Moving to the UK requires a lot of preparation; this checklist outlines all the steps you need to take before and after you move to the UK.
The United Kingdom is a popular destination for foreigners from all parts of the globe and offers a diverse array of employment opportunities. Its capital city is classed as one of the world’s global cities and is an international financial capital, although cost of living in London is high.
Most large cities in the UK have a sizeable population of foreign residents. It is ranked 16th on the OECD quality of life index with high scores in community, environmental quality and job opportunities and with a high-standard publicly-funded national health service. However, following the 2016 Brexit vote, there are pressures to tighten up immigration controls to make it harder for people to come to the UK and access its services.
This guide to moving to the UK covers all the main areas of consideration for those thinking of relocating there, including:
- Implications of Brexit
- Moving your belongings to the UK
- Immigration and registration after you arrive
- Health insurance and social security benefits
- Opening a bank account in the UK
- Paying tax in the UK
- Finding employment in the UK
- Where to live and find accommodation
- Setting up utilities and communications
- Education and study in the UK
- Choosing a language school
- Driving licenses in the UK
- Finding childcare in the UK
- Required insurances in the UK
- Retirement and UK pensions
- UK culture and social life
In 2016, residents of the UK voted to leave the European Union. This is currently scheduled to take effect from March 2019. Once the UK leaves the EU, freedom of movement – both of EU citizens to the UK and of UK citizens to Europe – is likely to end, along with many of the mutual benefits of membership enjoyed by citizens. However, negotiations are currently taking place and at this stage nothing has been confirmed. In the interim period, the UK is still a member state of the EU and things remain as they were before the Brexit vote. The likelihood is that there will be a transitional period after March 2019 (of at least two years) and that EU citizens currently with UK residence will retain their rights – although this has yet to be officially confirmed. This article is written from the perspective of the UK still being an EU member state and will be updated in due course as and when the situation changes.
If you are moving to the UK as an EU citizen from another EU/EFTA country, it’s unlikely that you will have to pay customs duty on any of your belongings. If you’re coming from outside the EU/EFTA, you may be able to claim tax exemption on some charges. You will need to complete a transfer of residence (ToR1) form so that customs officers can calculate how much you owe.
The cost of moving to the UK will depend on how you choose to transport your belongings. You can do this through either air freight or a shipping company. Air freight is quicker but more costly. When you opt for shipping, a 20ft container is typically enough to ship a one-bedroom house full of belongings, but if you’re planning on bringing your car or have more belongings to factor in, a 40ft container can fit this. You also have the option of using a professional relocation company. You can compare relocation and removal companies using a comparison website such as Compare My Move. You can also check if they are a reputable firm registered with a regulatory body like the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Association.
You can bring most pets into the UK as long as they meet the rules of the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS). Information on bringing animals, food and plants in the UK can be found on the government website.
For more information, see Relocation options for moving to the UK.
You can check online at the British Government’s website whether you need a UK visa or permit. As the UK is currently an EU member state, EU/EFTA nationals can enter the UK without a visa and have the right to live in the UK if they are employed, self-employed or registered as a jobseeker. Certain other nationals can enter and reside in the UK visa-free, or stay visa-free for six months.
There are several different UK visa options, and it is vital you apply for the right one for your situation, if you need one. You will need to apply through the visa application centre in your home country or online via the UK Home Office website. You will need to apply for a biometric residence permit (BRP) if you stay in the UK for longer than six months. Having a visa does not automatically mean you are able to work in the UK. If your visa has ‘prohibited’ on it, this means that before you can work in the UK you will need to secure a UK work permit. For more information on all aspects of immigration to the Netherlands, see our complete guide to UK visas and residence permits.
If you live in a property in the UK, you will need to register for council tax with your local authority.
Healthcare in the UK is slightly different than in many other European countries. State healthcare through the National Health Service (NHS) is funded through taxation rather than insurance and is freely available to all residents including foreign residents who have moved to the UK, apart from some charges such as for dental care. Each region of the UK – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – has its own NHS body. If you are a UK resident, you can freely register with a local doctor and access both primary and secondary healthcare.
Residents from the EU/EFTA on short-stay visits to the UK can access healthcare through their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Those visiting from outside the EU/EFTA will have to take out private health insurance. Private healthcare provision is available for those who don’t want treatment on the NHS and can afford to be treated privately.
The social security system in the UK is complex and is currently undergoing changes, with many benefit payments in the process of being phased out to be replaced with a single payment called Universal Credit. This covers several of the welfare and unemployment benefit payments. In addition to these, there is disability living allowance, statutory sick pay, maternity and paternity pay and a state pension. These are funded through a mixture of taxation and national insurance (NI). Residents, including foreign residents who have moved to the UK, are eligible for these, although exact amounts paid may depend on NI contributions. See the UK government website for a full overview of UK benefits entitlement.
Opening a bank account in the UK is relatively straightforward. As you will need proof of address, you will have to open the account once you have relocated, unless you have documentation proving your UK address prior to your move. Alternatively, many UK banks have international account options for non-residents, meaning you don’t have to wait until you’re in the UK to open the account. However, these often require initial lump sum deposits, minimum monthly transactions and sometimes administration fees.
