Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Australia to England - 2 months in

Today marks 2 months (by date) since we arrived in London. This week also marks the start of my new English job. It seems like a good time to pause and reflect on our move, and the things that have gone as expected, as well as those that have as not. For good measure, I'm throwing in some recent photos too.

I love the cat's expression in this painting (seen in The National Gallery)

As some of you may remember, Mr Bite and I bought a flat in London 2 years ago, aided by a great Australian-UK exchange rate, and spurred on by ridiculous property prices in Western Australia. Having somewhere to move to obviously made our shift much simpler, and meant we didn't need to navigate an unfamiliar rental market. I feel very fortunate in that regard, especially as London house prices have since sky rocketed. The other big plus for us was having an existing English bank account (with HSBC), something we set up when buying our property. If you are planning to move overseas, I'd really recommend trying to arrange a local account ahead of time. HSBC made the process easy for us.

Entrance hall for The National Gallery

Arranging internet, utility services, council registration, national heath registration, and national insurance numbers are processes we have had to do, but I don't really want to touch on them. There are clear processes for new UK arrivals to follow in those areas. Instead, I thought I'd share the relatively small things that I found made our move easier. Keep in mind that we are shipping belongings and our move was by plane; driving across country, or starting completely afresh with possessions, would be a different affair.

  • Pack sensibly. We made maximum use of our 30kg per person luggage allowance, with our combined cases weighing 60.2kg. Probably three-quarters of that was clothing to cover several months of weather and occasion requirements. The rest included various odds and ends, but the most useful were also the most simple: a few Australian-UK power adapters, one Tupperware container, some tea towels, my vegetable spiralizer, large plastic resealable food bags, and a single sharp knife. We could have bought all of those things here (or in the case of my spiralizer, waited on our shipment) but having them to hand was well worth the small amount of space they took up. 
  • Pack a few non-sensible things. With the above said, you want your home to feel like home. I brought three framed wedding photos and a much loved bird ornament (picture below). Mr Bite was bemused, but I'm really glad I did.
  • Take essential documents in hand luggage. This probably goes without saying, but I have needed almost all of the documents I brought that way: my academic transcripts and professional registration information, past bank statements, my birth certificate, and our marriage certificate. We carried our property documents too.
  • Once you arrive, walk your new area. A lot. We would be doing this anyway, given that we don't have a car here and all of our outings are by foot or public transport. However, we've also made a concerted effort to explore different routes and roads. By doing so, we've discovered areas we wouldn't have otherwise seen, some local shops we may otherwise have missed, and shortcuts that only locals seem to know about. 
This came in my suitcase.
Small in weight and space, but big on homely character.
  • Know where to get reliable brand / product comparison information. In Australia, Mr Bite's family subscribed to Choice, a consumer-focused magazine that reviews and compares products and services. The UK equivalent is Which. We were able to get a £1, one month subscription offer to the online Which archives, which meant that all of our furniture, electrical and utility decisions could be guided by research done by others. When you don't know local brands or stores, it can be hard knowing which products are trustworthy!
  • Similarly, do your own comparisons. In my August In My Kitchen post, I mentioned visiting 6 different supermarkets. In part, these visits stemmed from my enormous love of food stores, especially new-to-me food stores. However, they have also allowed us to figure out what is cheapest where. MySupermarket.co.uk is a website that facilitates the same. Australia has so few supermarket choices that there isn't much to compare; here, you can save quite a bit by shopping around.
  • Sign up for (free) store loyalty cards. I know not everyone likes a wallet full of these, or providing companies with your information and shopping habits. However, I find that the free cards almost always give me some return. So far, I have had £4 in vouchers from Tesco, vouchers for a free coffee and cake from John Lewis, 10% off own brand products from Waitrose, and am also accumulating points with Sainsbury's, Boots, and Holland and Barratt. 
  • Register at your local library. I have always used libraries heavily, thanks to a mother who knew their value. I can't imagine not having a book supply out on loan. Even aside from the books, though, local libraries are invaluable if you don't have a printer or full computing facilities. I must have printed 50 pages at our local library thus far (mostly relating to employment).
I am obsessed with corn. And still with berries.
I may not cope when my 9 months of summer produce comes to an end.

The above list reflects what I've found helpful, but there have also been things I've learnt...
  • Never assume! This probably goes without saying, but I thought I knew English stores, brands and customs. For example, in my mind, I liked Sainsbury's a lot and Tesco not very much. As it turns out? I love our local Tesco (it's huge) but don't find the Sainsbury's as good. Keep an open mind!
  • Not everything will be easy. We have a growing list of stores / brands we don't like much. Santander wouldn't give us the bank account we'd hoped to open with them, as we haven't been in England for the last 3 years; that point wasn't listed as a requirement of the account and no one has been able to tell me why it's necessary. NPower are making it excruciatingly difficult to move to a different energy provider. There are other examples. However, none of them need to be that big a deal. We've had lots of great customer service and things will get sorted eventually.
  • It's really hard to compare salaries country for country. Salaries in Australia are generally higher than in the UK, even taking into account exchange rate variations. However, tax is slightly lower here, I have more annual leave in my new position (27 days for full-time) than my old one (20 days), and living costs are different. Money isn't everything anyway, but it would be foolish to move somewhere based purely on salary, unless you are certain you've factored other variables into account.
  • Australia is not as multi-cultural as it thinks. The population diversity in London is different to anything I've seen in Australia.
A Whole Foods provided picnic lunch 

  • You don't need as much as you think. That single Tupperware container I packed? That is our only plastic food container. The same for the sharp knife. We have one set of towels, one set of sheets, one saucepan, no microwave, and four each of dinner plates, small plates, and mugs. It is annoying sometimes, but it's also entirely manageable (although with starting work, the single Tupperware has just become that much more limiting, and I am wasting plastic wrap as a result). We will be gaining a lot of things back when our shipment arrives, but I am going to try hard to remember this lesson into the future.
  • A good newspaper makes weekends even better. I am afraid I may never cope with (Western) Australian journalism again. 
  • Things I am missing? Being able to drop around to family on a Sunday afternoon, the option of coffee with friends, driving, Sakata rice crackers, and mountain bread.
  • Things I loving? History on every corner, a great public transport system, English accents, the availability of vegan food options, country walks accessible from London, berries, and exciting dairy free chocolate.

