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From Latvia to London – a developer’s story

Martins Zalitis

Hi, I’m Martins Zalitis, a WebCenter Sites developer at Manifesto. I’ve recently started at the company following a move from my home country of Latvia. In my first blog post I want to share with you the story of that move.

Part 1: I get recruited

Around the beginning of 2014 I received phone call from recruiter Hugh James who told me that he had a good opportunity for me. I was happy to get that call as I was between jobs at the time (though I had in mind thoughts that recruiters always says that their opportunities are the best).

He told about the opportunity, at London based digital agency Manifesto, arranged a Skype interview and then a face-to-face interview in London. Everything went very smoothly and I got hired! Which is great because Manifesto is very nice place to work. Starting from great colleagues and good working conditions and finishing with good opportunities to learn and grow. (Thanks Martins, I’ll give you that fiver later – Jim)

Anyway, we agreed I needed to start ASAP – the beginning of February. Which didn’t leave a lot of time…

Part 2: Preparing for the move

RigaToLondon

So I had ~ 2weeks to prepare for moving. I have some friends in London, so I spoke with them and they very kindly agreed that I could stay with them for around a week while I looked for a place to live. That made life easier and less stressful 🙂

I booked my flight and caught up with my friends in Latvia. Then I created a map of places where I could potentially live (based on recommendations from my future colleagues) and start to look into some sites like EasyRoommate,  SpareRoom and FlatShare. I didn’t spend too much time looking – I just got an overall impression about what to expect and left the rest of the job for after I got to London.

In my last days before leaving Latvia I posted an ad on social networks (Facebook and draugiem – which is Latvia’s larger social network) in groups like “Latvians in London” saying that I’m looking for a room. The next day I received a message from a guy looking for a room-mate.

I was bit surprised (because I hadn’t considered sharing a room with somebody else) but decided to speak with him and invite him to a Skype conversation. He seemed to be a very good person to live with and he’d almost signed the contract for a room already.

Part 3: I arrive in London

Without going into too much detail – I arrived to London and spent a good weekend with my Latvian friends. On the Monday I met my new room-mate and we moved into our new apartment. So actually I had almost a whole week of holiday in London. In this time I explored my neighbourhood – walked criss-cross, found all the necessary places…

Part 4: About life expenses and practical information I discovered which could be useful for others who want to move to London

Food

I found that in London if you are preparing meals for yourself you can eat at around the same price as in Latvia (at least if you don’t eat meat).

If you want eat out though it is quite expensive (keep in mind – I am comparing to Latvia). It is possible to find fast food places that are around the same price, but usually even these are more expensive. If you want to eat out in a good restaurant then it could cost several times more than in Riga.

More about life expenses in general can be found at Numbeo which gives a good overview of basic expenses.

Rent

The price of a room in a shared flat is around £650 per month (at least in first 2 zones of London). You can always find cheaper and more expensive offers – it depends on your requirements, amount of time you have to look, and luck. If you are looking at ads on the sites mentioned above it’s worth checking if bills are included (so you don’t get surprised by bills at the end of the month).

National Insurance Number (NIN)

If you are moving to London and want to work here as well, then you need a National Insurance Number (NIN). This has a similar function to the personal code number (personas kods) in Latvia (mostly used for financial purposes e.g. for tax calculations).

To get that it takes around 3 weeks and in order to get it you need to apply via Jobcentre.

Bank account

In order to get a bank account you need to prove that you are working or at least show that you are receiving bills at your home (e.g. gas or electricity) – so that takes some time as well.

Why so much time you might ask (because in Latvia a lot of things can be arranged almost instantly e.g. go to the bank and open an account, on the next day go and get your card). The answer is because of reliance on the regular mail.

i.e. in order to set up a bank account (it could vary from bank to bank) you need to receive your card by post, and then separately your PIN in the post, and then separately again your PIN Sentry (code calculator). Finally, with all of that, you need to go to the bank and activate it.

Mobile networks

I found for me the best network is GiffGaff – it uses the O2 network with a prepaid card (with options to set auto top-up).

It’s cheap because they don’ t have physical shops etc. All customer support is managed online. It allows you to migrate your current number to their services and gives the opportunity to get cash back for referring people to them. Currently I am paying £10 monthly which includes 500 minutes to UK numbers, unlimited texts and 1GB internet.

If you decide to sign up for GiffGaff, please use this link and we both will get an extra £5 🙂

Transport in London

Is good in general and if you have a smart-phone then it’s very easy.

I am using Cittymapper and Google Maps apps for navigation purposes. Both applications require data usage – if you want to use offline navigation (GPS) then I can recommend installing e.g. GPS Navigation & Maps by skobbler (btw – it’ s not free).

In order to use transport in London permanently the best option is to get an Oyster card – a prepaid transport card which can be used on the Underground, Overground, on Buses and on Trains (though not in all routes).

As I’m a big fan of managing my finances online I am topping up my Oyster card via the internet but it is possible to do it in shops, train stations and underground stations paying by cash or card.

How much does it cost? Of course it depends how much you travel. And there are different plans available. If you don’ t travel a lot or not regularly, then the pay-as-you-go option would be most suitable – it means that you pay for each journey, but, if you reach the day’s travel-card limit (~ 8£), then for the rest of the day you are not charged for travel.

More information about transport in London: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/

Shopping

If you’re moving to London, very probably you will not be able to bring everything with you so, at the beginning, you probably want to shop more than average. I found two shops for clothing which I like: TK Maxx (brand clothes at low prices) and Sportsdirect (sportswear for reasonable prices). Both have real shops and online stores.

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