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London Guide For Students - Living
Accommodation | Finding a flat | Bank | Money matters | Health | Communication
 

IV. Living in London

1. Accommodation

What do you prefer ? The house or the Rolls ?

Obviously, finding somewhere to live is something you can't miss. Hopefully, you shouldn't have too many difficulties to find a hotel, a YMCA, or just a youth hostel. But, if a hostel is useful for your first days in London, this is a quite bad idea to stay there during three month. So, you'll need your own roof, which is much more difficult to find. And don't try to rest under London Bridge as weather is not very welcoming !

Let's have an overview of accommodations in London :

 

BDE's choice : London Solutions

For many students, London Solutions is an easy way to get rid of the accommodation problem. But this is not the best choice, especially if you want to improve your English and discover new people ! In fact, this year, EFREI students were... with other EFREI students ! Do you know "residence Louis Aragon" in Villejuif ? Well, it was the same thing, but at Marble Arch, in London centre. Moreover, London Solutions prices are not the cheapest that you can find, and the flats are very tiny ! So, if you really want to enjoy your trip, my advice is to find something else.

Go to London Solutions' website >>>

 

Youth Hostels

They are good places to rest during a short period. You share a room with other European young people. Depending of the hostel, bathroom and toilets can be in the room or in the corridor. There is often a refectory or kitchens where you can cook your own meal. Hostels are cheap, but be careful with your luggage, because there is theft sometimes. This is also difficult to have a good privacy, as you're almost never alone in your room (from two to twenty beds per room). The best thing to do is to stay there until you find a new (and a more comfortable) home. Hostels are often full, you will have to book in advance to get a bed.

The Generator
McNaghtan House Compton Place
Russell Square
London WC1H 9SD
+44 (0) 870 042 9291
The Generator The UK's largest, liveliest and funkiest hostel. With over 800 beds, Generator London is the perfect place to meet other students from all over the world and party the night away in the famous Generator bar. Bathrooms are located in each corridor.
   More details >>>
Halpin House
97 Queens Gate
London SW7 5AB
+44 (0) 20 7373 4180
The Generator This is a very friendly hostel, quite cheap and well situated. And the boss speaks French !
Be careful, as you need to book a long time in advance. There is more hostels of the same group everywhere in London.
   More details >>>
More addresses on Google >>>

 

The Flat share

This is the best idea, as renting a flat by your own is almost impossible (unless you're a millionaire). There is a lot of possibilities here : you can share a flat or a house with other EFREI students, or with foreign people. In all cases, you will need to search in the newspapers for a home.

The best newspaper for that is the Loot, which is about £1.20. There is thousands of ads, but be quick ! The Loot is released each day in the morning, but you can be sure that all offers are already taken by eleven or twelve o'clock. You can also seek on the net, by example on Easy Roommate.

Sharing a flat with foreign students is easier, as the flat is already rent. You only have to pay your fee, and there is no matter with the time you plan to stay. It will also allow you to meet students (male or female :) ) from all over Europe. For sure, you will have great moments and you will discover new language or cultures. A good advice : bring typical food from France, as students like to share food from their home countries.

If you decide to rent a flat/house with other EFREI students, there is much more work to do. Everything is described in the next chapter.

 

My personal experience

This is my house :)

I and four other EFREI students have chosen to live together. But, as we were bringing computers and other valuables, we didn't want to stay in a Hostel. That's why two of us went to London at the end of August, in order to find a flat or a house. They found a small house with the Loot, in Ilford (zone 4, East London), for £400 a week (£80/person). The house was pretty good, there was TV, phone internet access and washing machine. There was two drawbacks, though : we were in zone 4 and transports were £20 a week. And last but not least, we had to pay the four months of renting at the beginning, so we went in London with £6400 in cheques, cash and traveller's cheques.

 

2. Finding the good flat

When ?

Looking for homes from France, via internet, is nearly useless. In fact, ads are always out-of-date, and prices are really high. The best solution is to search directly in London, when you arrive. You can also book a room in a Youth Hostel for some days between the 15th and the 20th of August and look for a home without all your baggage with you.

 

Location

This is a very important point. In fact, you can rent a flat in Central London, or a flat/house in a Greater London suburb. The location will not only affect the price, but also commuting costs, and maybe your job.

