Expat’s guide to living in the UK
Moving to the United Kingdom can open hundreds of fantastic opportunities. The UK is a leader when it comes to global trends, from culture and fashion to business and careers, and with Europe on its doorstep the opportunities are so broad.
London is the great expat destination, but if the buzz and bustle of this huge city isn’t for you (there are near 9 million people, just one million less than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined) it’s easy to move between England and the three other countries. If you’re moving to York UK, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, or anywhere else you’ll enjoy the unique character and opportunities of that region. And whether it’s your first time or you’re moving back to the UK after living abroad, there’s a lot to enjoy.
With an excellent standard of living, more culture and history than you could shakes a cup of tea at, and a great outdoor culture, there’s a lot on offer in these four countries. Consider this your moving to the UK checklist
United Kingdom Moving checklist
For a detailed week by week checklist, click here
Paperwork and customs
Right to work in the UK
If you already hold a British passport or are a citizen of the EEA, you’ll automatically have the right to work in the UK, and there are some options available for Commonwealth citizens like the UK Ancestry Visa. The most common working visas for the UK, however, are divided into 5 ‘tiers’ and eligibility is determined by a points-based system.Tier 1 is for high-value migrants (for example, investors and entrepreneurs), Tier 2 for skilled workers working in a sector determined by the government as having a shortage of workers (generally you need sponsorship for this), and Tier 5 is largely geared to working holidays. If you’re applying for a Tier 2 visa with sponsorship from your company, they should be able to help you with the process. The timeframes on the visas will also vary so check the Govt.uk portal and manage your application online.
Moving family to the UK
If you’re moving to the UK with family for more than 6 months, they’ll need a visa. You should apply to extend or switch your visa at least 28 days before your existing permission expires, with a standard processing time of 8 to 12 weeks – but the family member can’t be on a temporary work visa for you to be eligible. There may also be the option to apply to settle in the UK if you meet the requirements.
UK customs: What can I move to the UK
Generally, UK customs are quite easy about what is allowed into the country. There are restrictions on usual items like weapons and some food and plant products from out of the EU, so if you’re unsure it pays to check first. If you’re travelling into the UK from an EU country you’ll be able to bring an almost unlimited amount of goods, but from outside the EU there may be some limits for tax- and duty-free items. If you’re moving to the UK with a dog or other pet, we have some info below.
Moving to the UK for work
Industries in the UK
The main industries in the UK are banking and finance, business services, industry, agriculture, oil and gas, and tourism. In terms of the big cities, London has a lot of opportunity when it comes to finance, legal, business, the public sector, and technology services, but many of the other large cities are excellent options for job seekers. If you’re moving to Birmingham UK, it’s strong in the medical industry and in trade. Leeds is the largest financial and legal centre out of London. Moving to Manchester UK, the Scottish cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, or Northern Ireland’s Belfast will give you a range of opportunities across industries.
According to one recruitment and advertising company, the highest salaries are earned in London, which may not come as a surprise. Following London (at an average £35,009) is Cambridge, then Bristol, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. For more comparisons on income by region look at this report from the Telegraph. Across the UK average salary is around £27,271 but the top highest 10 careers were earning between £133,677 and £56,315. If you’re moving to the UK and choosing location based on salary or industry, it’s a good idea to factor in accommodation costs.
National insurance number
NI numbers are like a personal account number, and they’re used in administration of the UK’s social security system and for tax. Although you’ll need to get one soon after arrival (and to make sure you get taxed at the correct rate), you can begin working in the UK if prove your right to work. There are companies who manage the application process, but it’s just as easy (and cheaper) to apply free for one yourself.
Searching for a job in the UK
If you don’t have a job before you move, there are plenty of recruitment agents and job boards in the UK. Depending on your industry, you may like to contact some global recruitment companies like Michael Page, Robert Walters, Morgan Hunt, and Hays. Some top job boards include Reed, the UK government job centre, LinkedIn Jobs, Indeed, CV-library.co.uk, and Scot Jobs for those looking in Scotland.
As you might have guessed, English is the official language of the UK. However, the government also runs language programmes to encourage the native languages of Welsh in Wales and Gaelic in Scotland – though you’re not likely to encounter them on a day to day basis in most major expat areas. Because of the multicultural nature of much of the UK there are over 300 different languages spoken in British schools, so if English isn’t your native language you’re bound to find someone to chat to in your country’s tongue!
Cost of living in the UK
It’s common that living costs when moving to the UK guide some decisions. Although London has dropped to number 29 on the global scale of most expensive cities to live, a four person family’s monthly living costs without rent is estimated at £2,719.24. Your main expenses are likely to be accommodation and transport. Eating out is often expensive, but if you shop at the right place groceries can even be relatively cheap. This living cost estimator is a useful tool to help with planning.
The British Pound is the UK’s currency. It’s seen a lot of fluctuation on the exchange market in the last few years with Brexit and European politics, but it’s still relatively strong. At the moment, £1 has a rate of about USD$1.3, AUD$1.7, and SGD$1.8 but up to date rates are available from XE
Banking in the UK
There are several bank options, but some of the biggest are HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, and Santander UK. Before you choose, check whether your existing bank is affiliated with any UK banks and research your options. Rates for using your card overseas, savings, and other perks can vary. Not all banks exist in all four UK countries but many of the banks are affiliated with others so you shouldn’t have much difficulty.
