Tips for South Africans in London
Alex Jonsson
Monday, July 22, 2019
7 min read

6 tips for South African graduates moving to London

London is one of the most popular cities in the world to work and live in for gen Z. Having recently made the trek up North myself to bring some metaphorical sunshine to the dark and stormy London, I thought I would help a brother or sister out. Not a Saffa? No stress bru! All nationalities can benefit from this post, we are called the Rainbow Nation for a reason

  1. 1. Layer!

IT’S COLD HERE!!! If you didn’t appreciate our beautiful sun when you were back home, you will very quickly learn that you took it for granted. When the sun eventually does make an appearance, everyone talks about it as if it is some mythical creature. At first, I was like “where have these people been that they don’t know what the sun is?” Now I know… they’ve been in England and UV rays scientifically do not exist here.

Although it’s colder than back home, it really isn’t that bad once you take a spoonful of concrete and toughen up. Yes, you don’t see the sun as often. Yes, it rains a lot. Yes, it’s cold. But there are also types of clothing this side of the world that we didn’t know existed back home. Get yourself a good jacket/coat, ask your Gran to donate you some of her thermals (who cares what you look like if you’re warm and avoiding Pneumonia) and layer those clothes on like they’re factor 50.  


  1. 2. Learn the lingo, mate

Do not worry if, in your first few weeks, you do not understand a word of what is being said around you. This is completely normal not only for foreigners, but for UK citizens themselves too. There are so many weird and wonderful accents, each representing a different part of the UK and you will quickly tune your ear to them. 

You might even find certain words and phrases being added to your vocabulary. You may start saying “you alright?” instead of “howzit?”, “mate” instead of “china”, “cheers” instead of “thanks” or “great shout!” instead of “good idea!”. Soon you’ll have your friends and family back home in stitches with the way you sound and the words you’re using!


  1. 3. Home away from home

Knowing where to set up shop in this massive city can be a difficult task. You’ll very quickly figure out where the trendy and cool areas to be are. It is common knowledge that South-West areas such as Clapham, Wimbledon, and Wandsworth are popular places for Saffas to base themselves. There is a huge South-African community here so never having another braai again is not something you need to worry about. Although, I would caution against falling into a trap of familiarity and not branching out to make other friends. If you’re ready to spread your wings and really become one with the locals, popular places to live as a young adult in London include Tooting, Balham, and Brixton in the South and Stoke Newington in the North-East.

Once you have this figured out, prepare yourself for the massive shock of how exorbitantly expensive it is to live in London. Are we still good? Still alive? Cool. It is at this point that I would suggest stopping converting everything to Rands as it is only going to make you very, very, VERY sad. If you’re like me and want to skimp on money where possible, there are platforms where you can find cheap(er) living accommodation, such as SpareRoom. However, don’t ever be frugal when it comes time to buying your bed linen. From personal experience, money is never wasted if it means a good night’s sleep.


  1. 4. Earning them pounds

When it comes to finding a job in London, there is (obviously) only one place to go – BRIGHTERBOX! Sorry, not sorry. The startup scene is booming in London and gone are the days of 9-5 and corporate suits; yaaawn. If you’re a recent grad who’s eager to learn (more than you would in any grad scheme), roll up your sleeves and have a direct impact on the direction of a company, we are here to help. Consider us as your big brother or sister who has been there and done it before!

I would also highly suggest making a LinkedIn profile and checking it regularly- this is where BrighterBox scouted me from! Other popular sites include Guardian and Reed but do yourself a favour and make your life a lot easier by just signing up to our site (it takes 5 minutes). Shameless self-fulfilling advertisement rant over.


  1. 5. Getting around London Town

One of the biggest adjustments for me was learning how to plan and navigate journeys using public transport. It’s quite scary going from driving around in your little bubble of a car having never stepped foot on a train, to arriving in a new country by yourself with 2 huge suitcases and figuring out how the London Underground works whilst thousands of people are walking around. I decided to get an Uber.

Buuut, once you’re unpacked and settled, you won’t want to be catching an uber everywhere because a) London traffic is HECTIC and b) money. Download City Mapper; don’t be that person that thinks they can get around without a satnav because you will get lost and your mom will not be able to help you this time. Busses are a lot cheaper than the tube but I’m not even going to try advising on how they work; I repeat, download City Mapper!


  1. 6. Where to find lekker goods from home

Lastly, and most importantly, food. If there is one thing I miss most from home, it’s the chow (grub for you brits). There are not many places in the world that have the same quality and love for meat than we do. What even is a veganism? But jokes a side, you will miss the biltong and boerewors and you will crave the Mrs Balls Chutney and Ouma’s rusks. Luckily, there are a few places interspersed around London where you can find some lekker treats from home (albeit at a price). You will find many little stores and shops walking around the Saffa areas such as Clapham and Putney. There are also a few South African restaurants to be discovered, such as Hammer and Tongs, where you will find dishes just like those made at your Sunday family lunch! I think it’s safe to assume that the UK may have 99 less problems than SA, but the quality and price of meat categorically is one.


So, if you’re looking to make the move from down yonder, you’ll now be that tiny bit more prepared for what’s to come. It may not be easy but it’ll be an experience of a lifetime!

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