London Guide

Visiting or moving to a new country brings one face to face with oftentimes startling differences. We've compiled a list of essential facts and guide for the would-be traveler to London. Select a topic from the list below for some invaluable insight.

1. Accommodation

2. Working in London

3. Transport

4. Culture & Entertainment

5. Handy Tips

1. Accomodation

• Shared Housing
• Youth Hostels
• Bedsits
• Studio flats, flats and houses
• Choosing your accommodation

Finding accommodation in London can be a daunting task. There is a myriad of housing options, so how do you go about choosing the place that is best for you? Prepare yourself for a shock in terms of the price of housing too! Property is incredibly expensive and will almost definitely get a lot less for your money than you did in your home country. If you are a traveler of the backpacking kind, you will have to share a flat or a room with another person as living alone is a pleasure of the rich! But don't feel discouraged. Finding lodgings is a part of your adventure that is just beginning and sooner or later you will find something that suits you.

London is divided into six zones. Zone 1 is in the middle and Zones 2 to 6 radiate in concentric circles from the centre, like a shooting target. You will find that generally, the further you venture from the centre of the city, the cheaper the price of renting or buying property becomes. Naturally there are many different suburbs; each with their own price range and your budget will largely determine your choice of area. Keep in mind that rent contracts are usually for six months or more. You have several options when it comes to choosing your new home. Here are the basics:

• Shared Housing (also known as 'Communes')

This kind of living arrangement is the most popular among young travelers and it is by far the cheapest. A flat or house will be shared by as many inhabitants as possible to keep costs to the minimum and they will usually be of the same age, sometimes all from the southern hemisphere and all with same goal: to experience living in London and having fun while doing it! Sharing living quarters in this way provides you with an instant group of friends with a bit of knowledge to share about the nitty gritty facts of living in London.

Please note that the word 'commune' has a completely different meaning in England. Communes conjure up images of hippies and sheep farms in Mexico; 'shared housing' is a lot closer to the truth!


• Low rent. You are looking at between £65 and £85 per week.
• Instant access to your housemates' (sometimes) valuable knowledge regarding the finding of jobs, getting around and entertainment in the area.


• Wherever there are people living together in a confined space, differences of opinion may arise at some and this could lead to fighting among housemates. Inconsiderateness in terms of noise levels and cleanliness are the main causes of disharmony in the house. Things like unwashed dishes and dirty bathrooms can cause dissent and ill humor but don't despair! Keep your sense of humor and sort things out amiably.


• When you are going around looking at a prospective place to stay, try to meet as many of the housemates as possible to get an idea of their personalities and habits. Can you see if yourself fitting in there? Trust your instincts: if something doesn't feel right, rather continue your search.

• Avoid as far as it is possible to have bills put in your name. If your name appears on e.g. the telephone bill, you are responsible for the full payment of it and if your housemates fail to pay their part, you are in trouble!

• There are a few crooked landlords operating in London. They use unscrupulous methods and do not respect the rights of their occupants. Check with the current housemates. Are they being treated fairly?

• Youth Hostels and Budget Hotels

Some people opt for living in a youth hostel or a budget hotel on a permanent basis instead of finding a flat or house. This is more expensive than shared housing and you may find yourself sharing a room with anything between three and seven people, sometimes more, usually of the same sex. Bathrooms are shared between roughly ten to twenty people of both sexes. Generally you will find a kitchen with fridges and a kind of common room for the occupants to watch TV or play games in. The average price is between £10 and £15 per night and you may have to pay a couple of pounds extra for sheets and a pillow cover, so bring a set with you.


• There is no contract to bind you, so you may leave whenever you please.
• No cleaning chores as the cleaning of bed- and bathrooms are included in the price.
• No bills to worry about.
• The possibility exists of doing odd jobs around the hostel in lieu of paying rent, e.g. working at reception or cleaning the rooms. Enquire at the manager's office.
• There is usually a friendly and amiable atmosphere at these places and you can make lots of friends in a very short time.


• It is more expensive than shared housing.
• There isn't much privacy at all, ever.
• Inconsiderate roommates.


• The impermanence of this kind of living arrangement might not suit everybody. Continued living in circumstances where you have no privacy and lots of instability may interfere with your feelings of happiness. Decide if this kind of living is for you or not.
• If you know that you will be staying for a long time, you can negotiate a lower price, a kind of buying in bulk discount.
• Ask to have a look at the room, kitchen and bathrooms before you hand over any money. It is your right to live in a clean and comfortable environment. If the manager refuses to let you see the accommodations, continue your search. There is most probably a very good reason why he doesn't want to show you!
• Be careful with any valuable items you may have. There won't be any lockable spaces available to you
to keep your things safe, and although you can ask to store things at reception that might not always
be safe either. Best is to leave your gold and jewels safely at home where it will not lead others into

• Bedsits

Bedsit is short for "bed and sitting room" and as the name indicates, consists of one room that functions as a bedroom, sitting room and kitchen. Generally a bedsit comes with a small fridge and cooking plate and a bathroom will be shared with a few other inhabitants. Prices begin at about £70.


