My dear friend Rhiannon is about to move to the UK in a couple of weeks (4 days after my wedding!) to pursue her dream of becoming an opera singer. She is an immensely talented mezzo soprano, and Australia is not a very conducive place to an opera career. So, in light of her move, I decided to share some wisdom from the time that I lived in the UK. This will be a very fluid post as additions and edits will inevitably be needed, especially as I left the UK nearly four years ago.

Rhia, here are some things I wish people told me when I moved to the UK:

  1. You will not be charged for using another bank’s ATM, or cashpoint. You will only be charged if you use a non-bank cashpoint.
  2. Council tax – council tax is an annual fee paid to your local council for emergency services, rubbish collection and other municipal services. This is in addition to rent and utilities, and not paying council tax is a jailable offence. It depends on the type of house you have, and the council, but mine was GBP1200 a year, which is a sizeable chunk.
  3. Monetary figures like 6.56 and 3.41 are no longer theoretical. You will build up a massive collection of useless 1p and 2p coins.
  4. Alcohol is sold in supermarkets, and is exceedingly cheap.
  5. The dominant type of meat is pork, versus our beef, hence most sausages and rissoles and the like will be pork.
  6. Fish and chip shops have never heard of chicken salt.
  7. Likewise, KFC put plain salt on their chips.
  8. A P45 is the form that you are given when you leave a job, with your tax information. You will need this applying for another job. For your first job, you will need a P46. If you do not have a National Insurance number, you will pay 50% emergency tax until you give it to your employer. National Insurance is like superannuation, and when you leave the UK you should be able to claim it from the tax office. You will have to pay tax in Australia for wages earned in the UK in the financial year when you come home. There is no such thing as a tax return – the tax office just take however much they’re supposed to and that’s it.
  9. If you live in London, you will need an Oyster card, no two ways about it. Some banks have them built into their debit cards. If you live at a station outside London, you can get a Day Travelcard, which is return travel to London and unlimited travel within London.
  10. Sometimes when you buy a return train ticket, you will be handed two separate tickets – one for going to and one for going from.
  11. Thornton’s chocolate is horrible.
  12. British postcodes are very precise – one postcode can denote an area of 8 houses!
  13. If you don’t have a lot of money – learn to love Iceland and Poundland. Cheap food, cheap everything else but they work.
  14. Don’t take any of the Airport Express trains (especially the Gatwick one). They’re prohibitively expensive and not really all that much faster than the normal services.
  15. London Gatwick, London Luton, and London Stansted airports are really nowhere near London.
  16. There are many, many newspapers in the UK, and some of them print pictures that would be wrapped in plastic here, or are right-wing scaremongers. The newspaper you will like the best is the Guardian.
  17. Remember that pants are trousers, and that undies are pants, otherwise you will get very funny looks at work when you talk about work pants.
  18. You will go up a clothing size, and go down two shoe sizes. Clothes are stupidly cheap in the UK. I recommend Primark, New Look, Dorothy Perkins, and Next for really good quality stuff. (My red coat is from there.) Most stores have a plus size range, and New Look has a wide width shoe range which I still wear today. For the ultimate clothes shopping experience, I recommend this: go on the Tube, and get off at Marble Arch. Walk along Oxford Street all the way back to Oxford Circus. You will not be disappointed.
  19. The museums are all free, and all beautiful and amazing.
  20. There really is a Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross station.
  21. No matter how soft your Australian accent is, when you speak to people, you will sound like Crocodile Dundee to your own ears. This will fade.

That’s all I can think of for now. Have I missed anything important? Is there anything you’d like to contribute?

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