This is Quarter Life. Here I chronicle my life as a creative, and all the things I've learnt along the way.

A Creative's Practical Guide to London

A Creative's Practical Guide to London

Q

1. Get your Visa

If you’re between the ages of 18 and 30, you’re eligible for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa. It’s a working holiday visa that’s valid for 2 years. This means you can live in the UK without having a permanent job and don’t require sponsorship from an employer to stay (yay!). Most of the creative work in London is freelance, so this works perfectly.

2. Submit a travel notification to the ATO and let your bank/phone provider know you are leaving

If you have HECS/HELP debt you must notify the ATO of your plans to travel and live overseas.

Before you leave make sure you consult with your accountant about your situation. It’s really helpful to have an accountant in both the UK and Australia so if you need to lodge tax forms in both countries they are able to do it on your behalf. 

Set up a meeting with your bank and let them know you’re moving overseas. Give them an idea of how long you’ll be staying for, so they don’t interpret your overseas spending as suspicious activity and block your account. Ask about how moving overseas will affect your accounts. It may mean that you’ll be incurring more fees, or you have to close some accounts, or nothing would change at all. 

If you want to keep your mobile number the same, consult your phone provider and ask them what the best steps are moving forward. For me, I was on a month-to-month postpaid plan, and switched over my mobile account to prepaid and put credit on it to keep it active. Be aware of how often you have to top up to keep it that way (mine is a top up once a year). 

3. Set up your connections and cold email companies 1 month before

During the last month (or two) before your departure, make sure you reach out to anyone you know (friends, workmates, tutors) who have worked or knows someone who has worked in London. It’s very common for Australian creatives to move over to London for work, so it’s likely you know someone who has already done it. Set up a casual coffee date, ask them questions about their experience and if they know anyone in London who would be looking for someone of your skill and expertise. 

Do some research on companies you like, and send a cold email to them, or if possible, get an introduction through a contact of yours. In the process of moving to London, I personally had more success through my cold emails than my introductions (most of which never replied at all), so if you don’t have any personal contacts you can still succeed! 

Your cold email should include the following:

  • An introduction to yourself
  • When you’ll be arriving in the UK
  • What work you are looking for (full-time/part-time/freelance)
  • Your experience and skills
  • A link to your portfolio and/or reel

If you’re in the graphic design industry, definitely reach out to Represent UK, they’re a recruitment agency that can help you find a job, give you advice about your rate/salary and talk through some of your options. It’s worth setting up a meeting with them and seeing where you can go from there.

4. Getting a job in London: where to look

London has some really great companies and studios, here’s a few places to start:

Pentagram, R/GA, DesignStudio, Google/Google Creative Lab, Anyways, Nobrow/Flying Eye Books, Landor, ReM&CSaatchi, Jelly London, Deloitte, The Mill, The Line Animation, Stink Studios, BlinkInk, Nexus Studios, StudioAKA, Golden Wolf, Animade, Art and Graft, Passion Pictures, Man vs Machine, Moth Studio, Ustwo Games, Framestore, Nickelodeon, MPC.

If you want to look for specific jobs, check out Design Jobs Board, If You Could Jobs, Animated Jobs and The Dots Jobs

Tip: The creative industry is pretty tight knit, to find more studios to work for look at who your favourite studios follow on Instagram.

5. Find temporary accommodation

Finding a room in London from overseas is really hard, especially because you can’t view the place and agents are more likely to give a room to someone who can move in the next day. Most rooms on offer require you to stay anywhere from 3 months to a year, which can be a big commitment if you don’t know the area and don’t know if it will suit your life and work routine.

I would recommend one of the following for your first “place”:

  • Have a friend that can offer or find you a room to stay and immediately move into
  • Booking an AirBNB for 2-3 weeks while you have time to look at rooms
  • A hostel for 2-3 weeks, a cheaper alternative to an AirBNB
  • Using what I used: iRoom-UK

iRoom-UK is an agency targeted to young professionals. They offer a large range of rooms and the best thing is, they offer short contracts (minimum 6 weeks) and you can extend and renew as you please. My friend who lived in London just before me used their service and suggested it to me when I was stuck looking for a place, and I was able to lock down a room and move in the day I landed.

