When you first arrive in the UK it’s daunting to decide where to live. Most people stay in London because the job opportunities are greater. When choosing a place to live in London, check out the area first and what shops and ammenities it has to offer.

When it comes to accommodation in London, Antipodeans and South Africans tend to head west (Hammersmith, Fulham, Shepherd’s Bush, Acton), north (Kilburn, Willesden, Dollis Hill, West Hamstead) or south (Clapham, Fulham, Southfields).

But people are also increasing in numbers in the cheap and trendy areas of east London (Shoreditch, Old Street, Bethnal Green, Hackney) and bohemian north-east (Camden, Angel/Islington).

The further out you live, the cheaper it is, but then you’ll pay more for transport.

What bills to pay

Check whether the quoted price of rent includes bills. If not, you’re up for another £20-£30 per month for gas and electricity (depending on how many people you’re sharing with).

Gas, in particular, can be expensive, especially in winter, as most internal heating runs on gas.

Then there’s council tax. The amount you pay is determined by the area in which you’re living (some councils charge more than others); and the value of the property. The average cost is around £30 per month, but it could be anything from £17-£100 a month. Council tax is higher in the larger cities.

Signing a lease

Leases typically run for six or 12 months. Read the small print to be sure of what you are and aren’t responsible for.

Whoever signs the lease is responsible for the rent and leases can be difficult to get out of early. If you’re leaving, it’s best to find a new flatmate to take your place on the lease.

Rental flats and houses generally come with basic furniture and you should be asked to sign an inventory list which details the complete household contents and any existing marks and defects (if not, create one yourself and post a copy to your landlord/ agent). Complete this thoroughly to avoid being charged for pre-existing damage when you leave.

Most landlords will require proof of your employment; some will ask for bank references and letters from previous landlords are helpful.

Know your rights

Housing law in Britain is complicated, but you can get free legal advice from a Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

If you choose to use a letting agency, beware of unscrupulous agents and exorbitant fees. Wherever possible, use an agency that has signed up with the National Approved Letting Scheme.

Agents belonging to this scheme have agreed to follow set industry standards. The laws are complex, but as a rule it’s illegal for an agency to request payment for:

  • Putting your name on their list or taking your details
  • Providing a list of rental properties