Moving to the UK
Last updated: 24 April 2015
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Whether you are moving to the UK for the first time, or are looking to relocate back to the UK, we’ve created this checklist which provides useful information, guidance and resources.
Immigration into the UK is one of the hottest topics in UK politics. Every year 600,000 people move to the UK from around the world.
While our checklist is not exhaustive of everything you need to consider, we regularly update it to ensure that when you’re moving to the UK, all the important aspects are covered.
UK immigration and visas
If you are in the process of moving to the UK, one of the first things you will need to consider is which, if any, visa you will require.
The UK has a number of visa schemes which allow access and they are managed by the Home Office. For non-EU nationals, the rules to gain permanent entry into the UK are quite complicated and if you are seriously considering relocating it is important that you seek legal advice from an immigration lawyer.
General Visitor visas
General Visitor visas are designed for people from outside the European Economic Area who intend to stay in the UK for leisure purposes. Typically this would mean having a holiday in the UK, or visiting friends or family who aren’t permanent residents in the UK.
A General Visitor visa permits and individual to stay in the UK for up to 6 months per visit, although can last up to ten years.
It costs £85 to apply for a General Visitor visa, although for long-term General Visitor visas the costs ranges from £324 (one year) to £737 (ten years).
A General Visitor visa permits you to study for up to 30 days, however it must not be your primary purpose for your visit. You are not permitted to undertake and paid or unpaid work and neither does it permit you to live in the UK for a long period of time through regular visits.
UK Study Visas
Study Visitor visas are designed for people from outside the European Economic Area who are doing a short course or some form of study in the UK.
Study visas allow an individual to stay in the UK for a maximum of 6 to 11 months depending on your type of study. A study visa will cost £85 for a 6 month visa and £162 for an 11 month extended visa.
A study visa will not allow you to study in a state school, carry out any business in the UK or being dependents into the UK. If you intend to bring other family members to the UK, you will need to apply for separate visas, depending on their status.
Applications for a study visa can be made up to three months before you intend to travel and a decision should be received within three weeks.
Business Visitor visas
A business visitor visa is designed for people from outside the European Economic Area who intend to visit the UK as part of their job. Business visitor visas allow an individual to stay in the UK for up to 6 months (or 12 months if you are an academic visitor).
As a business visitor you are only permitted to do activities related to your job, providing that you are employed and paid by an overseas organisation.
If you are an academic visitor, you should apply for a specific academic visitor visa which will allow you to stay in the UK to do research or accompany students who are studying in the UK. Family members of academic visitors can also apply for a general visitor or child visa and can stay in the UK for up to 12 months.
Doctors and dentists should apply for the specific Doctors and dentists visa which permits an individual to undertake clinical assignments in the UK.
A business visitor visa costs £84 per person.
Other UK visas
Aside from these three core visas, there are also a number of other visas which relate specifically to the activity of the person applying.
These include entrepreneur visas, investor visas, religious visas and sportsperson visas. These can take the form of temporary or permanent and offer a range of options for the applicant.
Due to the complexity, and changing nature of these various visas, it is important that you speak to a immigration specialist before making any applications.
The UK is governed by a democratically elected Government which operates from Westminster in London. The UK is divided up into constituencies which each manage local affairs, following the laws set in Westminster.
The government is elected in via a General Election every five years.
The UK economy
The UK economy is one of the largest in the world and is dominated by the service sector which contributes over 75% of GDP.
At the centre of the service sector is the finance industry where the hub is based in London and is one of the largest financial centres in the world.
Since 2009, interest rates (which are set by the bank of England) have remained at 0.5% which has affected savers, but made borrowing cheaper.
Despite being in Europe, the British pound (GBP) is the unit of currency, although you may also be able to pay with euros in some parts of London. Recently, some bars have also accepted payment by bitcoins, although this is not widespread.
If you are familiar with the UK, it is likely you are also aware of the NHS – the National Health Service. The NHS was created in 1948 to provide a health care service which was free to use at the point of use.
The NHS is paid for through taxation and National Insurance contributions and is at the heart of most political debates, however it is very much a public service.
The NHS includes hospitals, accident and emergencies, dentists, general practitioners along with other medical services.
Residents of the UK have access to the NHS free of charge, and foreign nationals are able to use the service free of charge in emergencies.
Foreign nationals can use the NHS free of charge if they intend to take up a permanent residence or if they are claiming asylum. If a foreign national has been a resident in the UK for over twelve months, they are also entitled to free health care via the NHS. More information about NHS services for visitors can be found on the NHS Website.
Visitors and residents from within the European Economic Area can apply for a European Health Insurance card which allows them to use the NHS free of charge.
Any non-emergency surgery required by foreign nations will be subject to a series of interviews designed to establish the residence status of the individual.
