London Expat Guide
Looking to take on bigger challenges in your career and setting your sights globally? More expats are setting their sights on Europe's biggest countries to take advantage of better opportunities. The United Kingdom continues to be a top destination among expatriates, with many moving to London due to its status as a global city for finance, commerce, education, fashion, the arts and more. This expat guide to London provides you with a road map to working in one of the world's oldest and vibrant cities. Could living in London be your cup of tea?
The World's Cultural Capital
In HSBC's 2018 Expat Explorer Survey, the United Kingdom ranked 22nd out of 163 countries from more than 22,000 expatriates who responded to the survey, climbing five spots from 27th place in 2017. The UK remains to be one of the highly regarded relocation choices for expats who wish to live and work in Europe. London, in particular, is favored for its proximity to the rest of Europe, as everything is within driving, train or flying distance.
The city is famous for its iconic attractions such as Buckingham Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, the Tower Bridge, The Shard, and cultural havens such as the West End's theatres, the British Museum, the Tate Modern, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. However, there's certainly more to London than just tourist draws.
Past, Present and Future
To say that London has a rich heritage is an understatement. The Romans settled here in AD 47 and called it Londinium, which over time, became London and viewed as the capital of England as well as the United Kingdom. London not only includes the ancient City of London – home to around 7 million people currently - but is also the common name for Greater London which has grown over the centuries to an area of around 1,583 square kilometers. Urban expansion has extended it further into what is now called the London Metropolitan Region that covers 8,382 square kilometers and a population of nearly 13 million.
The reality is that London is huge. Its entire area is divided into 32 boroughs or local government districts that include the City of London. Under the stewardship of the Mayor of London and the 25-member London Assembly, the Greater London Authority (GLA) shares local government powers with the 32 borough councils and the City of London Corporation.
Central London is its heart, with many of the world's biggest companies and financial institutions as its hub. Other popular districts are Leicester Square that is home to Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, and London's cinemas and theaters; the very cosmopolitan Notting Hill in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; and Westminster where England's most famous residence can be found – Buckingham Palace.
While London treasures its history, it also has its eyes firmly set on the future. The city has lofty ambitions to be the "most advanced hotspot city in the Western world," according to an article published by The Standard. Plans are afoot to upgrade networks from 4G to 5G, while driverless cars are being tested and zero-emissions taxi fleets are also headed for the road. By leveraging technology, London aims to make digital infrastructure a necessary and basic utility for all.
A Global City
London certainly has everything that makes it a world city. Along with its status in the financial industry, it's a major player in national and global economic, political, cultural and business affairs, and home to many multinational corporations like HSBC, Unilever, and Citigroup.
Even with Brexit on the horizon, many technology companies are choosing to expand their presence in London, among them Facebook which is set to open a bigger office in the city. Fintech companies also find that it's easier to work in the UK, according to Business Insider, due to the country's global financial prowess and its Open Banking initiative.
When it comes to higher education, there's no need to look further as London is home to renowned universities such as the University College London, Imperial College London, King's College London, and the London School of Economics and Political Science. These four are among the top-ranking universities in the QS World University Rankings and the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings. Outside London are other global academic centers of excellence like the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh and University of Manchester.
Choosing the best school in London for your children is easy due to the high number of international schools that cater to all nationalities. Many are located within and around London and have different academic environments to suit international students. There's also the option to have your kids attend a state school or public school, especially if you see your family staying in the UK for a long time.
Life in London
HSBC's latest expat survey lists London as second in the world when it comes to job opportunities, something that 49 percent of the responding expatriates agree with, even with the impending impact of Brexit. The median expat salary for London is currently pegged at USD 107,863 compared to the global average of USD 99,903.
While a big income is certainly an incentive, note that London is also known for its high cost of living. Even with the high salary, it's likely that a majority of the millennial expats who work in London – 52 percent according to the survey – share accommodations to minimize costs.
Like any city with a high number of expatriates, there are areas in London where you have to pay an arm and leg for a three-bedroom house or apartment, especially if you have a family. Factor in the cost of school fees, health care - especially family health insurance – plus transport and utilities, and it can add up. Find out from the onset how much you need for day-to-day expenses.
Once you've settled into your new expat life, getting to know your new home city can be an adventure. The upside is that it's easy to soak up the London lifestyle in baby steps when it's right outside your doorstep. There's plenty to see and do in many parts of London without emptying your wallet. There are parks, free days at museums, festivals, and events for fellow expats to meet lots of friendly people and expand their network. London's gastronomic scene is also famous, boasting everything from Asian dishes to Middle Eastern and African cuisine at five-star restaurants to tasty street-corner shops.
It's not surprising that many of those who started life in London as expatriates have become locals themselves over time. Many find it easy to assimilate, even if English is not their first language, as London is home to people from all nationalities.