These raw vegan dessert pots by inSpral look pretty amazing too
(seen in Whole Foods but not yet tried).

So there you have it; two months in and our experiences so far. One of the most important points, perhaps, is that we are really glad we moved and are still enjoying London hugely.

What have you learnt from your own moves, if you have made them (big or small)? 


  1. I didn't know that you moved from Australia to here! Welcome to the UK (a bit late to welcome you, I know haha).
    Some great tips here.

  2. Gosh, I can't believe you did that for 2 months. Minimalism at its best. We are now 2 weeks with very little stuff. The inflatable bed bothers me the most. I also have limited pantry staples since I know they are not too far away! Patiently, I wait.

    PS. I love your idea to bring your spiralizer as essential goods. :)

    1. Well, I should clarify that our minimalism does now include furniture - we have a bed, and sofa, and dining table, so are doing pretty well really! We didn't ship any of those things, so it's just kitchenware and clothes / books / linen / belongings / microwave,,,etc...that are still to come. I'd be bothered by an inflatable bed too, so I hope you get your real one soon!

  3. Loved reading about your experiences. I found getting an appointment to get an NI number an enormous hurdle!

    1. I got an appointment okay, but am actually still to get my number!! They said 6 weeks at the time, but are now saying 8, and my new HR don't quite know what to do with me :S

  4. Has it really been 2 months already? Wow, time sure flies. I never moved across the country, but I can't imagine how challenging that must be…I was never good at adjusting to new ways - usually takes me years. From my experience with moving across the state, the emotional aspect was the hardest to cope with. I get so attached…1 tupperware! Oh yes, I would be wasting tons of plastic wrap as well. I love that you could walk everywhere in London! And I really thought that the place is really culturally diverse too.

    1. The time has definitely flown! I think the emotional aspect was aided with knowing we'd be moving well ahead of the actual day - otherwise I do struggle with change too :)

  5. Interesting post - enjoyed reading your reflections. I think minimalism is much easier in the honeymoon stage of any move (or relationship for that) but how quickly we accumulate. Or that is my experience! Moving to the UK, I found it really helpful to have a place to stay so I had an address - helped with getting some of the paperwork done - and having a sister there who could help me find what I needed. I envy you the diversity of supermarkets and journalism in the UK. Off topic slightly, I worked in a recruitment agency once and learnt that it is not the salary that you look at but the full salary package of leave and benefits. And I feel your pain on sakata rice crackers - I was surprised at the small amount of rice crackers we could find in Edinburgh on our last visit.

    I am interested in your assertion that Australia is not as multicultural as it thinks. Are you comparing Perth and London? I found London very multicultural but when I compare Melbourne and Edinburgh I think Melbourne is more multicultural. I also found that Australian has far more of an Asian population than I found in the UK whereas the Indian subcontinent and Caribbean populations in the UK have made more of an impact.

    Good luck with the job - and with the settling process - sounds like you are doing well and enjoying it!

    1. The full salary package definitely is the more sensible thing. I still find it hard to compare even then though - there doesn't seem to be an equation that spits out a number allowing for like-for-like comparisons!

      I was comparing Perth to London when I made the multicultural comment, which probably isn't entirely fair. Sydney would no doubt be far more multicultural than a small English town. However, it's also about the variety of cultures here - exactly as you note, more Indian, Caribbean and also African (and other European) here, compared to largely Asian in Australia. I think what prompted my comment most was the explicit efforts here to embrace different cultures and ensure they are represented on committees and in jobs, and to make sure cultural differences are taken into account. Possibly elsewhere in Australia does that better than Perth but I found our multiculturalism to be 'accept / tolerate other cultures' more than 'embrace and support them'!

    2. Sadly I think you are probably right about the attitude - especially with the current political climate not welcoming or appreciating other cultures - and other countries don't have easy access to our borders like in europe. I think being a colonising culture also makes our attitude to other cultures more complex.

  6. Excellent tips! Very helpful indeed!

    Gourmet Getaways

  7. So many things to think about. You must be really organized to have managed it all.
    This list is a great reference and many of the tips are useful even for a move within the country. Thank you :) I definitely agree with you on the weekend paper! And libraries! And walking to explore!

    By the way, you CAN get mountain bread here. Whole foods market and Planet Organic both stock it!

    1. Thanks Emma! I did actually see mountain bread at Whole Foods so it probably isn't fair to say I miss it - however, in contrast to just about everything else, it is so much more expensive here! I guess being imported and not very common, it's more costly for them to stock.

    2. Ah yes, it is very expensive. I didn't actually realize it was Australian. It probably says "made in Australia" in big letters though so I'm sure I'm being a dimwit...

    3. No, I think their signing is modest!

  8. I can't believe you have just one plastic container in your kitchen! I think I would be lost if I didn't have a few more items from home in my kitchen than that. At least you have the gorgeous bird. It does sound like things are going well for you and I do hope the summer lasts and lasts - I know the winters will be a shock to any Aussie xx

    1. The plastic container is the biggest challenge actually! I am a little wary of winter...fingers crossed we get a bit more mild weather before then :)


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