do to make London less busy, you can make your commute far easier by...
Choosing where to settle in London
Even if you don’t have a job all lined up to you when you move to the big city, you can make life easier for yourself by moving within striking distance of where the jobs are found in your chosen industry. While accommodation in any of these nexuses might be pricey, you can usually find a more affordable (or at the very least quieter) borough close by.
For example, by rule of thumb you can expect to find jobs in or around Shoreditch if you’re interested in the creative side of the tech industry. On the other hand more artistic fare can be found in the likes of Islington, Soho or Camden. Painfully hip Camden might get exhausting if you live and work there, but just down the road is the leafy and pleasantly sedate Primrose Hill. Hackney is within striking distance of Shoreditch and while prices have risen considerably in recent years, they haven’t skyrocketed to the same extent.
A little research goes a long way. However, it’s important to go in with realistic expectations. If you’re expecting a spacious duplex in a central location (and want to share it with less than 12 people) you probably won’t be paying a 3 figure monthly rent. Which brings us to...
Paying your rent
If you’re serious about living in London, a flat or house share is more than likely to be a necessity. Unless you have a millionaire patron who’s prepared to pay your rent, you’re going to have to sacrifice a degree of privacy and autonomy for opportunity.
London rents are notoriously expensive. They’re the most costly in Europe and the fourth most expensive in the world. Only New Yorkers can look at Londoners’ rents and say that they’re getting a good deal!
For most of today’s young professionals the prospect of owning property in the capital is an unattainable pipe dream and this has led to an incremental rise in rental prices as demand continues to prove an equal match to supply year on year. In fact, the average cost of renting a 3 bedroom family home in London has risen to an astonishing average of £5,187 a month.
Property prices in London have actually started to dip a little in recent years but they are still on the expensive side for those accustomed to rents elsewhere in the country (especially in the north). A room in a shared house in London now cost an average of £725 a month, down from £741 in 2016.
Nonetheless, with proper budgeting, young professionals trying to make it in London can still afford themselves a modicum of work / life balance. They should nonetheless be prepared to spend an average of 40% of their income on keeping the roof over their heads.
Still, that remaining 60% can go a long way, even after you’ve accounted for other basics like electricity, heating, internet connection and council tax (rates for the latter vary from borough to borough). Use a household budget template and make sure that you stick to it month after month and you’ll find that a little planning and thrift go a long way, which brings us to…
Composite living costs and managing your budget
As we’ve discussed, London rents are astronomically high. But that’s okay. You can just concentrate on making savings elsewhere in your composite living costs. One of the reasons why it’s so easy to lose money in London (as with any major conurbation, really) is that there’s so much to tempt you.
Feeling groggy on the way to work on a Monday morning? It’s all too easy to stop by your local trendy coffee shop for a foaming £4 latte. Want to tie one on after a hectic working week at 6pm on a Friday? You’ll find that all those £4-£7 pints (depending on your borough) add up pretty darned quick.
Taking simple steps like investing in a decent espresso machine and inviting your work colleagues to your place after work to set the world to rights over a multipack of lager from Tesco can make all the difference.
As London is the most expensive city in the country (8th most expensive on the planet), you’ll need to box clever when it comes to spending your hard earned disposable income. When you first move to London, don’t move with a view to putting roots down straight away. It may be much more beneficial to find some temporary accommodation and get the lie of the land. Find out what your commute will be like and which nearby areas can offer you the best rental / council tax rates. Find out which restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars around you offer the best value for money. Figure out where you can move to that will save you money on transportation in the long term.
Your composite living costs are a balancing act, and you may find that paying a little more rent will save you money on transportation in the long run… Or vice versa. Even little things like changing your household’s energy / broadband provider can make a big difference.
Perhaps one of the most cost-effective things you can do when living in London is cooking for yourself. Thanks to apps like Deliveroo and Uber Eats, it’s easier and more tempting than ever to get your favourite restaurant food delivered straight to your door. However, the convenience can be seductive and over time this can really hammer your carefully crafted budget.
Another good tip is to combine your budget template with a spending diary. This will encourage you to keep track of all those little expenses which are so small that you don’t notice them when they go out, but make you say “Crikey, where did all my money go?” when your bank statement arrives.
Permission to work in London
If you’re from the EU, Brexit has muddied the waters somewhat when it comes to permission to live and work in London (and the rest of the UK). Currently If you’re an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen, you and any family members coming with you will be eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. This will enable you to continue living and working in the UK after the final Brexit date (which is currently 30 June 2021 but subject to change. If your application is successful, you will be granted either settled or pre-settled status. However, workers from some Eastern European countries like Romania, Croatia and Bulgaria, may require special permission in order to work in the UK. You can find out if you need a visa to work in the UK here.
Once you begin working in the UK you will be issued with a National Insurance number. This will allow your employer to issue you with the correct tax code to ensure that you aren’t overtaxed when your first payslip arrives. Most employers will tax you on a PAYE or Pay As You Earn basis and your tax will be deducted automatically from your wages. Tax is banded and the rate you pay will depend on how much money you earn. All UK employers are also obliged to provide access to a pension scheme to their employees and this is also taken from your wages automatically.
Now for the fun stuff!
Now that we’ve covered every aspect of working in London, it’s time to get to the fun stuff… What to do with your time off. Londoners work hard and they play hard. And with so much to see and do in the capital you’ll never be short of fun ways to spend your free time. In fact, even once you’ve crossed the likes of The British Museum and the Tate modern off your to-do list you’ll still never want for stuff to do at the weekend.
Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have to spend a fortune to have a great time!
While you can expect to pay an average of £4.08 for a pint of beer, and £11 for a light lunch including a drink, it’s always worth keeping an eye out for special offers and promotions. Chains and independents alike will often offer discounted food and drinks to get more customers through the doors on quieter days or at quieter times. If you love eating out, a Taste Card can give you access to great deals (including 2 for 1 meals) at the kind of chain restaurants that are proliferate throughout the city.
A trip to the cinema for two can cost around £24 but cinephiles may benefit from a subscription service like Odeon’s Limitless card which enables bearers to see all the films they want as often as they like in London cinemas from just £19.99 a month. Likewise those who love London’s outstanding selection of live theatre can make substantial savings by booking tickets through a third party like LoveTheatre where you can save up to 70% on ticket prices. Live music lovers on the other hand, will want to download the DICE app that can help you to find cheap and even free gigs in and around your borough.
You’ll find that those who do their homework will find bargains aplenty that allow them to lead the London life even on a modest budget.
Live your best life in London
Hopefully you’re now equipped with a clear idea of how and where to find work and accommodation as well as how you’ll get to work and back in London. While you might need to muster all of your budget balancing skills to make your wages count, there’s so much opportunity both inside and outside the world of work that a move to London may just be the most important thing you do!
Next up: Working in London: 7 Tips for Finding a Job in the City