To open a UK bank account you’ll at minimum need to have your ID and proof of address, but usually for a standard account you’ll also need evidence of employment. Without credit history your account options can sometimes be limited but, if this is the case for you, after a short period of time you should have no problem upgrading your accounts.
Sending money overseas
There are several high street money transfer firms who can help you make your transactions, and who will usually offer fairly good rates, including TransferWise, WorldRemit, and Western Union. If you’re comparing companies look for their exchange rate, their fees, as well as any charges on the recipient end. It’s always worth checking with your bank about the services they offer too.
Non-UK residents are only taxed on income earned in the UK. The tax year runs from 6 April to 4 April the following year. To pay tax you’ll need to have a National Insurance Number. For many employees of companies, you’ll be on a PAYE system and your employer will automatically remove tax and your National Insurance payments before paying you (which will be reflected on your payslip – make sure your employer has your NI number so that you’re being taxed correctly).
If you’re a contractor of self-employed you’ll likely need to register with the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) and pay tax yourself, normally at 20% of your net profits. You can find out the details about tax on the government website. It’s also nice to know that in the UK you’re entitled to a tax-free portion of your annual earnings called a Personal Allowance – in 2016/17 this was £11,000.
Finding a place to live
Moving to London UK
Probably the most popular place for expats to move o is this huge and world-famous city. With nearly 9 million people, London has thousands of jobs as well as being a huge cultural centre with history, arts, an active nightlife, and thousands of events and activities for all tastes and interests. It’s a vibrant and exciting place to live, but it’s also expensive and busy and it’s certainly not for everyone. Many people who work in the city live in the Greater London area or further afield and commute in on the train and subway networks. There are some quiet and lovely areas to live that are still commutable – have a look at some recommendations here.
Other popular choices include Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oxford, and – if you want to head across the sea – Belfast. Factors to consider are your job industry, lifestyle, how much you want to travel and where to, and your preferred climate. The further North, the cooler the weather (and often the larger the hills). If you feel like a little diversion from the seriousness of sorting out your life, why not try The Times UK’s quiz to identify the best place for you to live?
Moving to the UK tips for house hunting
There’s no shortage of agents across the UK, both for renting and buying. There are also some useful websites where you can begin the search yourself. You could have a look at Right Move, On the Market, Find a Hood (which focuses on finding your ideal neighbourhood), Zoopla, and the London focused Find Properly. Old favourites if you’re looking for a rental is Spare Room UK or Gumtree.
Renting in the UK
Many expats choose to rent when they first move, especially if they’re moving to London UK. Most houses come furnished or partly furnished, but some come unfurnished with just a few whiteware items. You are responsible for ensuring that everything is in the same condition when you move out as it was when you move in, so it’s a good idea to record any existing damage on your Tenancy Agreement before you and your landlord sign.
Tenancies are generally periodic (weekly or monthly basis) or fixed-term, and a deposit (usually the equivalent of 2 weeks’ to a months’ rent) will be put down and returned when you leave the property. Landlords are required to put deposits in a tenancy protection scheme like DPS. You can check the ins and outs of renting (and being a landlord) online.
Buying a house in the UK
You don’t have to be a citizen (or even be resident) to buy property in the UK, but it can be easier to purchase as a cash buyer with no need to take out a mortgage. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. The UK site Money Advice Service has some useful guides about buying property in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and the Expat Arrivals website has some great advice about buying property in the UK geared specifically towards expats.
This can be one of those surprising extra costs if you’re not prepared. It’s a system of local taxation that you pay to the local council based on the number of people living in a property and some other factors. You’ll almost certainly have to pay this even if you’re renting or boarding. Have a look at the details on the government portal.
Setting up shop
Internet and landline
Most internet providers in the UK also offer landline phones and some also have television subscriptions. Sky, BT, TalkTalk, Vodafone, Virgin Media, and Post Office are big providers – you can make some useful comparisons on the uSwitch website .
Some of the top mobile providers in the UK are EE, Vodafone, Three, and BT Mobile, all of which offer a range of prepaid and account options with a variety of call, SMS, and data allowances. Look out for different deals before you make your decision.
Currently most networks are offering free roaming in most EU countries, although you’re likely to need to pay additional roaming costs if you’re travelling in other regions. EE offers the most extensive phone coverage on UK soil and has some fast 4G speeds, which can be useful considering that more remote areas of the UK won’t always get the most reliable service. There’s a handy tool for checking providers’ signal and coverage on Mobile Phone Checker and various comparison tools online.
Utilities in the UK
In most living situations in the UK, you’ll be responsible for managing your electricity, gas, and water services. Often services are already set up and all you need to do is update your accounts with the service provider (though you may also have the option to shop around). If you need to find out who your supplier is, you can run a search on the Ecoes website. The website Which? has a comparison tool for energy providers.
