Moving to the UK

Moving to the UK can be a daunting experience but doing so offers expats a life in a historical and cultural country. The United Kingdom consists of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and despite being one of the most powerful countries in the world, it is actually very small. However, despite its size, it is extremely influential in world trade, politics and economics and is a leading member of the European Union.

The UK is not only influential in politics and the economy; it also boasts a long and fascinating history, beautiful architecture and is famous across the world for its literature, music, films and of course football. The traditional English pub is replicated across the world and favorite dishes such as fish and chips and sausage and mash are very popular.

UK as an expat destination

The UK boasts an excellent standard of living and if you are moving to the UK from a member of the European Union, you will find it easy to move here and find work. England is both one of the most densely populated countries in the world and one of the most multi-cultural. This ensures that wherever you are from you will have a rich experience and have the chance to meet people from all over the world. It attracts student doctors from many developing countries as well as those looking to set up businesses. There are large communities of Asians, Eastern Europeans, Americans, Australians and South Africans who arrive in the hope of improving their lives and to experience the buzz of the country.

Education across the UK is at a high standard, and even state schools are well-regarded. There are a number of private schools which date back many years and also some world-class universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. There are many international schools throughout the UK which not only teach expat children but also teach English to short-term language students.

London is an extremely successful and popular city. It is home to the largest financial centre in the world, the London stock exchange and Lloyd’s of London all of which are situated in the heart of the city. If you are in a executive position, the likelihood is that you will be relocated here. The capital city boasts an abundance of attractions for the whole family as well as an historic financial district, countless entertainment options and a wealth of (albeit expensive) housing options. Other popular expatriate cities include Manchester, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff.

Cost of living in the United Kingdom

The cost of living in much of the United Kingdom, especially in the big cities, is fairly expensive and while wages usually reflect this, day-to-day items will undoubtedly be more expensive than in your home country. In the 2012 Mercer survey, London was named as the 25th most expensive city in the world in which to live, a drop from the previous year's position at 18 on the list. At 133, Birmingham moved up 17 places on the previous year, having overtaken Aberdeen (144) and Glasgow (161). Belfast (165) is the UK’s least expensive city, but was up 13 places in the ranking since 2011.

Real estate in the United Kingdom saw a huge boom throughout the late 1990s, which sent prices spiraling to record highs. House prices have fallen and while it is a buyers market, only those with cash readily available can take advantage of the price. Property in the main cities, London in particular, is very high and many people have been priced out of these markets.

Expatriates who locate to London from many Asian countries and the United States can currently benefit from the low value of the pound against the USD. However, it is important to note the potential negative effects that this will have if you are paid in the local currency.

When moving overseas it is crucial for expatriates to have a clear blueprint of the expenses they can expect to face. If you’re considering moving to the UK, please check out our guide to living in London. It contains a detailed review of the actual cost of goods and services and will be a valuable resource for anyone who is relocating.


The language in the UK is mainly English. Welsh is spoken in some areas of Wales and a very small number or people speak the Scottish form of Gaelic. Accents and dialects vary considerably across areas of England and it can be a challenge for some expats to understand some of the forms of English that are in use.


Temperate climate. Temperatures range between 6 degrees in the winter and 32 degrees in the summer. Rain is common and occurs throughout the year.

Moving to the UK: Expat Job and Career Opportunities

The UK offers great working opportunities, especially for people from the EU who don’t require a work permit. People from outside the EU however, may find it more challenging to find a suitable job although some positions do exist. On the whole, more menial work can be easily secured by people with valid work permits, especially in the catering or domestic help areas. The majority of managerial jobs for expats are located in the South-East of the country, in and around London.

Excellent English speaking skills are required for almost all positions.

