Navigating London's transport system

Reporter: Kelvin Woo 3 Responses

Before you even fly to London, you should familiarise yourself with Transport for London (TFL), the official website that details everything that you'll need to know about public transport in the capital.

The cost of buying a car is much lower in London than back home. Two thousand pounds can get you a decent secondhand ride. A new car? Not very much more than that. But don't get me wrong, the cost of driving is comparable if not more expensive than in Singapore.

After the transport officials went over to Singapore to do a study of our ERP, London implemented a "Congestion Charge" in 2003. The higher costs of fuel in Britain doesn't help matters at all. Curiously, diesel cost more than petrol here.

As far as possible, don't try to drive in London unless you're really familiar with the roads. Even though the traffic functions on a right hand drive manner (like in Singapore), some roads can be downright confusing.

Stick to public transport for the time being. Trust me.

London Underground - The Tube

If you have taken Heathrow Connect or Express from Heathrow Airport, you would have arrived at Paddington Station. Go to the nearest ticket station and grab a "Tube map". Ask around if you can't find one.

The map is really handy and is of good size. I suggest that you keep one with you always. By the way, the cover design of the map changes every few months, so you can start collecting them the moment you touch down in London. Who knows? May be worth a fortune decades later.

Anyway, unlike Singapore's simple MRT network, the Tube consists of 12 lines, which is depicted by different colours. It serves a wide network (from zones 1-6, A-D). Zone D being the furthest away from the City and Zone 1 being the dead centre where all the happenning places are.

Unlike the MRT, the cost of travelling by Tube within the same zone requires only a flat fare. The fare differs once you cross a zone. For more information of tube fares, click here.

Before I forget, always, always get a stored value card otherwise known as an Oyster card. Unlike our Ezylink card that not only charges us $3 non-refundable deposit plus $7 refundable deposit, Oyster card requires only a 3 pounds fully refundable deposit and offers discounts to some attractions and restaurants as well!

Note that, without an Oyster card, the Tube fare is almost punitive at 4 pounds instead of 1.50 pounds for travel within zone 1.

Another point to note is that some stations' platform serve more than one line, unlike our MRT. So take note of which line the current train is running before hoping onto it.

Once you're on the Tube, you'll notice some things immediately,

  • It's really narrow so people rarely stands in the centre of the train cabin. But if you're of a regular Asian built, it should not be a problem. Just shuffle in abit to make more room for the others, yah?

  • It's really messy. There are newspapers strewn all over the floor and seats. Well, blend in with the locals, pick up one and start reading. Return it to its original position at the end of your journey for the next person.

  • There are a number of free publications (like our 'Today') in London. The two main tabloids, which are freely distributed along the road after 3pm on weekdays, are London News and London Lite. Grab a copy and your journey on the Tube won't be that bad after all.

  • The lights in the train goes off intermittently at some point in time. That's due to bad wiring. No need to get worked up over that.

  • Most seats are cushioned, which of course is way better than those plastic hard MRT seats. It's only possible because of the mild (if not cold) weather in London and people don't sweat that much. Even then, those cushion seats are surprisingly well maintained.

Do check out TFL website before you leave your house for any delays or planned engineering works in the network that may require you to change your plans. Just key in the origin and destination on the right column and the travelling options will be displayed. There's even an advance options for trips to be taken a few days later. Neat eh?


The traditional London Bus (Routemaster) has been phased out due to its inadequacy in dealing with the increasing demands.

The buses that throng London streets now look very much like our SBS buses, only none of it is airconditioned. For most of the time, there's no real need to due to the cool ambient temperature. But it can get rather stuffy during summer.

The Oyster card works here as well. Working with the same 'tapping' mechanism, a passenger will need to tap only once when boarding. There's no need to tap again when alighting. Doing so will cost you another 90p, which is the flat fare for a trip regardless of distance.

Currently, a number of articulated buses (bendy buses) serve London. Note that you can board the articulate bus at any of its three entrances/exits. Just tap your Oyster card at the card reader placed prominantly near each doorway.

Buses in London are generally convenient with well served routes. You can't go far wrong with the bus and Tube. However, some bus drivers have got some attitude problem. So just keep your cool and don't get into an arguement with them. It's not worth it.

Black London Cab

The typical Black London Cab driver took four years to get his/her license. That's equivalent of getting a university degree. With "The Knowledge", the driver is supposed to know every nooks and crannies in London and will be able to bring you to the destination in the shortest possible time.