LocationFlat sizeTransportsJob seeking
Central London (zone 1-2) Small Well deserved by buses, no need of using the Tube (£6/week) Easy
Closer London (zones 2-3) Average. It's usually a small house Depending of the town, you'll have to take the bus or the Tube (£10 to £15/week) You will probably find something in Central London.
Greater London (zones 3-4) A not-that-small house, but cheaper than in zones 2-3 You will have to take the Tube or the train (£15 to £30/week) You'll probably work in your neighbourhood, not in London, it will be more challenging to find something.
The countryside (zones 5-6) Don't think about it, in general there is no transport, no job, nothing.

Now that you have the zone, let's see the town. Even in the same areas, prices are different. You can have a small overview on this map :

Flat prices in London

You have to know that there is no really unsafe town in London. Some towns are more secure than other, but you can rent almost everywhere. Just visit the area before accepting a contract, in case of.

When you have chosen a town, call every ad in the Loot of this area, or go to see an estate agency.

 

Price and Payment

If you want to share a flat with other EFREI students, you will probably notice that the landlords don't want to rent their houses for three or four months. In most cases , they want you to stay there six months or one year. So you will have to visit a lot of flats to find the good one. Maybe you will have to raise the price to get a home for only four months. Moreover, be careful, as you might have to pay the rent in advance. In this case, you will need to do a money transfer, or to bring a lot of cash, a banker's draft (in Pounds, some French banks can do that for you), or sometimes Traveller's Cheques.

Concerning prices, in general,

  • £60-70/week/person is cheap
  • £80-100 is average
  • £110 and more is expensive

 

Points to be controlled

Be careful when you take a flat, control each part of it, especially :

  • Plumbing
  • Heating
  • Beds (ask for bed sheets, etc..)
  • Kitchen (gas, fridge, microwave...)
  • ...

Furthermore, beware of the charges (electricity, water, phone, internet access, gas), as they can raise the costs. Check if they are included in the price.

 

3. Opening a bank account

Now, let's head to the most difficult part of our mission : opening a bank account ! Why is it the most difficult ? Because this is the only thing I hadn't managed to do.

The first advice I can give you is : try to open an English account from France ! Ask your French bank if they can do it, or go to a Barclay's in Paris. In fact, since last year, a new law was voted in UK. This law is reinforcing procedure to open an account (probably to block illegal immigration). And I can tell you that banks are applying this law very carefully, so you will have to be very patient to open an account.

The Bank of England

Officially , to open an account, you will need a proof of your identity, and a proof that you're living in the UK. But in fact, you'll need to be well dressed, to speak native English, and to be lucky. Bankers gave us different arguments each time, even in the same branch : one said we should be in Britain for 1 year, an other said 3 years (!). Other said we should put £500 on the account, otherwise we can't open it... We even asked UCL (which has a partnership with HSBC) to make us a certificate stating that we were foreign students, and that we need of an account. Bankers answered that we were preparing the wrong diploma, so they couldn't help us. No comment...

I and my roommates tried 27 times, in 13 different companies. We did all that was possible : HSBC, Barclay's, Lloyd's, Halifax, RBS, Abbey, Alliance & Leicester, Nat West... we did also French banks, like SG or the Crédit Agricole, but these two were only for companies. Finally, I became tired of asking, and I never had a bank account.

People who managed to do so were either lucky (they asked the good person at the good time), either helped by their French bank or their employer. But the problem is that you need an account if your employer doesn't want to pay you by cash.

 

General advice

  • Be well dressed
  • Say that you're French and that you're going to work in England. English banks tries to avoid illegal immigrates, but French are from European Union, so it doesn't matter.
  • Go to the branches near UCL or in Central London, they are used to see foreign students
  • Give to the banker a letter from your French bank saying that you're a good customer
  • Go to the bank in the morning, when the branch is not too crowded
  • Ask a young banker, it may be easier for you
  • Don't let the banker give you wrong excuses, be sure of yourself.
  • Try, try, and try again !

 

What to do if you don't have a bank account ?

I don't have a kind of magic recipe to get an account. The only solution is to share an account with a lucky student who has one. In that case, be careful with your accountancy !

The last thing I can tell you about banks is good luck !

Barclays in France >>> (in French)

 

4. Money matters

Prices in London

Some British notes. I prefer Euros !

