Last week, I shared a few "must knows" for those thinking about relocating to London. Now that you have made the wise decision to move here, I thought I'd share a few "must haves" upon your arrival. These indispensable items serve various purposes, from helping you get in and out of the country faster to keeping you entertained when you start missing HBO.
What To Keep In Your Wallet
Oyster Card: Say what you will about the London Underground, but the Tube is the easiest way to get around this sprawling city. When you add in the Overground, DLR and massive bus network, the public transportation options here are pretty robust. This makes it all the more critical to get an Oyster Card. You can opt for monthly/annual unlimited options or top-up as you go. It's easy to add money to your card online, at a kiosk or even in many convenience stores. Keep in mind that buses no longer accept cash. Therefore, you must have a pass or a contactless card in order to ride the bus.
Registered Traveller Card: I can't believe I only discovered this 2 months ago. The government has introduced a new travel scheme where citizens from a select number of countries (including the US) can apply to enter the UK via the EU/UK lines at border control. There are a few criteria you must meet to be eligible, and the service currently only works at Heathrow, Gatwick and Eurostar terminals. Once you are approved, you can start skipping the massive foreign lines at passport control. I used this for the first time today when I returned home from New York. It took me less than 10 minutes to get off the plane, go through border control, pass customs and catch my train into the city!
Global Entry: To compliment your new Registered Traveller status, I would recommend also applying for Global Entry. This is particularly helpful for folks who frequently travel back to the states. Depending on the airport, this can significantly expedite the process when re-entering the US. You bypass the standard passport check and simply input some information in an automated TSA kiosk.
British Airways American Express Credit Card: As an expat, applying for a credit card in the UK can be a bit troublesome. You don't have any pre-established credit or employment history in the country. You can typically get a standard credit card with your bank account institution, but what's the point of a credit card if you don't accrue awards points?! I would recommend instead looking into a British Airways American Express card. I didn't have any issues getting approved except having to submit a few more pieces of information (US past employment, rent, etc.). More importantly, you can start accruing Avios points to put towards future travel. Depending on the card you get, there is typically a sign-up bonus of a few thousand points. Yes, Avios points aren't quite as valuable with the recent devaluation. However, they are still great for short-haul awards flights in economy. That means more spontaneous weekend getaways throughout Europe!
Everyman Membership Card: Whereas the last few items were all (not surprisingly) travel related, this ones a bit more random. We love going to the movies. There's still something more enjoyable and fun about seeing a movie on the silver screen versus a home television. Movie tickets are just insanely expensive (£15) in the UK. Thankfully, our favorite local cinema, Everyman, has a membership program where you get 4 complimentary tickets and discounts off all full-fare tickets for £60. There are numerous Everyman Cinema locations throughout the city, all of which offer spacious seating as well as food and drinks delivered to your seat. On a side note, all UK cinemas allow you to pick your exact seat in advance. As long as you've pre-purchased your ticket, you can waltz into the theater right as the movie starts without fear of getting stuck in the front row.
What To Download On Your Phone
The first thing to do before you read on is to get an unlocked mobile device. Most US smartphones are locked to a specific carrier. This is a pretty archaic concept in Europe. Most devices here come unlocked, meaning you can easily swap out SIM cards depending on what country you are in without interrupting service. If you don't want to buy a new phone when you're here, you're not shit out of luck. Thankfully, with recent changes in the law, US carriers must now make it possible to unlock devices without requiring customers to jump through hoops.
Zoopla: Last week, I mentioned how competitive the real estate market is in London. To help you on your home search, download Zoopla. It allows you to see all the available flats based on various criteria you select. If you're in the market to buy a place, you can see previous sales prices and estimated current values. I've only heard nightmarish stories working with massive real estate agents like Foxtons. Therefore, it's much wiser to initiate the search on your own.
Just Eat: OK, so I may have blown the delivery food plight a little out of proportion last week. It's not all doom and gloom. Frankly, there are still some pretty good options available, just not nearly as many as in NYC. Our go-to app for a lazy night in is Just Eat. It's basically Seamless...but British.
Citymapper: I've discussed this app ad nauseam, so I won't belabor the point too much longer. London is a massive, complex, sprawling city. I still have problems getting around my own neighborhood when I don't have my iPhone in hand. Additionally, when you're given so many public transportation options, it's hard figuring out which option is the fastest. That's what Citymapper is here for.
BBC iPlayer: I'll be honest, British television is an acquired taste - one that I haven't fully...acquired. That doesn't mean there aren't some great shows available to watch. Even if you don't get cable, you can download BBC's free iPlayer app. It allows you to stream tons of shows like The Voice UK, The Fall and The Great British Bake Off. You can also stream to your Chromecast and download shows for offline viewing.
YPlan: There are always a ton of interesting things happening throughout the city on any given night. It's easy to lose track of the latest concerts, pop-ups, gallery openings, etc. YPlan is a fun app that clues you in on all the latest goings-on in the city.
Uncover: London is an amazing foodie destination. The culinary options are limitless. The problem is, the options can be overwhelming that it's hard to keep track of all the new openings. Additionally, tables at the city's best restaurants can be hard to come by. Uncover gives users a curated list of restaurants with last minute availability. You can choose from categories like Hidden Gems, Great Grapes and Won't Break the Bank.