Gas is regulated by the company Ofgem and isn’t available in all locations, but is generally quite a good option when it is. Electricity is generally monitored by a credit metre. Water is provided by regional companies. In Scotland and Northern Ireland tap water is supplied by a government agency, while in England and Wales there are a number of privately owned companies. Again, in most cases the water should be set up already when you move so you can simply get in touch with the company to update details and check if there’s anything else required before you move in.
National Health Service
The NHS is often considered one of the Britain’s greatest assets. Public healthcare is free to all British citizens and expats from countries that have a reciprocal agreement (such as the EU, Australia, and New Zealand). Anyone who has lived legally in the UK for 12 months or more is also entitled to free healthcare. You can find out about services and look for hospitals and locations for healthcare on the NHS website. There are also some excellent private healthcare options in the UK.
Royal Mail provides a pretty good postal service across the UK and internationally. Info and prices about mail are available on the website, as well as a postcode finder (postcodes are essential when sending things in the UK, trust us).
If you’re looking for a moving to the UK blog, expat tips and support, or a moving to the UK checklist, there are plenty of places online. Internations, Expat Info Desk, and the Expat’s Guide to the UK, and Expat Arrivals are great starting points. You should be able to find specific sites for whatever region or city you move to. For future Londonites, Moving to London and Randomly London might also be good places to start.
Update your address
All your bills, bank accounts, loyalty cards, and relatives (well… at least the ones you like) will need your new address. Make sure you also update your details on the UK.Govt portal when you have a permanent location too.
Moving your family?
School admission and education
When you’re moving to the UK school admission for your children is something to consider. Schools terms vary, but the school year generally kicks off in mid-August or September and breaks off in June or early July for summer. There are four levels of education in the UK – early years from ages 3 to 4, primary education from ages 5 to 11, secondary education from ages 11 to 18, and then tertiary education.
In England the major high school examinations are the GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) with the option to go on and study A-levels, with equivalents under slightly different systems in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. All children between the ages of 5 and 16 in the UK are entitled to a free place at a state school. There are also many private schools which will cost around £3,000 to £6,000 a term, and some international schools geared towards expats.
While most schools follow the national curriculum, there are several types of schools set up and run in different ways, including free schools, academies, and state boarding schools. To help make your decision, you might want to have a look at the Ofsted (Office of Standards in Education) performance of different schools.It’s also important to look at the admission criteria for the schools you’re considering, especially to provide guidance on the best time to apply. Although international students can expect the same offering as British nationals there are some schools who won’t prioritise international students if there’s no indication they’ll remain in the UK, so keep this in mind as well. It’s worth getting in touch with schools as soon as you know where you’re planning on moving to.
Moving to the UK with Pets
You won’t be alone in loving your pet in the UK. It’s estimated that 12 million households (44%) have pets. If you’re moving to the UK with a dog, or moving to the UK with cats, they’ll be considered part of your personal belongings and you’ll need to factor importation regulations into your moving checklist UK bound. Cats, dogs, and ferrets will need to be microchipped, have a vaccination against rabies, and a veterinary certificate (or equivalent). There are no restrictions on most other pets. Links Asia do have a Pet Relocation Service to help you move your pet across to the UK with you.
Travelling across the UK
The UK is very well connected. An extensive train network runs from the South of England up north into Scotland (though it gets a little more patchy as you head into the Highlands), national and regional bus services run frequently with local busses also in operation, and ferries connect the mainland up with the many beautiful islands off the coast and with Northern Ireland. There are also plenty of flights between the major cities. Be warned that bad weather can have an impact on the operation of train lines!
Public transport in the UK
London is famous for its underground tube system, and its public transport is linked with busses and trains. However, if you’re travelling in London be warned that during peak hours public transport is packed so expect delays. The Transport For London (TFL) app is worth downloading on your phone to check for delays, and Citymapper is another great app to help you navigate and plan your way.
Several train companies operate across the UK and most have train passes with discounts on standard ticket prices (weekly, monthly, and annual are the most popular). The National Rail website has information about all routes and has live departure boards and updates. To find the best fares, especially for longer journeys, it’s best to book in advance – Trainline’s search engine looks across all routes. For travel by coach, the National Express and Megabus offer good national options, and for regional and local services you can have a look on individual company websites for prices and timetables.
Oyster card for moving to London UK
The Oyster Card is the pay card you use on London’s transport system, including the Underground, trains, and busses, and can be topped up at many corner stores as well as counters and automatic machines at stations. However, you can now simply use your contactless credit card to tap in and out instead of an Oyster Card, which means you don’t need to worry about topping up. Very convenient if you don’t intend on using public transport too often or if you only visit London occasionally.
Because cities and towns in the UK are so well connected, some people don’t bother owning a car – especially for those who live in London where extra fees apply. By UK law you will need to register your vehicle and there will be an applicable tax, the cost of which depends on its age, engine capacity, and CO2 emissions. If you’re hoping to travel away from the larger centres it can be useful to have a car, especially in more rural areas where local busses can be limited (especially in winter) – check the cost of petrol. If you have a car that you’d like to bring across, we can help you ship it.
Don’t know what to pack for your move?
check this article out: what to pack and what to leave when moving overseas