If you want to open a bank account once you have moved to the UK, you will need proof of ID and proof of address. Each bank differs in exactly what they will accept in terms of documents, but they are a little more flexible regarding proof of address for new arrivals to the country.
Most banks offer a range of accounting options, e.g. current account, savings account, student account, etc. plus online banking options. Current accounts are usually free, as is using ATM machines, but beware of hidden fees. Some banks will allow you to go slightly overdrawn and will then charge you for this. Likewise, some cash machines charge for withdrawals (usually around GBP 1.50), but they have to make this clear to you before you opt to proceed.
If you move to the UK, you will be expected to pay UK taxes. The UK tax system includes income taxes, property taxes, capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes and VAT. All individuals are taxed at the same rate regardless of their residency status, but residents pay tax on their worldwide income whereas non-residents are taxed only on income earned in the UK. You are considered a UK resident if you stay in the UK for at least 183 days in a tax year. Rules are slightly different if you are a non-resident who owns a home or works in the UK.
The tax year in the UK runs from 6 April. Most income tax earned through employment is paid automatically through Pay As You Earn (PAYE). If you earn any income not collected through PAYE or if you are self-employed, you have to complete an annual self-assessment tax form. Income tax in the UK is progressive, with a top rate of 45 percent. The current corporate tax rate for businesses is 19 percent.
The UK is one of the largest economies in Europe, with high employment levels and many job opportunities for foreigners. Most of these opportunities are concentrated in the big cities, however, where there is a lot of competition for positions. Certain high-skilled occupations are in demand. The current list of skilled job shortages is published online.
To find jobs in the UK or London, it’s best to start searching in your home country in case you can secure interviews or a work permit before you go. Expatica has a job search tool focussed on expats. Other sites that are popular include Monster, LinkedIn, and Jobsite; see a list of UK job websites here. Some companies are happy to handle their initial interviews over the phone or Skype. Before applying, make sure you check your CV doesn’t contain errors or is written poorly, and that it adheres to the standard CV in the UK.
The UK has the 15th highest average wage in the world and the 12th highest in Europe. Although there is both a minimum wage and a living wage, there is a large disparity between high and low earners, especially in cities such as London. There are plenty of casual work opportunities, but the pay isn’t always good.
Those from the EU/EFTA can work in the UK without a permit. If you are from outside the EU/EFTA, your employer will need to apply for a UK work permit.
If you’re moving to the UK, where you choose to live might depend on a number of factors – where your work is based and general job opportunities, culture and nightlife, environment and proximity to open spaces, or the presence of an expat community. You want to make sure you like an area first. Most big cities have a fairly sizeable population of foreign residents, although prices in major cities and popular neighbourhoods are notoriously expensive. Even if you work in the city, it may be worth considering a town or suburb just outside the main areas for cheaper rents and house prices. Good UK transport links typically allow workers to commute into cities every day with ease. We have gathered a top 10 of places to live in the UK for tips.
It is often advised to rent a UK property first, even if you intend on staying in England indefinitely. The rental sector consists of both private renting and social housing, mostly through housing associations. This is usually cheaper but waiting lists can be long. Some common property sites include Rightmove and Zoopla, although you can also check local newspapers or Gumtree website. To rent a place with a letting agency in the UK, you will typically have to undergo several checks. If you cannot prove your earnings or you do not have a UK guarantor, you may be asked to pay six months rent upfront. If this is not possible, you will need to try and find a private landlord. As with any major city, beware of common pitfalls when renting in London.
Home ownership is popular in the UK, with around 64 percent of residents owning their homes. Buying a home in the UK could be an option if you can afford it and are planning to stay in the UK long-term. The most common way to do this is to take out a UK mortgage on a property. You will need a solicitor or conveyancer to deal with the paperwork. Costs that will need to be paid include legal fees, stamp duty and land registry costs.
In most cases, utilities in your home (water, electric, gas) will be connected and it will just be a case of contacting the suppliers to register them in your name. If you’ve bought a home and any of these aren’t connected, you can arrange connection fairly quickly but it’s advisable to make the call as early as you can. If you are renting, it is possible that utility bills will be included in the monthly rent.
Your water supplier in the UK depends on which region you are living in. Gas and electricity are both privatised and there are a number of suppliers including some that offer a package of both. You are free to choose supplier, but check with your landlord that it’s OK to do so if you are renting. See our guide to getting UK utilities connected for more information.
You will also probably want to sort out internet, TV and a phone line fairly quickly. You will need to activate your land line in order to receive broadband internet, unless you opt for Virgin Media broadband which doesn’t require a land line. British Telecom (BT) is still the predominant provider of UK land lines but other telecommunications companies now also provide this directly as part of their package. If you want to watch TV, either on a standard digital set or online, you will need to purchase an annual TV license. There are plenty of internet providers to choose from in the UK, with many offering packages including internet, TV and mobile phone. We have set up full guides on connecting telecommunications in the UK and getting a UK mobile phone.
