June 26, 2007

How to Transport Your Life Across the Atlantic

Love is blind. Heard that one before? Keep that in mind, because it's the only way you will make it.

My love for London teetered on the borderline of obsession when I made the decision to come back the instant I left after studying here in 2004.

While I finished up my bachelor's degree in New York, I spent many a lazy afternoon in the back of my Integrated Marketing Communications classroom doodling Union Jacks along the top of my notes, red pen in one hand, blue in the other. I only focused when journalism was involved. In my spare time, I buried myself in magazines.

Mark that. University had indeed taught me what I wanted to do with my life: magazine journalism in London. Considering there are thousands of magazines in London, it would be easy, eh? Pah!

Step one: Find a way to get back to London with a working visa
This is when I discovered BUNAC, http://www.bunac.org/. Through this organization, I was able to obtain a blue card, which would let me work legally in the country for up to six months. The cost was only $290. The catch? I had to find my own job and flat. I attempted this from home before I left with no luck.

Step two: Find a job
After a month of staying with family, my funds were quickly diminishing. (Note: the exchange rate was NOT in my favor and Oxford Circus operates like a vacuum on the pockets.) Picky as I was, I had turned down a number of offers in hopes to find some sort of writing position. I had forgotten that I posted my CV on gumtree,
www.gumtree.com when I got a call from a London artist who had a gallery full of work and an open position as a marketing executive. She wanted someone who could write. After two interviews and a freelance assignment, I had my first salaried job. And making British pounds.

Step three: Find a flat
This goes hand in hand with step two as I was living in Kent and working in London, dishing out my life in train fares. I saw at least 15 places, all of them either coated with a thick layer of grime, full of flatmates who didn't speak a word of English, or far out of my budget. (One guy even invited me in for tea and a movie, which I politely declined.) Again, gumtree to the rescue. It so happened that a huge double room was available later that week in Kensal Green. I scooped it up for £200 deposit and £360 rent per month. Beautiful.

Step four: Get a National ID Card
More appointments, waiting rooms, copying documents, spilling more information. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Step five: Open a bank account
This was a long process. I went with the same bank I have in New York and waited ages for an appointment. After photocopying every single document I own, they said I can only draw out £100 per day and it can not be used in shops or online. A month later, they wrote me a letter saying they needed alternative proof of address or they would close my account. Nothing I had was acceptable until I transferred the bills to my name.

Step six: Figure out how to stay in the country past my six month visa
This is where I got lucky. With a British father, it turns out I was entitled to a British passport all along. After being thrown through loops for a month on the phone with embassies, being told I would have to revoke my American citizenship (and later, after a minor crisis, that I wouldn't) having one appointment cancelled because my photos had red eye, retaking pictures, asking my parents to bring all sorts of original documents to the country when they came to visit for a day in April, getting someone to cosign my application,and paying lots of money, I finally got my British passport. That day was glorious.

Step seven: Learn to make quick decisions
Just because I had my passport didn't mean I was completely sure I wanted to stay in the country for ages. Unfortunately, our lease in Kensal Green was expiring and we would have to move out...unless we took over the lease. In about two days time, I decided I would cosign the lease to stay in the country for another year.

Step eight: Transfer bills to your name
Finally, I could prove to my bank I lived where I live and rescue my flailing account. After about four hours on hold with BT and Thames Water, wanting to throw the phone at any unfortunate soul who happened to walk by...

Step nine: Choose new flatmates
Because two flatmates were moving out, we had to fill the empty rooms. Gumtree it was. Within an hour of placing our ad, we had at least 10 people call. That night, we unplugged the phone. The next week, we weeded through names and faces and decided on a young professional Kiwi couple to take one room.

Step ten: Take chances
The night after I arrived in the country, I met my current boyfriend. The boy and I were serious, but only dating for four months. Not usually the time for someone to move in. However, with one empty room begging to be filled immediately and the boy wanting to move out, I accepted his suggestion and he moved in.

I have been in London for five months now. I have two lives. One American passport, one British, a job, a boyfriend, a flat lease in my name, a bank account, a Tesco club card, an Oyster card, a social life, and the slight beginnings of British vocabulary invading my speech. Now, for that whole journalism thing...


Hannele said...

Nice compact summary - I'm sure this will be helpful to anyone in a similar situation. :-)

Lost along the road said...

Decided to check out this page... I have to note on your entry later it has been a long day... It was a very good summary... I will be back

Anonymous said...

oooh even I do not have a Tesco's clubcard...


Vanessa said...

:) lovely lovely
Still like your other one better :P

Avare said...

Wow. Just found your blog. Your story sounds exactly like mine except I'm not blessed with the good fortune of having a British father. No little blue passport for me! Must find alternate way to stay in the country...any suggestions?

Anonymous said...


Thank you for such a succinct summary. We are a married couple, professionals, looking to live and work in Europe. I have been looking through American ex-pat blogs.

I have bookmarked your blog (and this entry) in my "favorites" section. If if it alright with you, I might email you sometime for a short bit of advice on making the move to England. (Don't worry- I won't drive you crazy with endless emails.)


julie70 said...

It is exciting to read your story, how you arrived in London and how you did succeed to stay.

Funny for me to find somehow, even if otherwise, reflecting the Now or Never story. Of course, you do enter in a lot more detail!

I do understand a lot more.

And now? this note of course does not answer to that question.