Get to know the UK: ISA

 

ISA_Featured_Image

With the festive period officially over and all the January sales coming to a close, it’s that special time of year where everyone sobers up and gets serious.

First up on the super-serious-things-no-one-likes-to-think-about calendar are UK taxes. Yep, if you haven’t submitted them yet, they’re due 31 January.

The tax year in the UK runs from 6 April to April 5, which is an unwelcome inconvenience for US expats — our US tax year follows the calendar year (1 January to 31 December).

Every UK tax year (6 April to 5 April), UK residents are allowed to squirrel away about £15,000 tax free in a special interest-bearing account called an ISA — our UK word of the week!

What is an ISA?

ISA stands for Individual Savings AccountPut simply, and ISA is a tax-free savings account. They come two major forms: cash and investment.

Each year UK residents are given an allowance to deposit money in their ISA account(s) tax free. For the 2016/2017 tax year, the allowance is £15,240 – the rough equivalent of $24,000 USD.

Quirky Things to Know About ISAs

  • The £15,240 annual allowance means you can deposit no more than a combined £15,240 in your ISA accounts between 6 April 2016 and 5 April 2017. However, you are free to divide your allowance up as you wish.
    • For instance, you can choose to deposit £5,240 in an Investment ISA and £10,000 in a Cash ISA.
  • You can only open one Cash ISA and one Investment ISA per UK tax year
  • You can either maintain multiple ISA accounts as the years progress, or roll existing ISA accounts into a new account without suffering any consequences (from a tax perspective)
  • Most cash ISAs allow you to withdraw money without penalty. However, once you reach your annual allowance, you will not be able to deposit any additional funds into your ISA for the remainder of the tax year.
    • Say you deposit £15,000 into an ISA account on 10 April 2016 and withdraw £10,000 from the account on 15 April 2016. Even though your ISA balance is now only £5,000, you will only be allowed to deposit £240 for the remainder of the tax year (until 5 April 2017).

Opening an ISA

Anyone over 16 who is a UK resident for tax purposes is generally allowed to open an ISA. This includes work permit holders. All major banks offer both Cash and Investment ISAs. Interest rates vary between banks and various ISA offerings.

Welp, that just about covers the basic overview of what an ISA account is! Coming from the US it took me a while to figure out how they work, so if you are confused like I was about ISAs, I’m hoping this will help :)

 

xoxo

Girl in London

 

 

The Calm After the Storm: A Look at Post-Christmas London

 

There are a few things you grow accustomed to after living in London for several years. The first is the weather (as much as we’d all hate to admit). The second is the congestion.

London is crowded. Crowded with tourists. Crowded with residents. There are just heaps of people everywhere, all the time.

That is, except for those precious few days between Christmas and New Year’s.

While London is a great place to visit in the run up to Christmas, the city pretty much shuts down on the evening of the 24th. By then, locals and tourists alike join in on a mass exodus from the UK capital. Londoners, I suspect, either head someplace warm to enjoy the festive season or escape to the country. And the tourists? Well I suppose they just go home.

An empty Limehouse (my neighbourhood) in the fading afternoon light.

Either way, that leaves those of us who do choose to spend the holidays in London with a fantastically empty city. With that in mind I ventured out for walks every day between Christmas and New Year’s just to soak it all in.

Covent Garden

Covent Garden

One of the places I chose to visit was Covent Garden, which is usually teeming with people. On a drizzling post-Christmas morning though, it was pretty empty.

Covent Garden

Covent Garden

From Covent Garden I wandered over to Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard, which still managed to look cheery and colourful in the rain.

Seven Dials

Seven Dials

Neal's Yard

Seeking Cover in Neal’s Yard

Neal's Yard

Neal’s Yard

Covent Garden

Covent Garden

Beyond Covent Garden, I took a walk along the Thames through Central London, stopped by at St. Katharine’s Dock (near Tower Bridge) and explored parts of Shoreditch. The one part of the city I did purposefully avoid was Oxford Street, which is notorious for its crowded post-Christmas sales. The rest of the London, however, was an absolute delight.

London

View of the City of London from a bridge along the Thames

Christmas Tree in St. Katharine’s Dock

 

A Winter Walk through the City

 

This past Friday I found myself with an early morning appointment in The City, and another meeting at 11:30am. This left me with a few hours to explore and enjoy the Square Mile on the last major working day before Christmas week.

beasofbloomsbury

I kicked things off at Bea’s of Bloomsbury, a great little coffee shop at One New Change, which is a modern shopping mall located next to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral, by the way, was absolutely glowing in the early morning winter sun.

st_pauls

After coffee it was off to Bank where I wandered around The Royal Exchange and admired all the luxury shop windows dressed up for the season. The interior of the Royal Exchange is absolutely stunning, but unfortunately no photos are allowed. (I found this out the hard way from a very polite security guard)

royal_exchange

hermes

No trip to The City is complete without a wander through Leadenhall Market. There’s been a market here since the 15th century, but the current covered structure has been in place since the 1880s. After my brief trip to Leadenhall I continued to wander aimlessly for another half hour or so, reminding myself of how lucky I am to not only live in London, but have the luxury of taking a random stroll through its streets on a Friday morning.

leadenhall

the counting house

thecheesegrater

I’ve been working my butt off for the last few months, but next week I’m going to take things easy and enjoy the festivities here in town. This will be my first Christmas in London for four years and I’m really looking forward to it.

xoxo

Girl in London

 

A Very London Christmas: London-Themed Christmas Decorations

 

It’s hard to believe, but Christmas is just a few weeks away. And for the first time in a few years I’ll be spending the holiday in London with my other half. That means I finally have an excuse to decorate our flat and get a Christmas tree!