• More privacy than in a shared house or at a hostel.
• Sometimes there will be unit counter installed for gas and electricity. In this way you pay as you go and
bills at the end of the month are avoided.


• Inconsiderate housemates could still bother you.
• It can be a lonely way of living, especially for the newly arrived visitor.
• Bedsits are notorious for their lack of space.


Some landlords- or ladies tend to be rather nosy about their tenants' comings and goings, sometimes even snooping in their belongings when they are not there.

• Studio flats, flats and houses

For professional people that find themselves with a higher budget for accommodation, there is a lot of property available. Be warned that property is a lot more expensive and lot smaller that you may expect. It is a good idea to visit a few housing agents to get an idea of what is available in your price-class. Please note that it is illegal for an agent to charge you for a showing. Agent fees are paid by the letter or seller of the property, so watch out for agents trying to pull a fast one! Prices for studio flats start at about £120 per week. Prices for flats start at around £135 and go as high as £900 per week.


• The luxury of living with or without whomever you please and no sharing of amenities with people you don't know.
• Easier to host visiting friends and family, something that could be a problem with the choices mentioned above.
• Nosy landlords can still be a problem, but tend to be less of a nuisance with this kind of accommodation as you will probably be viewed with less suspicion and more respect.


• The sometimes incredibly high prices of property in London.
• When living alone, loneliness can be a problem, especially in winter when SAD syndrome becomes more prevalent.
• Please refer to the "Renting of Accommodation" section for advice and pitfalls of renting property.


• Suburbia
• Where do I look?
• Signing the contract
• Handy facts for prospective renters
• Buying Property

Choosing life in Suburbia

Now that you have a better idea of what is available in London, where on earth does one start looking? There is an abundance of accommodation in every suburb and it is up to you to narrow your search down to one or two areas to avoid traipsing all over London to view places, something that wastes infinite amounts of time and money. Your budget will lead you in your choice of area and as soon as you know where to look, your search can be on its way.

Here are a few tips on areas in London:
The following areas are some ways from the centre of London and are therefore a bit cheaper and will you find many young travelers:

Leyton, Leytonstone, Walthamstow, Turnpike Lane, Finnsbury Park, Putney, Willesden Green, Hammersmith, Earl's Court, Bethnal Green, Highbury, Islington, Northfields and Southfields.

The following suburbs are closer to town and are in the catch areas for the some of the better quality schools in London:

Epping, Thydon Bois, the areas around Wimbledon, Putney and Southfields. Wembley is a little more expensive as it is closer to the centre of town.

Muswell Hill and Highgate are beautifully located and are in close proximity of excellent public and private schools.

If you have already secured a job, it would be advisable to find accommodation as close as possible to your place of employment. Commuting to and from work can quickly becomes tedious and time consuming chore. Once again your budget will largely determine in which area you live. If you do not yet have a job, there are two ways of going about it: first find a job and then accommodation close to your workplace.

Alternatively you can start with accommodation and find a job close by. The advantage of doing it this way around is that you will immediately have a phone number where employers and friends can reach you and nothing beats going to your own home after a long, tiring day of job hunting!


The easiest place to start looking is in one of the following newspapers:
The Loot (that sells absolutely everything imaginable),
The London Evening Standard and
The TNT Magazine.

You will soon notice the extent of accommodation available as well as which areas you can afford.

Another option is to search through a housing agent, quite handy to quickly get an overview of what is available in your price class. Note that this option is only available to persons interested in renting or buying studio flats, flats and houses as they do not cater for shared housing or hostels.

Once you have made an appointment to view the property you are interested in, be ready to ask a question or two:

• What exactly is included in the renting price? (i.e. gas, electricity, water and council tax which can run up to small fortunes, so check!)
• How long are you signing the contract for? Note that contracts are seldom signed for less than six months.
• How much is the required deposit? Usually you are looking at one month's rent as a deposit and one month's rent in advance on the day of signing the contract. It is illegal for the landlord to require more than that.
• Sometimes landlords don't like visitors on their property. If you are planning to play host to a few friends and family popping over to London, it may be worth it to test the waters on this matter to save yourself some hassle later on.

Landlords may require a letter of reference from a previous landlord that testifies that you are indeed a trustworthy and punctual tenant.


