Moving to the UK: Step-by-step moving to UK guide

9 minute read

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, relocation can seem like a massive hurdle. Armed with the right information, moving to the UK can be a relatively painless process.

This moving to UK 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, and the UK healthcare system.

You can also discover how the Wise account makes moving and living abroad simpler. You can spend and receive money, as well as move money between countries. Perfect for international people.

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Living in the UK quick stats:

  • Population: 68,101,913
  • 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 UK full-time salary¹: £35,423

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.

Moving to the UK from USA

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 the UK work visa and family visas. If neither applies in your case, unfortunately moving to UK from US will be difficult.

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

Moving to the UK can take some adjusting to as a US citizen, but you can read some tips on how to adjust to life as an American in the UK before you leave!

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 dependents)
  • 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

Since January 1, 2021, there are specific requirements that need to be met for anyone who wishes to work or study in the UK. This is due to the UK leaving the European Union.

There is now a points-based immigration system, which prioritizes skills and talent.² You will also have to pass through some relevant checks, and a UK criminality check.

For more information on the points-based system, you can read through this guide.

If you are applying for a skilled worker visa, you will need proof of²:

  • A job offer from a Home Office-licensed sponsor at the required skill level
  • A relevant minimum salary threshold by your sponsor (normally £26,500 or the going rate for their particular job, whichever is higher)
  • English language at the intermediate level at B1 (on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages)

If you are visiting for no longer than six months, then you will not need to apply for a visa. In this case, you will still be able to take part in short-term studies and business-related activities.

If you are an Irish citizen, you are still protected by the Common Travel Area arrangements, and will not need permission to go to the UK. You can read the guide on moving to the UK from Ireland for more information.

You can find guidance about moving to England on the website, and we recommend giving it a read if you are moving to the UK as an EU citizen.

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.

Requirements for students moving to England

Students from outside the EEA and Switzerland can apply for a UK student visa. 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.

To gain a UK student visa as an EU citizen, you will need proof of²:

  • An offer for a place on a course by a Home Office-licensed Student sponsor
  • Ability to speak, read, write and understand English
  • Income to support yourself and pay for your course
  • Genuine intention to study in the UK

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.

You can also use these average costs to calculate roughly how much money you need to immigrate to the UK.

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

You can also read the guide to the cost of living in the UK to prepare before moving. And if it all seems a bit expensive, then you can also find some hacks to save money when you move to the UK.

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.

You can also get a debit card connected to your multi-currency account, which makes 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 busuu 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

Step 10: Enjoy everything the UK has to offer

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

With the Wise multi-currency account, moving and living abroad is made simpler. You can receive your salary, spend in your local currency, and send money abroad - whilst saving money on bank fees!

Join Wise and start saving today

🤓And if you’d like some more tips, then you can also read these 9 tips for moving to the UK, and five things you should know before moving!
  1. ONS - UK employee earnings
  2. - information for EU citizens

Sources checked 12 February 2021

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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