Having recently made the move to London from NZ, here’s a collection of tips friends told me about, plus a few extras I discovered along the way.
Criminal record: For the UK ancestry visa I had to include my NZ criminal record. This took ages to arrive so it’s a good idea to request one of these before you actually need it/ before you start the visa application process. These also come in handy when applying for flats in the UK – sometimes landlords require them. Request it via the MoJ website here.
BRP card: Your BRP (Biometric Residence Permit) is your immigration card, detailing your right to live and work in the UK. This is what you travel with and show (along with your passport) when you re-enter the UK after jaunting around Paris/Berlin/Oslo for the weekend. You have to pick up the BRP from a post office when you arrive in the UK, so you must nominate your chosen collection point as part of your initial visa application process. If you know where you’re staying, nominate a post office in the area – otherwise nominate one in the city so you don’t have to traipse out to a random suburb! When your visa comes back, you’ll get a letter confirming your BRP collection point. Take that with you when you go (along with your passport), and if you can, avoid the PO on a weekend or lunchtime…
In order to set up a bank account in the UK you need to provide two things: proof of identity (passport; easy) and proof of address. The latter can be tricky if you’re heading over before finding a flat, but want to avoid spending off a NZ card/ travel card in the interim (or already have a job lined up that you want to get paid for!). At the advice of a friend, I changed my contact address with my NZ bank to her UK address, got one statement mailed there, and took that to the UK bank* as my proof. You can always change back to the NZ address (or go paperless!) after you’ve done this.
(*Lloyds bank no longer accept international bank statements as proof of address, but Barclays do, so I went with them.)
Despite the above, banking services like Monzo are a gamechanger. They don’t require you to have proof of address in order to set up an account, and it’s so quick (my card arrived in 2 days). I got this straight away and opened my Barclays account later on. Monzo was great in the interim for things that didn’t accept foreign cards/ required a UK bank card (topping up my phone, online grocery shopping, etc.)
If you’re keeping an account or credit card open in NZ, change your contact number over to your new UK cell number asap – this avoids the annoying situation where your ‘secure code’ for overseas purchases gets texted to a number you’re no longer using, and you’re stuck with no way to verify the purchase you’re trying to make.
Ask your NZ landlord for a reference letter to bring with you as many UK landlords or letting agencies require these. It can be as basic as how long you lived in the property, that you didn’t damage it, always paid your rent on time and got your bond back in full.
Good sites to use are SpareRoom or Right Move or Kiwis in London Flatmate. On SpareRoom & Right Move you can filter by London zones or by tube stations – being close to one of these is key. Anything more than a 10 minute walk is not what you want in winter/ as a single lady coming home alone at night.
London loves bills: be prepared to set up accounts for internet, gas, water, council tax, and a TV license.
I changed my voice message on my NZ number (before I left NZ/ removed the sim and replaced it with the UK one) noting that I don’t live in the country anymore.
I went with Vodafone as they had the best coverage across London + seamless data plans across Europe, and didn’t want to think twice about data when travelling. Whoever you’re with, you’re required to have a UK registered bank card to top up (maddeningly, none of my NZ cards nor my travel card worked) – this is where Monzo comes in handy.
National Insurance (NI) number: Once you’ve arrived in the UK, you’ll have to apply for your NI number in order to start work (like an IRD number). For the 2 year visa this is pretty easy and you can get one over the phone, but for the ancestry I had to go to an appointment and have an ‘interview’ – they basically asked why I wanted a NI number; I said so that I could work; interview was over. I’m told that they do this to vet you since you’re technically entitled to claim UK benefits/ support payments on an ancestry visa. I then had to wait SIX WEEKS for it to arrive via mail (but you can start work straight away). Archaic, I tell ya.
DBS: Depending on where you work (particularly civil service) you may need a basic DBS check – like a criminal record check/ security clearance. Ask your employer which one you need – for certain roles you may need a higher level check. I would apply for the basic one as soon as you have your NI number even if you don’t yet have a job – it’ll make you a more attractive candidate and you may be able to start work more quickly.
