How to move to the UK: Step-by-step guide


Home to some of the world’s best museums, restaurants, sports teams, and universities, there’s no doubt that moving to the UK to work, study, or just to have an adventure is a goal shared by many. Whether you’re headed to England, Scotland, Wales, or even Northern Ireland, the UK is known for its gorgeous scenery, urban destinations, and cultured lifestyle.

Relocation can seem like a massive hurdle, but armed with the right information, moving can be a relatively painless process. This guide will walk you through the step by step requirements of moving to the UK including finding a job and accommodation, opening a bank account, the local cost of living, as well as the UK healthcare system. After reading through this guide, you should be all set to move.

Living in the UK quick stats:

  • Population: 65,648,100
  • Capital: Cardiff (Wales), Edinburgh (Scotland), London (England), and Belfast (Northern Ireland) are the capitals within the UK
  • Total number of expats: 3,905,000
    • Expats from the US: 137,000
    • Expats from Australia: 113,000
  • Official language: English
  • Weather: Temperate maritime, celsius
  • Biggest cities: London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Bristol
  • Average salary: £27,800

Step 1: Figure out the legal requirements to move to the UK

figure out legal requirements

No matter where you’re from, you’ll need a valid passport in order to enter the UK. From there, the legal requirements for moving to the UK will vary according to your nationality.

Requirements for Australian citizens

As part of the commonwealth, Australian citizens can apply for “right of abode” if they have a parent who was born in the UK or if they were a commonwealth citizen on December 31, 1982 and have continuously remained a commonwealth citizen since. When you have right of abode this means that you can legally live and work in the UK without any immigration restrictions. Another way for Australians to move to the UK is under a UK ancestry visa, which is available to citizens of a commonwealth country. There are a few more requirements to apply for this visa though, and these are:

  • You have to apply before you actually go to the UK. You can do this, at the earliest, 3 months before you go
  • You have to be at least 17 years old
  • You have to be able to prove that one of your grandparents was born in the UK
  • You have to have enough funds to support yourself (and any dependants)
  • You plan on working in the UK

Unlike the right of abode, however, the UK ancestry visa expires after 5 years.

Requirements for EU citizens

EU citizens aren’t currently required to get any kind of documentation or visa in order to move to the UK. Although this will most likely change in the future, the UK does say they have the intention to secure the status of EU citizens who permanently moved to the UK before a certain date. At the moment this date isn't agreed on yet, but it should be somewhere between 29th of March 2017 (which is the day that Article 50 was triggered) and the date that the UK leaves the EU.

Seeing as the negotiations are currently still ongoing, things aren’t set in stone yet, and the status of EU residents who are living in the UK while it’s still part of the EU, won’t change. If you’re an EU citizen living in the UK, you don’t have to do anything yet, but it might be a good idea to sign up for email updates from the UK Home Office, to make sure that you get the latest news and you know what to do when the time comes for the UK to exit EU.

Requirements for American citizens

Americans hoping to move to the UK have a bit more of a structured process and will need to obtain a visa. The most common type of visas are work and family visas. If neither applies in your case, unfortunately it will be very difficult to move to the UK.

There are a few different work visas depending on the situation, and you can also apply for different kind of visas. The UK government has a quick test you can do to see if you need a visa, and what type of visa you might need.

For instance, when you’ve been offered a skilled job in the UK, you can apply for a “Tier 2” visa. Your employer does need to be a licensed sponsor, and they need to provide you with a valid certificate of sponsorship. The other requirements for this visa, are:

  • You have to show that you are getting paid an appropriate salary
  • You may need to prove your knowledge of English
  • You have to prove that you have funds to support yourself upon arrival in the UK with a bank, or building society, statement
  • You have to show a valid passport, and show your travel history of the last 5 years
  • If you’ll be working with vulnerable people, you have to provide a criminal record certificate
  • From certain countries you need to also provide TB test results from an approved clinic

Requirements for students

Students from outside the EEA and Switzerland, however, may apply for student visas. You can apply for either a short-term study visa or a Tier 4 (general) student visa. The short-term visa is for students who intend to do a short course in the UK, or for those who are studying abroad and have to do a short period of research in the UK. The Tier 4 (general) student visa is for when you want to do a full time study that is at least level 6 on the Ofqual register.