I didn’t need a reference letter either which was good (because I never had one, I’ve only just lived with my parents until I moved to London). Once you move out they will give your bond back within a week, and all their bills are included your weekly rental fee. 

I ended up staying at that place for 7 months even though my initial contract was for 6 weeks. They answer your emails quickly and have a large network of other rooms so you can move to a new place if you’re not satisfied with your current room.

6. Get an international travel card, convert cash, get a Transferwise account

Once you arrive in London it might take a while to set up a UK bank account, so it is really important that you have a no fee travel card (with a good conversion rate) to have with you while you’re settling in. I had the Citibank Travel Money Card, and that worked for all my purchases without a problem. 

It’s also useful to open a Transferwise account (use this link to get your first international transfer of up to $500 for free), it will come in very handy when transferring money for a deposit on a room (like I did with iRoom-UK above), or when you move your savings over to your new bank account.

Also have £300-400 cash on you just in case!

7. Arrive in the UK and get a SIM card at the airport

As soon as you land at the airport, go to a vending machine and get a SIM card. I went with Three because my friend personally recommended it and they offer free overseas roaming which is great for travel. I’ve travelled quite a bit and it’s been really reliable for me. I got myself a £20 SIM card initially and that was enough for the first month. It offered me 12GB data, 3000 minutes and 3000 texts.

Every month after that I purchased the £15 add-on (5GB data, 3000 minutes and 3000 texts) and have never run out of data (except that one time when my home Wi-Fi was disconnected for 6 weeks, and had to get the £35 add-on for unlimited data). 

For reference, my data usage on the daily is: lots of social media, messaging, Spotify, podcasts and the occasional YouTube video.

Note: Buying credit and buying an “add-on” from Three are completely different things. If you top up your account with £15, this is just credit, not an “add-on”. You must use that credit to buy an add-on otherwise you will not get the 5GB data, 3000 minutes and 3000 texts. 

You can use your credit to make calls/send texts/browse the internet, but it will charge you 3p a min/2p a text/1p per MB, which drains your credit quickly. Go for the add-on!

Another note: Three will not let you top up your credit unless you have a UK bank account with a UK address. So make sure you get a UK card before you run out of credit!

8. Get your Oyster card at the airport

Another thing to get at the airport is an Oyster card! You will need this to travel across the TfL network (except some Thameslink trips which would need an old school train ticket, but that’s only if you are going to the airport or cross country). 

Download the app to keep track of your journeys, your balance and to top up!

Note: Using your contactless card is also an option, but you won’t know how much each trip costs (only your daily total), whereas it would be easier to track with an Oyster card.

9. Collect your BRP

Collect your BRP (Biometric Residence Permit) within your first week of arrival. 

10. Find a place to live - good areas

If you found a permanent place to live, skip this part and go straight to the next one. If not, finding a room/place to live is much easier when you’re finally in London. Rooms get taken really quickly, so snatch up a place if it feels right. It’s important to have viewings, especially if they’re asking you for a longer contract. 

SpareRoom is widely used to find a places in London, and worth checking out. 

As mentioned above, I used iRoom-UK as my first accommodation to move over, and they worked very well for me. 

When I first moved I was recommended these areas which are (for the most part) affordable: 

I ended up living in the East.

11. A trip to Primark and Poundland

Once you’ve got your place to live, it’s super important to get all your bed sheets! If you’re moving over on a budget, it’s likely that the place you’re moving into has a bed and mattress already. Primark has a really great range of pillows, duvets and sheets for a very affordable price. You can also get towels, robes, pjs, socks and cute home decor from there too. 

Poundland is the UK’s version of a dollar store, and they have almost everything you need to get set up.

12. Buy a 16-25 Railcard

Once you get settled, apply for a 16-25 Railcard. It costs £30 but you’ll get 30% off a range of cross country rail fares (and 30% off off-peak Underground journeys once linked to your Oyster card). I bought it just before my trip to Edinburgh and got almost all that money back from my savings on that ticket.

If you are over 25, there are different types of railcards available (as I’m typing this they are trialing a 26-30 Railcard).

13. Get your National Insurance Number

When you get your BRP, you might have a National Insurance Number on the back, if you don’t (like I didn’t), you must apply for one. It is a pretty simple process and requires you to call the National Insurance Number application line. They will ask you for your details, your address, and ask you a few questions about your circumstances. 