Like the health system, education in the UK has been devolved to the four regions (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Compulsory education starts at the age of five (four in Northern Ireland) and finishes at 16 (recently raised to 18 in England). It consists of primary school until the age of 11 and secondary school until 16, with two additional years of education or training in England.
The UK education system consists of state schools, private fee-paying schools and voluntary sector schools (which are usually either academies or faith schools). Many voluntary sector schools are state-funded but run independently. You can also choose to home school children in the UK.
To apply for a school placement for your child once you’ve moved to the UK, you can contact your local council to find details of local schools. Admissions criteria vary from school to school. There are also international schools aimed at expats, which offer high standards of learning but are expensive, and special needs schools for children with learning difficulties. To help you through the process, we have gathered tips on choosing a school in the UK.
UK universities offer a range of Bachelors, Masters and PhD programs. Students in the UK can apply to universities after taking post-school A Level qualifications (which last two years) or as a mature student later in life after passing an Access to Higher Education course (one year). Foreign students can apply to UK universities if they have the relevant qualifications in their home countries, although they may need to get foreign qualifications accredited. Course length for Bachelors degrees is either three or four years, depending on which part of the UK you study in. Study costs will also depend on location of study as well as your nationality (current three-year degree in England for a home student is GBP 9,000). Read Expatica’s guides to choosing a university in the UK and renting private student accommodation in the UK for details.
If your English isn’t at a conversational level, taking English lessons may be necessary to enhance your work and social opportunities. There is a wealth of availability when it comes to English language schools in the UK, with levels ranging from beginner to advanced and many options on course length and method. You can find many English courses in the UK, at language schools, colleges or online. Once you feel comfortable talking to the locals, it will make it easier to make friends and network.
Currently, residents from EU/EFTA countries can drive in the UK using their existing licenses from their own countries. This arrangement extends to a number of other countries that have reciprocal agreements with the UK. If you are from a non-EU/EFTA country that doesn’t have a reciprocal agreement with the UK regarding driving licenses, you will have to exchange your driving license for a UK driving license within three years of moving to the UK. The government’s website has a tool to help you find out whether you need to exchange yours. If you do, you can find more detailed information in our guide to exchanging your driving license in the UK.
If you have moved to the UK with family including young children, there are a number of childcare options, including:
- Childminders: Self-employed carers who usually care for the child in their own home and who need to be registered with a regulatory authority.
- Children’s centres: Run by the local authority and offering services including childcare, early years education, healthcare and family support.
- Day nurseries: Varying in type (private, voluntary, local authority, workplace) and offering places for children aged up to five.
- Pre-school playgroups: Less formal than nurseries and offering only part-time care.
- Creches: These provide irregular temporary childcare that can be used on an ad-hoc basis.
- Nannies or au pairs: These are arranged privately and will need to be paid (and usually housed in the case of au pairs).
More is explained in our guide to childcare in the UK.
The main form of compulsory insurance is the UK National Insurance (NI) which covers you for unemployment benefit (jobseekers allowance), incapacity benefit, state pension and bereavement allowance. NI is deducted from your salary and paid by your employer, but if you are self-employed you will need to arrange your own payments.
Other forms of compulsory insurance are building insurance (if you own your home) and car insurance (if you have a car). Insurances that are common, but not compulsory, include home contents insurance and life insurance.
The UK currently ranks as the 18th best place to retire according to the Nataxis Global Retirement Index and has the 11th best pension system in the world according to the Mercer Global Pensions index. As with many other European countries, the UK has a three-pillar pension system of mandatory state pension, workplace pension and private pension schemes.
Retirement age in the UK is currently 65 for men and 63 for women, but this will rise in 2018 to 66 for men and 65 for women. Foreign residents who have moved to the UK are eligible to receive a UK pension as long as they have a NI number and have made contributions. To receive a full UK pension, you need to have made 35 years’ worth of contributions. If you move to the UK from the EU, it’s worth bearing in mind that residents from EU/EFTA countries can combine contributions made in other member states to count towards their state pension.
It’s important to bear in mind that the UK is made up of four individual countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and many in these regions often identify more with regional culture and identity than British culture. Having said that, there are no specific rules or customs to follow in any region. People are quite relaxed in general and each area, especially the large cities, are quite multicultural. Moreover, most city areas have a pub and nightlife culture that lasts late into the night. Although the weather isn’t always great, there is a lot of beautiful countryside and some great places to visit in the UK and things to do in London. Also don’t forget to visit one of the many festivals in the UK. When planning visits, don’t forget the cost of living in the UK is fairly high, especially the cost of living in London, but areas in the northern part of the country are more affordable.
If you have moved to the UK and would like to meet up with residents from your home country, join one of the international clubs in the UK. If you would rather get to know the locals, it is wise to learn a little more about culture and social etiquette in the UK and read up on interesting facts about the UK. Try sampling British food to get a real flavour of the country. We have put together a list of public holidays in the UK.
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