Renting a Flat in London as a Foreigner: All You Need to Know

Moving to London as a foreigner can be both exciting and daunting. One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is finding somewhere to live. London is an expensive city, and competition for rental properties is high.

Luckily, there are plenty of options available if you’re willing to do your research. While it might take some time and effort to find the perfect place, it’s definitely possible to find a flat that suits your needs and budget.

If finding a flat and the requirements that come with it make you scared, this article will cover every detail to make your renting journey in London easy. You should also read about rental prices in London.

How to rent an apartment as a foreigner in London

The rental market in London can be pricey, competitive, and quite challenging for foreigners, especially those without a credit history. If you’re planning a big move to London, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Rental process and rules

While the rental process is the same for foreigners, the rules may differ slightly for locals than for UK citizens and residents. Upon finding an apartment you like, the next step will be to sign a yearly rental contract that your landlord or agent can extend. 

Rental costs in London are advertised and charged as a price per week, not per month, with the tenancy length running from six months to a year. You may go in person to check out the apartment before making your final decision.

Once satisfied, you will sign a tenancy agreement with the landlord after confirming your immigration status and approving your right to rent in the UK.

Go through your contract carefully before you agree. You will be required to pay a security deposit, which is usually the equivalent of five weeks’ rent. The following documents may be required:

  • Proof of ID
  • Proof of legal work permit/visa
  • Proof of earnings
  • Letter of confirmation of employment from your employer
  • Copy of employment contract
  • References from previous landlords

Rental contract and deposit

Deposits and agency fees can are paid with British Pounds (GBP), but some estate agencies may accept debit card payments, although, in some cases, their systems might reject foreign debit cards.

Your rental contract should have the following:

  • Your name and contact details (yours and your landlord’s)
  • Address of the rental property
  • Dates of beginning and ending of the rental contract
  • Rental fees with payment dates
  • Dates and frequency of rental review
  • Security deposit and conditions for getting it back
  • Deposit protection scheme (your landlord is legally obligated to place your rental deposit in a DPS)
  • Extra fees, if any
  • Who takes care of what repairs
  • Subletting rules

Make an inventory of items in your apartment and their condition before moving in. This ensures that you get your deposit back upon moving out.

As a tenant, you have the right to safety, privacy, and protection from unlawful eviction or unfair rent. Similarly, you are responsible for caring for the property and making prompt rent payments.

For landlords, they have the right to; check your visa and documentation, rent their property to a tenant who takes care of the property and assumes the costs of damage done to it, provide proper contracts, and keep the property in good shape.

You may also be required to pay your utility bills as a renter in London. Your landlord may include some expenses in the rental cost; you should pay the rest separately.

How much is the rent in London?

The average rental price in London is 1,572 GBP per month, with a minimum rent price of about 1,000 GBP per month. A furnished apartment may also cost up to 20% more than an unfurnished one. Your choice will be dependent on factors like the size of your space, budget, and location.

How long does it take to rent a flat in London?

How much time should you plan for flat hunting in London? Generally, you should start looking for an apartment at least 4 weeks before the move-in date. As a rule of thumb, starting a flat search between 6-8 weeks ahead is the best in London.

It’s not to early and not too late. You will have enough time to visit places, and landlords won’t pressure you to move in.

Usually, flats stay empty between 2-3 weeks between most rentals in London. Furthermore, if you find a place that is already available and you are ready to move in, the rent can be negotiated. In fact, London rents are highly negotiable. 5-10% off is typical If you can move soon and have a proper application.

Starting looking for a flat too early, like 3-4 months in advance, doesn’t make sense since many apartments aren’t advertised yet, and you will see most options available for a sooner move-in. Landlords won’t be sitting and waiting for you to leave their apartments empty for months.

Best time to look for a flat in London

What we can say for sure is that the worst time to search for an apartment in London in the summer. The busiest time in London’s rental properties market is in July and August. You should definitely avoid home hunting during that time. 

It’s mainly due to an influx of students to the city plus many people just prefer moving in the summertime. Besides, many families use the summer break to move with their kids while free from school.

A quiet time is before Christmas, during Christmas and New Year. It can be hard to schedule appointments to visit, and there are fewer flats on the market.

Hence, November could be a perfect time to look for a flat in London. The beginning of the year is also great for finding some deals on flats since landlords weren’t able to rent their apartments out in the last year. You might also have some room for negotiation during this time of the year.

However, in summer, you will have a wider choice since people are moving and there are more rental properties on the market.

Where and how to rent a flat in London?

Finding a flat to rent in London can be unbearably hard to maneuver as the market moves quickly and is expensive compared to other areas of the UK. Securing a place to rent in the capital is almost next to impossible, but there are more straightforward methods you can use for a seamless process.

You may need to rent on a short-term basis, generally for under six months, if you need accommodation while shopping for an apartment. Short-term rentals (Airbnb)  are furnished and are more expensive than long-term rentals.

Depending on your budget, location, and commute time, you can find the best places to live in London by region. Here are some of the areas you can find an apartment in the capital:

North London

  • Camden
  • Primrose Hill
  • Islington
  • Highgate
  • Marylebone

South London

  • Clapham
  • Battersea
  • Brixton
  • Crystal Palace
  • Herne Hill

East London

  • Shoreditch
  • Bethnal Green
  • Hackney
  • Stratford
  • Mile End

West London

  • Kensington
  • Shepherd’s Bush
  • Hammersmith
  • Fulham
  • Notting Hill

1. Use online hunting sites to find areas that fit your budget

Zoopla, Gumtree, and Rightmove are the largest sites in the UK and can be great place to start your apartment search. Other smaller websites, especially for a house-sharing plan, include Spareroom and OpenRent.