A cab ride doesn't come cheap though. But then again, nothing in London does.

Be sure to get the postal code of your destination ready. That'll enable the driver to pin point it much easier. Just sit back and watch the meter roll...

Private Cabs

If you're uncomfortable about jumping into a cab without knowing how much it'll cost you, perhaps you can consider calling for a private cabs. These are licensed cabs out for private hire.

Try Addision Lee at 0207 387 8888 to get a quote. Try calling around 15min-30min in advance and get the postal code of your current position and destination ready before you call.


What to bring to London?

Reporter: Kelvin Woo 0 Responses
From my post in "A Singaporean in London", I noted that Singaporeans (me at least) tend to behave as if we're still in the tropics. Please don't commit the same mistakes as I did. I would advice the following:


1) Leave your bermudas and sandals at home unless you plan to spend most of your time holidaying in the Carribeans. T-shirts, jeans and sneakers will probably be the lightest streetwear that you'll need.

The locals are seasoned creatures that can survive with bermudas at 20 deg celsius. Please don't even try.

In the (highly) unlikely event that you need some light clothes, Primark sells it cheaper than Singapore. Yep, the website is nothing great, at least you can be sure you aren't paying for advertising.

2) Bring along a number of light sweaters, turtlenecks (for ladies) and thermalwear, thick socks, gloves and caps. But do so only if you have them in the first place. There's really no need to specially purchase them (unless they're on discount). Like I said, you can always count on Primark.

3) Don't bring your entire wardrobe over. You probably won't wear it anyway. Wearing a Giordano around London is not exactly the most fashionable thing to do. You'll be better off bring some comfort food instead. In London, H&M stocks fashionable streetwear at affordable prices.

Besides, if you're returning to Singapore for a visit, there's no need to lug the clothes back together with you again.

Online shopping

Online shopping is huge in London simply because it's so convenient and low delivery costs due to high demand. Below are some websites that I've used and found to be rather fine.

1) Ebay
You have to see it to believe it. Ebay so popular here that it advertises regularly on major newspapers and magazines. Due to a large vintage and second market here, Britons are just crazy about it. But take note, Britons are known to put in their bids only at the very last minute. So do watch that item tightly!

2) Argos
You can get anything that you need to furnish your apartment from this website. If you're shopping online, you can either opt for self collection or home delivery. Home delivery can be arranged on Mon-Sat for 5 pounds per delivery regardless of how many items there are. But do prepared to stay at home for the entire day waiting (read post). Self collection at any Argos outlet is free. Location of outlets can be found on the website itself. Or if you fancy, you can visit any outlet to browse through its many catalogues and make your purchase there and then.

3) Lovefilm
Watching movies at a cinema is way to expensive. Back in S'pore, we can catch a weekend movie for S$9.50. Over in London, the average price for a movie ticket is around 9-10 pounds. That's a whopping S$27-30! So Londoners figure out that it's cheaper to get a DVD rental membership. The system's simple, just sign up and indicate what dvds that you like. It'll be sent to you within 2 days. You'll just send it back in the enclosed envelope after you're done with it. The process repeats all over again. But one thing to note. In the event that Royal Mail staff decided to go on strike (again), please hang on to your discs. You wouldn't want it to be somehow unaccounted for.

Electrical and other household appliances

1) Get an efficient heater. You need it for Spring, Autumn and Winter. It can be purchased at Argos for 15 pounds (at the time of writing). Anything that provides up to 2kW will do just fine.

2) Get a small standing fan. You might need it during Summer. Most accomodation in London is not built airtight. Thus it'll be cold during the cold months and hot during the warmer months. That can be purchased from Argos as well.

3) If you're a person who cannot do without your Thai fragrance rice, you will be sorely disappointed at the range of rice cookers here. The cheaper ones (below 10 pounds) sold at Argos doesn't come with fuzzy logic. i.e. it'll tend to boil over.

But I wouldn't advice shipping over your beloved rice cooker from Singapore (unless you absolutely have to). Learn to eat bread instead. Come on, they're supposedly healthier anyway... or at least the wholewheat version.

4) No need to worry about the electrical plugs. UK functions with the same 3 pin (240V) plug that we have back home.

