15 Years Living in the UK

This week marks our fifteenth anniversary of moving to England for good. What better time to look back and reflect. Do we have any regrets? What were the challenges of moving abroad? What has changed living in the UK? Would we do things differently today? Would we consider packing up and moving again?

If you are familiar with Travel for a Living, you probably know this already. Although I was born and raised in Germany, I am both German and British. And I have always considered the UK (and London) my second home. From an early age I knew I wanted to move to London one day.

First time I ‘moved’ to London was at the tender age of 19. Right after completing my A-Levels. Back then it was only for two months, whilst doing some work experience with an architect’s practice in London. And I did not really move to London, I just camped in a friend’s spare room for the time being. 

Second time was a few years later during university. I came over for six months to do my internship with the same architect’s practice. As I stayed longer, I did move into a flat share for the time. But as it was still for a limited time only, I brought very few things with me (mainly clothes and shoes). So again, I didn’t really give up my home base back in Germany. 

When I met Mr T (shortly before finishing university), I made it clear very early on that moving to London one day was a dream of mine. And it better be one of his if this was to have a future. Well, at that time, he’d never even been to London. So, step one was to rectify that asap. 

I gradually introduced him to London and made him fall in love not just with me, but also with the city. What I really mean when I say gradually… I made him walk the length and width of London and showed him ALL the sights in just three days. Believe me, by the end of his very first trip to London, he was just happy to recover from his ‘holiday’. But it did the trick.

When hitting 30 we decided it was now or never. We quit our jobs, packed up our belongings and off we went. 

Ok, maybe it didn’t happen quite so quick. All in all, we allowed ourselves almost a year of preparation.

What were our challenges when moving to London for good?

I would love to say it was all plain sailing, we just arrived in London, found a flat, a job and lived happily ever after. But reality was a little different.

When we moved to London for good, we had neither. No job lined up, no flat ready to move into. All we had were a few job leads, interviews set up with recruitment agencies and a friend’s spare bedroom to stay in for the first few days or weeks. And some savings, so we knew we would be good for at least six months, if not longer. 

The first big challenge was poor timing. 

Despite careful planning and preparation, we did not plan for the biggest economic crisis to happen just weeks before we were due to move. Within days all those job leads disappeared and the general tenor was ‘Don’t bother coming over’… A bit late for that, so we came anyway.

Little did I know it would take quite a while to get back into full time employment. Savings and some free-lance jobs tied me over for a while and luckily Mr T was a little more successful with his job hunt. 

And in all fairness, the ‘oh so secure job’ I left in Germany was scrapped within a few weeks as well. So, it probably wouldn’t have been plain sailing back home either. 

Second challenge was bureaucracy.

As my first two ‘moves’ to London were only temporarily I never had to worry about things like opening a bank account (although I did try that before and eventually gave up) and getting an NI number (national insurance number). 

Who would have thought these topics could cause such drama? All because we were missing a proof of address.

If you live in Germany, you visit your council, register your address and it will be noted on your ID card (and yes you must have an ID card once you turn 16). Meaning, if you ever need a proof of ID or address, you just show said card. Simple. 

Not so in the UK. We don’t do ID cards. You don’t even need to own a passport unless you want to actually leave this island. And even if you do have a passport, there is no address noted in there.

Instead, if you need to proof your address, you carry around utility bills and bank statements, obviously no older than a few months. Which can be a little tricky if you have only just moved to this country, are living in a flat-share (so don’t pay any bills) and are in fact trying to set up a bank account (so no bank statement yet either). 

You wouldn’t believe the hoops they made us jump. It took us a good four weeks and several frustrating visits to various banks to finally get those bank accounts. 

And as for the NI number? In theory that is easy peasy. You call the job centre, you then wait for them to send you an appointment letter to confirm your interview and once that is all out of the way, you will eventually get your NI number. Which was six weeks from call to interview for us (and about 4 hours a few years later when my brother decided to give London a try as well).

Until you have your bank account and NI number sorted, it will be a little tricky for any employer to actually pay you. 

Finding a flat in London

We were lucky enough to have friends over here already. Instead of staying in a hostel for those first few days or weeks, we could just camp in their spare room for the first month, until we eventually found ourselves a place to live.

Now there is a reason why London always comes high up the list of most expensive European cities to live in. When it comes to the rental market, London is horrendous. So, the chances of us finding a flat were slim. And in all fairness, we knew that. We weren’t expecting our own flat, we were just looking for a flat share. No way would we be able to afford a flat (not even a studio flat) right from the start. 

Apart from those few months in London a few years prior, I had never lived in a flat share (I had my own little studio apartment whilst at uni). And neither had Mr T. Ever. So, we were definitely in for a ‘treat’. Don’t get me wrong. In many aspects we were fortunate. Some of our flat mates were great and we are still friends today. But we also had our fair share of weirdoes (the main tenant included). 