They will send you an application form and tell you to include a copy of your ID. Once you send that back you will receive a letter with your National Insurance Number. They may request an in person interview with you, but for me it was a relatively simple process and all I had to do was fill in the form.

14. Getting a solid proof of address: Open a Monzo or Monese account

Getting a proof of address in the UK is really hard, especially if you moved into a place where you’re not on the lease or any of the bills (and often a letter from your agency isn’t “legit” enough). The best way to get a proof of address and (a bank account at the same time) is to open a Monzo or Monese account. 

The set up is really simple; download the app, and you just need your passport and to verify your identity with a selfie. They may need to call you to answer more questions, but compared to setting up an account with the traditional banks, it’s much easier and you can do it all without leaving your bedroom. 

Monzo is the account I currently use, and it has no monthly fees, a competitive conversion rate and fantastic support. When I first moved here the waiting list was very long, and it took me around 2 months to get my account set up (because at the time they didn’t have enough debit cards to send out - things may have changed since then). If there is a waiting line, and you know someone with a Monzo account, you may be able to get a golden ticket from them which allows you to skip the line and open an account right away. Because I wasn’t able to get a Monzo card when I first moved to London, I opted for Monese.

Monese offers a free trial for 30 days, but is £5 per month after that. I used Monese at the beginning because as mentioned above, I wasn’t able to get a Monzo account. I ended up using my Monese account for 2 months, and cancelled it after I opened my Lloyds and my Monzo account. 

Both Monzo and Monese offer PDF statements, which include your nominated address on it. This works as your proof of address, which means you can use it to open a traditional UK bank account, get a library card and get registered at your local clinic.

Tip: How to get stuff printed: I used to go to my local Westfield and print at their concierge. It was £1 per page (I know), but it worked until I eventually got my own printer (which you can get for £25 at Currys). 

15. Get a traditional UK bank account and open an ISA

This is of course optional if you want to stick only to a Monzo/Monese account, but when I registered for a Monzo account it was only a travel card and I wanted to have a current account and a separate savings account. I decided with go with Lloyds, but the general consensus is most of the major UK banks don’t have much difference between each other. Lloyds does not have a monthly fee for their basic current and savings accounts.

With Lloyds, I had to make an in person appointment to open my first account. The only way to make an appointment is over the phone, and once you set up a meeting, bring your ID (passport, BRP), and your proof of address. They will set everything up for you and you will get your confirmation and card in the mail within the week. 

When you’re opening a savings account, it’s important to choose an ISA because it’s a tax free way to save. If you make any interest from a normal savings account, often you will have to pay tax on your interest. With an ISA, you can save up to £20,000 tax free. It’s the ideal savings account and most banks would recommend that option. 

Once you have all your bank accounts set up, use Transferwise to send over your funds.

16. Get registered at your local clinic

The whole process of registering at your local clinic is very long and convoluted. Here’s how it works.

  1. You must find a clinic in your local area
  2. Bring a form of photo ID (passport) and your proof of address
  3. Get a registration form from the receptionist and fill it out
  4. Give it back to them and they will submit your details
  5. You have to wait until you get a letter in the mail with your NHS number and confirmation of your local clinic/GP surgery
  6. Make an appointment 

It’s really important you do it early because you don’t want to be in a situation where you have to wait 1-2 weeks to see a doctor because you’re not registered. Once you’re registered you can only go to that clinic, and if you want to change clinics you must re-register. Local clinics often have limited hours (open until 7pm, closed on weekends) but there are clinics specifically open for after hours and weekends, which you don’t have to register for because they are part of the same network of your local GP clinic. Be sure to enquire about those places especially if you have a 9-5 job and cannot take time off work.

There are private clinics available, and appointments cost around £30-50. The benefit is a faster service, you don't have to register, and it’s less competitive finding an available slot the day of.

17. Other needs: Sexual health clinics

Sexual health clinics on the other hard, are way more accessible. They offer all services related to sexual health, including sexual health screenings, contraception, advice, and it is all free. You don’t need to be registered at any GP clinic to access their services, and it is much easier to make an appointment than most GP clinics (some offer walk-in appointments too). 

