Arriving in the UK
Chances are you have an arrangement already guaranteeing you some sort of housing when you arrive. Perhaps you’re planning to stay in a hotel, hostel or with friends while you figure out where you are going to live. If you’re unsure about how to begin or where to look for a flat, room or house go to the LIVE > Finding a Place to Live section of this website. Right now, I’m going to assume you know where you are going after your flight lands.
Before you leave for the airport, figure out how you are going to get from the UK airport to your new place. If you’ve been to London before, this will be easy to figure out. If not, below are some tips and suggestions about possible ways to go.
- Book a car service. If you have a lot of luggage (more than 2 items per person) or if you simply have an unwieldy bag, this is by far the best route. Depending on your budget, it might seem like a luxury, but trust me when I say it’s not. The cost is typically in the 30-40 pound range, set price. There are several airport transfer services that operate from Heathrow (or wherever in the UK you are landing) that you can find online. Don’t let cheesy websites turn you off–they all look that way. The benefit of booking a car is someone will be waiting for you in the arrivals area, likely holding a sign with your name on it. The driver will often assist you with your trolley and walk you out to the garage where they’ve parked. They will probably fetch the car while you wait and load your luggage up for you (be sure when booking that you tell them you need a van, also called “people mover”) and how much luggage you have. If you are concerned about the safety or trust-worthiness of booking an unknown car service, go with whichever one you feel comfortable with. Cost will play a factor in this so it’s really your call. I have never had a problem going this route.
- Take the tube/Underground. If your luggage is managable (i.e. 1 suitcase, 1 backback) you could easily take the tube if you land at Heathrow airport. There are many signs pointing the way to the Underground. This is the most budget-conscious way to travel. You will want to take the Picadilly line (only line running to and from the airport) and ride it until you need to transfer. For more information on public transport in London, see LIVE > How to Get Around. However, if this is your first time in London and if you’ve had a particularly long flight, you may not want to extend your journey further by try to negotiate an unfamiliar transport system, in which case booking a car service (above) is recommended.
- Have a friend/family member meet you! If you have someone willing to meet you at the airport to help you get to your new home, consider yourself lucky and take advantage! They can help you with your bags, drive you home or guide you on the Underground. Sweet!
- Take a licensed black cab from the taxi rank outside. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of taking a car service, riding the Underground and don’t have anyone to meet you, you can take one of the traditional black taxis outside. The only reason I would discourage this is because of the cost. It is like any taxi with a running meter and can cost at least 60-pounds or more, depending on the distance to your destination. Again, not recommended.
When I travel in and out of London airports, I nearly always travel via public transport. I’ll book a car if I have a lot of luggage, or an extremely early or late flight (and the tube/train isn’t running).
Before you take-off, you can exchange some currency so you arrive in the UK with pounds sterling already in your pocket. If you don’t want to pay commission fees, etc you will typically not have any problems taking out cash when you arrive by making a withdrawal at any cash machine in the airport. However, I recommend you arrive with at least a small amount of pounds sterling in case you are unable to withdraw cash for any reason.
- Most European debit cards have a little gold chip embedded on the front. This type of card is needed to make debit-card payments at any shop where you can pay by debit card. American cards don’t have this chip and so they do not work in the machines. They are often treated as credit cards in that case with the cashier taking your card and running it through their register where you then sign the slip instead of entering a PIN. But this won’t happen at a cash machine. Your card simply won’t work and you’ll have to trudge around either finding a bank desk or trying another machine!
- Another risk you take by not bringing pounds sterling with you is that your card may get blocked by your bank once as soon as you try to use it. Standing stranded in an airport without any cash, probably without a phone at this point, and needing to contact your bank will not be pleasant. Call your US bank and let them know you are planning to travel abroad so they don’t automatically block transactions. This helps maybe 30 percent of the time, though. We’ve tried using various US account cards throughout Europe and have had them blocked, even though we alerted the bank. It really puts a damper on your trip when you have to stop having fun and start trying to call a US bank customer service line!
So, bring some exchanged currency with you. If you just need to think about getting into London and have a direct route from the airport to your new place, approximately 100-200 pounds should be more than enough of a safety net. You’ll want 20-pound and 10 pound notes, maybe a few 5 pound notes. Most drivers won’t be able to break anything larger than than a twenty so you may end up giving them a rather large tip!