The issue, however, is that most of the ads listed on these sites may be outdated or already let out, which can make your apartment search process frustrating.

2. Find agents in your ideal neighborhood

Once you find a good location, contract letting and estate agents in that area. Neighborhood agents are usually the first to know once properties hit the market. They’ll connect you with your ideal apartment before it’s listed online at a fee.

3. Check newspaper classified ads or walk around the areas

Some landlords, especially elderly ones, may find it difficult to list their property online but have excellent properties they advertise in the newspaper or on neighborhood signs.

4. Go to a reputable landlord

You can also find a reputable landlord belonging to an accredited scheme by going through your local council authority to find an apartment directly.

What do you need to rent the apartment in London?

If you’re looking to rent an apartment in London, there are a few things that you may need to do before getting those keys:

  1. Plan your apartment search around your visa timeline

To find a flat in London, you need to mail your passport with the final visa paperwork since traveling is impossible while your application is still in progress. You are also required to document all international trips taken for the last decade in your application. 

Submitting your online application and then taking a trip to London may discord between the visa application and your travel history.

  1. Set a budget

Most people in London spend around 40-50% of their salary on rent as it’s ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world. Rental firms and landlords also have their baseline for how much tenants should earn to qualify for tenancy. 

Ask HR to email you a pay stub estimate for accurate budgeting on your ideal location. This may also help determine how much space you can afford, your fare costs, and travel card prices if commuting to work.

  1. You will need to pay council tax

Council taxes will apply depending on the borough you choose to live in and the property value. Each borough has a council tax attached, which exempts students, with single occupants also receiving a 25% discount.

  1. Research the neighborhoods

You will need to learn more about the area you’re going to rent based on:

  • Security
  • Commute time
  • Proximity to train/tube station
  • Proximity to grocery stores and shopping centers
  • Property type
  • Pet-friendliness
  1. Use apps and websites to help manage your search

If money is no object, you can work with a relocation agency to help manage the apartment search and negotiate your tenancy agreement.

  1. Do a thorough investigation before moving

Before rushing into a tenancy agreement, record any repairs or adjustments you may need to be done during the viewing tour. As recorded in your tenancy agreement, the landlord should care for all repairs before moving. Your landlord will be obligated to make the necessary repairs as recorded.

  1. Plan your move-in date accordingly

Your move-in date should coincide with the advertised available date as you may be required to pay rent on an apartment you’re not living in yet. However, you can negotiate a later move-in date, but it will depend on whether the landlord insists your contract starts on the advertised date.

  1. Get ready to place an offer on the spot

If you find an ideal apartment, make a quick offer, as properties in trendy areas tend to go under offer within hours of the first showing.

  1. You will need to pay a holding deposit

Once your offer has been accepted, you’ll be required to pay a holding deposit after applying. This includes an agreement with the estate agent to take that property off the market. If multiple agencies had listed the property, they might keep the listing on their website.

  1. Make a soft commitment

You have made a soft commitment to the property if you’ve successfully gotten to this point. Backing out now would mean losing your deposit which may be equivalent to five weeks’ rent.

  1. A referencing process will be carried out

This process involves a credit check and reference from a prior landlord. Some estate agencies may outsource this service from a third party or opt to carry it out internally. If you fail this process, a full deposit refund will be made.

  1. The signing of an official tenancy agreement

This will be the final contract that will bind you legally after you and your landlord sign the agreement. Go through the draft tenancy agreement in detail and confirm everything is accurate, including the presence of a pet clause, the due date for your rent, or rent owed every month. 

You and your landlord will be given a final draft after both parties are satisfied with the draft agreement. Once both parties (you and the landlord) sign, you’ll now be allowed to pick up the keys and start your renting journey.

Do you need a visa to rent a flat in London?

The UK’s Right to Rent law requires every tenant to prove eligibility to rent. If you’re a foreigner, your entry visa must be approved and printed in the passport before moving into an apartment.

Documents

For a foreigner looking to rent an apartment in London, there are documents you must submit to confirm both your right to rent and live in the UK.

Here are some of the right to rent documents you may be required to submit as proof of a time-limited ability to rent:

  • Passport
  • Biometric information document (this may also be your UK biometric residence card)
  • Residence card
  • UK immigration status card

Right to rent documents you may need to submit as a foreigner to rent for an unlimited period:

  • A UK driver’s license
  • A letter from a UK university
  • Letter from the UK government or dependent local authority

You may also be required to submit financial records showing proof of employment or have a certain amount of cash in addition to the above documents. Another requirement for renting a flat in London as a foreigner is that you may be asked to find a guarantor that will guarantee to pay your rent in case of default.

Can you rent a long-term apartment in London without a job or visa?

Landlords and agents are legally required to check the immigration status of all tenants who will be living on the property. You cannot rent a long-term apartment in London unless you have the right to reside in the UK.

This means that you should have a valid visa if your nationality doesn’t give you the freedom to live in the UK.

Typically, if you’re looking to rent an apartment in London, providing the estate agency or landlord with proof of income from your employer, such as payslips or bank statements, is mandatory. However, a guarantor can allow anyone without financial proof to rent.

Anna

Anna is an enthusiastic expatriate with experience of living in Germany, Austria and Greece. She shares her passion for living abroad on this website.

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