Interested in moving to the UK? This is our simple UK Immigration Guide, containing all the info you need to get started. From getting a visa to finding work and (eventual) citizenship – it’s all here. Read on!
The UK: Quick Facts
- Also known as Britain, the UK encompasses the island of Great Britain and the north-east corner of Ireland (Northern Ireland). It has a population of ~66 million people.
- The Brits are sports lovers – football (soccer), rugby and polo all originated in the UK.
- The English drink the most tea of any nation (165 million cups a day, or 60.2 billion cups per year).
- As the world’s first industrialized country, England underwent rapid economic growth in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, it stands as a major regional power and an influential force on the world stage.
- Has the world’s 6th largest economy (by GDP).
- London was the first city in the world to have an underground subway system.
- Many of the world’s greatest scientists have come from the UK, including: Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and Stephen Hawking.
- To clear up a common point of confusion: Great Britain (GB) comprises England, Wales, and Scotland. When you add Northern Ireland into the mix, this is known as the United Kingdom (UK).
- Currency: British Pound (GBP)
- Spoken languages: English is the official language. Recognized regional languages include Irish, Gaelic, Scots, and Cornish.
- Major races: White (87.1%), Asian (7%), Black (3%), mixed race (2%), Irish Traveler (Gypsy) 0.1%.
- Largest cities: London, Manchester, Leeds, and Liverpool.
Why move to the UK
- The UK has an excellent education system with great schools (both public and private) and is home to many world-renowned universities, most notably Oxford and Cambridge.
- Outside of London (one of the most expensive cities in the world), the general cost of living is relatively low.
- Despite the recent European economic downturn, the British pound has remained relatively strong. There are plenty of job opportunities for young people (the UK is the number one foreign destination for recent grads from Australia and New Zealand).
- All legal residents are entitled to free healthcare by the NHS (National Health Service).
- The UK has a long and illustrious history, and there is no shortage of sites and monuments to explore. As a bonus, most places of interest are free to visit.
- An excellent location from which to explore mainland Europe, the UK (and especially London) is a major transport hub. Due to competition, airfares can be had for cheap.
- The Brits are social people known for their off-the-wall sense of humor – it’s not uncommon to stop by the pub for a pint with colleagues after a day at work.
- If you have family residing in the UK (or can prove a past connection), it is relatively easy to claim citizenship through descent.
- The UK is known to be an immigrant friendly country. London is a true multicultural city and a real melting pot, representing 270 different nationalities and over 300 spoken languages.
- People tend to be active – playing in a sports team is not just for the young.
- The UK has great public transport – every city and town is connected by a modern railway.
- Has a great benefits system that protects the unemployed, sick, low-economic families, and single parent families.
- A range of landscapes to suit everyone can be found in the UK, including: moorlands, ancient forests, rolling countryside, stunning coasts and National Parks. Whether you have a love for the outdoors or simply want a weekend getaway, you will feel just at home.
- The Brits enjoy a simple, relatively stress-free and laid back lifestyle. Cheap vacation deals are readily available, and many go on vacation twice a year.
- Music lovers will feel right at home – many music festivals and carnivals are hosted by the UK every year.
- The major cities are always bustling. London stands out – over 14.5 million tourists flock here annually, and for good reason.
Reasons Not to Move to the UK
Note: these are common expat complaints, and may not apply to you.
- The UK is notorious for its dreary weather – rain and grey skies are the norm (and are not uncommon even in the middle of summer). To make things worse, the weather is one of the most popular small-talk conversation topics.
- While workers in the UK certainly enjoy more vacation time than their counterparts in the United States, the standard amount of vacation days is still at least a full week less than in most other European countries.
- While the UK has a great variety of foreign eateries, the “typical” British cuisine has a reputation of being bland and overcooked.
- Gas (petrol) prices are notoriously high (even by European standards).
- A large tax levy has been placed on alcohol and cigarettes, making the UK the most expensive European country in which to drink or smoke. Even essential goods (such as women’s sanitary products and food) are subject to high VAT (Value Added Tax).
- Rental prices are high in the major cities. In London, it is not uncommon to pay £1000 per month for a room in a shared house.
- University education is expensive – the average price for a non-specialized degree is around £10,000 per year.
- Expats from more cheery countries find that the Brits tend to worry about everything (from their jobs to the weather), and may find the dry humor off-putting.
- UK Customs has been under attack recently for their liberal decisions as to who they let in – a recent influx of foreign nationals claiming refugee status has put a considerable strain on the nation’s social welfare system.
- While other races are widely tolerated, some religions are not. Specifically, anti-Muslim sentiment has grown in some areas of the country.
- Teachers, doctors and nurses are paid considerably less than in other developed nations.
- In the eyes of many, the UK is quickly becoming a “police state” – there is more and more censorship (especially online), and surveillance/security cameras are everywhere.
- Update: in the wake of the recent “Brexit” vote, it remains to be seen what will happen to the UK. A split from the EU is likely to hurt the economy, at least in the short term (although opinions are divided on this). We recommend you watch developments closely.
Getting a Visa and Finding Work
There are a few different visa options for those visiting the UK, including: visitor’s visa, student visas, work visas and permanent residence visas (described below). Although the UK is part of the EU, it did not sign the Schengen agreement – citizens of all EU member states are allowed to move to the UK without a visa and then apply for a residency permit once they are settled. Nationals of commonwealth countries do not need a visa to enter the UK, and are allowed to stay in the UK for up to one year before applying for a residency permit.
- Visitor’s visa: holders are usually permitted to stay in the UK for up to 6 months.
- Tourist visa: for all nationals hailing from outside the EEA (European Economic Area). Applicants must be over 18, intend on visiting the UK for less than 6 months, plan on exiting the UK after the visit, have sufficient funds to support the visit, and hold a return ticket. Tourist visa holders are not permitted to work, study, marry or enter a civil partnership, or undergo private medical treatment.