5) Please sign up with Skype (unless there's no need for you to call any Singaporean mobile or fixed line numbers). I find that they're the most reliable program with the most consistent voice quality. You can read about it over here.

6) The tap water in London taste chalky (pls read this post) due to the high calcium carbonate content in it. Boiling alone will not remove the taste; it'll only cause scales to form in your boiler. To remove the taste, you can use water filters, which can be found in Argos or Woolworth. It should not cost more than 20 pounds. One that holds 3.2 litre should be sufficient for a couple.


1) With your HSBC account properly set up, getting the the currency from cash machines in London should not be a problem. Just bring over 100-150 pounds in cash with you should suffice for the first day. Most probably, you'll be using 50 pounds note. Please don't be offended if the local handling your note checks it against the light. People don't normally see a 50 pound note in daily life (like we don't for 100 dollar bills back home), 10 and 20 pounds note is the norm.

2) The coins are ultra heavy (as compared to the Singaporean ones). I would advice you to bring along a coin pouch and refrain from dropping them into your pocket else you'll have a hole in your pocket pretty soon (no pun intended).


1) If need be, bring along some panadol but leave your medicine cabinet behind. Normal ailments can be easily treated with Nurofen, the non drowsy cure-all medication that is popular with Britons. If that doesn't work, you'll probably be better off in the hospital. It easily be obtained at Boots.

2) Having said that, you may need to bring along any special medication that you might need for specific ailments, allergy or conditions. Visiting the local GP here is far from the 30min wait back home; you need to make an appointment and waiting time can go up to 2 weeks in some cases for NHS doctors.


How safe is London?

Reporter: Kelvin Woo 0 Responses
Like any city, London has got its issues with crime. Council housing, which houses families that are in need of financial assistance, are often accused of being crime hotbed. In a bid to avoid creating a gangland area, the Government has seek to distribute council housing all over London. As a result of which, there's always a low level of anti-social behaviour throughout the city. Only the very upclass area are being spared.


You wouldn't find police at every junction like New York. However, there's a much higher police presence over here as compared to Singapore. Also, unlike Singapore's police, UK police patrol the streets without a gun but always with a bulletproof vest. It's curious though... they don't shoot but they expect themselves to be shot at. Whereas back home, the police shoots but don't expect themselves to be shoot at.

Anyway, the rationale of not carrying a gun is simple: criminals should not see the point of carrying a gun if the police aren't carrying any. No firearms involve in arrests, no one gets hurt. But then again, criminals would want an upper hand, wouldn't they?

There is however, a police firearms unit, specially trained to handle guns. They will be mobilized if the need arises.

In order to boost the police ranks with a reducing budget, more Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) are recruited. It takes a fraction of the time to train a police officer to do the same for a PCSO. Their effectiveness, however, remains to be seen. They can be differentiated by the different wordings on their police vests.

Once you set foot into Central London, you might be surprised (shocked rather) at the high frequency of police sirens. It's not uncommon to encounter at least twice on a daily basis. After a while, it becomes part of the background noise and I assure you that you wouldn't even look up when a police siren sounds.

One thing to note, however, is that chases involving police patrol cars happens quite frequently as well. The police will not hesitate to overtake any vehicles or even drive on the opposite side of the road when sounding the siren. So... do check out traffic from both directions before crossing a road should you hear a police siren. There had been complaints by the public with regards to the issue of dangerous driving by the police. But so far, situation is not getting any better.

On the Streets

Generally speaking, London is a safe city... unless you do something stupid. Singaporeans, naive as we are, have a tendency to do just that. The following is just some things.

1) Wondering into dark streets in the middle of the night is a big no. Not in the day as well. Just do not walk into dark and narrow streets alone, ever.

2) No waving of large wads of cash around. I know that the colours and denominations may seem foreign to you but hey, that's not an excuse! You never know who might just be looking.

3) Don't be tempted by 'cheap' deals. Especially from unauthorised outlets or worse still, just from a person on the street. That's our greatest weakness. If it seems like too good a deal, it probably is.

4) Don't get into a staring incident. There are some incidents back home when gang members are beaten to death outside pubs. Over in London, we're talking about ordinary people hurt by knives and guns. Although still low by European standards, death by guns is on the rise here.


A 'good' residential area is often safer. If you can see police patrolling in pairs, it's good news. If police patrols consist of 4 men team, chances are that you wouldn't want to be where the police don't feel safe in pairs.

