The bustling metropolis of London is massive and boasts an enormous range of accommodation to suit almost any expat’s budget, lifestyle and background. There are areas and suburbs of London that are perfect for young professionals, expat families, foreign students and high-flying business executives, respectively.
The UK capital is a highly cosmopolitan city and expats will have the opportunity to mix with people from all over the globe. Thanks to the city's excellent public transport, getting around won’t be too much of a problem, although some areas are better serviced than others. Many expats will find that their employer will assist them in finding a suitable rental property and navigating all the associated red tape, often through a local relocation company.
Types of rental accommodation in London
People moving to London will find a variety of property types available to them. The type of home expats choose will depend on the location they want to live in, their family's needs and, of course, their budget. Generally, the further one lives from the city centre, the more choice one will have in terms of the price range, and the larger the properties will be.
London is, undeniably, an expensive city, so many new arrivals decide to live in a shared house or flat to cut down on costs. Sharing with strangers may be a daunting prospect, but it can be a good way of meeting new people. It's worth checking out a few properties and also meeting prospective house mates. Flatshares are usually furnished properties and have shared kitchen and living areas. There are thousands of property listings on websites such as Gumtree and SpareRoom.
Property in London can broadly be divided into three main types: flats, terraced housing and detached housing.
Flats or apartments
Flats, or apartments, are either part of a large modern development or a conversion, which is typically an old building or house that has been separated into flats.
Most London suburbs have a large number of streets with rows of terraced Victorian houses.
Detached properties can be old or new, but are usually located outside of central London. They typically offer bigger spaces, more bedrooms and a garden.
Furnished or unfurnished
Most rental properties in London are unfurnished, but even unfurnished properties are likely to have carpets, curtains and fully-fitted kitchens, along with an oven, fridge, dishwasher and washing machine. Furnished flats and houses include everything from beds to cutlery and crockery in the kitchen. Due to the sometimes short-term nature of expat assignments, many expats opt to live in fully-furnished accommodation.
Finding rental accommodation in London
Finding suitable accommodation in London should be a straightforward process, but the rental market is competitive and fast moving. We recommend expats do some research before leaving their home country. In particular, it’s important to shortlist suitable areas and suburbs in London that suit one's needs and budget.
Most property searches begin on one of the online property portals such as Rightmove or Zoopla. Once this initial research is done, new arrivals will find it helpful to contact a local real-estate agent who is familiar with the particular area or suburb of London that they want to live in. Agents often have access to properties that are yet to make it onto public listings.
The rental process in London
After deciding on the most suitable part of London to live in and the type of property they want to rent, most expats research properties online and then contact local estate agents who will set up viewings. Once a suitable property has been found, and an agreement has been made with the landlord, the estate agent will draw up the contract. Before the contract can be signed, the estate agent will need to check references and do some background checks. The deposit and the first month’s rent will be taken before the start of the tenancy.
Making an application
The landlord or estate agent will need to see some paperwork before a lease is signed. This may include collecting references from the expat's employer or a previous landlord, and seeing proof of ID (usually a passport). Those coming from abroad will need to produce a copy of their UK visa and documents allowing their stay in the UK.
Tenants may also be asked for proof of salary or funds, which may include payslips, a contract of employment and recent bank statements. To avoid any delays, we recommend checking which documents will be needed in advance and to make necessary copies.
Once expats have found a property to their liking, they will be expected to sign an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement. This agreement gives a tenant the legal right to live in a property for a set period of time, with an option to extend.
The initial term is typically one year, although a six-month tenant-only break clause could be negotiated. This allows the tenant to terminate the contract at any time after the first six months by giving the landlord either one or two months’ notice. All reputable estate agents will use a standard contract that gives protection to both the landlord and tenant. All the same, it’s important to read the agreement carefully and raise any queries with the estate agent before signing it.
A short let is a good option for those who may only be in London for a few weeks or months, as an alternative to staying in a hotel or serviced apartment. They also allow new arrivals to get to know an area, before committing to a long-term lease. A short let usually offers some flexibility in rental duration and the property is usually furnished to a high standard. Rental prices are higher for short lets, but all bills are included in the rent.