Key Facts Every Expat Should Know About Living in the UK

  1. You need to pay a tax in order to own a television. This is referred to as the television licence fee.
  2. If you are considering purchasing a property you should be aware of the practice of gazumping. Gazumping occurs when a seller agrees to an offer from one buyer but then reneges on it of a higher offer is received. Galumphing is a very common practice in the UK.
  3. Driving your car in some areas within the UK will incur a fee called the congestion charge. You pay the fee online or by telephone. Further details can be found in the city guides.
  4. The UK has a national health service that provides healthcare to all UK residents free of charge. The system does, however, come under a great deal of criticism for its long wait lists and you may therefore wish to consider private healthcare.

Work in the UK

If you're looking for a job in the United Kingdom, here’s a guide on what you need to get started on your UK job search, including information and advice on what jobs are available in Britain and where to look to find job vacanies in the UK. In addition to the general tips included in this guide, you can also read about finding a job in London.

Work in the UK

The job market in the UK
The UK has the third largest economy in Europe and an unemployment rate of 6.4 percent at the end of June 2014 – the lowest since 2008. According to the Office for National Statistics, 40 percent of the increase in employment levels over the past year have been amongst non-UK nationals. There were 326,000 more workers born overseas working in the UK in the last year, a quarter from Eastern Europe like Poland, Hungary and Lithuania.

Economic growth is concentrated in London and the south east; unemployment is higher in the north of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The London jobs market is booming with 10 times more jobs on offer than the next best area of the country but of course there’s a lot more competition for those jobs.

If you want a professional or well-paid job then you’ll need to speak good English (and having a second language also gives you an advantage). It’s easier to get a job if you don’t need a work permit. It is relatively easy to get part time or casual jobs but the pay will be very low.

Available jobs in the UK
If you are a scientist, any type of engineer, in IT (architect, analyst, designer, programmer), an environmentalist, medical practitioner, science teacher, chef, professional orchestral musician, or ballet dancer, then you will probably find it easy to get a job in the UK, as these occupations are all in short supply in the UK. Click here to see the up-to-date official list of shortage jobs in the UK.

Hospitality and retail have a high staff turnover so there are often vacancies in these sectors.

British work environment and management culture
Most UK companies still have distinct hierarchies with managers making most of the decisions and being very firmly in charge of teams of employees. Leading a team efficiently and having a good relationship with staff are considered important management skills. Teamwork within the team is highly valued. It’s common for staff to go out for a drink at a pub or bar after work.

The British like meetings; lots of them. They are usually planned in advance with a set agenda and while they can be informal in tone, everyone leaves with a specific task. The low key, ironic British sense of humour with its understatement and euphemism is often used in the work place to indirectly express criticism or prevent embarrassment, and can be initially hard for foreigners to understand.

The British are polite but fairly formal and logical; pragmatism is favoured over excessive red tape and bureaucracy. The annual budget is the focus of organisational planning. Reaching or surpassing targets may be rewarded with bonus payments. It’s common for managers to work through lunch or take work home.

You may become aware of ‘class distinctions’ shown mainly by a person’s accent, education and their appearance and behaviour in the workplace. Networks from the historically elite schools (such as Eton) and universities (like Cambridge and Oxford, sometimes combined as ‘Oxbridge’) – the so called ‘old boys’ club’ – still play a role in some sectors like the city, the law and the BBC. Men still dominate higher management positions.

If you speak another language other than English, you’ll have a big advantage over many British applicants – most of whom will only be able to speak English – but you will almost certainly need to be able to speak English yourself to get a job in the UK. To get a visa to come to the UK to work, you may need to prove your English language proficiency anyway. If your English needs improving, consider taking a course run by a language school. The UK Border Agency has a list of language tests that meet the Home Office requirements.

There is a shortage of language teachers in the UK. If you hold a university degree and can speak English well, you might be able to take a post-graduate course to allow you to teach your mother tongue in an English school or college. See here for more information.

Qualifications and references
You can find out how qualifications awarded in your home country relate to British qualifications through UK NARIC. If you want to know if your professional qualifications are recognised in the UK, contact the relevant professional body. You should make sure any references or testimonials are translated into English.

