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What I wish I knew about the UK before moving here

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

These are minor and major things that we overlooked before we got here and all things that rightly deserved our attention.

When I decided to write this down, it was soon going to be 3 months to the date since we moved to the UK and in all honesty, it probably feels longer. More like a year. And in between dropping Jordan off at school and walking the dogs and Insta and YouTube, I had an epiphany. There's a bunch of stuff I wish I knew before I made the big leap!!

Ok, maybe epiphany is exaggerating a tad bit, but definitely crucial if you plan on moving to the UK.

These are minor and major things that we overlooked before we got here and stuff that rightly deserved attention. Well, while that boat has sailed for us, it doesn't necessarily mean it can't come to any good to think of it right? I've always said that if through what I do, I can help even one person, I will consider whatever I'm doing to be successful.

So I hope this little list of mine helps you out whether you are planning that big move, or contemplating whether you should be moving to the UK, or are just plain ol bored and need some entertaining on a lazy afternoon.

You can also watch my video on this which I've linked at the bottom.

1. Carry both cash and multiple cards when you move to the UK

So here's a really really embarrassing story that I chose to relate very reluctantly, but in the hope that it can help someone else avoid this. We were on our way to Harrow in London to create a bank account for Arijeet and we get onto a bus in London. Now unlike in smaller towns, on a bus in London, each person has to swipe their card to pay for their ticket. And you can only swipe your card for yourself. Not for family members. So Arijeet swipes it for himself, and as luck would have it, my card decides to give up on me. So here I am standing, holding up a really long line and my card doesn't work. And the driver can't accept cash. And Arijeet can't swipe his card again. To put it simply, I was mortified and embarrassed beyond words. And when it finally looked like we had to get off the bus, the person behind me was either kind or fed up of everything going on and just decided to pay for me. Bless him.

Moral of the story - carry multiple cards, with international banking activated (activate before you leave your home country) along with a chip which allows payments by tapping.

There were other instances when Uber Eats rejected all our cards which is a different story by itself but always carry multiple cards.

Most shops and restaurants and modes of transport in the UK accept card payments so that makes your life much easier, especially when dealing with situations when you are short on time.

While cards work for most scenarios, you would still need cash and here's why. Every time you travel outside London and probably decide to pick up a cab from the station (because it's a small town and Ubers are far and few), you will have to pay cash. In Maidenhead, the cabs outside the train station have no card readers and cash is the only form of payment they accept.

A lot of supermarkets also require you to deposit a pound into the shopping carts to unlock them.

So keeping some cash on you might come in handy.

2. Credit history is needed when making big purchases

To make most large purchases here on finance or to be approved for a loan or even rent a house in some cases, you need a credit history for the past 3 years.

Now considering we had just moved to the UK, we obviously didn't have a credit history and our credit history from back home didn't count.

How did this affect us? Well, we were termed as risky tenants by the company that did the risk assessment on us when we put a bid on our current house. We are also unable to buy a car on finance from most dealers (car loan provided by car finance companies and not banks) because we don't have a credit history. We also can't get a loan from our own bank because we don't have a credit history.

In the case of our house, I'd say we got lucky as our landlord was aware of the situation and decided to go ahead with us anyway. But in the case of buying a car, here's my suggestions:

  • If you live in London, you probably don't need a car because everything is extremely well connected, you have the tube, the trains and busses and very frequently at that. Parking and driving within London is also very tedious for that matter.

  • If you live outside London, you would probably consider getting a car because you don't enjoy the same luxuries in terms of public transport and that's alright. So here are your options

  • Buy a car by paying the entire amount in a shot, basically without any financing.

  • Narrow down yourself to certain brands, i.e. Volkswagon or Skoda (might be more). These are two brands that are willing to convince their financiers to grant expats a loan and ease the process. It means you will be paying a higher rate of interest (close to 9.5% or the likes), but your finance should come through.

3. Renting a house in the UK isn't easy

When you move to the UK, you will first spend an inordinate amount of time on RightMove and Zoopla or OpenRent etc., the reason being, good houses are highly coveted and the takers are many.

Now something that we didn't face back home was when you like a house, you put in a bid along with everyone else. And you provide details of your background. The owner then evaluates whether you are a right fit for them! In one particular instance, we were forced into a bidding war for a house that we were interested in and the owner / property management agency used this to hike the rent on the house and gave it to the other party - a single guy. So if you think of it, they used us to arm twist the other party into paying more. Wow.

Also be prepared to check out the house during your 15 min slot. Yup that's all the time you get.

If you'd like to know more about renting a house, check out my videos on the topic:

4. Retail timings in the UK aren't what you expect

Something you will have to bear in mind when moving to the UK is that personal time is important, rest is important and family time is sacred. Which is why, many smaller town shut shop by 5-6 PM on weekdays and are shut on weekends or operate within limited hours.

Coming from Bangalore, we were spoilt with stores being open until 8 or 9PM. But to be honest, shutting early is definitely something we support. Personal health and family time are revered here and that's part of the reason why we moved here to begin with. Just bear this in mind when you plan out your chores and shopping.

5. Grocery shopping in the UK requires planning

In the UK, if you have a preference for large format stores or large supermarkets, your best bets are Tesco, Sainsbury's and Lidl & Aldi. There are often also Spar and M&S and CoOp among others. While they come with massive width (i.e. different categories of products), the depth is not as much as you'd expect, unless you're buying potatoes. There are more types of potatoes than any other veggie.

We as a family do not eat any red meats so we're down to chicken and fish. Now this drastically reduces our options as the UK is big on meat. But if you are vegetarian, your options will be even further reduced, simply because a lot of vegetables that you probably consumed back home won't be available here.

But on the plus side, there are so many precooked or semi cooked meals that most often, all is forgiven. You have the option of whipping up your meals from scratch or picking from the many semi cooked meals, to drastically cut down on cooking time. You also have the option of buying bottled gravies or ready pastes to cook your native cuisines. And the silver lining is that they aren't very pricey.

So what if you really want something native to your country which the larger stores don't have? Try the smaller local stores. More often than not, the local stores will carry items which you won't find in a Sainsbury's. In our case, the next time houses a lot of Indians which means the need for Indian food is high and so obviously, the local stores there provide you with everything from Maggi to urad daal.

6. You're going to get homesick and it's ok

Yes, you will miss your family and friends. It will get better in time but not disappear completely. And that's ok. It's alright to be homesick, it's ok to be sad, it's ok to cry. Pick yourself up after that and remind yourself of why you decided to do this in the first place. Nothing will replace your family but being able to video call them whenever you want drastically eases the pain. But that's the price we pay.

That's it. Hit me up if you'd like to know more about anything or if you have any specific questions on moving to the UK.

I haven't forgotten the video I referenced earlier:

Also, do visit my channel AbsolutelyAshika on YouTube and subscribe if you haven't already and follow me on Instagram @absolutelyashika.

Until next time.

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