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Finding Your First Expat Home In London: A Brief Guide

Househunting is a challenging task wherever you are. From the first time you fly the nest, to the first time you buy a house, and all the renting and flatsharing in between, finding a place to live is rarely straightforward.

For many expats, England’s capital city is a dream destination. A multicultural city filled with opportunity, boasting quick transport links around Europe, surrounded by countryside and a short train ride away from the sea, it can seem like a great place to begin an expat life.However, the differences between visiting somewhere as a tourist and actually having to live there full-time are stark, and sometimes hard to manage. We’ve provided a brief guide to finding a place in London – what you should look out for, how to decide on an area, and what to do about the high price of… well, everything.

Let's Talk About Money

Every Londoner’s favourite subject, the price of life is both a hot topic of discussion and the bane of most people’s existence when they move to this bustling English city. Ranked by the Telegraph [1] as the third most expensive city in the world in 2015 – beaten only by Hong Kong and Monaco – finding the necessary cash to earn a living can be a challenge, to say the least.

If you’re moving abroad for the first time, you’ve probably read countless articles that recommend renting at first, to make sure you actually enjoy living in your new home country before you commit to it permanently.

The rental market in London is incredibly competitive, and this only drives up the prices for potential tenants. It used to be the case that you could find a reasonably sized flat outside of the centre, for a rental price that wouldn’t break the bank every month. Nowadays, however, this is no longer the case, as demonstrated by this London Underground Rent Map by Thrillist [2]:

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The map shows the average price of a one-bedroom flat in the area surrounding each London underground station.

So How Do You Find A Reasonably Priced Place To Live?

As you can see from the map above, the further out from the centre you go, the more likely you are to find something that involves paying under £1000 per month – although these are still difficult to find, and are often snapped up quickly.

Many people live on the outskirts and commute in, although if you’re considering this it’s worth remembering that you’ll have to factor in the price of travelling to and from the office each day [3]. Lots of companies with London offices will provide benefits to help employees cover travel costs, including interest-free loans, in which the company pays for a travelcard upfront and then you pay them back month by month. If you already know where you’ll be working once you’ve made the move, it’s probably worth having a conversation about this before you arrive, as it may impact on your final decision.

One good thing about London’s transport system is that, even if it’s very expensive, it’s generally reliable. The underground gets very crowded at rush hour, buses take a long time to reach their destinations due to traffic jams, and overground trains are subject to frequent delays, but on the whole it is possible to plan a journey and reach your destination without too much hassle.

Another way some people combat the high London rental prices is by sharing a house with others. Although this is often seen as a solution for students or young people in their first properties, the number of flatsharers aged 45-54 has risen by 300% in London over the past five years [4]. Sharing a house can be a great way to make new friends and get to know people in the local area, too. But if you do decide to go down this route, bear in mind that the flatsharing market is highly competitive. Many households will only have space for one new flatmate, and will interview between ten and twenty people to try to find a good fit.

Where To Live

If you’ve read this far and not yet been put off by the sound of the prices, congratulations! Now it’s time to decide where in London you want to make your home.

In terms of land mass, London doesn’t rank very highly – it’s down at the bottom end of the thirties when ranking cities by square kilometers [5]. However, although it is difficult to accurately track the number of people living in a city at any given time, the most recent data from the European Union puts the population at just over 14,000,000 [6], making London the 18th largest metropolitan area worldwide when it comes to population [7].

Once you have moved to London, you’ll no doubt discover what is affectionately termed by locals as “the great north-south divide”; the half-joking prejudice against the “other side of the river”. Those who live on the south of the river can’t imagine why they’d ever want to move to north London, while those in the north feel the same way about the south.

Anecdotally speaking, it seems to be the case that the first place you happen to move to in London – assuming you don’t have any terrible experiences there – decides which of the above camps you fall into. So it’s important to do some research before you move and decide whether north, south, east, west or – heaven forbid – central London is for you.

Choosing An Area

There are a number of aspects that come into play when choosing a place to live. Rental prices, as discussed above, are one deciding factor.

However, as an expat – and especially if it’s your first time living abroad – it can be nice to live in an area that typically sees a large number of fellow expats from your home country. This can help to ease the transition and make the initial few months less lonely.

So where are the country-specific places in London? Of course, London is a wonderfully diverse city with expats from all over the world living in all areas, however there are certain concentrations of expats in specific areas. A few of these are listed below.

Le Quarter Français – Kensington / Hammersmith (West London)

South Kensington, as well as the neighbouring areas of Hammersmith and Kensington High Street, has a high population of French expats. The Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle is just around the corner from South Kensington station, while the École Française de Londres Jacques Prévert is nestled in leafy Brook Green, a quiet street just off High Street Kensington.