• It is near essential that you live close to a Tube station, overland train station or on a bus route. Your happiness in London will largely depend on your close proximity to as many transport systems as humanly possible, so do yourself a favor and make sure that you are within walking distance of one or more of the main modes of transport.

• Check to see how close (or far away) the closest corner shop, supermarket, restaurant and pubs are from your new home. Life in London can turn out to be terrible if you are too far away from conveniences like shops selling the basics. There is nothing more irritating than coming home from a long day at work and finding that you have to hop right back on to a bus because there is no milk in the house. Judge for yourself if it is important to you to live close to restaurants or pubs and check before it is too late!

Signing the contract

If you have found everything satisfactory (or as close as it's going to get), the time has come to sign the contract. Renting property is relatively easy: the agent or letter will provide you with a contract that will be signed by the both of you. Check for accuracy regarding the price of rent and the length of the contract. Agree on the exact time and method of payment of the rent every month.

Read through the contract thoroughly and make sure that it not only places obligations on you regarding the property, but also offers you protection. Make sure exactly what fees will be payable at the termination of your contract. Things like cleaning of carpets and curtains could eat up your entire deposit and leave you with a bill on top of it. It is not unheard of that problems only start when it comes to the returning of your deposit.

Keep a record of every payment made. Insist on a receipt for the deposit paid as well as each monthly payment. If you are renting through an agent, you should request that your payment is paid into their trust fund and that you receive proof e.g. a deposit slip. This prevents the agent from making you responsible for recouping the deposit money from the letter when it is their responsibility to repay the deposit.

Protect your own interests by making a highly detailed and accurate inventory of the contents and condition of the property in the presence of a witness and the agent or letter when you move in. The agent or letter will probably have an inventory ready: check it carefully for quantities and condition of every mentioned item on the list including crockery and furniture. Also check for damage to the walls, light fittings, door handles, carpeting and windows. Once you have checked everything, you may sign the inventory and hand it back to the agent or letter. Make sure that both your and his/her copy are signed by the agent or letter and attached to the contract and that you receive a copy of the signed inventory. This is your proof should any discrepancies arise later on. Some landlords will try to find an excuse to refuse you your deposit and may blame you for damage that was already done at the time of your occupation of the property, so be extremely careful and precise when filling out the inventor.

Also be sure that to receive a copy of the contract and keep it in a safe place.

The landlord or agent may not refuse the repayment of your deposit if you have kept to the stipulations of the contract. If you are being unjustly refused, you may go to the Citizen Buro or Council of Estate Agents for resolution of the conflict. Alternatively you may lay a claim at the Small Claims Court. Should the problem persist or in dire circumstances, please contact our office for further assistance.

Handy facts for prospective renters of property

• The renting of property in England is expensive, much more so in the city than in the country.
• The tenant is responsible for all costs incurred such as water and lights and council tax. It could amount to quite a hefty sum, so make sure of the amount payable by you every month.
• If you are planning to sublet the property you are renting, it would be desirable to check with the agent or letter to see if this would be acceptable, as many letters prefer the premises to be occupied by the tenant and family alone.
• Every party must be represented by their own solicitor. The same solicitor may not act on behalf of both parties and it is recommended that you have a solicitor check the contract before you sign it. Our Commercial Law Department can be of assistance in this regard.
• The landlord will require a deposit of one or two months rent in advance. Houses were let for a period of six months in the past but this has now changed and very few letters will let their property for less than twelve months.

Buying of Property

The buying of property is a rather complicated business. Breytenbachs can be of invaluable assistance in this matter. Please see the section on Property & Conveyancing.

2. Working in London

If you are concerned about finding a job upon your arrival in London, worry no more! London is one of the largest cities in the world and with about 12 million inhabitants, the workforce is virtually insatiable. If you are willing to work, there will be something for you to do. Even a little bit of experience in any field will go a long way towards helping you find a job.

• Work permits and Visas
• Curriculum Vitae
• Where to look?
• What to expect
• Tax and National Insurance
• Another thing before you go!
• Starting your own business

• Work permits and visas
Be warned that it is impossible to find employment without the necessary paperwork in London. Before doing anything else, a prospective employer will want to see your passport containing the applicable permit or visa. There is a wide variety of visas and permits available to the aspirant worker in England and exactly which one is best for you depends largely on your individual circumstances. Breytenbachs can advise on which permit or visa you qualify for as well as all the requirements to be met by you and subsequently assist you in the acquisition.

• Curriculum Vitae

It is a good idea to prepare a CV even before your departure. Make sure that you include every little bit of experience that might be useful. Be advised that employers often phone references indicated on a CV, so let your references know that a prospective employer may be contacting them. See to it that your CV has a professional and complete appearance. Employers feel nervous about time gaps in CV's, so indicate time spent traveling or on holidays. Be careful not to flood your CV with unimportant facts. Employers want to see at a glance what you have done and what it is you can do for them. It is advisable to present a quick summary of all your qualifications and experience on page one and then follow it up with an unabridged version of your many talents.