If you need to make an appointment, click here

18. Get a library card

Using your proof of address again, find your local library and get registered. Because everything in London is really expensive, it’s refreshing to have a huge selection of books and resources for free. All the London libraries appear to be connected so you have access to everything

Once you get your library card you should also download the RB Digital app, which gives you access to the latest eMagazines (Vogue, Cosmo, Empire, Computer Arts) and eAudiobooks for free.

Because I was part of the Waltham Forest network I was able to access them through this link.

19. Register as self-employed

If you want to become a freelancer or sole trader, you must register as one with HMRC. At the end of the tax year you will send a Self-Assessment tax return and pay income tax on your profits.

20. How much should you get paid?

If you’re completely confused about the salaries and day rates in London, check out Represent UK’s Salary Survey. It outlines salaries and day rates for a wide range of levels and roles. It will give you a good idea of what you are worth. 

Yuno Uno also did a survey about pay and these are their results.

21. Freelancing, invoicing and tax time

Once you start freelancing, you must invoice your client or the company you’re providing services to. Depending on what you prefer, you can invoice at the end of each week or month. If you invoice every week, you’ll get paid earlier and more frequently.

This is the information you need to include in your invoice.  

The UK tax year starts on the 6th of April and ends on 5th of April the following year. You have until October 31st to lodge your tax return (and January 31st if you’re submitting online).

22. Creative London events and communities to join

There is no shortage of creative events in London, and here’s how you find them:

  • Time Out London - They let you know about the latest gallery openings, festivals and exhibitions
  • Eventbrite - A great place to find creative workshops and talks 
  • Life Drawing - No need to book, just drop in! Costs £9 per session.
  • The Dots - Occasionally The Dots holds portfolio masterclasses and they bring together fantastic mentors from well established companies to talk and give advice
  • Campus London - Catered to entrepreneurs (but generally open to anyone else). Apply for a spot and go to their orientation so you can get access to all their talks, yoga classes, desk space and resources. Worth doing if you wanna keep busy and learn a few things.
  • Punanimation - If you work in animation and identify as female, trans or non-binary, join the Facebook group and directory!
  • It’s Nice That's Nicer Tuesdays - Watch creative talks and mingle with fellow creatives. £12 per event.
  • Aussies in London (non-creative, just very Aussie) - If you want to find solidarity with other Australians join this group, you may find some good tips or leads through the people here.

23. Travelling from London

Travelling cross country by train: I use the Trainline app.

Travelling overseas: Use Skyskanner or Kayak (but make sure you go incognito to get the best deal).

Getting to/from Gatwick airport: do not use the Gatwick Express. It costs £25, as takes around the same time as the Thameslink. If you use your Oyster card and take the Thameslink you will only pay around £5.

Getting to/from Luton Airport: You cannot use your Oyster Card to get there, you must buy a train ticket (from Trainline).

Getting to/from Heathrow: You can use an Oyster card. Taking the Heathrow Express may be a bit pricier.

Travel Insurance: I get my travel insurance from the Post Office. Luckily I’ve never had to use it (knock on wood), but I found this was really simple to set up and they had a reasonable rate compared to what I’m typically used to in Australia.

24. Shows to see in London and where to get tickets

My favourite shows in London are:

Prices:

Tip: Download the TodayTix app to see what’s available and to get a good deal.

25. Art/Craft places to shop in London 

Stationery stores: 

Craft supply stores:

26. Favourite art/design related places to go in London

My favourite Art/Design related places in London are:

27. (Cheap!) Movies in London

*Additional surcharges for 3D films

28. Average prices in London

In my first month, I spent around £2000 to get settled. Every month after that I spent an average of £1200 per month on daily expenses and everything else (subscriptions, clothes and beauty; this number excludes my travel and business expenses). 

In my time in London I lived in two places:

  • Rent for 1 room in a sharehouse with 6-7 people (all bills and cleaning fee included): £600pcm
  • Rent for 2 bedroom (private) upstairs terrace with my partner (all bills included): £1400pcm (£700pcm each)

Daily expenses:

  • Phone Bill - £15 per month
  • Groceries - £25 per week
  • Lunch - £6-15pp (low to average range)
  • Dinner - £20-25pp (average)
  • Transport - £25 per week (may be higher if you travel peak hours and don’t have a railcard)

And that is pretty much it! Good luck :)
 

Money in Sydney vs. London

Money in Sydney vs. London