Seven days out.

oh gosh.

it’s a week until I leave.

Like, in seven (7) days I get on a plane and leave the country. I’ll leave from Houston and land in London.

It’s strange to think that all the things I’ve been planning, all the places I’ve only read about, all the dreams I’ve had about this city since I was a freshman in high school – they’re all going to be real. I’ll be walking there, where I’ve only seen pictures. I’ll be attending lectures at my dream school. I’ll be studying in that library.

I have seven days left, and that’s five too many days to really start packing in earnest (can’t live without moisturizer for four days), but too few days to pretend that I have any time at all. This is always the weirdest time for me before a big trip, and this is… the biggest. I have sort of let myself think of it as temporary because there’s a definite, official end date but it’s really not. I’m moving out of my childhood home. I’m never going to live in this room again, I won’t come back here for weeks at a time in the summer, I’ll hear third-hand about the changes downtown. It’s not anything I didn’t want, it’s not even bad, but it is a change. These are the last seven days I’ll spend living in my parents’ house.

I have lunch and dinner dates scheduled with a variety of family members in different groups and configurations over the next week. Food is really important to me, it’s tied to places and people in a very visceral way, and my family knows that. So what I’m doing is sort of like a culinary greatest hits tour, if the various fast food and local restaurants of my childhood and young adulthood can be called that.

I’m comfortable moving on though, too, in another way, because so many of my friends are. A lot of us are going to grad school at the same time. Off the top of my head I count at least 4 friends who are in their first year of postgrad/professional school. I might be going alone to London, but at least I’m not alone in going to grad school. We’ll all whine about it together.

I can’t wait to be just one more person living in London. Me and 8.6 million of my closest friends.

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Banking in the UK

Disclaimer: Everything here comes solely from my research and shouldn’t be construed as actual financial advice or complete or even, frankly, correct. I have been known to be wrong before. This is for your guidance if you’re going through this process and if you aren’t, it’s for you to feel better about your stress levels. Mine are ridiculous.

My goals when I started out were to find someone who wouldn’t charge me for moving money from a US account (like, say, my parents) to a UK account and to have the account started before I moved (that didn’t quite work out).

A note on terminology: what we might call a debit account or a checking account in the US is known as a current account in the UK.

Here are the banks I looked into:

Lloyds Bank

They offer a variety of accounts – however, international students are ineligible for their student account and they suggest you look into their Classic account. This offers balance alerts via text, a debit card, and a service called “Everyday Offers” which is a certain percentage cash back on certain purchases if you meet their criteria. Interestingly, they also give you a sort of grace period wherein if you overdraft, you have until 3:30 PM UK time that day to add money or arrange a planned overdraft.

You must appear in person with two or more options from a list of documents within 14 days of your application in order to open an account. This is pretty appealing to me as an international student because it means I can begin the application process from home and appear a few days later, after arriving in the UK, to finish opening the account.

Lloyds also offers a helpful checklist for moving to the UK; my school also has one, but I think you can never have too many checklists to cross-reference. They have an international account service specifically for people moving to the UK, but you have to make £100,000 a year. Since I qualify for that only in my wildest dreams, I was a little disappointed. However, they do say that even if you don’t qualify, they’d be happy to meet with you and do what they can to help.

Royal Bank of Scotland

RBS offers international students the same account they offer domestic students with the exception of arranged overdrafts. This means that the international student account includes a debit card, cash withdrawals, 1/3 off coach travel if you use internet banking (I have a lot of questions but I’ll take it), digital banking, and a mobile app. The app has a service called Get Cash which allows you to make ATM withdrawals using your phone. They also do a cash back program and text alerts. RBS also has a program that allows you to pay your friends using only their cell phone number.