London is the most expensive European city to live in. In fact, prices written on the labels are the same than in France, but in Pounds, not in Euros. That's 40% more. In addition to the exorbitant accommodation rent, you will need to spend a bit more for food, transports, bills and entertainment. Average costs per week are :

  • £75-£100 for accommodation
  • £30-£40 for food
  • £10-£20 for transports (depending of the zone you are)
  • £5-£10 for utilities (gas, electricity...)
  • £20-£30 for entertainment and other

That's a total of £140 to £200 per week ! Don't worry, if you are working, average salaries for EFREI students are between £160 and £240 per week. You will probably manage to pay everything, unless you've got a part-time job or you spend several weeks without working.

Let's have a small overview of prices in London :
  • A travelcard for 1 week : £12
  • A meal in a fast food, Pizza Hut... : £4 to £6
  • A theatre ticket : £6 to £10
  • A nightclub : £7 to £15
  • A beer in a pub : £2 to £4
  • A newspaper : £0.5 to £1
  • A magazine : £2 to £5
  • An hour of internet in a cybercafé : £0.5 to £1
  • A visit in a museum : £10-£20 (except national museums which are free, see Enjoying section)

 

Paying with a French credit card

Before leaving, be sure that you can use your card abroad (check if there is a "Visa" logo on it). You may also ask to your bank if your card needs to be unlocked (at Caisse d'Epargne, you might need to unlock it before leaving).

Once you're there, you will be charged for payments and also for cash drawing in ATMs. In general, there is a permanent charge (around 3€), and a percentage of the amount (usually 1%). So, it's more interesting to withdraw a lot a money at one time.

Tip : if you're at BNP Paribas, cash in Barclays ATMs is free of charge.

 

5. British health system

The wonderful NHS logo

There are three major rules concerning UK's National Health Service (NHS) :

  • Rule #1 : Do not have health problems in England !
  • Rule #2 : If you really, really do, go back to France to see your doctor.
  • Rule #3 : If the previous rules cannot be applied, cross your fingers and go to the nearest Health Centre. There, you will have to register in the NHS centre to see a doctor for free. Medicines aren't free, though. They're a lot more expensive than in France.
NHS in England >>>
Assurance Maladie documentation >>> (in French, very useful)

 

6. Communication

Internet

You're from EFREI, aren't you ? So, you will probably need an Internet access. In fact, UCL won't give you an access to the machines until the beginning of the courses, in October. Until there, you will have to surf in cyber cafés. Prices are from 30p to £1 an hour. That's not very expensive.

If you're renting a flat, you may want to order your own access. Be careful, like in France, there is often a minimal period of 12 months for ADSL subscriptions. The solution is to take an unlimited dial up connection. Prices are higher than in France, and lines are often of poor quality.

Tip : don't take a subscription from NTL. Their offer is cheap, but the connection is incredibly slow and unstable.

 

Mobile phone

The Virgin SIM Pack Calling, or being called in UK from a French mobile phone is really expensive. So, before leaving, don't forget to unlock your phone (if you can) so it can accept foreign SIM Cards. Unlocking from England will be costly.

The best thing you should do is to buy a new English SIM card. You will probably find boutiques which sell pre-owned SIM cards for nothing, but you'd better to buy a new one. Virgin's pay-as-you-go ("Mobicarte") system is the cheapest. Prices are the same as in France, SMS is 10p, and calls are 35p/min. The SIM card is £10, and you have £5 credit with it.

Tip : We've bought five cards at one time at Virgin Piccadilly Circus, and the seller gave us £3 vouchers each. So, try to purchase your SIM cards together to get a discount !

Another thing : prices are really cheaper if you call from a Virgin mobile to another Virgin Mobile (3p/SMS and 5p/min for a call). So, tell your friends to take the same operator.

 

Calling France

Need to call home ? Don't call from your mobile, even with a French subscription, as prices are definitely too high. Instead, you have several possibilities :

  • If you have a computer, a microphone and an internet connection, you can call France for free with VoIP software like Skype (it's working perfectly, even with a poor dial-up connection).
  • If not, you can call from a land line (but ask to your roommates before !)
  • You can also call for cheap in phone centres (which are often cybercafés)
  • There are prepaid phone cards, you can find them almost everywhere
  • And the last solution : the Carte France Télécom, which allows you to call from anywhere. All calls are credited on your French phone bill.

 

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