Life in London is great. Okay, not everyone will agree with that statement, but we sure loved our time there. In this post, we’ll talk a little bit about what we personally loved about living in London, as well as what might not be so great. We’ll also talk about why it’s a good idea to move abroad in the first place. You know, only after you’ve mustered up the courage to leave your home country, does it become relevant to decide on your destination!
Moving abroad is something a lot of people are scared to do. We totally understand. Change is hard, and being pushed outside of your comfort zone is not always the most pleasant feeling in the world. However, let’s just tell you this upfront: Moving abroad has been one of the best decisions we ever took. We are quite sure it will be for you too, and if not, then guess what? You can always just move back home. Unless you are aiming to populate Mars, moving abroad is not a one-way ticket!
Let’s start out with a brief background: About half a year before Kia was due to finish her degree, we started looking at what work opportunities she could expect. Mostly for fun, we applied for a few jobs abroad, not actually expecting much response. We honestly didn’t think anyone out there in the big wide world would consider a green recruit from a small Scandivanivan country many people haven’t even heard about. But so it works, when you least expect it, opportunities tend to arise. And when they do, the most important thing is that you are ready to grab them.
(Don’t know who Kia is? Read our About Us page to get to know us better)
Kia went to London for an interview, and within just a few short weeks, she had a job offer. We jumped in with both legs and never looked back. It went so fast that she hadn’t even had time to finish her studies. She wrapped up her master’s thesis in less than a month and actually received a small cash bonus from the Danish government for doing so. We really are fortunate about where we were born!
She moved to London immediately after, settled into a small studio apartment, and kickstarted her corporate career at a large FTSE50 company. Of course, that career has since been ditched in favor of our travel blog, The Danish Nomads, and life on the road. However, we probably wouldn’t be where we are today if we hadn’t moved abroad for a job in the first place.
If you are reading this post, you are probably considering living in London. We understand why you’d want to do your due diligence first. You must be wondering how your life in London (and the UK) will look like and whether you’ll like it? You might also be thinking about what you stand to gain from moving abroad and whether it’s worth the hassle. We can only speak from personal experience, but we hope you can use our experiences in some way or form to help you take the leap. So let’s get right to it.
We’ll start out by talking a little bit about why you should move abroad. If you have already firmly decided to do so, you can skip this section and just click on the next header in the table of contents below. That will bring you to what to expect from your everyday life in London. After that, we talk about how it feels to work as an expat there before we conclude with some of the things we miss the most from the city. Hope you like the post!
Why you should move abroad
Moving abroad has changed our lives! Simple as that. It’s a strong statement to start off with, but it’s completely true.
Before leaving the country, we were in a good place back home in Copenhagen. We were almost finished with our respective educations, had promising job opportunities, some great company in our friends and family, and enjoyed the comforts of speaking our mother tongue. However, we weren’t particularly excited about the prospect of such a safe and secure life. The problem was that we felt a little bit like our life was already planned out for the next 60 years.
In Denmark, this is generally how life pans out: You finish school after a tremendous amount of years, get a job, climb the corporate ladder, sign a mortgage and move into a house in the suburbs, decorate it with lots of beautiful stuff, get a dog (we might still want a cute Golden Retriever!), buy a Volvo station wagon, have kids, raise said kids, have your 25 year job anniversary, get laid off anyway, find a new job, see your kids move away, retire, live life for 10-odd years, have a few heart attacks, move to a retirement home, yadayadayada.
We are not saying Danes don’t have it nice. Obviously, we were lucky to be born in such a fair, safe, and wealthy country. But in our opinion, there’s more to life than a university education, a 9-5 job, interior design, and a house in the suburbs. We felt a need to search for something more, and our first stop on this search was London.
We loved it! The freedom it gave us felt unprecedented. All of a sudden, our weekends were ours. We could do whatever the heck we wanted. Back home, there was always a birthday we felt obliged to attend, or someone to help move apartments in exchange for pizza. It may not sound like much, but you’d be surprised how big of a difference it makes. We had honestly never tasted freedom like this before.
That’s reason number one you should move abroad: To have more time freed up to do what YOU want to do.
But moving abroad gave us much more than that! Consider for a moment one of our favorite inspirational travel quotes:
“Travel Is Not Really About Leaving Our Homes, But Leaving Our Habits” – Pico Iyer
It was not so much Denmark we left as it was our daily routine and our habits. Moving abroad forces you to live differently, and somehow that feels rejuvenating. Even the most subtle differences, like what you can buy for dinner in the supermarket, force a change of mindset. You can’t just continue to cook the same few recipes you always do, can’t eat the same thing for lunch, or even buy the same brand of beer. We could no longer bike to work; instead, we had to walk. Our weekly running routes changed, and so did our Sunday stroll. Most people like to live those daily habits but have probably never really tried to shake them up. We promise it feels great!
So that’s reason number two to move abroad: To break your daily routine and shuffle up your habits.