Documentation: It’s a good idea to have a scanned copy of your degree(s) with you/ electronically. Some recruiters and employers require it.
Once you know what area you’re living in register at the nearest doctors/ dentist, before you actually need to go. It’s a real pain to ring and register when you’re actually in need of an appointment.
Travelling UK/ Europe:
Travel insurance is a must given how often you’re on the go, and how likely you are to be using budget airlines…. I’m with AXA.
I’ve been using Star Alliance airlines where possible – some of the airlines are pretty cheap (LOT Polish, Adria & Lufthansa are always amongst the cheapest on Skyscanner) and you can earn Air NZ Airpoints through them, so each weekend Euro trip is contributing to a long haul flight back home. Win win!
RyanAir is a bit of a tricky one. Their hand luggage rules are so strict (stingy) so it’s definitely worth paying the extra £6 for ‘priority’ which gets you an additional carry on item plus priority boarding. On top of that, us foreigners need to print our boarding pass rather than using their app, and must go to the check in counter with passport + BRP to have a visa check and get the printed boarding pass stamped. They also have an annoying policy of only letting you check in two days before the flight (unless you want to pay extra to check in earlier). This, combined with the hard-copy requirement, sometimes makes it essential to find printing services on your weekend getaway!
Other important things:
Register to vote, here. You pay taxes, you’re as entitled as any other Brit.
Other hot tips for settling in:
- Bring an NZ multi-box with you to avoid needing a UK adaptor for each thing you need to plug in/ charge. Easy win.
- Buy bedroom/ flat things at Primark (Kmart on crack), TK Maxx, Argos or Marks & Spencer/ Debenhams. Order it all online and get it delivered.
- Online grocery shopping is my lifesaver – we use Ocado. Let me know if you want to sign up as my referral will get you £40 in vouchers!
These apps/ sites have been handy:
- City Mapper is life. Google maps is good for walking, but City Mapper is best for tubes and buses.
- Go Euro/ Trainline: Like SkyScanner but with trains and busses – tells you the cheapest and quickest routes.
- Get a Railcard for cheaper train travel around Britian
- Transferwise: cheap and instant way to transfer money overseas
- Splitwise: track and then split expenses with friends, avoids having to have a shared flat bank account for bills or loo paper. Also indispensable on big group holidays to avoid splitting meals, groceries, taxis 10+ ways.
- Today Tix: for the best prices on theatre tickets today or this week
- SRO Audiences and Applause: Apply to be in the audience for tv shows – Graham Norton, Live At The Apollo, etc.
- Culture Trip, TimeOut, Dojo: great guide to bars, cafes, events and quirky non-touristy activities
- Open House: only on one weekend a year, this is free entry to London’s best architectural and historic buildings. Book in advance!
- Soft Launch London: New restaurants often offer 50% off food the week before they officially open – called a soft launch. A great way to try some of the more pricey establishments…you just have to book in quick.
- Empty Chair or CityLit: Book crafty workshops, classes and events online
- Adidas Women: Free (I KNOW, RIGHT?!) gym classes as the Adidas studio in Shoreditch. Register for classes online, they’ll message you a couple days before to confirm your space.
- ParkRun: free, weekly, 5km runs around London – the app tells you the meeting point.
And finally, guys and gals… there is no better time to invest in/ stick to a good skincare regime. I am not joking. London water is super harsh and the constant temperature change between the street and the (germy/ muggy/ dirty (pick your choice of adjective)) underground seriously messes with your skin for *at least* the first three months.
While you’re away from NZ:
I left a NZ bank account open and have set up an annual automatic payment into my KiwiSaver – the minimum required to keep getting the NZ Government contributions while I’m away. Thanks, Cindy!
I also updated my RealMe details so I’m enrolled to vote overseas.