Step 2: Make sure you can afford the cost of living in the UK

figure out the cost of living

If you’re not sure how far your finances will stretch in the UK, this table lays out some average costs for common items so you can use them as reference to compare to where you currently live.

Cost of Living examples
McDonald’s Combo Meal£5.00
Pint of beer£3.50
Dozen eggs£1.88
Monthly transportation pass£60.00
Litre of gas£1.08
New Toyota Corolla£18,290
One bedroom apartment£769.01

Step 3: Set up your finances in the UK

set up your finances

Banking in the UK is a fairly straightforward process, and many of the banks in the UK are larger international banks. Which means you may not even need to find a new one. If you’re making a permanent move to the UK, one of the most important steps will be opening up a bank account.

In order to fund that bank account or to make payments, you’ll likely need to exchange your home currency into pounds. Doing this through your bank is usually fairly easy, though it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on the exchange rate you’re getting. Most banks mark up the rate in order to make a bigger profit off of your transaction. And this isn’t something they’ll tell you about upfront. Before you commit to the transfer, you can always find out if your bank is giving you a poor exchange by Googling the rate or by using an online currency converter to compare.

Alternatively, you could open a Wise borderless multi currency account, which allows you to pay and get paid in multiple currencies. You can convert your money between the supported currencies for a small fee, and transfer the money to a local bank account. From early 2018 you will also be able to get a debit card connected to your borderless account, which will make it even easier to pay for your life in the UK. If you’re not ready for a new bank account just yet, you can also use Wise to send money with transparent fees, at the same exchange rate you find on Google. Making things cheaper and simpler.

Step 4: Find a job and get to work in the UK

get work

Work visas, especially for non-EU citizens like Americans and Australians, can be hard to come by. In general, it’s not too tough to find a job in the UK, but you’ll probably need to prove you’re more competent or valuable than your UK counterparts who are vying for the position. In some trades, however, the shortage of qualified employees have led to a major increase in foreign hiring.

If you’re ready to get started on your job hunt, the following sites can help you check out open positions and begin your applications:

Step 5: Get a place to live in the UK

get a place to live

Outside of major cities, the UK’s rental market is actually pretty small - only 10% of the UK population rents. That being said, it's possible to find rentals, especially if you’re willing to live in a bit more of an urban area.

Some UK cities that are notorious for cheap rent include:

  • East Lothian and Midlothian, Scotland
  • North Lanarkshire, Scotland
  • Falkirk, Scotland
  • Glasgow City, Scotland
  • Northumberland, England

Step 6: Make sure your healthcare is covered in the UK

get healthcare coverage

The good news is, living in the UK means access to the National Health Service, or NHS. This socialized healthcare system means you can see a doctor at very little or no cost and you’re not required to have personal insurance.

NHS Choices also makes finding a doctor easy. All in all, the system works pretty well for the UK’s residents.

Step 7: If you haven’t already, learn the language

learn the language

Everywhere in the UK, English is the primary spoken language. If you’re not already fluent, you can use an app like babbel or duolingo to get started. Even if you’re a native English speaker, you may find the accents difficult to understand. In that case, the best way to learn is immersion.

Step 8: Don’t be lonely - make friends and get in touch with other expats in the UK

make friends

One of the easiest ways to feel at home is to get together with friends from your home country. Finding other expats in the UK isn’t hard-- there are literally hundreds of groups on meetup and facebook dedicated to helping you make friends. Some examples are:

Step 9: Make sure you’re prepared with important contacts in the UK in case of an emergency

know emergency phone numbers

While you probably haven’t thought of learning emergency numbers in a long time - Americans, for instance, have had 911 drilled into their brains since kindergarten - moving to a new country means learning new emergency contact information. The following table lists some important contacts to have in mind as you make the transition:

Emergency Contact Numbers
General Emergency999
Police999 (112 is also supported)
Ambulance999 (112 is also supported)
Fire999 (112 is also supported)
NHS Direct111 (when you need medical help, but it’s not life threatening)
US Embassy020 7499 9000
Australian Embassy (emergency)020 7379 4334

That’s it! With this information in mind, you’re ready to begin your move to the UK. Rolling fields, beautiful coastline, and lots of fish and chips await. Good luck!

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This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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