For those of you who are new to London, you can in fact get a REAL tree without dragging it through the Tube with you. There are a few places that deliver both live and cut trees to addresses in London, and I’ve taken the liberty of pinning them to the board below. I’ve also included lots of London-themed Christmas decorations to give your tree some local flair. Enjoy!

Follow Girl in London’s board Christmas in London on Pinterest.

Stress Free Travel Out of Gatwick Airport with Hampton by Hilton

 

As a Londoner without a car, there is nothing more stressful than an early morning flight.

Let’s say, for instance, you have a 8am flight out of Gatwick. Ideally you should arrive at the airport by 6am or 6.30am at the very latest. That means you need to be on a train to Gatwick by 5am. That presents a problem since most Tube lines don’t get up and running until about 6am. Your only solutions are to (1) take a scary and long night bus (2) take a taxi to the train station (3) take a taxi directly to the airport.

None of these options are particularly pleasant and none of them solve the issue of having to wake up at 4 in the morning.

hbhgatwick_bedroom

Our Room @ Hampton by Hilton Gatwick Airport

Facing yet another morning flight out of Gatwick last week, this time my boyfriend and I finally discovered a solution that solved all our problems:

We booked a room at the Hampton by Hilton Gatwick Airport and arrived the night before our flight.

Our flights were on Sunday, so we woke up late on Saturday morning and enjoyed a leisurely day of packing and getting ready for our trip. After a nice dinner out, we took the Tube to London Bridge and hopped on a train to Gatwick. I didn’t even bother to look at the time or when our train was due to arrive at Gatwick, because it didn’t matter!

Hampton by Hilton Gatwick Airport

Hampton by Hilton Gatwick Airport

Hampton by Hilton Gatwick - Lobby (Medium res)

Hampton by Hilton Gatwick Airport

We arrived at Gatwick on Saturday evening and strolled directly over to the hotel. The Hampton by Hilton is connected to Gatwick’s North Terminal, which is where our flights were departing from. The check-in process was a breeze and we found the hotel to be clean, modern, and very practical for our needs. Here are some of the perks that as travellers, we appreciated the most:

  • Free Wi-Fi
  • Free hot breakfast
  • Hot food served until 10pm
  • 24/7 lobby bar with snacks available (and you can bring your drinks into your room!)

Normally when we go on holiday, the rush to the airport is so stressful that we can’t relax until we’re buckled into the plane. By booking a hotel room (one that is connected to the airport, no less) we were never stressed to begin with. We enjoyed a lovely Saturday, nipped on over the airport, and even kicked our holiday off a little early at the hotel bar.

After a lovely night’s sleep, we got up the next morning, had some breakfast, and proceeded to the airport. The whole process was so simple and stress free that I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of opting for an airport hotel stay before. There have been times when I actually paid [significantly] extra for an afternoon flight just so I could avoid the stress of early morning travel. It’s good to know that I don’t have to do that anymore and I also never have to take another 5am taxi ride ever again.

My stay at Hampton by Hilton Gatwick Airport was complimentary. However, all opinions are my own.

 

 

 

Announcing: Girl in London Guides

 

Girl in London Guides

It is with great excitement that I am announcing the launch of Girl in London Guides!

After years of blogging I’ve had countless people tell me that I should write a book about moving to London and living in London. Well, I’ve finally taken all that advice to heart and have started writing a set of guides to help my fellow Anglophiles move to, live, and thrive in the UK capital.

The first guide that I have available is … (drumroll please) …

Applications for UK Work Visas and Indefinite Leave to Remain: Getting it Right the First Time

This is for all of you out there who are currently going through the [excruciating] process of filling out your visa or ILR application. I’ve done it three times myself and each time it took days of research to get everything right.

The guide translates the UKBA’s ambiguous instructions into plain English, and provides lots of examples so you can fill out your application(s) with confidence.

The guide is £9.99, but since this is my first ever e-book, I’ve got a discount code for you all!

Use the promo code girlinlondon and you’ll get 50% off!

girl in london guides

Happy reading!

xoxo
Girl in London

Regent’s Park in all its Autumnal Glory

 

RegentsPark

It’s probably bad ‘blogging practice’ to write about the same topic twice in a row, but you know what?

I don’t care.

Autumn in London is just so nice, I’m going to write about it twice.

Two weekends ago, a day after receiving Indefinitely Leave to Remain, I celebrated with a walk through lovely little Southwark park.

This past weekend I couldn’t resist the opportunity to head to Regent’s Park – probably my favourite of all London parks in terms of beauty.

This is not the kind of post that needs a lot of words, so I’ll let the photos do most of the talking…

Regent's Park in Autumn

Gazebo in Regent’s Park

Colourful trees at Regent's Park in autumn

Colourful trees at Regent’s Park

Tree-lined pathway in Regent's Park

Tree-lined pathway in Regent’s Park

Fountain at Regent's Park

Fountain at Regent’s Park with the BT Tower in the distance

Yellow and gold trees in Regent's Park

Yellow and gold trees in Regent’s Park

Regent's Park

Couple sitting on a park bench

We got really lucky with the weather last Sunday. The temperature was cool and crisp, but the skies were clear. The result? Lots of people headed to the park. There were tourists, Londoners, couples walking down tree-lined paths hand-in-hand, little kids playing in piles of leaves, and no shortage of adorable dogs running around.

The atmosphere in the park that day was really special and for me just acted as a reminder of one of the many simple pleasures of living in London.