Expats moving to London should be prepared to put down a deposit equal to six weeks' rent in advance. A landlord or letting agent should put the deposit in a Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) scheme rather than paying it into their own bank account. If a tenant is in a dispute with their landlord, the deposit will be protected in the TDP scheme until the issue is resolved.
The landlord may deduct expenses from the deposit to cover costs such as repairing any damage to the property, paying for a professional clean, removing anything left behind by the tenant or replacing lost keys. Landlords must return the deposit within 10 days of both parties agreeing how much the tenant will get back.
Utilities such as electricity, gas and water, along with council tax, are usually not included in the quoted rental price and will be an extra expense. For more guidance on paying council tax, expats should visit the official council websites for their particular London borough. Most services are available online, including making payments and setting up a direct debit.
Before moving in, do confirm with the real-estate agent or landlord that all utilities are set up, switched on and ready to be used come move-in day.
The previous tenant or owner should have given the final meter readings to the utility companies. However, it's encouraged for new tenants to take the gas and electricity readings when moving in. This will ensure that they are not charged for electricity used by previous occupants.
Different utility companies offer a variety of rates and tariffs. It’s easy to change suppliers in the UK, and it’s usually possible to save money by shopping around and switching tariffs or suppliers. Price comparison websites make it easy to compare suppliers.
For more detail see our page on Setting up Household Utilities in the UK.
Bins and recycling
Typically, bins are collected every week, and there are separate containers for cardboard, glass and plastic. Each London borough has a different system for rubbish collection and recycling. The official council websites for each borough will give details on bin-collection days and what each bin is used for.
Parking in London
Every London borough now operates a residents parking scheme, where the council tax payers can apply for a parking permit, that allows them to park in the borough, or within an area within the borough. The cost of a permit for one car is usually between £150-250 per year. Most councils also allow residents to buy visitors permits.
Buying property in London
Property in London is among the most expensive in the world, even after the recent dip in prices. The London housing market seems to exist within its own bubble due to a supply shortage and continually increasing demand. That said, some long-term expats with the means do decide to buy property rather than rent.
Foreigners are permitted to buy property in the UK and most nationalities are eligible for loans, although requirements vary depending on the bank. Expats will need to show proof of income and may be asked to pay a hefty deposit on a property. Expats may find that it is often easier to take the currency risk and secure a home loan in their country of origin rather than in the UK, especially if they have assets and existing relationships with banks back home.That said, it’s advisable that the tax implications of such a loan are investigated thoroughly.
For more on housing and the London boroughs, visit:
►Greater London Authority, the official website of the Mayor of London and London Assembly Members
►London Councils official website
►City of London Corporation official website
►Learn more about the various Areas and Suburbs in London
"Housing can vary tremendously based on the age of rental units, individual ownership, availability, location, amenities, services and of course, cost.
"Of those in my social circles, many are provided housing as a benefit of their employment, limiting their choice in all the variables I’ve listed. Housing location is decided by a committee based on some suggestions from each family, but mostly based on price point, proximity or travel to office assignment, historical relationships with landlords, size of unit compared to size of family, pet concerns, etc.
"We are thrilled with the location, gardens and balcony spaces, security/porter, cleanliness, storage and proximity to shopping and services of the unit chosen for us, but have encountered others that are not equally pleased and have had specific safety and maintenance issues to be addressed."
Read more about US expat Kimberly's experience of moving to London.
Are you an expat living in London?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to London. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
Cigna Global Health Insurance. 20% off premiums booked before 31st March
Medical insurance specifically designed for expats. With Cigna, you won't have to rely on foreign public health care systems, which may not meet your needs. Cigna allows you to speak to a doctor on demand, for consultations or instant advice, wherever you are in the world. They also offer full cancer care across all levels of cover, and settle the cost of treatments directly with the provider.
International Movers. Get Quotes. Compare Prices.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.