Bank holidays and key dates
In most years, there are 8 national bank holidays in the UK.
In 2015, the bank holidays are as follows:
- New Year’s Day: Friday 1st January 2015
- Good Friday: Friday 25th March 2015
- Easter Monday: Monday 28th March 2015
- Early May bank holiday: Monday 4th May 2015
- Spring bank holiday: Monday 25th May 2015
- Summer bank holiday: Monday 31st August 2015
- Christmas Day: Friday 25th December 2015
- Boxing Day Substitute: Monday 28th December 2015
In the UK, if a bank holiday falls on a weekend (as Boxing Day does in 2015) the bank holiday itself rolls over to the next Monday as a “substitute”.
In extenuating circumstances, there may be an additional bank holiday added to the calendar. For example, for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on Tuesday 5th June 2012.
It is very rare for a bank holiday in the UK to not be on a Friday or a Monday. The exception being Christmas and New Year.
In the UK, there are special rules governing opening hours on bank holidays. In many cases, smaller companies and services will shut, while major shops may operate shorter opening hours.
There are no newspapers printed on Christmas Day.
While not bank holidays in the UK, other days of note in the UK are:
- Burns Night – a Scottish festival celebrating Robbie Burns a Scottish poet: 25th January
- Shrove Tuesday – also known as Pancake Day, it occurs on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (i.e. 40 days before Good Friday).
- St David’s Day – the Welsh national saint’s day: 1st March
- St Patrick’s Day – while not part of the UK, the Irish national saint is also celebrated in the UK: 17th March
- St George’s Day – the England’s national saint (it is also the birthday of William Shakespeare): 23rd April
- Guy Fawkes Night (aka Bonfire night): 5th November
- Armistice Day: 11th November
- St Andrew’s Day – Scotland’s national saint: 30th November
Finding somewhere to live in the UK
If you are moving to the UK, having a somewhere to live is essential. Once you’ve decided where to live, there are two main options on how to get a home: renting or buying. Often the decision to rent or buy is as much down to a financial decision about what can be afforded.
House prices in the UK
In the UK, property prices are constantly rising with London being the area showing the most growth. It was recently announced (February 2015) that the average house price in the UK is over £270,000, however this figures varies dramatically across the UK.
In the North East, for example, the average house price is a little over £150,000 while in London the average house price exceeds £500,000.
Below is a breakdown of average house prices as per figures released by the Office for National Statistics as at February 2015:
- London: £502,191
- South East: £339,339
- East: £290,371
- England: £284,538
- UK: £272,468
- South West: £250,984
- West Midlands: £200,098
- Scotland: £193,309
- East Midlands: £188,408
- Yorkshire: £178,139
- North West: £174,899
- Wales: £172,846
- North East: £152,661
- Northern Ireland: £142,195
Buying a house
Buying a house in the UK can be a complicated and drawn out process, depending on the length of the chain involved.
A “chain” is created when there are a number of people either buying or selling a property, and are reliant on the person buying or selling. The fewer the number of people involved, the easier the process.
If you are a cash buyer, i.e. you do not need to borrow money and have money ready to pay, often you can negotiate a better deal on the house price, especially if the owner is looking for a quick sale themselves.
When buying a house, you will also need to work with a solicitor to assist with the paperwork and contracts.
Most people in the UK need to apply for a mortgage, a low interest, long term loan which is secured against the property. Most banks offer mortgages and the rate of interest you pay will depend on three main factors. Firstly, the size of the deposit compare to the house price you are able to pay. Secondly, the length of the agreement. Finally the type of mortgage you wish to get.
There are three main types of mortgages in the UK: Fixed, variable and interest only.
A fixed rate mortgage will have a fixed rate of interest for a period of time (normally between 2 and 7 years) before switching to a variable rate. The benefit of a fixed rate is that you are not exposed to interest rate changes for the duration of the fixed rate. However, this also means that if interest rates drop, you will be left paying a higher rate of interest. Similarly, if interest rates rise, when you leave the fixed period, your repayments are likely to increase significantly.
A variable rate mortgage may take several guises, however, in principle the rate of interest on the mortgage will track against the rate of interest set by the Bank of England. Since 2009 the interest rates have been low, and while expectations are that they will increase, it is yet to happen.
An interest only mortgage is a loan where you only pay back the interest accrued on the mortgage. However, at the end of the agreed period you will either need to pay the full loan as a lump sum or renegotiate your mortgage. Typically the monthly payment of an interest only mortgage will be much lower than the other two types of mortgage, however unless you can afford to pay the loan off in full at the end of the agreement, you may end up losing your property.