Moving abroad is always seen as such a brave move, but in reality, it is a necessity if you want to see things in a different light. It’s almost impossible to broaden one’s mindset via thoughts alone – real experiences are required. We think it’s safe to say that if we hadn’t taken a chance and left Denmark, we wouldn’t have had the courage later in life to quit our careers and start a full-time travel blog. In fact, we deem moving abroad the single most important step we’ve taken towards living the life of our dreams. It has extended our comfort zone, and we’ve kept pushing it since. It’s like a snowball effect; once you get it rolling, it only grows quicker and quicker.
Reason number three to move abroad: To push your limits and grow your future potential
There are many more reasons why you should move abroad, but the irony is, you will have to find out for yourself by actually taking the leap. We know it can be scary, but to use another great quote:
“If It Scares You, It Might Be A Good Thing To Try” – Seth Godin
Everyday life in London
We are sure you’ll have the courage to move abroad, but the next question is whether London will be the lucky city to welcome you. Thankfully, that’s entirely up to you.
Personally, we quickly grew extremely fond of London and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. We lived in a small studio apartment, smack in the middle of the city. It was about 5 minutes north of Oxford Street, and we couldn’t have asked for a better location. We really loved the neighborhood, the convenience, and all bustling city life right outside of our front door. Kia could walk to work in 20 minutes and pretty much avoided traveling in the dreaded tube at any time. There were countless pubs, great restaurants (and takeout!), and cozy cafes nearby, and we were just a stone’s throw from our favorite area in London, Regent’s Park.
What we are trying to say is that the location of your apartment is going to have a tremendous effect on your experience of living in London.
Unfortunately, choosing your accommodation is not a simple matter. The housing market is fluid, so there are plenty of vacant flats to consider at any point in time. That’s great. The problem, however, is the prices.
Our apartment definitely had its downsides, and the price was one of them. Because of the exorbitant prices in London, more than 70% of Kia’s net income disappeared on housing. You may think she could have chosen a less glamorous apartment? Not quite so. It was a tiny studio apartment in the basement, and it was very old. The basement location made it humid and gave everything a slightly earthy smell. Everyone who walked by on the street could look right in, and the noise from nearby pubs and bars was, well, easy to hear. It got too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. There were metal bars on the windows, and rats lurked in the night right outside.
Yeah, we had to live like that because it really is that expensive to live in London. Because of this, most people either share an apartment with a few housemates (even in their thirties!) or move out of the city. Then they commute to work, wasting 3 or more hours of their life on a daily basis. The funny thing? Commuting is so expensive that you won’t save that much compared to a more central flat.
In our minds, there really wasn’t any other possibility than to pay up and live centrally. To us, not wasting our lives on a train for hours on end was more important than the money and so that’s what we did. We were also ready to make the sacrifice of downgrading our flat massively compared to where we lived in Denmark because we knew it’d actually be good for us to try. If you live life too comfortably, you just don’t grow as a person.
We managed to make the most of it, though. We bought some furniture designed for tiny, tiny homes and quickly grew accustomed to having less space. At the same time, we started appreciating the pros of living in London. Excluding the possibility of a long commute, and forgetting for a moment the insane housing prices, everyday life in London is really easy and comfortable.
The quality of the city’s food, coffee, and bar scene is one of the highest we’ve ever come across, and the prices are lower than you’d expect (when you learn where to go). London is also a great city to just walk around in, and it has plenty of green parks as well. We were about 10 minutes from Regent’s Park, which we used to the fullest.
The vibrant life on the streets was something we had only experienced in Denmark, on a hot summers day. That maybe happens a handful of times a year, but in London, the streets are busy every single day. No matter if it’s freezing cold or raining, the streets are bustling and in the afternoon the pubs are full to the brim. There is such a great and lively atmosphere every single day of the week. The multinational environment is also something you can only find in a city of such immense size. Everywhere you look, there are people from various cultures with diverse backgrounds. It always makes for interesting conversations, and it teaches you a lot about people different to yourself.
Another point is the climate. Surely you have heard about the UK’s notoriously poor weather? Well, we might be the first to say so, but that just isn’t true. The weather is generally lovely. Okay, we come from Denmark, which arguably isn’t blessed with too many sunshine hours, but we found the weather in the UK to be a huge improvement. It really isn’t as bad as Londoners themselves believe. It does rain a fair bit, but temperatures are mild, and there is little to no wind. We have spent many Saturdays and Sundays just basking in the sun in Regent’s Park with a packed lunch and a few cold beers.
A final point we would like to raise about London is that it’s a great hub from which to travel. The city has not one, not two, but a whole five international airports to choose from! This leads to plenty of destination options and cheap tickets. This also means that almost wherever you are from, it’ll be easy for you to visit your folks back home.
Working as an expat in London
Your decision about whether to move abroad to London isn’t only about your free time. You should be thinking about how it is to work there as an expat as well. Let’s try to explain how it is for you, with an emphasis on the (potentially) negative things you should be aware of.
The biggest issue you will face working as an expat in London is likely to be your work-life balance. London has a reputation for being one of the worst places in Europe for this, and to be completely honest, it does seem to be somewhat true. It particularly looks to be so for native Londoners themselves. They go to work, probably riding the train for a few hours, arrive early and stay late. The excuse they use for themselves is that they beat the rush hour this way.