I've heard of houses being broken into because a laptop is in plain sight. So please draw the curtains when you're out and keep valuables out of sight if you're residing on ground floor or basement.

You may consider getting some form of possession insurance if you need that extra bit of assurance.


Setting up a bank account in London

Reporter: Kelvin Woo 0 Responses
Bank Account

The process of opening a UK bank account is comparatively tedious as compared to back home mainly it's because we're non British and I suspect the same thing happen to foreigners in Singapore as well.

Do you need a UK bank account? Absolutely. It's where your salary will go into and where your rent will be deducted from. Without a bank account, you'll need to travel around with a thick wad of cash or rely on your Singapore credit card, which is hardly wise. Please make sure that you have a functioning UK account before you leave Singapore. To find out how, read on.

There's a huge number of banks here. Essentially they are divided into two main categories: High Street Banks, non High Street Banks.

High street banks refer to those big commercial names, HSBC, RBS, Natwest, Nationawide, Barclays, Abbey National etc. These banks offer easy access to your money via ATMs (known as cash machines) and have branches all over. They're like our POSB and DBS back home.

Non high street banks are essentially the Building Cooperations. They're like private banks that help you hold on to your money. These Building Cooperations offers only limited services. With no ATMs and branches far and few, your money is safe... from you. However, the upside is that these Cooperations offer a much higher interest rates as compared to High Street banks.

If you're a newcomer and need the liquidity, I would suggest an account in a High Street bank.

Which Bank?

HSBC is by far the one with the most extensive network in London. Don't be deceived by its name, it is a British bank. They even have a branch "Hui Feng Ying Hang" right smacked in the middle of Chinatown. With presence in Singapore, it's a great choice for any Singaporeans relocating to London.

Now, please do not assume that if you're already a HSBC account holder in Singapore, it'll be easy to open up an UK HSBC account when you're in London. It's pertinent that the UK account should be set up while you're in Singapore.

If you've not already, please open up a HSBC Singapore account. Through that, you can request to open up a UK account. If you're told that you can only open up a UK account when you're London, please refer to HSBC's "International Service Centre". I understand that the Tanglin branch (Claymore Plaza) deals with this. Unless you're a high worth individual and has a HSBC Premier account, the process will be rather tedious. So you should start the process a month before you leave.

Once the UK account is set up, it'll be dormant unless you inject cash into the account. That, you can do when you reach London. There's no minimum amount that you can have in your UK account and there's no fees chargeable as well. It's like Singapore back then.

There is a flat 10 pounds transfer fee if you need to transfer from your UK HSBC account to Singapore HSBC account. There's also a small fee of S$5 to transfer from Singapore HSBC account to any Singapore bank account.

Finally, UK bank account allows an overdraft for current account; you can draw more money than you have from your account (up to a limit) and a charge of 25 pounds will be imposed everytime there's a withdrawal when the account is in deficit; unlike Singapore, there's is no link between the current account and the savings account.


ATMs here are known as "cash machines". All cash machines accept cards from all the all high street banks. It's like OCBC atms accepting UOB's cards. Cash machines generally do not charge a withdrawal fee with the exception of some which will charge between one to two pounds per withdrawal. So make sure the one that you're using does not charge you.

Unlike Singapore's 6 digit pin, UK's cards use a 4 digit pin. So it's easier to remember and of course easily replicated as well. Guard it with care.

Direct Debit

Direct debit is the UK's version of GIRO. It's rather tempting sometimes to go for it as the incentives look attractive. Well, if you can afford, my advice is not to go for it. It's not worth the trouble when you need to cancel it. BBC recently ran a report on the issue and found that banks generally feels that they owe an obligation to companies rather than their customers; meaning that the money tend to be released to the companies when disputes arises.

Credit Cards

Singaporeans accustomed to chalking up credit card points will be sorely disappointed. There's absolutely no incentive for you to use your UK credit card here. British generally do not need to be encouraged to use their credit cards, the only incentive is the lower 'roll over' interests that certain cards offer.

If you're a prudent person and pay your credit card bill in full every month, it doesn't make a difference to you. Almost all establishments here require a 4-digit pin when you're using your credit card. No signature is required. It's safer in a way as it discourages forgery.

If you insist on using your Singapore credit card (for one reason or another), you'll need to prove your identity with your passport. You'll be allowed to sign it off thereafter.