British work visas and residence permits

If you’re from the EU/EEA or Switzerland
If you're from the European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EU plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway) or Switzerland, as long as you have a valid passport or ID card, you don’t need a visa to come to the UK or a work permit to take on employment in the UK, unless you’re from the newer EU member, Croatia. If you’re a Croatian national, then you may need a registration certificate to work in the UK. See here for information. If you’re not from the EU/EEA or Switzerland but you’re living with a partner or other family member who is, then you can apply for residence card which shows employers that you’re allowed to work in the UK.

If you’re from outside EU/EEA or Switzerland
You’ll probably need a visa to come to the UK; apply at the British embassy or consulate in your home country. If you want to work in the UK you will have to have a work permit. Your employer in the UK has to apply for a work permit on your behalf relating to a specific workplace.

There are different types of visa to come and work in the UK, depending on your qualifications, area of work, your skills, talents and age; each visa has different conditions and may require you to pass a points-based assessment. For example, you may have to be a graduate, have been already offered a job in the UK which cannot be filled by someone else from the EU/EEA/Switzerland, have a licenced sponsor (see a list of registered sponsors here), or prove that you have a good knowledge of English by taking an exam or having a language qualification.

Students can work as employees although not as self-employed, for up to 20 hours a week in term time (more if the work is part of the course) and outside term time as long as the position is not full-time or permanent. PhD students can stay in the UK and look and start work in the UK for a year after their studies end.


The average wage in the United Kingdom can vary depending on the profession. The average annual household disposable income is approximately £16,034. Like most countries in the European Union, the UK has a set minimum wage of £6.31.

Opening a Bank Account

It is important to open a bank account in the United Kingdom as you will need it for your employer to transfer your wages and salaries into. A lot of transactions in the UK are undertaken without using cash, therefore you will need a current account for all such payments. A current account will also enable you to withdraw money from the many ATM’s that you will find throughout the UK. It will be free for you to withdraw money from the majority of ATM’s.

To open an account you should contact the national banks in the UK. Some of the major banks include BarclaysHSBCLloyds Banking Group and theRoyal Bank of Scotland Group.

It is advisable that you open a bank account before moving to the UK. To open an account you may need to provide documents such as passport, proof of address and visa. Many UK banks may also require you to have a UK credit history. However people moving to the UK for the first time may not have a credit history. There are different ways to overcome this, for example you can apply for a HSBC Passport Account which is specifically designed for foreign nationals.

Sending your money to the United Kingdom

If you have large sums of money that you need to transfer to the UK (GBP) from the sale of a house for instance, you will need to get the best exchange rate. Getting this right could be the difference between buying a new car or having a larger deposit towards a new house, such are the savings that could be made.

Transferring your funds is one of the least considered aspects of moving overseas and is often left until the last minute. It is important to consider it as early as possible before you make the move to the UK. Transferring money into a UK bank account from another country can take a few weeks; however there are ways of speeding up the process. SWIFT (Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) Transfers are a good way to do this, and funds should be available in a few hours. It is still worth researching this however as transfer costs can vary.

United Kingdom Tax System

In the United Kingdom, most people have a Personal Allowance. This is an annual amount of tax-free income. The rate of income tax that a person will pay is dependent on the amount of income you have above the allowance. The lowest tax rate for the lowest taxable income is 20% and the maximum is 45%.

Personal Allowances

Your Personal Allowance is dependent on your age. From 2014 the Personal Allowances are calculated as follows:

  • Up to 65 years old: £9,440
  • 66 – 75 years old: £10,500
  • 76+ years: £10,660

Income Tax

Income tax in the UK is generally paid through PAYE (Pay as You Earn). Your employer will use this to take income tax and national insurance contributions before they pay you your wages. Employers will use your tax code to calculate the amount of tax to deduct from your wage. Your tax code can be found on your pay slip.