Sorry to break it to you Londoners, it only works if everyone isn’t doing it!
They often end up catching the very last train home, because they have to hit the pub as well. We used to wonder how it could be that many of them are content with living in what are basically dorms until they are in their mid-thirties. However, it’s since dawned on us that of course, it doesn’t matter one bit where they live because they are never there anyway!
Now, this is not the life we had envisioned for ourselves. Luckily, Kia had a great boss, who always encouraged her to have a life outside of work. He would even ask her to leave early if she stayed late the day before. Even though she worked in an ambitious FTSE 50 company in the middle of London, she got off easy. She had a comfortable work-life balance, which allowed her to appreciate the city better. When you look for a job in London, we suggest you make a point of poking around that subject with your future boss.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of working too much when you are alone in a foreign city. However, that way you won’t ever meet any new people or learn what London has to offer. Make sure not to stay in the office for too long. If you don’t know what to do after hours, sign up for a yoga class or something. Working too hard to avoid being bored is counter-productive and is a mistake we’ve seen many colleagues make over the years. They don’t seem to realize it themselves, but to be blunt, all they do is piss life away. We assure you, it is entirely possible to impress at work and have a life on the side. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
The problem of work-life balance (or rather the lack thereof) can be amplified by the fact that the UK tends to be quite conservative and thus hierarchical. For most people we have spoken to there, there seems to be a clear chain of command and a culture of having to work your way to the top. Never mind that it takes 60 years to reach it. Until then, you should be content with working only with mundane tasks, do what you are told, and stay late in the office. Again, Kia was lucky in this respect and had a more forward-looking boss, meaning she had a great time. If that hadn’t been the case, we’re not so sure. Nick was actually equally lucky, but he worked for a Danish company where such a culture is more of the norm.
If you don’t like the sound of conservatism and strong hierarchies, you should really do your due diligence and ask about the culture at the company you are considering to work for.
Another curious observation that we, as Danes, were surprised about is how the British eat their lunch. Back home in Denmark, we were accustomed to the whole team eating together in a canteen, chatting about how we were going to spend the weekend, or what we were planning to do in the afternoon. In London, every man is for himself and eats his own lunch at the desk. Between 12-2 pm, everyone flocks to the streets, buys lunch from either a supermarket, a coffee shop, or some of the many other food outlets and swiftly brings it back to the office to devour it in privacy in front of their respective screens. We found it to be oddly asocial behavior in the beginning, but quickly found our peace with it. It’s not like it’s that typical of the British to be asocial because they are very happy to talk over a pint in the pub later on. Maybe they are just shy eaters?
That being said, there is a strong pub culture in the UK, and if you don’t indulge in alcoholic beverages, you might need to work a little harder on finding friends. The city is a huge mix of cultures, though, so there will be plenty of other people like you. Just don’t expect them to be British.
The little things we miss the most
We only got to spend a single year in London, before Nick got an amazing work opportunity in Abu Dhabi that we couldn’t say no to. So we took the leap again and didn’t look back. However, there are definitely things we miss tremendously from our time in London, and we’ll just mention three of them here. Hopefully, they will help paint a little clearer picture of what it is that makes London an absolutely fantastic city. If that isn’t quite enough for you, we have also written a full blog post about our 10 favorite (non-touristy) things to see and do in London. You might be interested in reading that as well?
Walking everywhere: What we miss the very most from our time in London is how we could just walk anywhere. Oh, how we loved that. Kia would walk to work every day, and in the weekends, we would spend at least a full day just exploring the city on foot. Some days we would venture all the way out to Notting Hill, Camden Market, or Brixton. If you have followed us for a while, you know we love hiking, and that might be one of the reasons why walking is one of our preferred modes of transportation. Still, at the time, we had no idea how much we loved it. It was only when we moved to the United Arab Emirates (a country that is built for cars, and cars alone) that we really realized it.
Flat whites and smashed avocado: Before moving to London, we never really ate breakfast. For some reason, the food didn’t interest us, and we just weren’t hungry before noon. However, London provides, without a doubt, some of the very best breakfast opportunities we have ever seen. The traditional English breakfast didn’t interest us much, but the more modern varieties such as smashed avocado on toast and egg’s royale really gave us back our appetite for morning meals. Not to mention the coffee. The flat whites we had in London were better than we’d had them anywhere else – even in Australia where they originate from. London is a true coffee haven, and they are even quite cheap!
Running in Regent’s Park: We already mentioned this, but it was definitely one of our favorite things to do while living in London. We would take a quick morning run before heading to work (or go on unbelievable long runs in the weekends) and never ever grow tired of it! Even if you aren’t living close to Regent’s Park, London is huge, and you can always find a new street which you haven’t been on before. We were probably in the best shapes of our lives while living here, and we sure wished we could go back to that!
We would love it if this post has answered some of your most pressing questions about living in London and what to expect as an expat. Hopefully, it will help you make a decision, whether positive or not. If you have any more questions in regards to moving abroad or living in London (or have any other comments at all), then please shoot them our way. We’ll respond to all comments below as well as via any social media channel of your choice. We promise to get right back to you!