And moving from a decent sized two-bedroom flat back home into a double room in a flat share was something that did take some getting used to. As did sharing a bathroom with five strangers.

Moving our belongings to the UK

Before we moved, we got rid of most of the big stuff like furniture and white goods. Not much point shipping that over to the UK we reckoned. Whatever we wanted to keep, we packed in boxes and stored at my parent’s house.

When we first arrived in London, we only had our clothes and a few personal documents with us. Our entire ‘move’ fitted into our standard luggage allowance of one suitcase and one piece of hand luggage each for the flight to London. 

It wasn’t until we went back home for Christmas a few weeks later, that we started bringing over more of our belongings.

We never packed it all into a container or van and had it shipped over in one go. Instead, we brought it over bit by bit. Since we were in a flat share to start with, we didn’t need all our belongings straight away anyway. For example, most of our kitchen equipment stayed back home until we were ready to move into our own flat.

In the end it took us a little over two years to move out of the flat share and into our first own flat again. Probably longer than we expected. But I would say it is also roughly the time it took us to get settled and to start our life in London properly.

Finding a job

We moved just after the ‘Credit Crunch’ hit in the autumn of 2008. As with any economic crisis, the construction industry was hit hard. So, trying to find a job as an interior architect was quite a struggle. Even though I was fully trained and had some work experience already, I had very little to show in terms of working in the UK. But even if I had, no one was hiring. Lucky for me, the architect’s practice I worked with before had some work for me. Albeit on a part time temporary basis. It was something to get me started and gain some more UK work experience. But unfortunately, it wasn’t really enough to cover my monthly costs. The first year was draining my bank account a lot faster than I would have liked.

Mr T had more luck. As a trained chef, he managed to secure himself a job at Pret within two weeks of us moving to London. 

I had some odd free-lance architectural jobs here and there to tie me over. But in the end, it would be almost two years before I was in full time employment again. And a further two before I was back working as an interior architect. 

Was moving to London worth it?

Moving to London brought with it a whole lot of challenges. And some might wonder if it actually was worth it. Did we have any regrets?

Tricky one. There definitely were times when we questioned our decision to move to London. Was this really what we dreamt of? Sharing a flat with five other adults? Having little to no money, thanks to me not working full time?

I think our biggest challenge was around the two-year mark. We were both getting very fed-up living in a flat share. I had only just started working full time again, so money was still a little tight. But we knew we had to find our own flat and finally start building a life here. And luckily, we managed just that.

Overall, it definitely was worth it for us, despite the hard start. We were living in London, a city I still consider to be one of the greatest in the world. Yes, the daily grind could be exhausting. But we would spend our weekends exploring the city and making the most of it.  

Throughout the whole time, we had never given ourselves a deadline. Moving to London wasn’t a five-year plan. Nor was it a forever thing. We just went with it and played it by ear so to speak. 

Do we miss friends and family?

One of the biggest concerns moving abroad was missing friends and family. But it turns out, when you are moving to a city like London, people are more than happy to come and visit you. 

London is only an hour’s flight away from Germany. So, 2020 aside, we were always able to just jump on a plane and go home for a weekend if we wanted to see family. Or attend birthdays, weddings, and other occasions. Meaning we were never really homesick.

Where are we now?

These days, we no longer live in London. We eventually outgrew our one-bedroom flat and wanted more space. At which point we started looking a little further afield. After nine years in London, we eventually moved to Hertfordshire. 45 minutes on the train to London and still close enough to say we live ‘just outside London’. I was still working in Central London when we moved, so good transport links were important. And in the first few months, we would still head into London most weekend. But these trips have become less and less over the years.

Four years ago, we bought a house in a small Hertfordshire village. The next year, our little puppy moved in. Gradually life and priorities shifted (or maybe we are just getting old). Although officially still working in Central London, I now work mostly from home, and commuting is limited to a few times a month. I still love to come into London to meet with friends, see exhibitions or go to the theatre. But I no longer go every weekend. 

Would we do it again?

Honestly, I don’t know. I never regretted coming to London 15 years ago. I occasionally wondered how our life would have turned out, had we stayed in Germany. But would I really consider packing everything and moving to another country again? Unsure. Throughout our entire time here, we’ve never said this was our forever destination. So, I guess, we will just have to wait and see. 

Should you consider moving abroad?

I guess everyone needs to know for themselves. Personally, I would say, if moving abroad is something you would like to consider, just give it a try. No one is forcing you to uproot and emigrate forever. You might just move abroad for a year or two and then come back home. Or move on to the next country. Who knows. But you’ll never know until you try.

That being said, moving to London isn’t quite as easy as it was back then. Thanks to the UK leaving the EU, you now need a visa if you want to move to London. Even if you only want to come here for a few months. 

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