London is an extremely popular expat destination. The city's rich history, multitude of things to see and do, abundance of work opportunities, sophisticated infrastructure and transport, as well as the diversity of its population all play a huge role in the UK capital's charm. But, like every city, there are downsides to life in London, too.
We recommend that anyone considering a move to the city should weigh up the positives and negatives of expat life in London before making the decision. Here are some of our pros and cons of moving to London.
Working in London
+ PRO: Great job opportunities
Many prominent multinational companies choose London as the base for their headquarters. It is, therefore, a great place for expats looking for career progression in industries such as finance, technology or the media. Furthermore, entrepreneurs looking to establish a business will find that London is a great place to start, thanks to its well-established infrastructure and highly-skilled workforce.
- CON: The job market is incredibly competitive
London, as well as the UK in general, has a highly educated workforce. In addition, the city draws the best talent from across the world thanks to high wages and its attractive lifestyle opportunities. This often means that finding a job in London isn’t always easy, especially in highly saturated industries.
Expats from certain countries will be disadvantaged if they haven’t secured a job before moving to London as most companies ask to see proof of a person’s right to work before they even consider the candidate for a position.
Lifestyle in London
+ PRO: Something for everyone
Whether expats are fascinated by medieval history, modern art, live music, sport or an eclectic food scene, London is at the forefront of it all. It’s hard to get bored in this dynamic city. Beyond the city’s huge range of sightseeing opportunities in the form of museums, art galleries and historic monuments, it also boasts a full events calendar to keep residents suitably entertained.
+ PRO: An excellent travel hub for Europe
London is home to six international airports. This, teamed with the growth of budget airlines, has enabled the city to become a hub for travel to popular European destinations. Expats living in London will find that travelling to the continent for a long weekend is quite feasible as distances are short and flight prices are cheap.
- CON: Lots of tourists
Despite the fact that tourism plays a central role in London’s economy, the constant presence of tourists can be annoying for the locals living in some areas. Many restaurants and attractions close to busy tourist areas are especially expensive as businesses try to make the most of this market.
Cost of living in London
- CON: High cost of living
Even though it's no longer in the top 10, London remains one of the most expensive cities in the world. Rental prices are steep and buying property seems like an impossible feat for many. Some would say that to truly make the most of life in the city, residents need substantial disposable income.
+ PRO: There is scope to save
There are many ways in which expats living in London can save money. Living outside the central areas of the city is possible thanks to London’s extensive transport network. Deciding to live in the suburbs will ensure expats can make a considerable saving on accommodation.
To remain competitive, many businesses and retailers in London have regular sales and promotions which provide excellent opportunities to get goods and services at a fraction of the standard price. In addition, entrance to most museums and art galleries is free as is enjoying a walk, run or cycle through one of London’s beautiful parks.
Healthcare in London
+ PRO: Public healthcare is good and easily accessible
The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is considered one of the country’s greatest assets. Expats living in London will have access to the NHS at little to no cost. While patients are required to pay for certain medications, the cost of these is often subsidised.
- CON: Long NHS waiting lists
Waiting lists for certain treatments in the UK are long. It's possible to bypass these and explore options in the private sector. That said, private healthcare in the UK is expensive and those with any ongoing health issues or chronic illnesses should invest in a comprehensive insurance policy.
Accommodation in London
+ PRO: A wide variety of properties
Whether expats are looking to live in a quaint Victorian terraced house full of character or a modern apartment with views across the city, London offers a huge range of housing options.
- CON: Rents are high and properties move fast
Rental prices in London are consistently high throughout the city. Those wanting to live in particularly popular areas will need to act fast in order to secure a rental contract here.
Transport in London
+ PRO: Excellent public transport networks
London’s public transport network is extensive. Buses and tubes can get the city’s residents almost anywhere faster than a car could. Most people living in London have no real need to own a car.
- CON: Tube delays and rush hour
London’s tube network is the oldest metro system in the world, which partly accounts for regular delays and technical issues. Furthermore, with London being so densely populated, using public transport during peak hours can mean that commuting isn’t always the most pleasant experience.
- CON: Traffic and congestion charge
Traffic in London is a nightmare, so it’s easy to see why people avoid driving in London. To discourage people from driving into the city centre, the authorities have implemented a daily congestion charge for those that choose to drive rather than use public transport.
Education in London
+ PRO: Expat children have access to free public education
Expats in the UK are able to send their child to a state school at no cost. This is an option worth exploring, especially for expats with children who already speak English or those with children who are young enough to pick up the language.
- CON: The standard of schools in London is highly variable
Although government schools are free, the standard of education varies considerably. Some are excellent, but many inner-city schools are oversubscribed and failing as a result of the rapidly growing population, inadequate facilities and staffing issues. As a general rule, the better public schools tend to be located in the more affluent parts of the city. Expat parents should spend time reading the Ofsted reports of various schools before making a decision. This should be done before deciding on a place to live, as London school attendance is determined by catchment area.
+ PRO: Plenty of international schools available
As an international hub, London is well prepared to cater to the needs of expat families, so it's no surprise that the city is home to the UK's highest concentration of international schools. Though expensive, these schools give expat children the chance to continue their home curriculum in their home language, depending on where they're from.
There are several French schools, as well as schools teaching curricula from countries as diverse as Germany, Norway, Spain, the US and Sweden. The globally recognised and easily transferable International Baccalaureate curriculum is also a popular option.
►Our Frequently Asked Questions about London page addresses some common concerns people have when considering a move to the city
"Quality of life is terrific in London. It offers so much history, architecture, culture and energy that I don’t think a lifetime is long enough to explore it all." Read more of Wendy's interview about expat life in London.
"The lifestyle we have chosen to live in London overall is more costly than our life in a DC suburb so we offset the cost of eating out, socializing, taking trips and taking in sights by minimizing clothing and household purchases – there is no room in our flat for all of that anyway! Our living space footprint is significantly smaller than that of our home in the US." Learn more about expat life in London in Kimberley's interview.
Are you an expat living in London?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to London. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
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