Like the bank account, a UK credit card allows you to charge beyond your limit. However, to prevent incurring interest, do pay your credit card bill asap.

One point to note is that it's more affordable to use your Singaporean credit card when you're touring Europe or States as UK banks charges a premium on overseas usage, sometimes as high as 10%.


Singapore High Commission

Reporter: Kelvin Woo 0 Responses
This is the link to Singapore's Embassy in London.

You may find it useful to know at least where it is though I think you'll find it rather unnecessary unless you're having some problems with your travelling documents (i.e. passport).

The Commission's homepage gave me the impression that it's more for British going over to Singapore. However, there's a link to Singapore's Association in the UK, which offers paid membership (20 quid). Its membership card entitles you to discount to a variety of shops. Also, SUKA organizes some events, which of course, must be paid for as well.

The High Commission sometimes holds some networking gatherings for professionals.

Well, that's it.


Applying for Visa to UK

Reporter: Kelvin Woo 3 Responses

Owing to the great relationship between UK and Singapore, we don't usually face any problems entering UK.

If you're coming over for a visit (less than 3 months), there's no need for you to apply for a visa. For more information, do refer to the links below.

Do I need a visa?

How do I go about applying for it?

What are the fees applicable?

Although it's stated that the process takes 5 working days, it's normally sooner. The British High Commission staff are rather efficient on that. It'll help greatly if you have a UK address handy in the application.

Medical Examination

There's one more thing. Due to the unfortunate outbreak of disease (bird flu, SARS) at our region, there's a need for all Singaporeans staying beyond 6 months to go for a medical examination. That will take place when you touch down at Heathrow Airport but before you cross the customs. If you fail it, you don't go into UK, simple as that.

Now, you can certainly get an X-ray and medical checkup done at your local GPs. But I would suggest that you do not do that. Just join the queue and do your medical examination at the airport clinic. Firstly, it's free. Secondly, your GP's certification may not be recognized anyway. If the queue is short, you're in luck as the actual process is rather short.


By the time (up to two hours) you approach the customs official, you'll be severely dehydrated and irritated. Please, for the love of god, please put on a smile. If you irritate the customs official, which you don't want to, he/she can make your life miserable. Remember, you're on UK soil now and your Singapore passport will not bring you immunity.


Unfortunately, there's a history of lost luggage in recent years. There's really nothing very much that you can do to prevent that. But in order to minimise the inconvenience caused, I would suggest that you pack a day's clothes and carry all valuables (currencies, jewelleries and that yes, all your gold bars as well) in your hand carry. It'll help greatly if you attach your contact information on the outside of your lugguage. Having them inside won't help. If you do not have a UK contact number, please add a +65 in front of your Singapore's mobile number and make sure that you have that mobile with you.

Airport Transfers

There're 4 terminals in all at Heathrow Airport. If you're taking Singapore Airlines, you'll be touching down at Terminal 3. If you're taking British Airways, you'll likely to be at Terminal 1 or 4.

There're a number of ways to get to London Central from Heathrow. You can take a London black cab, National Express bus or London Underground (Tube).

But I would suggest none of those. They're either too expensive or take too long.

If you're laden with many pieces of luggage, which most of us will be, please book a cab. I've tried Addison Lee. They're pretty reliable. You can try calling them at +44 020 7387 8888 while you're queuing up at the customs. Give them your name and there'll be a chap holding a cardboard with your name on it at the departure hall.

Please confirm the fee beforehand with the phone operator. It'll be be around 40 plus pounds. If you can't hear what the operator is saying (due to bad reception or difference in accent), please clarify. Don't assume.

If you're travelling light, I would suggest going into London via Heathrow Express. The trip takes only 15min and leaves at 15min interval.It's almost like a Shinkansen and it's more comfortable. Tickets can be obtained at the boarding point. Just ask around for directions. Please do not take Heathrow Connect as it will stop at a couple of stops in between. A one way ticket to Paddington Train Station (in Central London) will cost 14.50 pounds. From there, you can just hope onto the London Underground to get to a Tube station nearer to your destination.

A few words of comfort

Now, facing the much stronger British Pound, which is worth around thrice the Singapore Dollar, the transport costs sounds terrifying. It is. UK's transport is one of the most expensive in the world. You will soon miss the MRT and cabs (even with the recent price hikes) back home.

Welcome to London!