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New arrivals guide to the Cost of living in the UK and London

Living in the UK – particularly London, England – is expensive compared to many places in the world.

The cost of living will of course depend on the individual situation (and tastes!) of each individual, but you still need to be prepared financially. Just because you’ve been working hard to save many thousands of your own currency, doesn’t mean it will be quite as many pounds!

Apart from getting a Job in the UK it is helpful to prepare yourself (and save accordingly) for the following costs while in London:

Save money by learning about Longer Term Accommodation and when you first arrive Short Term Accommodation.

Save money by using public transport - Learn about Getting around the UK.

While it’s important to be aware of the costs you will be facing as a working traveller, don’t let it put you off!

As long as you plan carefully and think about cost-saving strategies the cost of living in England or the rest of the UK need not be prohibitive.

In the UK, shared housing and utilising the excellent public transport networks are two significant ways to reduce your costs of living. Also getting a job can be relatively quick and easy due to the dynamic recruitment industry.

For example, you can save lots of money using an expensive money transfer company to get money in and out of the country  and avoid emergency tax by getting your NI number ASAP. You should also make sure you have insurance that covers you for what you need but is not expensive. 

Average Cost of Accommodation in London

Flat-Share Rental per month One Bedroom Flat Rental per month
East London £350 - £450 (single), £550 - £720 (double) East London £900 - £1000
West London £350 - £430 (single), £450 - £690 (double) West London £850 - £960
South London £450 - £600 (single), £450 - £800 (double) South London £720 - £840
North London £350 -£500 (single), £500 - £700 (double) North London £750 - £900


UK cost of Food & Drink

Average weekly grocery bill (including food, basic laundry and toiletry items for 2 people) £80 - £100
Average pub meal £8 - £12
Average restaurant meal £15 - £25
Pint of beer £3 - £3.50
Average bottle of wine £10
Average meal for two in mid-priced restaurant £40


UK cost of Transportation

Weekly Zone 1-6 Travelcard (weekly) £60.20
Monthly Zone 1-2 Travelcard (weekly) £32.10
Train trip to Edinburgh  £33 - £110
Train trip to Cambridge / Brighton £17 - £27 (single)
Avg mid-sized car rental for a weekend £90
Return budget flight to Spain £120 - £150 (budget carrier)
Eurostar return ticket to Paris £112 (standard class one way) - £58 return in 2nd class
Return flight to Ireland (Return) £75 - £120 (budget carrier)


UK cost of Entertainment

Movie £10-£15
West End Theatre £25+
Club/Pub Entry £10 - £40
Live music/concerts £15+
Fancy Coffee £3.50
Fancy Cocktail  £11

Initial Costs

There are also some initial costs that will whittle your wallet down fairly quickly if you don’t plan accordingly, especially when it comes to setting up longer-term accommodation. Generally you should budget for the following:

Accommodation when you arrive: If you haven’t already organised accommodation for when you first arrive make sure you have enough money for hostel or hotel accommodation (from £11 upwards per night) or to give to mates who let you doss.

Bond and first month’s rent: This will be your most significant outlay. When leasing a flat or room in a flat-share bond can be up to 6 weeks rent and on top of that you will probably have to pay up to a month’s rent in advance. This could be as much as £1500 depending on the price of your rent.

Transport: Flat and job hunting can take a lot of trekking across the city on Tubes and buses. Make sure you have some cash for public transport or to purchase an Oyster card, see Getting around the UK.

Mobile phone: If you’ve brought your mobile phone from home you still may need to buy a SIM card or pay to have your phone ‘unlocked’ from your previous carrier. Avoid phone contracts if possible and opt for pre-pay calling. Be sure to put aside some cash to buy pre-paid top-ups; not being able to call back a potential employer because you have no credit is not a good look!

Internet access: You'll probably be using the internet for job hunting, searching for accommodation and making phone calls for staying in touch with family and friends back home. Internet cafes charge from £1 an hour, but allow plenty of cash for this as you'd be surprised how many hours you can rack up. If you have your own laptop, many coffee shops and pubs also have free wifi.

Clothing: Hopefully you packed suitable clothes for the season you’re arriving in the UK and if you found room in your suitcase or backpack, suitable clothing for job interviews in your line of work. But, if sneakers won out over suits, make sure you have some pounds in your budget for interview and work-wear.

Eating and drinking: Your first few weeks are sure to be a blur of eating, drinking and socialising. Eating out in London isn’t cheap so try not to have breakfast, lunch and dinner (and those crisps with your pint) while out and about as it will be more economical to buy groceries and prepare your own meals.

There are of course ways of saving your hard earned pounds as a working traveller (you say frugal, we say sensible!) for more important things like skiing in the Swiss Alps and living it up in Ibiza. Here are some cost-saving strategies:

  • Utilise your student or youth travel card: You are entitled to many discounts if you have a student or International youth travel card. This includes discounted entry to museums, cinemas and clubs. There are also special deals and discounts associated with Oyster cards (see Getting around the UK), so keep it handy at all times. Remember, a pound saved on a movie ticket is a pound towards another pint!
  • Buy from Charity Shops: Walk down any High Street in London and you’ll be hard pressed not to see at least a handful of Charity Shops (op shops, or second hand shops). Make these your first port of call for any crockery, utensils or home wares for your pad. Most stock decent clothing and shoes too, so if you don’t have a suit for that all important job interview, you can pick up a bargain.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for specials: At home you may have cringed when your mate whipped out a ‘buy one get one free’ voucher, but when you’ve only a few pounds left in your wallet you’ll be cheering for specials. Check the back of your cinema ticket for discounts at nearby restaurants, take advantage of early-bird dining offers at restaurants you normally wouldn’t be able to afford and make note of happy hour times at every pub you pass.
  • Leave things till the last minute: If you’re working casually and can pack your bags at a moment’s notice there are some great last minute travel deals to be had.
  • Book ahead of time: In slight contradiction to the above point, you can also save loads of dosh by booking your travels well in advance! If you know the best time for you to take off work or when your mates are free to travel, book your flights/trains and accommodation early, this is often when you will get the biggest bargains.
  • Watch out for swaps and freebies: The only thing better than something cheap is something for free! There are some kind souls in London who give away stuff they no longer need to struggling working travellers, you just need to be able to go and pick it up. From mattresses and couches to computers and tellies, there’s plenty up for grabs.
  • Join the local library: Once you’re settled in a suburb one of the first things you should do is join your local library. Many have free computers and Internet access and cheap (£1 - £3) CDs and DVDs for hire, not to mention guide books to borrow for all of your adventures abroad!

You can of course save even more money by living outside of London, as the cost of accommodation and day to day living expenses are significantly lower than the capital. Keep in mind though that your UK earnings may be lower (or higher depending on your line of work) and some people may find the lifestyle and travel options can be less vibrant and varied than central London. Of course, it’s each working traveller’s personal preference where they want to base themselves for what will be the adventure of a lifetime no matter what!

To gain a better understanding of just how far your pounds will go when you’re in the UK and when you get home (if you’ve been lucky enough to save some along the way) check out the OECD Purchasing Power Parities. Purchasing Power Parities (PPPs) are basically a rate of currency conversion that equalise the purchasing power of different currencies by eliminating the differences in price levels between countries. The simplest way of working out your own PPP is to compare two identical products in two different country’s currency (the most common products used to calculate PPPs are Big Macs and Coca Cola, basically because you can get them everywhere) and then see how much you would have to spend to obtain the same quantity of the product. So have a look to see how many burgers your savings will allow, although we hope you’ll be slightly more adventurous on the food front while you’re a working traveller in the UK!

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