Applying for a mortgage
There are two methods of applying for a mortgage, one is approaching the bank directly the other is to seek assistance from a mortgage adviser.
In either case, the main decision will depend on your ability to keep up with repayments and therefore any decision will primarily be based on your net income (i.e. your income after your living expenses and other debts are deducted).
The mortgage amount itself will be determined based on the value of the property and the size of the deposit. The bank will arrange for a property surveyor to estimate the real value of the property.
A mortgage adviser may be able to negotiate better terms and be able to search for a wider range of mortgages than an individual looking on their own.
Renting a property
Due to rising house prices, private renting is becoming increasingly popular and the most affordable way of living in a desired location.
It is a much faster way of finding a house and moving in, although may still require credit checks. For people moving to the UK with no UK credit history.
People who are privately renting their property may advertise their property privately or use a “letting agent”. Letting agents act as an intermediary between the landlord and the tenant and will be the main point of contact for both parties.
In theory, anybody can be a letting agent and you should always check with the Association of Residential Letting Agents if you are unsure of the legitimacy of any letting agent.
The tenancy agreement will define various elements of your rental situation, including who takes responsibility for things like repairs, council tax and utility bills.
They will also define any information about deposits, rental payments and termination of the agreement.
No two tenancy agreements are the same and you should always read the agreement in full to ensure that you know what you are agreeing to, otherwise you may be faced with eviction with little or no warning.
Normally your tenancy agreement will require you to pay a deposit, which is typically one month’s rent in advance. On occasions this can also be two months, depending on your background and history. The deposit acts as security for the landlord in the event of damages during your tenancy, however in most cases you will receive the deposit back at the end of your tenancy.
Finding a suitable house
If you are moving to the UK for the first time, one of the first things you will need to decide where to live. If you are moving for work or study, you may be limited to certain locations so it is important to also look into any travel requirements.
Thankfully, using tools such as National Rail Enquiries (for trains), Transport For London Journey Planner and even Google Maps you can establish local public transport options and typical journey times to help decide where would be convenient.
Once you have decided on a suitable area, you can either search privately using websites such as RightMove.com or Zoopla which letting and estate agents will promote houses, enable you to search by area, filtering by price to help find an ideal house.
If you can visit the UK before you make a final decision, it is highly recommended, just so you can see an area first hand to assist in your decision making.
When moving to the UK, understanding which utilities you need and how to get them is important.
Energy and water supply
If you are renting a property, it is likely that your landlord is already supplying the property with the basic utilities of gas, electricity and water. You may have a choice of gas and electricity supplier depending on your tenancy agreement and there are a number of online services that will help you select the best option for you. One of the most popular is called USwitch.
Your gas and electricity are based on consumption, and in some cases estimated consumption. Somewhere in your property you will have a gas and electricity meter which provides the energy company provider with details of how much gas/electricity you have used.
Your bill will then be based on this. You should be able to choose whether you pay monthly or quarterly.
It is a similar situation with your water supply, although you may or may not have a water meter, and you will not have a choice over the supplier of water to your property.
Landline and mobile phones
Most properties are normally connected to a BT phone line. However, they may not be active. You can also switch telephone provider if your tenancy agreement allows. You are likely to be required to set up your own account with a telephone supplier to ensure you are responsible for any calls you make.
It is not a requirement to have a landline in your property, however you may need to use a landline number if you are opening a bank account.
Virtually everybody in the UK has a mobile phone, and there are a number of suppliers including the major operators Vodafone, EE and O2. However, you can also join networks such as Lebara and even networks provided by supermarkets, including Tesco.
You will have a choice of contract – you can either choose a pay as you go option, alternatively a pay monthly. If you already have a mobile phone, it is suggested that you get a SIM only deal as this significantly reduces any monthly expenditure.
To get a pay monthly agreement, you will need to have a home address as a minimum and may need to be credit checked. For most expats new to the UK, the best option is to choose a pay as you go.
The internet has fast become a necessity in life and for people moving to the UK, probably one of the more important utilities as it ensures that you can keep in touch with relatives as well as do research in the comfort of your own home.
There are a wide range of internet service providers in the UK, some (such as BT and Virgin Media) offering dedicated fibre optic connections. There are also companies such as Sky and PlusNet who offer non-dedicated broadband connections via your phone line.
In the UK, it is essential that every property that has access to a television has a TV license. The TV License is an annual license which permits a home owner or tenant to watch television.
If you are renting and each tenant who has a tenancy agreement will be required to have their own TV license.
TV licenses cost £145.50 per year, although can be paid on a quarterly, monthly or even weekly basis.
They are licensed to an individual which means that if you move home, you take the license with you, but you have to notify the TV Licensing company of your change of address.
Failing to have a TV license can result in a fine of up to £1,000.