- Tier 4 Student Visa (General): for all adult students wishing to go to the UK for their post secondary education. This visa is granted on a points system, and potential students need to fulfill a certain amount of criteria. Under this category of visa, students are not permitted to work more than 16 hours per week. Applicants must provide a letter of acceptance into an approved course and show evidence of sufficient funds to support their study, accommodation and daily life for the entire study period. Some applicants may have to present medical and health records (depending on their country of origin).
- Student visitors: for adults wishing to undertake a course of study in the UK for a short period of time (6 months or less). This visa is popular among those wishing to take short-term English language courses. Holders are not permitted to extend their visas, nor are they allowed to undergo any form of paid work. In order to obtain this visa, applicants must have already been accepted onto a course with an accredited school. Students studying in other countries are also eligible to apply for this visa for the purpose of research. All overseas qualifications must match that of the UK, and credits must be allowed to be cross-credited.
Work Visas: eligibility for most work related visas is determined based on a points system.
- “High Value” migrants are those who are able to fill jobs that are in demand. There are a few visa options available to such highly-sought applicants:
- Tier 1 – Exceptional Talent: for those who are internationally recognized as leaders of the world or potential world leaders in the areas of the arts and science.
- Tier 1 – Entrepreneur: for non-European migrants who wish to invest in the UK through establishment or purchase of a business.
- Tier 1 – General: permits highly skilled people to search for work or other self-employment opportunities within the UK. Holders of this visa may look for work in the UK without a sponsor or take up self employment. This category is only open to those migrants who are already residing in the UK.
- Skilled Workers visa: open to those applicants who know an in-demand trade. Open only to those migrants who currently reside in the UK, or are an ECC national. As part of the application process, applicants will need to submit their fingerprints and facial image (biometric information) in order to obtain their biometric residence permit. Processing time is typically 10 days. Applicants must be over the age of 18, prove their current residential address in the UK, submit work references from past employers and hold relevant qualifications in their field of work. All applicants must have passed a language proficiency exam of A2 level, and be able to prove their level of communication in an interview if necessary.
- Temporary Workers: valid up to 2 years (depending on the applicant’s country of origin). It allows people to work in the UK for a temporary time and earn a wage or salary. Open to athletes, artists, entertainers, members of religious groups, charities, government officials and those participating in the Youth mobility scheme. All applicants must be over the age of 18, have a valid (and current) passport, an invitation letter and the necessary qualifications for the job. All applicants who are applying to stay more than 6 months must provide evidence of a clean bill of health and a statement of good character.
Permanent Residency and Citizenship
Obtaining citizenship (naturalization): those wishing to apply for British citizenship must have resided in the UK for at least 5 consecutive years and spent no more than 450 days outside of the country in that period. All applicants should hold a permanent residency status or have received permission of indefinite leave for one year. All applicants must have a clean criminal record and not have any misdemeanors in the UK (including any unpaid fines or driving offenses).
To be eligible to apply for naturalization you must:
- Be over 18
- Be of sound mind, good health, and good character
- Have the intention of continuing to live in the UK
- Be able to communicate in English
- Pass the Life in the UK Test or complete an ESOL (English for Speakers of a Second language) exam
Starting a Business in the UK
Setting up a business in the UK is fairly straightforward, and the steps apply to both British and non-British nationals.
Choosing a business structure: you may apply as a sole trader, create a Limited Company, or form a Partnership. Note: if an applicant is planning to start a business as a sole trader they must register themselves as “self-employed.”
- Sole Trader: this is the easiest route for those starting out (under this business structure, you may choose to work alone or employ others). To become a sole trader, you must have a National Insurance (NI) number, register for self-assessment tax with HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs), and name your business. Sole traders are responsible for their own business debt, bills, records, Self-assessment tax return, and National insurance payments.
- Limited Company: businesspeople are able to set up their own private limited companies in the UK if they meet certain requirements. Business owners must officially appoint people to run companies and register these people and their company with Companies House (see Further Reading & Resources below). Those wanting to set up a limited company have two roles – they are both the director and an employee (personal income and the income from the business are taxed separately). To set up a limited company, one must:
- have a name and a postal address for the company
- register with the Companies House
- have one or more directors
- have one or more shareholders
- have acquired permission for Corporation Tax
Business Partnership: under this structure, all partners must share equal responsibility for the business. Those wishing to set up a business partnership must:
- get self-assessment tax with the HMRC (see Further Reading & Resources below)
- name the business and apply for a trademark
- run the business individually
- share the profits equally among all the partners
- Registering your Overseas Company: the UK (and in particular, London) is a global economic hub and financial center. Many overseas companies choose to establish a branch on UK soil. Those wishing to register their foreign company in the UK must have a nominated UK address and lodge an application at Companies House (see Further Reading & Resources below).
- Business license: all businesses must have a valid license in order to operate. There are a number of different licenses to choose from – the license will depend on the nature of the business. Refer to the business license finder tool for more information.
- Opening a bank account: those wishing to start up a business in the UK must have a UK bank account registered in the company’s name. Note: pre-existing bank accounts may not be used.
- Obtaining National Insurance and VAT: prospective entrepreneurs must obtain a national insurance number and, if the company’s annual turnover is more than £79,000, must apply for VAT through HM Revenue Customs (see Further Reading & Resources below).
Recommended Books & Resources
- How To Move To The UK: A Comprehensive Guide From An Expat
- NHS (National Health Service)
- UK Visas and Immigration
- Revenue & Customs
- Companies House – on company formation and operations
- USA Immigration Guide
- Canada Immigration Guide
- Australia Immigration Guide
- New Zealand Immigration Guide