• Where to look?

There are many ways of securing a job for yourself in London. The quickest and easiest is probably:

• Employment Agencies: there are literally thousands of employment agencies spread across London. An agency will usually specialise in a field of employment, i.e. engineering or office jobs, and they can very quickly expose you to a variety of jobs in your field. Many jobs that are advertised in the newspaper are contracted to agencies anyway, so it is really worth your while to register with one or more agencies. The only drawback of working through an agency is the fact that you will be earning a little bit less: a percentage of your earnings will be subtracted as payment for their service to you. In the other hand it may be very beneficial to you to have an agency on your side: your agency acts as your
representative should any discrepancy arise with the employer.

• Notices: Keep your eyes and ears open! Pubs and restaurants often stick notices up on their windows if
they have vacancies and many supermarkets have notice boards advertising anything from jobs to

• Newspapers: Most newspapers advertise work. Also watch the TNT magazine for jobs.

• What to expect

People in London work hard and you will be expected to do the same. Honesty about the amount of hours worked and work completed is essential.

The dress code for office workers is strictly smart and professional, so take along clothes that will fit into this category.

An office in London will generally accommodate a diversity of people of different languages, races and religions; something that offers you an excellent opportunity to get to know people of different cultures.

• Tax and National Insurance

Every single person employed in the UK must have a number that is known as a NI (National Insurance) number. As soon as you start working, a temporary NI number will be issued to you (a number consisting of your date of birth, the first two letters of your surname and an 'F' or a 'M' for female or male) and you will start paying 'Emergency Tax'. This means that you will be paying a slightly higher percentage on your earnings until you have received your permanent NI number. To get your NI number, you need to go to a DSS (Department of Social Services) office and fill out some forms and get registered by an officer. You will also need to show your passport and relevant visa or work permit. Roughly six weeks after your visit, you will receive your NI number and a card that entitles you to free or subsidised health care and possibly more benefits, should you qualify. Once you receive your NI number, your tax will fall to the appropriate level.

• Another thing before you go!

• Computer and secretarial skills are highly valued and well paid in London. Be sure to mention any of these on your CV and if you don't have any, you might consider doing a course or two before you leave; it will be well worth the effort! • There are jobs available that offer, as part of your payment, a place to live. These are called 'live in' jobs and are usually pub or hotel jobs. This is something to consider in a city like London where the cost of living is incredibly high.
• For the adventurous amongst you there is dangerous work to be done such as being a courier. You will courier packages and letters per bicycle through the sometimes-hectic traffic and pollution of inner city London - not an occupation for the weak-hearted!
• There is always great need for people who have qualifications in the nursing field and there is quite a lot of money to be earned if you have the applicable qualifications and some experience. For those who possess no qualifications but have some experience in caring for sick or disabled people, there is work that is known as "caring" where you look after mostly elderly people who have become to weak to care
for themselves. Look out for agencies that specify in this field.
• If you are not afraid of some hard physical labour, you may find employment in the building and contracting business. Experience is an advantage but not essential.
• There is always need for teachers in London and the compensation for teachers is quite good. A word of warning, the discipline might vary vastly from what you might be used to. Children are allowed a lot more freedom and according to law, there isn't really much a teacher can do, even when utter chaos
erupts. If you are up for a challenge, this is the way to go!


For those who are interested in starting their own business, please contact us on for assistance.

3. Transport: Trains, Cabs and Buses

In London, owning your own car is completely superfluous. The public transport system is wonderfully alive and well and there is nowhere you can't go by using the super efficient system of trains - above ground and below, buses, cabs and mini cabs.

• The London Underground
• Buses and Night buses
• British Rail Black cabs and Mini cabs
• On your feet!

• The London Underground or the Tube

This is the underground train system running in tunnels in the bowels of London and main mode of transport used by millions of Londoners every day to commute between work and home. There are train lines running in every direction and right to the outskirts of London, so it is really an incredibly efficient way of getting around. The efficiency naturally gets used to its maximum capabilities and during peak times the trains are packed to their capacity - you may think that there is not space for a mouse and then at the next station, another ten people squash on!

The Tube map may appear quite complicated at first and you might wonder how on earth you will ever get to your destination. But rest assured that it only takes a day or two of getting lost and figuring it out on the famous Tube Map until you are hopping on and off the Tube like a seasoned Londoner!

How it works: there are automated ticket machines at every station and you simply select your destination from the vast array of buttons that are alphabetically arranged, select if you want a single journey ticket or a return journey ticket, pay the amount displayed and the machine will dispense your ticket and change.