I recently wrote with Ellen, of Ellen Says Hola who is living up the expat life in London. Check out her blog Ellen Says Hola to follow along with all her adventures abroad. Her posts are super informative but she’s also really funny.
You should also follow along with Ellen’s adventures on social media.
Now for the interview…….
I’m Ellen, by day a social media manager and by other days a cycling travel blogger (with a terrible sense of direction). I’ve been accurately called a raging extrovert, viajera, and taco enthusiast, and once accepted microwave popcorn in exchange for freelance work. I love to speak Spanish and am originally from Kansas City, Missouri. I got the travel bug after volunteering for three months near Quito, Ecuador in 2009 and since then have explored lots of European cities as an Expat in London with my husband.
Why did you decide to move to London?
I’ve had a pretty acute case of travel lust ever since leaning about Ancient Rome in fourth grade. Meeting (and ultimately marrying) my husband only contributed to the symptoms. When his job gave us the opportunity to move abroad we had to say yes. Moving abroad was a shared goal from date #1. This was the first opportunity when one of us would also have a guaranteed job.
What do you love about living in London?
Oddly, I love getting lost. It’s convenient because I am frequently lost, but also once you start wandering around you realize how much more there is to London than the main roads. Venture even a couple blocks off the high street and you’re often rewarded with much more authentic experiences and independent shops. All of the free museums are amazing, too! I recently bought a Natural History Museum membership and can’t wait to take full advantage of it. I am also still amazed by how cheap and easy it is to travel to mainland Europe. Two hours to Paris! Two hours to Rome! Two hours to pretty much anywhere! From KC if you fly for two hours you’re just in Kansas…
What is not so great about living in London?
I’m sure I echo the London expats before me when I say London is EX. PEN. SIVE. Coming from the Midwest of the US, it’s a huge shock, and left me feeling like I was stuck inside because even the tube cost £2.40 (nearly $4!) for a one-way trip. After that, It’s just kind of grubby. The air quality is pretty bad and there are some … interesting … smells on the side streets.
What do you do for a living there & what was the job search process like?
I’m currently working freelance as a social media manager and trying to get my blog up off the ground. For me the job search has been frustrating at best. There are literally thousands of postings, and I have had several interviews, but in a competitive industry in an over-saturated city, I’ve yet to secure a 9-to-5.
How was the visa process?
My husband and I are here on an Tier 2 ICT Visa (ICT stands for inter-company transfer). His company took care of everything, thank goodness. We had to have a lot of paperwork in order — marriage license, university transcripts, pay stubs, etc. — and my understanding is that it’s rather expensive. However, it’s about the easiest way for an American to move to the UK at the moment. Our caveat is that even though it’s good for five years in London, we will *not* be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain, which means four-ish years from now we’ll be moving on to the next place.
What is the cost of living like?
I hit on this a bit under “not so great.” London is expensive, and cost of living is a big reason why. Expect to wave good-bye to about 30% of your paycheck to taxes, and then spend about 40% on housing. The remaining cash is quickly chewed up by transportation, pints at the local pub, and the aforementioned spontaneous trips to the continent. We used to be socking away close to 20% in to our retirement accounts, but that is a pipe dream in London.
Would you like to stay there long term?
Maybe? We can’t sustain the cost for much longer, and with our visas expiring after five years, we aren’t necessarily planning to. Part of me is excited by the mandated future adventure, part of me wants to high-tail it back to KC, and part of me wants to find a way to put down roots in Europe.
What are your fave traditional foods that we should definitely try if we go?
Here’s the deal: Fish and Chips aren’t automatically good just because you’re in London. If you want the best, go to The Fish House in Notting Hill. You also must try the salt beef bagels from Beigel Bake on Brick Lane. My third recommendation is to get a gigantic bowl of Singapore Laksa from C & R cafe. I’m also a sucker for a good pie — a meat pie, not a sweet pie — and for that you should go to Battersea Pie Station.
What are some places we should definitely visit?
I’m in love with the Natural History Museum, The British Museum, and Hyde Park — super cliche, but for good reason! After that I definitely recommend checking out the Santander Cycles day pass and riding through the parks or on one of the cycle superhighways. (The one by Westminster is a sightseer’s delight!) And finally, find the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park and say hello to the resident peacocks!
What are some things about the culture we should know before going?
Before I moved here a lot of people told me it would be hard to make friends here, but I haven’t found that to be true. Perhaps that’s because I aggressively pursue people who I want to be friends with, but everyone I’ve met has been open and welcoming when I ask to grab a coffee or pint. After that, I am still trying to figure out the many levels of politeness that pervade daily interactions. Sometimes it’s genuine politeness and sometimes it’s spiteful politeness. It’s weird at first.
Would you recommend it to other people who are interested in moving abroad?
Yes! London is a unique and unapologetic mashup of cultures and activity, and I think everyone should live in a place like that at least once. There’s a lot you can enjoy and take advantage of even if you’re only here a few years.
Don’t forget to check out Ellen’s blog here, and follow along with her adventures on social media.
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