I know first-hand that even if a country seems similar to your own (ie USA and England) there can be a wealth of differences. These differences can be found everywhere, from breakfast to government bureaucracy to opening up a bank account. Doing your research and knowing what to expect before moving can save you a lot of headaches and make the transition that much easier. This guide to moving to the UK is by no means comprehensive, but will give you a good starting point as you begin to either consider or make plans to move over.
Visa Requirements for the UK
There are over 20 types of visas for immigrating to the UK. As I am not an immigration lawyer, I don’t have the knowledge or expertise to advise you on which is best for your circumstance. The following are three of the most common visas for settling in the UK.
- UK Spouse Visa– If you have married, or are about to marry, a UK national this will probably be the visa you’ll apply for. To qualify you and your partner must be at least 18 years of age, have a marriage recognized by UK law or have been living together for at least 2 years, and you must have met your partner in person. Additionally, your partner should have a minimum income level of at least £18,600 a year, although this varies by circumstance and number of dependents.
- Tier 4 Student Visa– If you have the financial means, or a nice scholarship, to study in the UK you will likely apply for a student visa before you begin your studies. To qualify, your course should be a minimum of 6 months. You will need to provide a confirmation of acceptance for studies at your chosen institution and proof that you have enough income to cover both study costs and living allowances (average is £11,000 a year plus £1000 a month).
- Tier 2 Work Visa– Have you been offered a job in the UK? Congrats! The Tier 2 visa covers persons who have been offered a position with a UK company who will sponsor their immigration. This visa covers general workers who will receive an income level below £152,100. In most cases you are allowed to bring your partner, and/or dependents along with you.
Note on those living in an EEA country, or partner of an EEA National.
I moved to the UK under the EEA ‘right to reside’ which allows me to legally reside in the UK because of my Dutch partner. Although I qualify for National Healthcare, as a Non-EEA I don’t have access to government benefits such as unemployment. There is no ‘visa’ or fee if you are an EEA national or family member of one, but you still need to apply for a UK residence card which proves your right to live in the UK for purposes of work and entering/leaving the country.
Check out the UK Border Agency’s ‘Do you need a visa?’ questionnaire to help you find the visa most appropriate for your situation and country of origin.
Opening A Bank Account
Obviously, opening up a bank account in the UK is a lot easier if your partner is already a UK national. If you don’t have this luxury, opening an account can be an annoying and drawn out process.
Most banks require a proof of address, and most landlords require a bank account to sign a lease. This leaves many in some kind of limbo trying to figure out what to do first and how to get through the bureaucracy.
When I moved to the UK I opened a HSBC Passport account, which is specifically made with this situation in mind. You only need to show a valid passport and verification of your non-uk address and they will open up an account on your behalf.
We opened up a Passport account on a pre-visit to the UK before we actually moved and they sent our debit card to our new UK address as soon as we arrived. It made renting a house super-easy and everything was all set up to receive monthly income.
Communicating with Family & Friends Back Home
Many people worry how they will communicate with people back home once they move. International calls on cell phones are exorbitantly expensive, and after awhile e-mail and Facebook just doesn’t cut it.
There are a few UK services that enable you to talk internationally via your landline for a very reasonable fee so you can call mom anytime you just want to chat. I personally use Sky who offer the Sky Talk Anytime International plan. The plan is an additional £10 a month on my basic phone bill, and lets us call American cell phones and European landlines so we can always be in touch with our families and friends back home.
Skype is another great choice, and is entirely free if they are using the service as well. Although a lot of people like video chatting, I am not a huge fan. This may be because I hate seeing myself on the screen, or possibly because the Dutchman and I used it as our only way of seeing each other for years in a long-distance relationship. Either way, most people like it and it is free.
Driving in the UK
Admittedly, I have no authority to give advice on driving in the UK. I have yet to get my UK driver’s license, or even attempt to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Back in The Netherlands I drove everywhere, but when we moved here we gave up our car for a life of public transportation. Getting a license is also expensive, so I like to use the money excuse as a reason not to just do it already.
If you plan on driving in the UK you will need to follow these steps.
1. Apply for a provisional license with the DVLA (Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency). You can do this online or through the mail via a form you can pick up at your local post office. This will cost you £50.
2. Sign up for driving lessons with a local driving school. Instruction averages at about £25 an hour. Expect to spend 30-50 hours before passing your exam.
3. Take the Theory Test and Practical Test, and hopefully pass.
4. Yay! You will now receive your driving license and be able to legally drive in the UK.
Moving to the UK is as challenging as it is rewarding. Preparing yourself for the move will make all the difference. If you want more tips on moving abroad you should check out these expat tips written by veteran expats (such as myself) with newbies in mind.
Is there anything else you would like to know about moving abroad? Let me know in the comments if this article was helpful or if you still need answers!