Barclays

Once again, I am too poor for an international account, although Barclays only wants me to be able to deposit a quarter of what Lloyds wanted. However, they have an account specifically for international students. They have an “award-winning” mobile banking app, as well as a similar cash back program. I did notice that the names Barclays gives cash back with are places I think I’d be shopping more often. Barclays also has a similar program called Pingit that allows mobile money exchange. Along with the standard eligibility requirements, Barclays stipulates you’ll need to pay your “main source of funding” into this account. You can apply online and then confirm your identity in person. Unless I’m reading wrong, it seems like I don’t get a debit card? I definitely don’t get text alerts or e-statements. Those things are really what disqualified it for me. I rely on that kind of notification.

HSBC

It looks like I’d be applying for their Basic Bank Account, which is Lloyds Classic Account but a £200 lower threshold for ATM withdrawals in a single day. HSBC makes a point of saying they allow direct debit (like for paying recurring bills) but I honestly don’t think anyone else doesn’t allow that, so much as they don’t advertise it as an advantage of their account. Stay tuned to see if I’m wrong. HSBC also lacks the cash back and savings programs that I liked about Lloyds.

 

To help me narrow down further, I took a look at which banks were near my flat – there is an HSBC branch, a Lloyds branch, Barclays, and a Santander branch. So not actually narrowing anything down any further. After consulting my mom to confirm my decision, I’ve chosen to start a current account with Lloyds. I’ll let you know how that actual process goes around Sept. 13th. I can begin the application online, but I’ll have to appear in person as well. Let me know if you have any advice or questions about the bank account process.

Until next time!

No one told me getting accepted was the easy part.

An incomplete sampling of my current to-do list:

  • ship a box of linens and kitchen stuff
  • fit all my clothes into my suitcase
  • pick up GBP at my bank
  • blog about all of the above
  • submit international voting form
  • clean out my desk
  • somehow fit all the things into my personal bag that I want to fit
  • register for optional modules
  • confirm arrival time for accommodation
  • unlock my cell phone

 

But really –

What I did, using Evernote (but many note-taking softwares will serve the same function),  was sit down in early June and make a checklist of all the things I had to do between that day and a nebulous future date by which I will have “settled in”. I divided these things by the date they needed to happen on, and if any of the tasks originated on, had instructions on, or involved a webpage, I hyperlinked the task to the webpage. It made life so much less stressful and more organized – I didn’t have to leave a bunch of links up in my browser; any time something new came up, it was easy to add to the list; this format allowed me to see when I was busier vs. when I had more free time, evenly distributing my preparations. It’s been stressful, but much more manageably so than if I had not worked all this out ahead of time. One thing I would do different, though, if I had it to do over again, is that I would treat my scheduled checklist like the dates were harder deadlines as opposed to suggestions – these past few weeks have been a little heavier than I planned because I let things slide in some cases where I probably shouldn’t have.

Choosing a Cell Phone (Mobile)

So here we are – August. I’ve come back from working at a summer stock theatre and it’s time to deal with the minutiae of moving for real now. One of the entries on that endless list is finding a mobile phone carrier so that I can, you know, communicate with the people I need to talk to in the UK.

So, as usual, I took to the internet to find the best fit for me.

My wishlist looked a little something like this:

  • SIM only – I’m happy with my iPhone and have no desire for a new one. Or to have to pay for one. It’s also important to note here that you need to know what size SIM card your phone takes – iPhone 5c/s and above take nano SIMs.
  • 5+ GB of data
  • Unlimited texting

Bear in mind, I know less than nothing about UK mobile phone plans or service areas. I was going in blind and have spent this entire process self-educating. Much like the Tube, most of the guides I found were geared towards people who didn’t have even a basic understanding of how mobile phone companies work.

Resources:

Sensorly – This website, which works for both the US and the UK, will show you 3G or 4G coverage as well as upload and download speeds for whatever network you choose overlaid onto a geographical area. It was incredibly helpful for finding out which networks had the best coverage where I needed it most.

USwitch – This site has a lot of great deals. They do other products and services, but I only used their SIM-only mobile plan search option. I relied pretty heavily on this service.

 

 

Not to be misconstrued as an endorsement, but I’ve pretty much decided I’m going with a giffgaff £20 goody bag, which is basically a monthly plan. It has unlimited text, calls, and data (after 6GB of usage, though, they slow your data speed).