… especially from an Australia-to-UK point of view.
1. Get your visa sorted a few months before you want to go. This might vary depending on the country, but for a UK visa you need to physically post your passport away (cue hyperventilating) to have the visa put in it. Part of the UK visa application process also includes attending an interview at a consulate in order for them to take your finger prints (yes, seriously) and this has to happen before you actually send your application and passport off.
For an Australian applying for a Tier 5 YMV (Youth Mobility Visa), the application process is really easy. There are a lot of companies out there that offer to do it for you for a fee. It’s honestly not worth it. I can see why it might be worth it for more complicated visa application processes, but the YMV is not one of those. It’s a simple form, with easy enough documentation needed (the most ridiculous documentation we needed to provide was a bank statement stamped and signed by the branch manager to prove its authenticity).
2. Have at least a few weeks’ accommodation booked before you go. Don’t expect to have a permanent place to live sorted before you go, but you want to allow yourself a few weeks to find somewhere. We lived in an LSE Hall of Residence for two weeks and were lucky enough to have a flat ready to go the day we were booked to leave LSE. Other universities also offer cheap accommodation during student holidays, eg. over the summer. Some have dedicated guest accommodation all year round.
Unless you have friends or relatives who have already teed up somewhere for you to live, you probably won’t be able to arrange a place to live before you arrive. Most share houses looking for a housemate expect to meet potential housemates before offering a room. If you’re getting your own place, many real estate agents won’t lease a property unless you already have a job there (sometimes they will if you can pay 6 months’ rent up front, which is what we had to do – but not everyone can afford that).
3. Make a conscious effort to meet people. Back home, most of your friends are probably people you got shoved together with in some way – either in school, uni, work, church, or sports teams. When you first land in a new country, you have no such social establishments around you forcing you to meet people (perhaps aside from your new housemates). We didn’t get along to a church for 6 weeks when we arrived in London, and by that point I was saying to Andre how much I wanted to get to church that Sunday because, as much as we enjoy each other’s company, I was just getting lonely. We are fortunate we could slot into a network of people in a church and that is one of the most amazing things about the global church. They were our family away from home and accepted us immediately with open arms.
That might not be your scene though. Instead, you might have to get involved in a sports team, join a social club, whatever. Don’t just rely on your workplace though. If you find a long-term job that’s great, but if you are temping you might be jumping from job to job every few months and that isn’t always conducive to establishing proper relationships with people.
4. Get out there and start exploring your new city and country! Oh, you’ve only been there 4 months and still have 20 months left on your visa? That’s cute, GET OUT THERE. NOW. Because otherwise you’ll blink and you’ll only have 4 months left.
Especially living in a place like London, there are such easy connections to other parts of the country. If I could give myself a suggestion 20 months ago, it would be to make a day trip out of London once a month, and to get away for a weekend every 3 or 4 months. Places like Oxford, Cambridge, Canterbury, Bletchley Park, Windsor, Stonehenge – even places on the south coast like Brighton – can be done as a day trip. And you could go nearly anywhere for a weekend. We’ve done Bath, Portsmouth, Edinburgh, Dundee and Bedford as 1 or 2 night trips and in the next few months will do York, the Cotswolds and the Lakes District also as 2 night trips.
5. To counter-balance the above point – make sure to give yourself plenty of time out the first two or three months you’re in your new country, especially if you get a job fast and are working Monday to Friday. Settling into a new country – where you have to figure out how a new country works (tax, health system, banks, etc) on top of all the normal issues that come with moving to a new place (starting a new job, making new friends, finding your way around) – is physically, mentally and emotionally draining. You want to have time just to chill at home, go for a wander around your neighbourhood or to a local park, and you want available time to hang out with new friends if invited.
6. Sign up to agencies in your job hunt. You will probably find a lot of the advertised jobs you apply for are being handled by agencies anyway. But if you upload your CV to job websites (a very good idea), agencies will find you and ask to interview you. Once you’re signed on, they will come to you with available temp jobs. Many of these temp positions (and even longer-term jobs) never get advertised publicly, as employers just turn to their favoured agency to fill the position. Some agencies are more pro-active than others. I’m signed onto about 5 agencies. I was regularly contacted by about 3 of them, although all my jobs came through just one.
7. Find out what discount cards there are for your city, and sign up for them (or buy them, if it offers good savings). And don’t forget about it! Use it to encourage yourself to get out and find new places to eat and see new plays or exhibits.
8. Find out what websites family back home can use to buy you experiences or vouchers as Christmas or birthday gifts. Posting gifts overseas can be expensive (especially with Australia Post!) so friends and family might prefer to buy you a gift online. Londoners might like to use theatre ticket websites (eg. Shows in London or Official London Theatre) or an experience website like Red Letter Days. Alternatively, travel-related websites where someone can buy you a voucher to go towards hotel or flight bookings might also be a good idea!
9. Don’t try to bring heaps of clothes with you. Bring your favourite clothes, the ones you know you wear all the time. But, especially when moving to a different climate, wait until you arrive to figure out what else you need. You’ll save money on baggage, be more likely to buy what you discover you need rather than what you imagine you’ll need, and will have the opportunity to shop where the locals do.
10. Try not to spend all your time hanging out with other ex-pats. This could be hard living in a country where you are only just learning the language. And I’m not saying don’t make friends with ex-pats at all! We have made friends with perhaps 3 or 4 other Australians and Kiwis in our time here. But you didn’t leave your home country just to spend all your time hanging out with people from home. When looking for a flat, we specifically avoided suburbs known for antipodean ex-pat communities. You will immerse yourself into the local culture better by making friends with locals, rather than living somewhere where the local pub is patronised 90% by other Australians, New Zealanders, Brits or Americans (depending where you’re from/where you’ve moved to).