Relocating to London – What you need to do

For the second time in my memory (the third time in my life) I will be relocating. Previously I changed provinces, but this time I will be changing continents as I move from South Africa to the United Kingdom, more specifically from Cape Town to London.

During my move from Johannesburg to Cape Town a few years ago, many people claimed that Cape Town is like living overseas. But this hasn’t been my experience. Cape Town is not that much different from other South African cities, except that the residents may be a little more relaxed than Joburgers. There are a lot of cultural changes that I will have to prepare for. From differences in food, to the way people act and even everyday language (slang differs from country to country, and even area to area).

Starting the process

The first step to relocating is to make the decision to do it. This is something that I have wanted to do since I was in school, even going so far as to ask my parents to send me to boarding school. However, in 2016 I made the decision that 2017 would be the year I make it happen. And in January I fixed on a date, 6 August 2017.

With the date picked, the next step is to find out what documentation you need. Luckily I have a British Passport, so there is no need for extra paperwork. However, for those travelling on a South African passport, you will need to get the necessary visa. The different types include spousal visa, ancestral visa, investment and work permit etc.

There are agencies that you can use to help you with the process, and they will assist with the paperwork, finding accommodation, job advice and even opening a bank account and registering with the NHS once you have arrived. 1st Contact is one agency that crept up a lot during my research and one that many people recommended..

Booking your ticket

Flight details are often necessary when you apply for a visa. So while it may sound counterintuitive, a flight is one of the first things you need to book. I did a lot of shopping around for an affordable flight. I booked a one-way ticket, so that does make it cheaper than a return ticket.

I found that Emirates was the most affordable airline at the time I wanted to fly. However, booking several months in advance does have the advantage of lower airfares. I managed to get a one-way ticket for R4, 594.23. Together with travel and luggage insurance the total cost for my flight was less than R5, 000. But it’s not a direct flight as I will have a layover in Dubai and that is one of the possible sacrifices you’ll have to make if you want to fly cheaply.

While British Airways can get you there without stops or layovers, I found the ticket prices for the period I was looking to travel to be more than double what I paid with Emirates. So while a layover may extend your travel by several hours, it may be worth it to save you money.

Getting ready

The next step was deciding on accommodation. You don’t want to arrive at Heathrow airport with no-where to stay. There are several options for those looking to travel to or relocate to the UK. Backpackers are a popular choice among younger travellers due to their affordability. However, I didn’t relish the idea of having to share a room with strangers, and private rooms are pricey.

There is always the more traditional hotel option, but this again can be very expensive. I opted for Airbnb instead. There are listings for all over London, with something to match everyone’s budget. You need to keep in mind that you will essentially be spending in Pounds and not Rands when you arrive, so I would advise looking at the cost of your accommodation this way too. If you start to convert everything to Rands it may be intimidating and appear too expensive, but you need to remember that things are priced differently there, so what appears to be expensive in Rand terms is moderate or average in Pound terms.

I booked an Airbnb for my first week in Wimbledon, and with a different Airbnb host I booked in Cambridge for the remainder of the month. This gives me the opportunity to experience different areas to help me decide where I want to settle long term.

During this time I will view properties to find a long term accommodation. There are a number of websites available to renters and homeowners. I am currently using Properties are listed regularly, and seem to be snapped up quickly. However, I was advised against taking a property without viewing it first, hence my using Airbnb when I first arrive.

In the days leading up to my departure I will arrange to view some properties during my first few weeks. For rent, you should budget for £500 (about R8,372.23) per month as an average for affordable and comfortable room in a house or flat share. The closer to central London that you stay the higher your rent will be, with some rooms or apartments going for more than £1,000 per month (about R16 744.46).

While rent starts to decrease the further out from central London that you go, you have to factor in the added travel cost if you work in the city. There are properties around London that go for less, but it depends on what you are looking for, and which area of London you want to stay. Some rooms may appear to be cheaper, but check whether or not they are furnished, and ask whether or not utilities and other expenses are included in the rent or if you will have to pay for those separately. Your Airbnb for the first week or so can factor into this cost, as it will essentially be your first few weeks’ rent.

If you are new to the country you also need to factor in the possibility of making a down payment in your first month. You are often required to pay at least one month’s rent as a deposit, plus your rent for your first month. In some instances you may be required to pay a deposit for two months or more.

Looking for employment

In general, recruitment agencies will not respond to you if you are not in the country. You will have to wait until you arrive before touching base with recruiters.

There are a number of online job portals that are available as well, and here you can contact the companies directly in many instances. These include:, CV Library, Monster and Reed.

I applied for two years to job postings, highlighting my willingness to relocate, with no success. While not always the case, many companies will not look at your job application if you are based outside the country.

If you don’t have a job lined up when you arrive, you need to have a plan on how you are going to earn money while you look for employment. Among the options I found are signing up to a temping agency where you can do temporary jobs, you can tutor if you have the necessary qualification (this is where TEFL comes in handy), or you can also housesit or act as a career. However, I received many cautions against acting as a career as this can take time away from your job hunting.

As a journalist there is another avenue open to me, which is freelancing. Depending on your field, this may be something you could look into as a means to build a portfolio and earn an income until you can find full time employment.

It is important that you have paperwork stating that you can legally work in the country when looking for a job. Most companies will only consider you if you already have permission to work in the country.

The trick to relocating is planning. Yes there are things you can’t plan for, and the new environment may be overwhelming and intimidating, but if you plan for everything that you possibly can, it can take some of the pressure and stress off.

For more information on medical cover when travelling, click here.