The area also boasts a number of French shops, a weekly market on Bolingbroke Road where you can find all sorts of French delicacies, and a number of arts events in French, including concerts and exhibitions. The Institut Français, the Embassy and the French Cinema are also all nearby.

On the whole, this area is quiet and family-friendly, with a good number of upmarket bars and restaurants. The major downside is the price of renting: Kensington is the most expensive borough in England. If you’re moving with children and therefore looking for more than one bedroom, you can easily find yourself paying a staggering £2,253 per month, the average Kensington rental price [8].

Turkish Community Of London – Haringey / Enfield

North and North-East London boast the highest populations of Turkish expats [9]. If you’re moving from Turkey with children, the Turkish Education Consortium is a good place to look for details of Turkish supplementary schools, language classes and social clubs.

There are a number of Turkish places of worship in London, again mostly in the north and north-east parts of the city. The largest and most well-attended of these are Aziziye Mosque in Stoke Newington, Suleymaniye Mosque in Dalston, and Fatih Mosque in Wood Green, Haringey.

Other features that help Turkish expats to feel more at home in London include London Turkish Radio, a station focusing broadly on music and political commentary; and the annual London Turkish Film Festival, which has been running since 1995 and presents films from Turkish directors around the world.

German Community – Richmond

According to the UK census, German-born people form the fourth-largest expat population in the country, exceeded only by Pakistanis, Indians and Irish. London’s German population is largely centred around Richmond in the South-West.

With the Deutsche Schule and various German language meetup groups as central points for the community, the area boasts one of the highest German populations in the UK [10].

There are also several German bakeries and a Bavarian outdoor restaurant, should you find yourself craving food from home [11].

Bangladeshi Community – Tower Hamlets

London has a huge Bangladeshi community spread throughout the city, but the eastern borough of Tower Hamlets has the largest collection of shops, markets, religious buildings and schools serving the community.

Brick Lane is a bustling street near Shoreditch, which is sometimes affectionately known as ‘Banglatown’. Most of the street signs in the area are written in both English and Bengali, and its curry houses are particularly well-known for being both plentiful and authentic.

About halfway down Brick Lane is the Jamme Masjid, which was originally a Christian chapel, then a Jewish synagogue, reflecting the fluctuating communities in the area over the centuries. Nowadays it serves the largest Bangladeshi Muslim population in the UK, with space for 3,000 people inside.

Little America – St John's Wood

One of the main things that draws expats from a specific country to certain parts of London is the presence of schools that mimic the education system of their home country, and St John’s Wood is no exception to this rule.

A small but significant US community is centred around The American School In London, which offers places for students from pre-kindergarten right through to the end of high school.

There are also a number of US-themed grocery stores, diners and bars, including Panzers on Circus Road, which stocks a wide range of American foods and is very popular among the expat community. [12] [13]

Little Lagos – Peckham

Affectionately known as ‘Little Lagos’ or sometimes ‘Yorubatown’, Peckham in South-East London is home to a huge number of Nigerian expats. It has been estimated that London has the largest Nigerian community outside of the country itself [14], with an estimated 114,718 Nigerian-born expats living in the capital in 2014 [15].

Most of the local restaurants, shops and establishments are Yoruba-owned, and there is also a wide selection of Nigeran churches and mosques in the area, including Holy Ghost Zone, Freedom Centre International [16] and the nearby Camberwell Islamic Centre.

Greek Community – Palmers Green

The largest Greek and Cypriot neighbourhood in London is in Palmers Green, Enfield. Sometimes colloquially known as ‘Palmers Greek’ for this reason, the area boasts a thriving community with several cultural centres, counselling services, Greek dancing lessons, and drop-ins [17].

The requisite family-run shops and restaurants also feature here, including Greek bakery Lefteris, which was established in 1912, and the small but well-loved George’s Cafe [18].

There are, of course, many other ethnic groups and expat communities who have made their homes in London; the above is just an overview of a few of these. If you are considering moving to London and you want to make sure you move somewhere that helps you feel less homesick, take a look at local Meetup groups or community boards and you will no doubt soon find the perfect neighbourhood for you.

The beauty of London is its multiculturalism, and regardless of where you end up making your home, you will no doubt soon make friends from all over the world after moving there.

Do you have any tips for expats who are thinking of moving to London? Have you lived in any of the above areas? What do you think of London rental prices? Do you flatshare as an adult? Add any comments, questions or suggestions below.

If you're an expat in London, why not join our Facebook group and connect with other expats there?

Sources: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14], [15], [16], [17], [18]

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