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

Adam Rozsa
09.05.22
6 minute read

Moving to the UK from the US 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.

A free Wise account can be a great help for you in the process. Get local bank details for free, exchange US Dollars to British Pounds using the mid-market rate and a small fee – 6x cheaper than traditional banks.

This moving to UK guide will walk you through:

6x-cheaper-than-banks

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
  • 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

Is moving to the UK easy?

Americans hoping to move to the UK 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 can be difficult.

But there’s no need to worry!

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!

Can you move to the UK without a job?

Apart from getting a job in the UK, there are still a couple of cases in which you can obtain a UK visa for yourself. These are as follows: 

  • UK Ancestry Visa: You can apply for this visa if you can prove that one of your grandparents was born in the UK, Isle of Man or Channel Islands.
  • Investor Visa: Apply for this visa if you have at least £2 million to invest in the UK.
  • Partner Visa: If you’re married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen, you can apply for a long-term partner visa, which is valid for 2.5 years with the possibility to renew until permanent residency.
  • Innovator Visa: This visa allows aspiring business owners with a solid business idea to settle within the UK.

It is also possible to obtain a study visa in the UK, though it’s mostly short-term.

Moving to the UK as a student

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.

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

figure out the cost of living

You might be wondering, how much money do you need to immigrate to UK?

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 examples²
McDonald’s Combo Meal£6.00
Pint of beer£4.00
Dozen eggs£1.95
Monthly transportation pass£65.00
Litre of gas£1.53
New Toyota Corolla£21,268
One bedroom apartment£920.57


(05/09/2022)

💡 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

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 to the UK 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 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

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

🤓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!

Sources:
  1. ONS - UK employee earnings
  2. Cost of living in United Kingdom

Sources checked 9 May 2022


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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